Why Is Early Childhood Considered The Most Important Period For Brain Development?

At Birth the size of the brain is about 25% percent of the size of an adult’s brain. But by age 3, it reaches to about 80% of the size of an adult’s brain. This is just one of the many other reasons, to start with, that answers the question why is early childhood considered the most important period for brain development.

The other reasons are covered across 3 heads given below that are covered in this article:

  1. The 2 Major Stages of Brain Development in Early Childhood
  2. The Most Important Period for Brain Development in a Child’s Life
  3. What is Windows of Learning and its Importance?

The 2 Major Stages of Brain Development in Early Childhood

The two major stages of brain development are:

  • Brain development during pregnancy
  • Brain development from zero to six years

Brain Development During Pregnancy

Brain development during early pregnancy, the first month of pregnancy in particular, happens in the form of growth of brain cells or neurons. A newborn is said to have hundred billion brain cells by then, which is large enough to learn just about anything in this world.

As discussed in the beginning of this article, most of the brain cells are created before the child is born. But some areas of the brain do make new neurons after birth, in a process called Postnatal Neurogenesis.

Brain development during prenatal period gets initiated in the third week, the 25th day, with the formation of a neural plate. This neural plate curves into the neural tube by 35th to 40th day and then closes and segments out into four different sections namely, forebrain, midbrain, hindbrain and spinal cord by 100th day and continues to develop in size until birth.

It is this rapid development of the brain that allows the fetus to move, suck, swallow, breathe and stretch, and even suck their thumb even in the womb. The last part of the brain to mature is a cerebral cortex, which gets developed within few years of a child’s life.

Tips for Brain Development of Baby During Pregnancy

Since brain development starts from the very first week of conception, which is a full 9 months before birth, the expectant mother should take extra care in fostering the same.

The following are some of the important tips that help a pregnant women to look after the growing fetus and its brain development:

  • Always keep herself healthy and well nourished
  • Take previtamin tables that contains folic acid as per doctor’s advice
  • Eat a variety of healthy fruits vegetables and proteins
  • Keep up with her prenatal appointments for the doctors to track her health
  • Express love and care for the (unborn) baby and engage their developing senses (like singing songs to the baby or listen to melodious music)
  • Avoid common infections and diseases by maintaining good hygienic practices
  • Take better care by relaxing adequately

Also Read | 8 Best Ways to Stimulate Brain Development During Early Childhood

Things a Pregnant Woman Should Stay Away From

After knowing what to do (tips) it is equally important to also know the things that a pregnant woman should avoid.

  • Avoid drugs, smoking and alcohol
  • Not get stressed
  • Not consume raw eggs or cold meat during pregnancy, as it may develop Salmonellosis (food poisoning caused by salmonella bacterium) or Listeriosis (disease caused by infection with listeria) which can be harmful to the growing fetus
  • Be careful with certain workplace hazards and materials such as radiation
  • Not self-medicate (most important)

While all the above points are very important, when it comes to things to avoid during pregnancy that cause miscarriage, the critical points are 1 and 3.

Birth to 6 Years: The Most Important Period for Brain Development in a Child’s Life

Though brain development happens right from conception, the most critical period of brain development in a child’s life is from birth to 6 years of age.

What is interesting is that though the child is born with almost all the neurons (brain cells) that is needed for the rest of his/her life, it is still only 25% of the size of an adult brain.

Synaptic Connections

The brain creates connections among its cells, which is called synapses as per brain science. Every neuron has the potential of establishing up to 15,000 synaptic connections. Through the synapses, the signals from one cell are sent to the other cell at a speed of more than 200 mph (320 Kmph).

However, these links of synapses grow and change as a result of the stimulation from the environment the child lives in. The formation of new neurons and synapses is fastest at birth and then slows down after reaching its peak in the middle childhood, after which the elimination of synapses takes place.

New Experiences = New Connections

Every new experience the child experiences creates new connections in the brain. Since birth to 6 years is the period when the child’s brain grows at its fastest rate, the synapses too forms at a faster rate than at any other time across the lifespan. This is the reason behind the fact that the children learn things more quickly in their early years.

Repeated Experiences Strengthen Connections

But all these synaptic connections are not carried over to adulthood. Only the experiences that get repeated strengthen the link, whereas the unused connection disappears at a particular stage.

In other words, more often a synapse is used or more often as skill is practiced or more often an idea is heard, the stronger the synapse gets. The other synapses get pruned off.

This is why early childhood is said to be the critical period for learning things, as a baby’s brain rapidly creates and prunes out synapses.

Also Read | 5 Important Parts of the Human Brain and their Functions

What is Windows of Learning and its Importance?

Having looked at the critical periods of brain development, it becomes imperative to learn about the Windows of Learning during the early years of a child, as the quality of experience during the first three years has a got deep and everlasting impact on how the brain of the child gets wired.

Windows of learning (also called Windows of Opportunity), is defined as the period when particular experiences are particularly important, or when some skills are more easily developed when compared to any other period of lifespan.

Several types of research that were done on the brain development and the optimal time to learn skills have concluded, that every skill or idea is better learned at a particular period, which is called Windows of learning.

The following are the Windows of Learning for a child to learn certain skills:

  • Basic Vocabulary – Prenatal to 2 Years
  • Second Language – Birth to 8 Years
  • Music Performance – 3 to 8 Years
  • Math & Logic – 1 to 8 Years
  • Emotional Control – 1 to 8 Years

The period indicated above may extend from moderate to long duration. However care should be taken to see that none of the windows get missed out, especially the early part of the window, as the opportunity to learn that particular skill or idea can get greatly diminished.


The answers for the question why is early childhood considered the most important period for brain development has a scope to expand beyond what is discussed above. Having said, the ones discussed across the 3 heads form the core, upon which all the other related details are built on.

Also Read : How Does the Human Brain Store and Retrieve Memories and Information?

Disclaimer: The content in this page and across this website are for informational and educational purposes only. In case of any concerns about your child’s growth and development, please contact your professional child healthcare provider.