Why the First Two Years of Life Are the Most Important

The first two years is when rapid brain development occurs (more than 1 million neural connections form each second). After this period of rapid development, there’s a significant slowdown and the focus will be more on pruning (the goal is to make the brain circuits more efficient).

As a result, the child’s early years are crucial to his/her long-term future. Yes, the brain is still flexible and your child’s choices in the future (in career or business) have a huge effect. However, much of the brain development might be occurring during the early years. Your child might still grow up to be smart and bright but if his/her physical capabilities (brain architecture, neural connections) are limited in the first place, his/her full potential might never get fulfilled.

Why the first two years of life are the most important

At first glance it seems nothing much is happening as your baby doesn’t walk or talk yet. Progress seems slow if you look at it moment by moment and day by day. However, most of the action happens quietly in the background as neurons are firing and millions of neural connections are getting formed. The child’s core brain architecture is getting established whenever your baby plays, smiles at you or even while he/she is sleeping.

It also seems that your child is still unaware of what’s happening around him/her. The truth is this seemingly lack of awareness doesn’t necessarily mean the environment has no influence on your child. Your child’s immediate environment and what’s happening can still have an impact to his/her cognitive development.

For instance, babies and young kids require safety and stability because this is a new environment for them after spending nine months inside the womb. Everything is new and feels like a threat unless the mum is around or the environment is already familiar (that’s why early learning centres try to mimic the child’s environment and routine at home). Without that safety, stability and structure they feel uneasy and might even panic. The toxic stress can then damage the developing brain architecture (which could then lead to lifelong problems in behaviour and learning). The toxic stress can damage the neurons and thereby there will be fewer neurons to form connections with. This is an early disadvantage for the child and may cascade throughout his/her life.

The importance of a positive environment

Environment refers to both the physical and social environment. The social environment includes you as the parent and the nursery (other children and educators). It’s important that the social environment is positive, supportive and nurturing. This way, kids are free to explore while remaining safe.

For instance, that’s our approach here at Aspire Early Education. We maintain a safe and secure environment to encourage exploration. To make the kids feel safe (and provide that sense of structure and stability), we follow the family’s experiences and routines. This results in a smooth and comfortable transition from your home to our nursery. This also helps kids better focus on playing and learning instead of getting distracted with the new things found in the new environment.

The child’s environment shapes his/her future similar to how some groups of humans were able to thrive early on because of a nurturing environment. For instance, the Eurasian continent got a jumpstart because of its wide horizontal axis that allowed easier transfer of knowledge and goods over a large area (i.e. being a huge landmass). In addition, this wide horizontal axis has also allowed for a more consistent climate where the same species of domesticated plants and animals can thrive in different countries.

It’s just a jumpstart because the decisions of the Eurasian people still had a huge impact on their long-term future. However, that jumpstart helped them become conquerors of distant lands. It started with that “environmental advantage” but the impact is being felt for centuries. It’s a similar case with the child’s development where early advantages can compound and accumulate. If your child is in a nurturing environment (especially in his/her first two years), his/her rapid brain development will be better maintained and supported.

After all, young kids are actively engaging with their environment as they continually observe things, listen to voices, watch faces and stimulate their senses (including touch, taste and smell). This dynamic interaction with the environment shapes the child’s brain architecture more than we realise. Even if it’s just urging kids to reach out for their toys can do wonders for their brains as they develop their motor skills and then build their self-esteem once they reached the toy with their own efforts. A safe, secure and predictable environment can also help them better focus on playing, learning and exploration.

The child’s first two years are crucial to his/her long-term future and development. It’s true that there are many other things in the future that will happen which could then determine his/her trajectory. But one thing is for sure now and that you can decide upon: your child should be in a safe, secure, nurturing and positive environment so that he/she will gain an advantage and get a better chance of fulfilling his/her full potential.