” The greatness of the human personality begins at the hour of birth” – M. Montessori
This is another favorite quote of mine. Montessori believed that education must begin from birth since the child begins the work of constructing his intellect and personality the moment he is born. I actually think the greatness of the human personality begins at conception but that’s another story. Today’s post is going to talk about brain formation and why I agree with the thought that education should begin at birth. This topic is a little scientific but I’ll try to make it as simple as I can.
The Short and Simple Version
A large part of brain development (which is linked to intelligence) happens between birth and the second year of life. Brain development slows down significantly after the second year. Therefore, education is very important in the first two years of life. The education that I refer to here is not necessarily putting the child in school i.e. education as we know it. The next post in this series will discuss the practical side of education from birth.
The Detailed Version
The human brain is made up of neurons and Glial cells. Neurons are the cells that manage information. Science has found that while the child is born with most of the neurons that make up the brain already in place, brain development continues for a couple of years after birth. Unlike other tissues in the body which can continue dividing and generating new cells during one’s life, the neurons that make up the brain begin to form during the third week, reach a production peak at seven weeks and are largely complete by the eighteenth week of pregnancy. I find this really amazing! To think that the 100 billion neurons in the brain are formed within approximately 3.5 months. Then again, the baby goes from a cell to a human with hands, legs, fingers and toes in 12 weeks so everything about pregnancy is amazing but I digress!
So the neurons are complete by 18 weeks in-utero (in the womb) but this does not complete the formation of the brain. The real or even more important part of brain development which influences intelligence is the formation of synapses and growth of dendrites. I will try not to make this too complicated but basically, these neurons have to make connections and form synapses. I’ll use the example used by Lise Eliot in her book “What’s Going on in There”. Imagine everyone on earth had a telephone but the phones were not connected yet… well it doesn’t help with communication, does it? This is the same with Neurons. They are all formed but they need to make synapses for the brain to function.
The synapse is a communication point between two neurons and it is formed when neurons connect. the formation of synapses begins at about seven weeks in-utero and continues until about the second year of life. You may have heard before that the first two years of life are very important… now you hopefully see why. At its peak, about 1.8million synapses per second are generated. Did I already say the human body is amazing? Each Synaptic connection produces a dendritic spine. In order to accommodate the huge amount of synapses being generated, the brain neurons have to expand their dendritic surface and this is the big part of brain development. Basically, the brain’s size and weight gets bigger as more synapses are formed. 83% of this growth happens after birth!
The picture above shows the changes in the number of connections from the newborn stage to age two, while the chart below show the change in the weight of the brain at different ages.Average brain weights (BW)
Hopefully you see the that between birth and the second year, your child’s brain is still going through a very high level of development! His/her greatness is being formed! In the first year alone, the brain grows 155% after that, it drops significantly to 15% in the second year and it goes downhill from there.
Now it’s easy to assume this will all happen without any support from us but in the next post in this series, I will discuss the implications of all I have talked about, as well as what we can do to support this amazing development that is taking place in the first year. I can tell you it is not only by feeding and caring for the child which is what most people think and do. You have to educate but not in the way that most people currently view education.
In the mean time, if you are pregnant, continue eating those vegetables and taking your vitamins 🙂
I’m sorry if you found this very technical. I tried to simplify it as much I could. Please leave a comment with any questions or contributions to the topic and check back for the next post on this topic which will be much more practical.
Live a GoodLife!
*Pictures are from the book “What’s Going on in There”. You can also read more about this at this site