Early years brain development


Every child grows uniquely, and some children may take a different path in their developmental journey. Engaging early with intervention support services can benefit children, enhancing their potential.​

Why the early years count?


​​​In the first years of a child's life, their brain development will create the foundations for all learning and development later in life. While genetics provide the initial 'map' for development, it is everyday ex​per​iences and relationships that shape a child's brain.

Genetics lay the foundational blueprint for a child’s brain development. Positive interactions with trusted and supportive caregivers in the early years set each child up for a lifetime of learning, health and wellbeing.

A baby's brain begins developing before birth and, in the early years, significant 'wiring' occurs within the brain, effectively programming the child's development. Between 2 to 6 months, a baby will learn about emotions through watching how you react to them when they coo, cry, smile or yell.

Making important connections

  • In the first 9 months, a baby's brain is forming connections between what they see, hear, taste and feel.
  • From 9–12 months, a baby will become increasingly vocal, as their understanding of emotions develops.
  • By the age of 3, a child has around 1,000 trillion brain connections (synapses), the most they will ever have in their life, as these are 'pruned' in later development.

These initial brain connections are formed as a result of the everyday experiences, relationships and care a child receives in their early years and will provide the foundations for further brain development later in life.

What you can do

Parents, caregivers and family members play an important role in the ongoing development of a child. Providing a safe and caring environment for your child and engaging with them through talking, reading and playtime has a great influence on their early development.

Community and learning environments can also play a key role in supporting optimal development through providing support, learning opportunities and social experiences.

Brain development from birth


Essential brain development occurs in the first years of a child's life. When you look at the years in which the main brain development is made and the effect this development has in schooling and later years, the importance of positive experiences in the early years is clear.

As a parent or guardian, you can support your child's early development by providing a safe and nurturing environment with learning opportunities and minimal stress.


Your child's brain has already started developing. All 5 senses begin to function before birth. During this time, prenatal sensory experiences help shape the brain and nervous system.

2–6 months

Significant 'wiring' of the brain occurs in the first years of a child's life and your baby's brain is developing as a result of the experiences and relationships they are exposed to each day. Babies learn emotions through observing their parents and caregivers, and how they react to various movements and sounds such as crying, yelling, smiling and cooing.

6–​9 months

By 9 months, your child's brain has already undergone a rapid growth spurt that helps form connections between what they see, hear, feel and taste. Playtime and interactions with parents and family members provides key learning opportunities for early development.

3 years

By 3 years of age, a child's brain has around 1,000 trillion brain connections (synapses). The early years are a rapid period of brain development which can be fostered by positive relationships with parents and optimal community environments for families and children. Engaging with your child and providing a safe environment and physical care to your child has a significant impact on your child's development.

3–5 years

By school, a child's brain development is built upon the now solid foundation created in the first 5 years. It is more difficult for children to take advantage of learning environments, such as school, if they have not had optimal early learning experiences or a nurturing home environment.


When adolescence is reached, brain synapses will number around 500 trillion, a figure that remains relatively steady into adulthood. The brain development prioritises the connections used most often, resulting in 'pruning' of the brain networks and circuits.​​​

Help and support

If you are concerned about any aspect of your child's development:

If you are in doubt, it is better to have your concerns checked than to wait and see​.

Last updated 13 September 2023