Child's Brain Development - The Importance Of Connecting With A Key Adult During Their 1st 1000 Days
Learning Tower – The Arc Assistant and its benefits for your toddler’s brain development
Read the below summary of expert Nathan Wallis findings to learn about the crucial brain development that happens in the first 1000 days of a child’s life, the importance of adults connecting with their toddlers and how The Arc Assistant, new innovative kids furniture helps massively to support this. It is more than just a kitchen stool or step stool it provides a safe place for toddlers to connect multiple times a day with their key adult.
Nathan Wallis is an ex-university lecturer in human development and a specialist in neuroscience. He has a background as a child and family therapist, early childhood and primary school teacher. He has served in the past as lead trainer and board member for Brainwave Trust – which disseminates neuroscientific research findings.
Born to connect – Neuroscientific research findings highlights the importance of connecting with toddlers and having innovative kids furniture such as the Arc Assistant to facilitate this connectivity in what otherwise would be lost daily opportunities. Use of this learning tower, morning, noon and night increases bonding time with toddlers and helps support their brain development.
The technological advances such as brain scans enable doctors and scientists to see inside the brain in real time, instead of speculating about how a live brain might work based on static data. This has led to some massives findings about how a child’s brain develops.
How does the presence of a attuned relationship based on daily connection activities with a key adult, create clever toddlers?
What the literature shows, is toddlers do best when raised by the most responsive and attuned person available to them – regardless of gender or biology. This is very likely (for multitudes of reasons) to be the mother, but it doesn’t have to be. For this reason Nathan Wallis occasionally uses the term ‘dyad’ in this seminars, rather than ‘mother and baby’, and although it’s a hard word to pin down to a single definition, we use the term ’intelligence’ to mean the full development of a child’s brain (the full development of their frontal cortex).
Paul McLean noticed in the 1960’s that the brain can be divided into three parts: section one – reptile (brainstem), section two – mammal (limbic) and section three – human (frontal cortex). The brain evolves and develops during childhood – from bottom section one, to top section three. Reptiles and some mammals only have sections one and/or two whereas humans have all three sections.
Section one (the brainstem aka Reptilian Brain) is the first part of the brain to develop and its main job is survival; it keeps your heart beating. It really kicks into gear when the human stress response is activated and fight, flight or freeze takes over (think back to the stone ages and bushman tribes).
Section two (the limbic system aka Mid brain) is the emotional brain. As humans a lot of our brain develops after being born so we need a limbic system to nurture our child’s brain into being. It is really this biological need to grow the brain outside of the womb that gives us mammals the amazing gift of childhood and parenthood.
Section three, (the frontal cortex aka Neocortex) is the human section that is responsible for all higher intellect, including advanced social skills like empathy and emotional regulation.
In the 1990’s scientists made a massive discovery about the brain. They discovered that the third section of the brain, the frontal cortex, is somewhat ‘optional’ in development. In simple terms, the first two sections will largely develop so long as the child is kept alive. However, section three is not needed to survive (you can live a long time without reading or writing and without empathy or compassion) so it is set up to be responsive to the environment and generally only reaches full fruition if the right conditions and connections between adults and child are experienced in the early years.
So, what are these ‘right connections’?
Most are focused around a baby’s and todder’s need for a connected relationship with one key adult. Although it can vary, the optimal period for this is generally accepted as being the first thousand days (from conception until about 2.5 years of age). Although research suggests that it is not impossible to develop this section of the brain (frontal cortex) later in life, it is much more difficult, expensive and time consuming.
So exactly how does relationship security, love and connection create intelligence or a ‘clever toddler’? Fundamentally, it is the dyad – or key adult-child relationship – that delivers connectivity, attunement, safety and predictability that enables the ‘right conditions’ for the frontal cortex to develop. In other words, its relationship connection and security that throughout human evolutionary history has calmed the brainstem so that the frontal cortex çan develop.
It’s important to know that the brainstem and frontal cortex are not designed to be both fully online at the same time (you can’t solve a maths equation when being chased by a Lion!) An easy way to visualize this is to imagine the brainstem and frontal cortex on a set of scales. If one is highly active, the other is not.
There isn’t really a competition between the two, because the brainstem is in charge of this process and wins every time. In fact, toddlers only get to access the learning part of their brain – the frontal cortex – when their brainstem decides it’s safe and lets them. In summary, survival is everybody’s prime concern; everything else you do depends on that. Learning and the frontal cortex are optional extras.
This is useful in understanding the biological mechanism operating in the first thousand days, that contributes to how much the frontal cortex develops – or how ‘intelligent’ the toddler will be. Simply put, the calmer the survival (reptile) brain remains in the first thousand days, the better. The frontal cortex will flourish when the toddler gathers data from the environment that tells them they are living in a safe world attuned with their key adult. Then the focus is not on survival. It is the consistent, responsive, connection with a key adult that has a calming effect on this brainstem over the first thousand days that allows a toddler’s brain to develop a full frontal cortex.
So the development of empathy, self-regulation, self-control, learning dispositions, higher intellect and all the other skills that will eventually render them ‘ready for school’ (and ready for a successful, healthy life) have their roots in the baby feeling safe, in partnership and regular connecting activities and love in the first thousand days.
But doesn’t it take a village to raise a child? Why one adult?
Indeed it does take a village, but only when viewed over the entire childhood. It is the role of the village in most cultures to wrap support around the dyad (the adult and the baby) in at least the first 18 months of the child’s life. Humans have been experiencing this for millions of evolutionary years. So much so that it is now built into the actual biology, or genes, of the child to expect this experience of a secure attachment relationship with one key adult.
By fulfilling the baby’s drive toward one key relationship, the sensitive caregiver is meeting a primary need that has evolved in humans over millions of years – a connected, responsive and predictable relationship with primarily one person. They thereby greatly enhance the child’s chances of reaching their full genetic potential and developing higher intelligence.
With great opportunities to connect with your little one on a daily basis, the collection of Learning Towers, (from Children’s furniture company Arc NZ Baby), fondly named the Arc Assistants were designed and made in New Zealand to provide a safe, calm and familiar environment for daily connectivity to occur between key adult and toddler. Families who choose the Arc Assistant are enabling themselves to connect with their little ones during all meal preparation times. These times of bonding that occur on a consistent and regular basis support the above findings around the importance of connecting with your toddler and providing a consistent, attuned and loving environment. With the Arc Assistants we aim to enhance both toddler and adult wellbeing – helping build on special relationships and facilitating quality connected time where adults are not stressed is what we specialise in. This all leads to the greater aim of supporting brain development on a daily consistent basis. Our Learning towers allow you to enjoy stress free meal preparation with toddlers. The Arc Assistant Original boosts little ones to stand at bench height, enabling safe play & learning and a mutual connection. Little ones are no longer under feet, but rather connected with the key adult in their life helping their brains develop to their full potential.