I am sure you have heard saying that babies’ minds are like sponges.
Meaning – they can learn new skills rapidly, in a fraction of the time it would take for an adult.
I do envy that…
But, have you ever wondered how on earth such a young person with such a tiny brain can do that?
It certainly isn’t magic.
So, let’s examine the 7 reasons babies learn so fast (and so effortlessly), shall we?
Why Do Babies Learn So Fast?
There are two primary aspects that allow babies to soak up skills and knowledge quickly. These are biological and behavioural. First is a rapidly developing brain that makes millions of new connections between cells, brain plasticity, and the immature prefrontal cortex. The second aspect is a natural curiosity, eagerness to seek knowledge without filtering, questioning, or prejudice – as opposed to adults. In addition, babies have all the time in the world to learn things and are not worried about potential failure, which can disturb learning efficiency.
Your Baby’s Developing Brain: Shape, Size, Wiring & Plasticity
Before we examine why babies learn so fast, let’s look at how adult and baby brains differ.
So, we already know that a newborn baby’s brain is a third of the size of an adult brain, right?
Then, a smaller brain means lower intelligence and capacity to learn, right?
It’s not the size of the brain itself that matters, but the quantity of the brain cells (called neurons) and the connections between them make all the difference in learning capability.
You see, babies are born with nearly all the neurons that the human brain will ever have! Which, by the way, comes to 100 billion brain cells.
Even though their brain size is only 25% of the adult size.
Now, the interesting part is that your newborn’s brain still has unconnected neurons that cannot communicate with one another.
And that’s why a baby’s brain, at first, can only control the most primitive functions, such as sucking, breathing, heart beating or digesting. Everything else will need to be learned.
So, over the next 30 or 40 years, your baby’s brain will change from tabula rasa (blank slate) into completely developed and filled with information and wisdom.
1. From Blank Canvas To (Almost) Finished Painting
Now, with every single sensation, touch, movement, and social interaction your baby experiences, her brain cells will form new neural connections called synapses.
So any new experience will contribute to the creation of new synapses. And this process will continue throughout their (and any healthy person’s) lifespan.
But, the veritable explosion of synapse growth occurs during infancy. At the whopping rate of 1 million connections per second!
The ability to grow these new neurological connections and strengthen the existing ones is the fastest it will ever be during the first 5 to 6 years!
For comparison, the synaptic density of an adult’s brain will be only half of a 2-year-old toddler!
Ok, But What Does It Have To Do With The Ability To Learn Quickly?
Well, when the neural pathways develop between the brain cells, that’s how their brain grows and when learning, acquiring knowledge and building memories happen.
In other words, as the brain learns a new skill or forms fresh memory, it embeds this new information by creating the connection between neurons.
And since babies have double the number of connections than adults, they are naturally more receptive to new information.
And that’s why they can pick up new things easier and quicker than adults.
… And that is, my friends, the fundamental difference between a baby’s and adult brain! Voila.
A stimulating, nurturing, and loving environment with plenty of high-quality learning opportunities will help your baby’s brain form more connections.
Meaning that more new information will be obtained and stored.
On that note, I should mention that the initial 5 years are critical in shaping your baby’s brain to its full potential. It will set the foundation for future health, learning, and behaviour.
So it is worth putting extra effort into nurturing and stimulating your baby during these initial years and maintaining a healthy, loving relationship! (I know it is hard, but it will pay off in the long run).
2. Brain Plasticity
There is still more awesomeness to the baby’s brain that we need to discuss.
And that is the ability to reorganize and rewire existing synapses. Over time, the redundant connections are pruned, and those used often will become stronger and more efficient.
We also know this ability as brain plasticity.
This brain rewiring occurs as part of normal brain development in babies. The changes in brain structure happen the most rapidly between birth and 3 years of age.
After that, the brain plasticity decreases throughout adolescence and becomes static by adulthood.
So, this means that the greater the plasticity, the easier it is to learn new things and unlearn bad habits by replacing them with the new, better ones.
As simple as that.
Using Neuroplasticity with Kids: One Way to Strengthen A Child’s Brain
3. Underdeveloped Prefrontal Cortex… Is Actually Very Helpful in Learning
I promise – this is the last brain-related subject which I simply could not neglect…
So, if you haven’t heard about the prefrontal cortex, it is a part of the brain just behind the forehead. It is the last part of the brain to mature and undergo the longest development.
Because it continues to shape until the person reaches their 30s or 40s.
This part of the brain controls social awareness, behaviour, and other high cognitive functions, such as planning, decision-making, or taking efficient actions.
So, it is a key area of the brain….
Surprisingly, its immaturity in the early days helps acquire knowledge quicker.
And that’s because it prevents distraction from irrelevant thoughts or actions. This helps babies explore and learn more creatively, freely, and flexibly!
And they can take lots of information from many sources at once since they can disengage from one task and move on to the other.
This brings us nicely to discussing behavioural factors that help babies learn quickly…
4. Not Overthinking And Stressing About
The underdeveloped prefrontal cortex of babies prevents them from making complex decisions and planning.
And this is a good thing in relation to acquiring knowledge and experience.
Because they don’t stress about the worst-case scenario and overthink things like adults do.
Instead, they just go with the flow, and when they find something exciting, they simply do things as and when the moment strikes.
And that’s how they learn quickly without losing time or effort to thigh things through…
5. Natural Open-mindedness, Creativity, Imagination, Curiosity
Babies are enthusiastic and motivated to acquire new skills and learn new things, as you may all agree.
And, of course–their natural curiosity is a powerful driver to gain new information!
When you present your baby with something they’ve never seen before, the first thing they’ll do is… put the thing in their mouth for exploration.
Because of their natural lack of prejudice (associated with age), lack of preconceived opinions and need to challenge them (so familiar to adults), and open-mindedness, they will effortlessly absorb all the information as and when it comes.
And accept these additional facts that are presented to them without questioning them remotely.
They won’t categorize or filter information. They will accept it as it is.
One thing to note is they may not have the capacity to understand or use this new wisdom efficiently just yet…
In other words, babies may take a new piece of information as an unconscious “snapshot”.
There is no logic or comprehension involved in this purely sensory experience (since this part of the brain will develop later on).
But the information is there. Stored in their internal database (aka brain), ready to be used later, when needed.
6. Fear of Failure
Paulo Coelho said something that is very true for adults only.
“There is only one thing that makes a dream impossible to achieve: the fear of failure”.
The fear of failure luckily
doesn’t apply to babies at all. Because babies simply don’t worry about failure or embarrassment.
They don’t feel the pressure of their peers or environment to succeed on the first attempt (sounds familiar to us – adults, right?).
So, in other words, babies will keep trying new things, even if they make a mistake. Or loads of them.
For example, even with wobbly legs, they will keep trying to walk.
They will instinctively, passionately, and wholeheartedly practice until they succeed.
Free from the burden of feeling foolish and embarrassed.
7. They Have All The Time In The World To Learn
Besides feeding, pooping, and crying, what is the primary “job” of a baby?
Playing is the answer here!
Which, indeed, takes quite a chunk of their daily routine.
But past the initial few months of being in the veg-like state, babies spend their time playing and experimenting with the things and world around them…
The consequence of their actions is… acquiring knowledge and making sense of the world around them. Since playing is fun, it helps them keep new information and learn faster!
Perhaps that’s why early education emphasizes play-based learning…
And that’s possible because babies have plenty of precious time to play.
Time is something that a typical adult is brutally stripped of. Because of the work, taking care of family, and hundreds of other responsibilities occupying and distracting their busy minds. Hence limited capacity (mental and time-wise) to learn anything new.
Final Few Lines
There you have it. 7 very valid reasons babies can learn faster than adults.
The primary reason is biological, and it’s all about their brain.
- Baby’s brain is rapidly building new neural connections, which naturally help them acquire new knowledge faster than adults.
- The incredible plasticity of a baby’s brain makes it easy to rewire existing connections and strengthen or eliminate them. This ability decreases gradually with age.
- The prefrontal cortex is still underdeveloped, which allows the baby to absorb the information freely and flexibly.
There are also a few behaviour-related reasons that allow babies to soak up all the knowledge.
- Babies are not overthinking or planning things that hinder the learning process. They just go with the flow.
- Baby’s natural curiosity, open-mindedness, and motivation help them absorb new information quickly.
- Babies are not afraid of failure and embarrassment.
- And have plenty of free time to learn through play.
The bottom line is if you want to learn things quickly, do it like a baby.
And see how quickly the fruits of this change will improve your learning ability.