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The Timing and Quality of Early Experiences Combine to Shape Brain Architecture: Working Paper No. 5

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Publication Date: December 2007

Publisher(s): National Scientific Council on the Developing Child

Funder(s): John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation

Funder(s): John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation

Special Collection: John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation

Topic: Population and demographics (Children and youth)

Keywords: Early childhood education; Child development; Developmental neurobiology

Type: Report

Coverage: United States

Abstract:

The foundations of brain architecture are established early in life through a continuous series of dynamic interactions in which environmental conditions and personal experiences have a significant impact on how genetic predispositions are expressed. Because specific experiences affect specific brain circuits during specific developmental stages—referred to as sensitive periods— it is vitally important to take advantage of these early opportunities in the developmental building process. The quality of a child’s early environment and the availability of appropriate experiences at the right stages of development are crucial in determining the strength or weakness of the brain’s architecture, which, in turn, determines how well he or she will be able to think and to regulate emotions. This report summarizes in clear language the most recent scientific advances in understanding the importance of sensitive periods on brain development, and the implications of those findings for policy.