The human brain is marvellous. Babies are born with ~120 billion brain cells, that’s 40% more than what we have as adults. The basic structure of our brains is established well before birth by our genes, but its continued development relies heavily on a process called ‘neuro-plasticity’. Neuroplasticity describes how our experiences change the physical & functional nature of our brain.
This process means our brains have the ability to modify its connections & re-wire itself. Without this they would stay the same as when we were born. Neuroplasticity means that our brain can physically restructure itself as a result of our learning in order to change the way our brain functions. When we learn something new, our brain changes to reflect that. Without it, the brains we are born with would be unable to develop from infancy through to adulthood or recover from injury.
Throughout childhood our brains decide which connections are important & which can be let go. This reduction or ‘neural pruning’ of cells is not a loss of skill, but rather how our brain matures & refines its pathways. Neural pruning is associated with learning & researchers think that the brain decides which connections to keep based on how frequently they are used. This makes sense considering that the more experience or practice we have with something, the better at it we get.
Neuroplasticity is the reason children are so good at learning languages, playing sport & musical instruments. It’s also why children are generally resilient more when it comes to both physiological and emotional trauma.
Our brain's ability to adapt makes up so much of what it is to be human. Our children are always changing, right before our eyes & their brains are changing too. What we teach them, and the experiences they have shape who they are & who they will become at a cellular level. Let’s try to make sure we are teaching them well.
References: Mundkur 2005; Hensch & Bilimoria 2012; Masten 2011