Theories of Development & Learning in Early Childhood Education


Because of modern medical technology, we know so much more about how brains develop and work. The research on brain development in children has helped us understand how a child's brain develops and what children are capable of learning. We have learned that children come into this world ready to learn; nature blesses them with billions of neurons that will strengthen and grow into networks that become a foundation for learning.

A Baby

  • At birth, there are 100 billion neurons in a baby's brain. Life experiences form neural networks, and these networks will transmit information regarding feeling, sensing, thinking and learning. Research shows that heredity and experiences shape a child's brain. Stimulation equals brain growth; therefore, it is very important to talk to, sing to and play music for your baby. Good nutrition is important to brain development. A diet rich in protein and dietary fat is necessary. Playing should be a significant part of a baby's life. All of these contribute to strong neural development.

A Child

  • By age 3, a child's brain will have tripled in weight. The synaptic net of axons and dentrites is thick and ready to absorb new experiences. Linguistic experience is key to a child's growth. "Small talk" is necessary, even when the child is a baby. By six months, babies are on their way to cracking their language code; at age 1, a child is mapping the sound structure of his native language. A loving, consistent environment is necessary for a child to continue to learn.

Relationships Make all the Difference

  • The voices babies know best are their "anchors" into learning. They can recognize the voices of those they know best. Secure attachments are formed when consistent care based on their needs is given. The Report on Early Childhood Development and Learning says,"They sense that they are loved and protected even during quiet or sleepy times, and while at play by themselves."

    The report also concluded that recent studies show that high-quality care does not disrupt a young child's attachments to their parents, so long as parents spend enough time with their infants and toddlers to know them well.

Brain Facts

  • A 3-year-old child's brain has as many as two times the number of synapses as they need; it works twice as fast as an adult's brain. As the child grows, the brain begins to shed the synapses that are not used much, a process that accelerates in adolescence. This is nature's way of making the brain more efficient. What is used is strengthened; what is not used is shed. The Report on Early Childhood Development and Learning revealed that good prenatal care prevents low birth weight, which can cost $30,000 per child to treat.

How All of This Affects Early Childhood Education

  • The research we now know translates into various educational practices, such as parenting classes that teach parents about a child's learning environment and the type of life and linguistics experiences babies need. Today, emphasis is placed on preschool education, as the younger brain experiencing intellectual stimulation lays the foundation for lifelong learning. When a child's circumstances have prevented him from getting what he needs in order to thrive, intervention is set up to provide those tools for the child.


  • Photo Credit Jupiterimages/Comstock/Getty Images
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