The Developing Brain and Importance of Positive Interaction

Children in the sandbox pour water down a trough

Did you know that by age three, children have developed 80% of their brains? While a baby is born with all the neurons they will have, it is the connections between these cells that make the brain work. In the early childhood years, one million neural connections are being made every second! These neurological connections and pathways are essential for children to continue to learn and grow. This means the experiences we have in the beginning of our lives directly affect the physical architecture of our brain. How are these connections built? Through positive interactions with caregivers and engaging sensory experiences with the world.

You have probably seen your child fill a cup with sand or water and then turn and pour it on the floor. As our youngest children first begin exploring in the sensory table, this is an often-repeated behavior and a recognized play schema. While our first response as an adult might be “Oh no! What a mess,” for young children, these repetitive play behaviors build those neurological connections and important moments of learning. By creating an environment that allows children to play freely, we provide a safe and nurturing space for this exploration and development. As a toddler learns how to use a scoop or cup, they construct the knowledge enabling them to then experiment with filling and emptying it. When our teachers place a second bin on the floor and allow the children to scoop, transport, and then pour, their knowledge and understanding continues to grow so that as a two-year-old, when they want to water a plant, they are now capable of filling, transporting (and balancing), before pouring with growing precision and intention.

Child development experts stress the importance of these early experiences as children are building a foundation for future health and life success. Healthy nutrition, a loving and stable home life, and avoiding extreme stressors are all important ways to support your child’s brain development. Equally important is the quality of their early childcare. Positive relationships with caring adults are essential. It can be challenging and stressful for infants to separate from their parents or primary caregivers, and while some stress helps build resilience, too much can impair development. Research on the cortisol levels of young children in childcare shows a decrease in stress when the children have strong working attachments and the opportunity to play.

In our programs, we emphasize the value of high-quality educators. We want your children coming into a classroom with an adult that not only will love and care for them but will respect their capabilities and join them in their wonder as they explore the world. Especially in the earlier years of infants and toddlers, we are focused on building those teacher-child relationships so that the children feel comfortable and confident to play and discover. As Rachel Carson said,

“If a child is to keep his inborn sense of wonder, he needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with him the joy, excitement and mystery of the world we live in.”

Our goal is to be connecting, exploring, and discovering with the children in our care each day — giving them the same love and affection they receive at home in a space designed just for them.

This fall, the RJW ECC in Potomac will be offering programs for children as young as 12 months! If you would like to learn more about our programs in D.C. or Maryland, please visit our website at