Your baby's brain explained | 'Three times more active than an adult's' brain: The preschool years

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"The preschool years are a time when we see the highest rate of growth and expansion of the brain". (Getty Images)
"The preschool years are a time when we see the highest rate of growth and expansion of the brain". (Getty Images)
  • Ever wondered why your preschooler's "need for stimulation" leaves you feeling drained?
  • It's their blooming brains, literally. During the preschool years "the brain is truly blossoming".
  •  A local expert gives tips on how to ensure your little dynamo reaches full potential.

If you've ever wondered what's with your preschooler's never-ending need to know why or desire to explore everything, you can blame it on their brain. 

Preschoolers are the very definition of dynamite in small packages with their brains that are  nearly "three times more active than an adult's" brains.

So says cognitive development and early learning expert Dr Caylee Cook. 

"The preschool years are a time when we see the highest rate of growth and expansion of the brain, a time when the brain is truly blossoming," says Cook. 

But while they're firing on all cylinders, it's their relationship with their parents that will ultimately determine whether they reach full bloom. 

And for preschoolers, this means nurturing their curiosity and helping them to "explore, experience, and interact with the environment and people around them", Cook advises. 

Also read: How do I know if my child is developing normally?

So why all the 'whys'?

In addition to their rapid-fire brain activity and the general development of their brains during this phase, your preschooler's cerebral cortex, "the outermost layer of the brain," undergoes the most significant amount of change. 

"It is responsible for processing information and helps to develop language, attention, memory, and movement". 

Your preschooler's brain development is still very much work in progress and will continue to "be tuned and pruned all the way into adulthood. This is true for all domains of development, including language, cognition, social-emotional and motor development," the Wits expert explains. 

And although it's potentially overwhelming, your preschooler's curiosity is an integral part of development, Cook says. 

"Our brains are good at telling us what to do to make them grow, particularly at a young age. This is seen in children's constant need for stimulation, play, exploration and interactions with peers and adults. Their curiosity about the world around them helps to develop each part of the brain". 

Also see: How to get preschoolers ready to learn math

'Shaped by their experiences'

It may be surprising to learn that your little one is essentially a processing machine; and embracing your role as a vital brain booster can't be emphasised enough. 

In fact, an interactive relationship with your child outweighs educational resources, advises Cook, who highlights "nurturing and responsive caregiving through activities like reading or looking at picture books, telling stories and singing" as the best brain-boosting activities for your preschooler. 

"A child's brain is shaped by their experiences," she notes. 

That being said, Cook urges parents not to rush or put too much pressure on their child as this might cause developmental delays. 

The same sentiment should be applied to milestones, Cook says, advising parents to put more importance on encouraging participation, interaction and exploration "in activities that stimulate development and learning". 

"We need to keep in mind that each child will develop at a different pace". 

Next: Your baby's brain explained | Your sometimes rude, self-appointed 'rule maker': The tween years

Find the complete series here: Your baby's brain explained: A Parent24 Series 


More about our expert: 

Dr Caylee Cook started her studies at Stellenbosch University where she completed a BSc Sport Science degree, specialising in Kinderkinetics. She found a passion for early childhood development and went on to complete her PhD at UCT with research focusing on physical activity, motor skills and cognitive development in preschool children. She holds a postdoctoral position at the SAMRC/Wits Developmental Pathways for Health Research Unit at Wits University where her research looks at cognitive development and early learning in preschool children from low-income settings.  

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