The first five years of a child’s life are crucial; they learn all the basic survival skills – eating walking, talking and social skills such as interaction, self-awareness, and cognition which are all stages of a fast developing brain. It is in these early years that the child’s brain develops at the fastest pace, a pace at which it will never develop in life again. These early brain development milestones hav a lasting impact on the child’s success later in life.
We will take you through the important brain development milestones till the child’s 5th birthday.
Once a child’s vision develops well enough for them to focus on individuals, they begin to respond to what they see. At about 6 weeks of age, they begin to smile which is a sign of emotional development. Some babies would have started smiling long before this, but these could be reflex actions and not social in context.
A newborn baby’s vision is blurry and they can only see about 8-12 inches away. At about 2 months of age, a baby’s vision develops enough for them to focus on faces for longer periods. They begin to recognise familiar faces and will shift focus between individuals and objects.
While a baby can hear right from birth, at around 3 months of age a baby will begin taking back (babbling). This is a significant sign that the baby is ready to communicate and is a way for the baby to exercise his vocal abilities.
Research has indicated that at around three and a half months, babies begin laughing which may be in response to another person’s actions or behaviors. Just like smiling, laughter is an indicator of social development.
Until the age of around four months a baby will believe that if an object has disappeared from their line of sight, it has disappeared from the world. But soon they begin to understand that something still exists once it has been removed from sight. This coincides with a child’s reasoning skills and frontal lobe development. They now start enjoying peek-a-boo, as this game helps combine their newfound powers of reasoning with their fascination for human faces.
By around 6 months of age, a baby should be capable of passing objects from hand to hand and bringing things closer to himself. This is an indication of the occipital lobe’s development and the improvement of fine motor skills which is governed by the cerebellum.
A baby’s ability to recognize his own name is a clear sign of development. By the age of around seven months, a child should be able to understand when their name is being spoken and respond to the person calling it. Research has also found that a baby who does not respond to his own name at an early age may be at risk of later learning difficulties.
Even before children can talk, they begin to understand. Between 10-12 months of age a baby, prior to speaking a baby should be capable of responding to simple instructions like “look here” and “give daddy the ball”. This skill is associated with development in the brain’s temporal lobe.
By their first birthday, children make noticeable improvements in their speech and communication skills, begin to say simple words like “mama” and “dada” and begin to recognise their mother tongues. This is because their cerebellum would have grown three times in size since birth.
Scribbling is a positive development as it represents an improvement in fine motor skills, hand-eye-coordination as well as visual control. Children start drawing things they see in real life which shows that they are developing an understanding of the world around them.
Between 12 and 18 months of age children begin to link objects or people with the words used to describe them and point them out. Also, even though an 18-month-old will only speak a few words, he can comprehend nearly 10 times as many words. As speech and comprehension of language are governed by separate areas of the brain, a child can relate to words long before he can articulate them.
According to researchers, the ability to tell stories is an indication of good brain function. After their 2nd birthday, children begin to make use of their growing vocabulary and tell tales, fictional or otherwise to constantly entertain themselves or others.
Even though most parents dread their children saying “no” or throwing tantrums, this is a positive sign indicating the child is becoming more self-aware and using his growing language skills. There is actually a scientific explanation for those “terrible two’s”; its because the parts of the brain that allows them logical thinking isn’t developed yet.
Self-reliance at this age does not mean that the child can take care of his emotional or physical needs independently. Self reliance here means that by the age of 3, a child has enough sense of identity that he can be sometimes left comfortably in the care of a guardian other than a parent or can explore new environments on his own.
By age three, a child’s brain develops and matures significantly. Researchers have found that at this age a child’s prefrontal cortex will have as many as twice the number of synapses as an adult’s brain. The child’s language skills also develop enough for them to form complete sentences, ask questions and be partially understood by strangers.
Between the ages of three and four, a child becomes interested in pretend play and might start imitating roles like playing doctor or teacher or firefighter. This is because they begin to make more sense of their environment and develop imaginative ways to deal with what they see around them.
Humans are born with the innate ability to count thanks to a small region of the brain behind the left ear often called “the number module”. Though a child might begin to count by 2 years of age, they will begin to make sense of the number between three to five years of age.
Even though children start socialising at around the age of two and start playing alongside other children, they do not play ‘with’ other children or understand sharing then. By around 4 years of age, children learn how to take turns. As their awareness increases, they begin to develop negotiation skills and learn how to resolve conflicts too.
Children start scribbling early in life as their dexterity and motor skills develop and they start grabbing crayons and pencils. Since writing the alphabet also requires recognising it and linking it to its meaning, the visual cortex has to develop sufficiently for the child to write and know what he is writing. This usually happens by age 4.
Remember, these milestones are only indicators and since each child is unique, he might reach these milestones at his own individual pace. As a parent, you can provide the child with a stimulating and caring environment and nourishing foods that help in brain development.
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