Cultivating Your Child’s Intellect

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Child's Intellect


"We need to have it at the back of our mind that biology is not destiny. Growth though occurs by default, desirable outcomes require our proactive involvement in the developmental processes. Enough of living by default! Parents and caregivers have expedient roles to play in the development of their children’s brain/intellect. The most critical stages of human brain development occur between age 0-3 years."

You must have wondered like me, why some people are more brilliant than others? Especially while you were still in school and you knew you read as much as the most brilliant students in your class did, but couldn’t catch up with them. That reality was quite painful, wasn’t it? Now that you’re a parent or an intending one, you should want to know the reasons for this uncanny disparity and the possible panacea so as to raise exceptional children.

Intellect is the ability to think, reason, understand, and learn. In other words, intellect is akin to mental ability or mental faculty. The core of human intellect is the brain. Brain is known as the control center of the central nervous system. It is the power source to which thousands of nerves responsible for attention, memory, emotion, perception, cognition and body regulation, are connected.

This post is not much of those jargons associated with the biology of human brain, and lengthy analysis of brain development, it’s been edited to the most concise summary, so that it would be easy to read for the purpose of social learning.



Neuro-scientists have rightly informed us that the human brain is composed of over eighty billion neurons and cells. The brain of an average adult has all the necessary units of cell and neuron for normal performance. Intellectual performance of the brain with regards to the scope of this write-up implies – learning capacity (understanding, assimilation, retention), reasoning, memory, and speed of processing.

Why is intellectual performance of the brain vary from person to person if no one is less endowed with critical components by nature, as postulated by scientists? We shall find answers by examining the quality of the minutest unit cell that made up the components and the effectiveness of the developmental process of the brain.

We need to have it at the back of our mind that biology is not destiny. Growth though occurs by default, desirable outcomes require our proactive involvement in the developmental processes. Enough of living by default! Parents and caregivers have expedient roles to play in the development of their children’s brain/intellect. The most critical stages of human brain development occur between age 0-3 years. Early moments matter for every child. According to a research finding by an agency of UNICEF –

“About 250 million children are at risk of not fulfilling their developmental potential; a poor start in life can translate to 25% less potential income as an adult; countries could lose up to twice what they now invest in health or education.”

The Executive Director of UNICEF, Anthony Lake opined, “what’s the most important thing a child has? It’s her brain. And yet, we’re not caring for children’s brains the way we care for their bodies.” As mentioned earlier, the most critical stages of human brain development occur between age 0-3 years. What happen or fail to happen within this period are largely irreversible. The factors that interplay within this stages include, genetics, nutrition, and environment. Good gene is not the most important factor as it seems, it is easy to think that the children of a brilliant parent should be brilliant, but that’s a myth. And researches have disprove such myth, time and again. Genes provide the template while nutrition and environment serve as the construct derivatives.

Special nerve cells known as neurons are a communication network through which the brain process information, using chemical and electrical signals. A neuron consists of a cell body and multiple dendrites and axon terminals in form of branch-like structures. The cell body controls the neuron, stores DNA and generates energy for the cell. A neuron receives incoming signals through dendrites and axons and also transmit signals to other neurons. The connection in-between neurons is known as synapses. There are ceaseless, ongoing communication between neurons through complex chemical and electrical process. The synapses that a child’s brain will develop in the first three years of his/her life is twice what they will develop in adulthood. At age three, a child’s brain has developed all the neurons it will ever have and has reached not less than 80% of its adult volume.

NUTRITION

Nutrition has been regarded as the most essential factor influencing the environment of the baby in the womb, at infancy and during early years. Brain starts to develop, two weeks after conception and significant progress is made throughout the trimesters. During the formative period, both fetal and natal, a proper balance of nutrient is critical for normal brain development. Important nutrients at this period include iron, iodine, DHA (an essential fatty acid), folic acid, zinc, choline, among others. Proper and balanced mix of those nutrients are expedient throughout this window for brain cell production, improved cell size and complex configuration as well as the complex chemical processes of the brain.

Insufficient supply of these nutrients is detrimental to the brain development and the effect are often irreversible. From conception to three years old, no moment should be spared. The rate at which neurons form new connections is quite astonishing – about 700 – 1,000 connections per second. That pace is never repeated again. These connections constitute the building block of a child’s future career. If you want your child to learn well, maximize his/her potentials and earn much, nurture her brain.

ENVIRONMENT

Isn’t it amazing that at birth, a baby can recognize the voice of her mother; the sound of the music her mother usually sing; a smiling face and smile back; prefer human face to seeing objects and so on. These underscores the extent of pre-natal brain development.

Throughout the first year of birth, new developments emerge on weekly basis. Power of recognition improves, a baby becomes adapted to the home language and home food, movement skills develop. All these continue into year two, when the child’s language ability spikes. He/she can mimic sounds, use personal pronouns, can follow simple instructions. The child’s brain is being developed in higher cognitive abilities, which enable him/her to be aware of his own image (as in the mirror), emotion and intention and more.

At age three, significant development and reinforcement of cognitive abilities take place. At this stage, children are able to make simple decisions based on previous experience. They have better understanding of the effect of their action and by a basic sense of judgment, a child can decide to hurt others or not. In all of these, the environment to which the child is exposed is a defining factor in what becomes of him/her in the future.

If you consistently engage a child in intellectually stimulating play, the excessive neural connections of age 0-3 would be strengthened and optimized. However, less stimulation and intellectual challenge result in the weakening and severance of those connections. By the end of age three, the brain would have shed all unutilized connections and assume a permanent conditioning which is well adapted and suitable for survival in its environment. This is when the foundation for intellectually sound or poor studentship are formed, in preparation for future challenges. A child that is well protected, cared for, loved, played with, provided for, mentally challenged and encouraged in a loving social environment stands a better chance at excelling in intellectual and socio-economical feats.

All things being equal, every child is supposed to do well in the subject matter in which she’s well taught. That is the installed capacity, besides talent which enables one to enjoy or prefer a unique course over others. Parents could only be justified at their criticism of a non-performing child if the forgoing had been well taken care of. A frightening dimension that’s plaguing our part of the world is parents aiding their children in examination malpractices due to the latter’s less capacity to cope with intellectual demand.

Nevertheless, before a child is condemned or introduced to vices which could further aggravate their predicament, there is a second chance. The brain keeps developing until the adolescent ages. Parts of the brain that’s responsible for executive functions, like goal setting, planning, decision making and so on have the opportunity to optimally develop, if the talents or natural abilities of the child are harnessed through functional education.

In conclusion, every society should seek to maximize the brain potential of their youngest citizens by ensuring that all boys and girls have access to quality early childhood development, care and preprimary education so that they are ready for primary education.

Hope this is helpful!



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