The Role of Experience in Brain Development

Experience is an essential component of brain development. A child’s specific experiences determine which brain connections are strengthened and expanded, and which connections are eliminated.

· Connections that are used repeatedly become stronger and more complex

· Connections that are not used regularly may be pruned away over time

· Repetition provides multiple opportunities to strengthen connections

· Repeated experiences help children develop sensory processing abilities, language, and executive function skills

Why are neural connections important?

Brain cells, or neurons, are genetically primed to develop networks of connections. But the wiring that connects brain cells is largely unfinished at birth. Over the first 25 – 30 years of life, the brain creates and refines complex networks of connections among neurons. These networks of connections enable the child to establish meaningful relationships, learn language, remember new information, and make decisions.

Why does experience matter?

A young child’s environment strongly influences brain wiring. The network of brain connections that form the brain’s basic wiring are developed and refined over time, based on a child’s specific experiences. Exposing children to new experiences, and repeating those experiences again and again, helps strengthen the wiring of the brain. Additionally, both positive and negative experiences play important roles in shaping the networks of connections that form the brain’s wiring.

What kinds of experiences are most effective?

· Enriching experiences that are a little bit new and different for the child. Furthermore, enriching experiences does not mean they have to be expensive experiences.

· Challenging experiences that are a step beyond what the child can also do, but not so difficult that they are overwhelming.

· Enjoyable experiences that the child is excited to engage in and ready to engage!

Example: Reading Aloud
Reading aloud is an interactive experience that supports healthy brain development. The following are some examples of the ways that reading together can strengthen connections in the child’s developing brain:

· Reading aloud exposes children to new words, sounds, and pictures

· Snuggling while reading together builds trust and emotional security

· Rereading a favorite book over and over allows children to hear and experience the story multiple times