The Formation Of The Neural Tube: The First Brain Structure
Changes in the morphology of the embryo in the embryonic period. The formation of the neural tube occurs between E19 and E29. a. The emergence of the neural ridges is observed on E19. b. The ridges fold over to begin the process of neural tube formation. c. Closure of the neural tube begins on E22 in central regions of the newly forming neural tube. d. Closure continues in rostral and caudal direction. The anterior neuropore closes on E25, and the posterior on E27. e. Following the closure of the neural tube, the embryo begins to expand particularly in anterior regions. The primary vesicles are evident by E28. These include the Prosencephalon, Mesencephalon, and Rhombencephalon. f. By E49 the secondary vesicles emerge. The Prosencephalon differentiates into the Telencephalon and Diencephalon, and the Rhombencephalon into the Metencephalon and Myelencephalon. Illustrations by Matthew Stiles Davis reprinted by permission of the publisher from THE FUNDAMENTALS OF BRAIN DEVELOPMENT: INTEGRATING NATURE AND NURTURE by Joan Stiles, Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, Copyright © 2008 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College
Where Do The Neurons Go
As new neurons are created, they migrate from the neural tube to new destinations to form parts of the brain and spinal cord. Complex chemical signals determine where new neurons will migrate, and which brain structures they ultimately contribute to. These chemical signals provide directions, much like a map, to each neuron. Once neurons reach the end of their journey, its time for them to set up shop. They grow special branches, known as dendrites and axons, that connect with other neurons.
Neurons also mature with the help of non-neuron cells called glia. Glial cells not only provide chemical signals like breadcrumbs, but at times, can also provide physical architecture to assist with migration. For example, glial cells known as Bergmann glia act as a branch on which two cerebellar neurons, Purkinje and granule cells, will climb through the brain to their ultimate destination of the cerebellum.
% Of Brain Growth Happens Before Kindergarten
At birth, the average babys brain is about a quarter of the size of the average adult brain. Incredibly, it doubles in size in the first year. It keeps growing to about 80% of adult size by age 3 and 90% nearly full grown by age 5.
The brain is the command center of the human body. A newborn baby has all of the brain cells theyll have for the rest of their life, but its the connections between these cells that really make the brain work. Brain connections enable us to move, think, communicate and do just about everything. The early childhood years are crucial for making these connections. At least one million new neural connections are made every second, more than at any other time in life.
Different areas of the brain are responsible for different abilities, like movement, language and emotion, and develop at different rates. Brain development builds on itself, as connections eventually link with each other in more complex ways. This enables the child to move and speak and think in more complex ways.
The early years are the best opportunity for a childs brain to develop the connections they need to be healthy, capable, successful adults. The connections needed for many important, higher-level abilities like motivation, self-regulation, problem solving and communication are formed in these early years or not formed. Its much harder for these essential brain connections to be formed later in life.
Brain Development In The Fetal Period
The fetal period of human development extends from the ninth gestational week through the end of gestation. The gross morphology of the developing brain undergoes striking change during this time. The human brain begins as a smooth, lissencephalic structure and gradually develops the characteristic mature pattern of gyral and sulcal folding. The formation of gyri and sulci follows an orderly sequence. Primary sulci are first seen as grooves positioned in specifically targeted brain regions, secondary branches then begin to form off the primary sulci, followed later by the tertiary branches. The first fissure to form is the longitudinal fissure that separates two cerebral hemispheres. Its development begins in rostral regions as early as GW8 and proceeds caudally until it is complete at GW22. Other primary sulci form between GW14-26. These include: Sylvian, Cingulate, Parieto-Occipital and Calcarine Central and Superior Temporal and Superior Frontal, Precentral, Inferior Frontal, Postcentral, and Intraparietal . Secondary sulci emerge between GW30-35 formation of tertiary sulci begins during GW36 and extends well into the postnatal period.
The Organization Of The Mature Brain
The human brain is arguably the most complex of all biological systems. The mature brain is composed of more than 100 billion neurons . Neurons are the information processing cells in the brain . There are many different kinds of neurons that vary in their size and shape as well as in their function. Neurons make connections with other neurons to form the information processing networks that are responsible for all of our thoughts, sensations, feelings and actions. Since each neuron can make connections with more than 1,000 other neurons, the adult brain is estimated to have more than 60 trillion neuronal connections. The point of connection between two neurons is called a synapse.
Schematic drawing of a neuron. Each neuron a single large axon. At the distal tip of the axon is a growth cone that serves to guide the axon to targeted brain regions. Once the axon reaches the target site, synapses, or points of connection, form between the axon and the target neuron. The synapse allows electrochemical signals to be transmitted to the target neuron. Each neuron also has a complex arbor of dendrites that receive information from other neurons. Image in the public domain uploaded from: . Original image from Nicolas Rougier
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Critical Periods And Sensitive Periods In The Developing Brain
Within early childhood, there are windows of time when different regions of the brain become relatively more sensitive to life experiences.
These periods of time are called critical periods or sensitive periods.
During a critical period, synaptic connections in those brain regions are more plastic and malleable. Connections are formed or strengthened given the appropriate childhood experiences. After the critical period has passed, the synapses become stabilized and a lot less plastic.
For example, a young child can learn a new language and attain proficiency more easily before puberty. So the sensitive period for language development is from birth to before puberty.
Another example is emotional regulation. Emotional self-regulation forms the foundation of the brain architecture. Its a persons ability to monitor and regulate emotions. Emotional regulation is strongly linked to the development of social skills9, future learning and success in school10.
Emotion regulation is not a skill were born with. Yet its an essential skill in a childs healthy development11.
The sensitive period of learning this crucial life skill is before a child turns two. Children who suffer from early trauma such as child neglect or abuse have difficulty learning self-regulation12. Critical or sensitive period is another reason why early life experiences matter so much.
Teen Brains May Be More Vulnerable To Stress
Because the teen brain is still developing, teens may respond to stress differently than adults, which could lead to stress-related mental disorders such as anxiety and depression. Mindfulness, which is a psychological process of actively paying attention to the present moment, may help teens cope with and reduce stress. More information on managing stress is available in the National Institute of Mental Healths fact sheet, 5 Things You Should Know About Stress.
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How Brain Development Affects Physical Capabilities
Lots of muscle tone isnt much use without a robust guidance system, which is why good brain development goes hand in hand with good physical development. Your brain expertly determines which muscles need to contract and which need to relax at what time in order to make your body move in the way youd like it to. When your baby is born, they dont yet have the ability to control their bodies the way you or I do, but theyll start to take part in vigorous physical activity the moment they can do so.
Teach Children To Ask Questions
The scientific method is a powerful tool of discovery used by scientists to parse out complex new ideas. Its also simple enough to teach to your growing child. While your child will try experimenting and asking Why? on their own, helping them learn to ask the right questions and predict the answers will be a valuable skill for them to learn. When your children are curious about something, encourage them to form a testable hypothesis about it, and follow through.
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Dont Overlook Emotional Intelligence
Yes, we want children to read well and learn the fundamentals of math. But we should not disregard emotional intelligence. The advantages of learning during this first critical period of brain development should extend to interpersonal skills such as kindness, empathy, and teamwork.
Daniel Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson explain the importance of developing childrens empathy in their book The Whole-Brain Child. Empathy begins with acknowledging ones feelings. Therefore, they suggest helping children in this age group to first label their emotions and then tell the story about what made them feel that way . Once children practice labeling emotions, educators can start asking questions that encourage them to consider others feelings.
One way to encourage care for others is to include children in what adults do for others. Even allowing young children to help with chores can make them more helpful and considerate people.
Focus On Breadth Not Depth
One way to avoid focusing on results during this phase of development is to emphasize the breadth of skill development over depth. Exposing children to a wide variety of activities lays a foundation for developing skills in a range of fields. This is the time to engage children in music, reading, sports, math, art, science, and languages.
In his book Range, David Epstein argues that breadth of experience is often overlooked and underappreciated. Focusing on excellence in a single activity may be appropriate at some point in life. But the people who thrive in our rapidly changing world are those who first learn how to draw from multiple fields and think creatively and abstractly. In other words, our society needs well-rounded individuals.
Well-roundedness is especially important for children from ages 2 to 7. Their developing brains are ready to soak in a wide range of skill sets. This sampling period, as Epstein calls it, is integral. This is the window during which to develop childrens range. There is plenty of time for them to specialize later.
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From Conception To Age Three: An Outline Of Early Brain Development
The development of the brain begins in the first few weeks after conception. Most of the structural features of the brain appear during the embryonic period these structures then continue to grow and develop during the fetal period .19,20
The first key event of brain development is the formation of the neural tube. About two weeks after conception, the neural plate, a layer of specialized cells in the embryo, begins to slowly fold over onto itself, eventually forming a tube-shaped structure. The tube gradually closes as the edges of the plate fuse together this process is usually complete by four weeks after conception. The neural tube continues to change, eventually becoming the brain and spinal cord.20,21
About seven weeks after conception the first neurons and synapses begin to develop in the spinal cord. These early neural connections allow the fetus to make its first movements, which can be detected by ultrasound and MRI even though in most cases the mother cannot feel them. These movements, in turn, provide the brain with sensory input that spurs on its development. More coordinated movements develop over the next several weeks.22
Early in the second trimester, gyri and sulci begin to appear on the brains surface by the end of this trimester, this process is almost complete. The cerebral cortex is growing in thickness and complexity and synapse formation in this area is beginning.20,21,23
Key Points To Remember About Adolescent Brain Development
- a safe environment where teenagers have consistent loving support is vital for the brain to develop well
- adults who talk to children as they are growing up really help
- when you are talking to teenagers be careful to check what emotion they are seeing in you, and make sure you always acknowledge their emotions first and then help them to be able to think about what they are feeling
- young people need adults to believe in them and encourage them
- teenagers respond better to rewards than to punishment
- they need clear, consistent boundaries, and very importantly, their growing capacity and ability to do things independently needs to be respected
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An Overview Of Brain Anatomy
The easiest way to get to know the brain is to learn the main structures of the adult brain and how they relate to its function . It should be kept in mind that the relationship between brain structure and function is never simple. Although we often hear claims about the language area or emotion center of the brain, statements like these are simplifications in reality, even the simplest mental activities involve multiple brain regions.
The brain can be divided into three major parts. The brain stem, shaped like a widening stalk, connects the spinal cord to the upper brain. It controls reflexes and involuntary processes like breathing and heart rate. Behind the brain stem and below the upper brain is the cerebellum, which is involved in balance and coordination.
The cerebrum, the largest part of the brain, sits above the brain stem and cerebellum. While each of the brains structures plays an essential role, the cerebrum is the area most involved in higher processes like memory and learning. The cerebrums outer surface is called the cerebral cortex. Although less than one-fourth of an inch thick , it is where the brains most advanced activities such as planning and decision-making take place.
Source: Adapted by Bill Day from www.educarer.org, 2006.
Stages Of Prenatal Brain Development
From the time the neural tube closes, around week 7, the brain will grow at a rate of 250,000 neurons per minute for the next 21 weeks. Ultrasounds can reveal the embryo moving as early as 6 weeks after conception , detecting the electrical impulses that govern movement and indicating that the brain is beginning to function.
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Early Brain Development In Children
Neuroscience research has shown us that early childhood is a time of tremendous brain development. The young brain literally changes shape and size in response to everything encountered in this early period of development. New environment, life experiences, caretakers and relationships can all affect the way complex brain circuits are wired.
Find out how to help your childs brain develop optimally.
Neurons And Synapses Form The Wiring Of The Brain
The brain processes information by forming networks of specialized nerve cells, called neurons, which communicate with one another using electrical and chemical signals . These messages are the physical basis of learning and memory.7 A neuron consists of a cell body and the branch-like structures that extend from it. These include multiple dendrites and an axon, which may have numerous axon terminals. The cell body is the neurons control center among other duties, it stores DNA and generates energy used by the cell. The dendrites receive incoming signals from other neurons, and the axon and its terminal branches relay outgoing signals to other neurons. Axons are sometimes coated with myelin, a fatty substance that insulates the axon and increases the efficiency of communication.
Messages are passed between neurons at connections called synapses. The neurons do not actually touch, however. There is a microscopic gap the synaptic cleft between the axon terminal of one neuron and the dendrite of another. Communication between neurons involves complex electrical and chemical processes, but its basics can be outlined simply:
Source: Adapted by Bill Day from www.educarer.org, 2006.
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Thinking Strategies For Teenage Brain Development
Brain growth and development during these years means that your child will start to:
- think more logically
- think about things more abstractly and understand that issues arent always simple
- pick up more on other peoples emotional cues
- solve complex problems in a logical way, and see problems from different perspectives
- get a better perspective on the future.
You can support the development of your childs thinking with the following strategies:
- Encourage empathy. Talk about feelings yours, your childs and other peoples. Highlight the fact that other people have different perspectives and circumstances. Reinforce that many people can be affected by one action.
- Emphasise the immediate and long-term consequences of actions. The part of the brain responsible for future thinking is still developing. If you talk about how your childs actions influence both the present and the future, you can help the healthy development of your childs prefrontal cortex.
- Try to match your language level to the level of your childs understanding. For important information, you can check your child has understood by asking your child to tell you in their own words what theyve just heard.
- Help your child develop decision-making and problem-solving skills. You and your child could work through a process that involves defining problems, listing options, and considering outcomes that everyone is happy with. Role-modelling these skills is important too.