Motor, Sensory & Brain Development in the First Two Years of Life Video

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  • 0:02 Human Development
  • 1:01 Brain Development
  • 3:29 Development Milestones
  • 5:27 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Natalie Boyd

Natalie is a teacher and holds an MA in English Education and is in progress on her PhD in psychology.

Babies grow and change so much in the first two years of life, and many of those changes are directly tied to the brain and its key functions. In this lesson, we'll look at brain, motor and sensory development in infants.

Human Development

Have you ever seen a baby trying to interact with his or her environment? They can't do much when they're very young: they lie on their backs a lot and maybe they kick their legs and wave their arms, but they can't quote Shakespeare or run an obstacle course. They can't even do basic things, like feed themselves or say hello.

But as they grow, babies change and become more capable. They are able to feed themselves and carry on conversations. They learn to count and to play baseball, and some eventually will be able to quote Shakespeare or run an obstacle course.

Human development is the way that people grow and change over time. There are many types of development: physical, cognitive, emotional and social, just to name a few. And while humans develop throughout their entire lives, a lot of momentous changes happen in the first two years of life.

Let's look closer at how brain development in the first two years of life influences important motor and sensory developmental milestones.

Brain Development

Brain development is a type of physical development. It is the cornerstone of many other types of development. As the brain grows and changes, it causes changes in other parts of the baby's life, too. Suddenly, things that weren't possible before, like clapping or shaking a rattle, become possible because the brain has developed to the point where the baby can perform these tasks.

Many people imagine that brain development only involves the brain getting bigger.While the brain does get somewhat bigger in the first two years of life, the more dramatic changes don't involve growth in physical size but in functionality. Neuroplasticity, or the brain's capacity to change and adapt, is incredibly high in infancy. As a result, a baby's brain learns new ways to work and function.

Imagine for a moment that you have a lump of clay in front of you. Right now, it's just a lump of clay; it doesn't do anything or mean anything. But what if you sculpt that clay into a bowl? Now it's no longer just clay. Now it's something that you can use. You don't have more clay than you did when it was just a lump, but the way the clay is shaped has made it more functional.

Brain development is kind of like that. In the first two years of life, neuroplasticity causes the brain to be better and better at simple things. The brain is becoming more and more functional.

Two parts of the brain that develop and become better and better at their jobs are the sensory cortex and the motor cortex. These two areas of the brain are in charge of how we interact with the world around us. Think of them kind of like a telephone. The sensory cortex is in charge of figuring out the world through sensory input. It's like the earpiece of a telephone. Information is coming in and is processed in the sensory cortex.

The motor cortex, on the other hand, allows us to control the movement of our bodies. It's like the speaker part of a telephone. Information goes out into the world.

The sensory and motor cortices work together. For example, if I put my hand near a hot stove, the sensory cortex of my brain registers that it's hot and the motor cortex pulls my hand away. Because they work together, they are close to each other in the brain; they are kind of like a wide headband that stretches across the surface of your brain from one ear to the other.

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