Guest Post: Insights on Brain Development from Deborah McNelis

SpecialGuestBloggerYou may have noticed that we recently added an exciting new product line to our library of resources — Brain Insights cards. Created by Deborah McNelis, each pocket-sized, age-specific Brain Insights set (there are six available!) offers 40 brain-building learning activity ideas to jump-start interactive play anywhere throughout the day. In this guest post, Deborah shares a bit background on early brain development and insight on the significant role you play in young children’s lives. Read on for a dose of brain power!

It is an extreme pleasure to contribute to this incredibly valuable site. My passion is to create the awareness and understanding that we can easily impact the healthy and optimal brain development of children which leads to overall well-being in life—and the early years are the best time to have a positive influence.


As I often say to audiences at the beginning of brain presentations, “I am thrilled that technology allows the study of the brain like we’ve never seen before.” When scientific research began demonstrating that a child’s early development is largely determined by the daily environment and experiences, rather than genetics alone, I became extremely excited. I was an early childhood educator at that time and knew the impact of the early years, but having scientific evidence to support the dramatic difference quality early childhood educators and caring parents make was very reinforcing.

The good news is that advances in brain research have demonstrated the enormous importance of the early years in determining a person’s future success in learning and in life. It is now known that a child’s brain continues to develop long after birth. The term “brain development” means more than just intelligence building. It means the actual structural changes that take place in the brain. The experiences a child has in the early years activate the actual physical connections between brain cells that make the brain grow—in other words, the brain’s “wiring.” We now understand that school readiness is based on this brain wiring, most of which takes place before age five. This wiring develops best when provided with:

  • Nurturing and stimulating environments         
  • Repetition of positive experiences
  • Nutrition and sleep 
  • Unstructured play with real objects
  • Movement activities and time in nature 
  • Direct and interactive language
  • Routines and predictability
  • Being read to and exposure to music
  • Positive, responsive, and caring relationships

Conversely, constant exposure to stress, limited stimulation, poor nutrition, chaos, little time outdoors, too much screen time, unpredictability, and lack of nurturing relationships all lead to types of brain wiring that can contribute to emotional and learning problems. Brains learn very early how to cope with the environment in which they exposed, sometimes with harmful results.

This information is critical because approximately 13 million toddlers and preschoolers are not in the care of their parent during the day, including 45% of children under the age of one. Early childhood professionals who are trained and are knowledgeable about early brain development have a dramatic and very positive influence. Dedicated educators and care providers create healthy learning environments and the loving interactions growing minds need when children are away from their parents.

The significance of the early years is still not fully recognized by most adults. We need to ensure both home and out of care settings are environments where children can thrive. Our entire society cannot afford to continue to allow large numbers of children to miss out on the positive experiences they need in infancy and early childhood; the costs in terms of lost potential and increasing rates of emotional and behavioral problems are too high. Brain research shows us what children need; our responsibility is to ensure that every child receives it!

Deborah McNelis, MS.ed is the founder of Brain Insights, LLC, and author of the Brian Development Packets series. She has contributed to several books, is seen in several publications, heard on numerous radio shows, and receives rave reviews for her enlightening and engaging presentations throughout the country.

Her goal through this work is for everyone to gain an understanding of early brain development, its impact, and the ways we can all easily make a REAL difference for the future of our children.

Read our Q&A with Deborah McNelis and learn more about  her Brain Insights line, available from Redleaf Press.


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