Brain Building Together

Alli Leake
April 18, 2018
a father plays with his young child

More brain development happens before a child’s third birthday than at any other time in life. Between birth and age three, the brain grows from 25% to 80% of its adult size and forms one million new neural connections each second. If a baby’s body grew as quickly as its brain, three-year-old children would be five feet tall.

This critical period of life is the focus of our new Brain Building Together exhibit, which blends the science of early brain development with the Discovery Museum’s playful, hands-on approach to learning.

Until now, the museum hasn’t had a significant space dedicated exclusively to children in these critical early years. Drawing on current research, the exhibit’s main message is that more brain development happens in a child’s first three years than at any other time and that it happens through relationships and playful interactions with caring adults. Brain Building Together is more than a physical space. It’s a unique learning environment, where adults and young children can play together.

Children learn as they touch, taste, smell, hear, and watch the world around them. But they can’t do this alone. They need support and encouragement from a caring adult. Back and forth social interactions—particularly ones that use many different words—help children develop a sense of self, an understanding of others, and a feeling of well-being, which allows them to discover their emerging abilities and gain confidence.

To that end, the Brain Building Together exhibit provides opportunities for adults to connect with their young children as they play. There’s a space for crawlers; a climbing structure for walkers; a story-sharing area; and a messy sensory zone, as well as a quiet area for respite and feeding. When we bring together caregivers’ knowledge about their own children and simple, science-based practices, our hope is that we can spark the powerful brain building moments so important for healthy development.

Alli Leake photo
Alli Leake

The early years are truly a special time. Not only do brain researchers tell us that an enormous amount of learning happens in the first five years of life, but I love how you can actually see this learning happening in the faces of young children. Giggles, wonderment, and puzzled expressions are all part of our early learning philosophy at the museums. As the Director of Early Childhood Education, I’m currently working to create new exhibit spaces and family programs that inspire playful learning for our youngest visitors and their caregivers. We are here to serve visitors of all abilities and backgrounds, and it gives me great joy to help create an inclusive museum experience for all.

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