Christiane Kerr● Founder, Calm for Kids
Brain Development in Middle Childhood
Advances in technology are helping us to learn much more about the structure and development of children’s brains. From ages five to eleven, they experience rapid growth and development that lays the foundation for future learning, social interactions, and emotional regulation.
External factors have a big impact on brain development, both positively and negatively, so where possible, it is important to provide as supportive an environment as possible for children, both at home and at school. Whilst childhood trauma can have an impact on a child’s brain, the good news is that neuroplasticiy, the abilty of the brain to change neural networks and reorganise itself, means that it is never too late to change the structure of the brain and reframe negative experiences from childhood.
From 5 – 11, the three main areas of development are cognitive, social and emotional, and language.
Cognitive development: Children’s cognitive abilities significantly improve during this stage, and they are able to think abstractly, make decisions, and solve problems. Their attention span also increases, allowing them to concentrate and focus for longer periods. They also show improved memory skills, and the ability to store and retrieve information more effectively.
Children at this age are also becoming more independent in their thinking, and are more likely to ask questions and engage in self-directed learning
Social-emotional development: They start to develop a stronger sense of self, and their understanding of social cues and emotions improves. They are better able to regulate their emotions, and can understand and respond appropriately to the feelings of others. They are also starting to develop a moral code and a sense of right and wrong and they become more aware of social rules and expectations.
This stage is marked by increased peer interaction, and children start to form close relationships with their peers and engage in cooperative play.
Language development: Children’s language skills continue to develop at a rapid pace, and they are able to express themselves more effectively. They become more proficient in using language for communication, including asking questions, expressing opinions, and making arguments. Their vocabularies continue to expand and they become more skilled at using grammar and syntax correctly. This increased language proficiency allows children to understand and engage with more complex texts and ideas.
What’s happening to the brain structure from 5 – 11?
Brain structure: During this stage, the brain continues to grow in size, and the connections between neurons become stronger and more complex. This increased brain activity leads to improved processing speed and also increased efficiency in information processing. The development of the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain responsible for executive function, also continues during this stage, leading to improvements in decision-making, planning, and problem-solving.
External and Environmental Influences:
Environmental influences: Children’s ongoing brain development is heavily influenced by their environment, and where possible they need plenty of opportunities for learning, play, and social interaction. This includes exposure to a variety of experiences, such as music, art, sports, and science, that provide opportunities for skill development and exploration.
Positive relationships with adults, including parents, teachers, and other caregivers, are also critical for children’s emotional and social development, and can have a significant impact on their overall well-being.
Middle childhood is a key period of brain development in children which is marked by significant advances in cognitive, emotional, and social skills. It sets the foundation for children’s future learning and development, giving them opportunities for growth and exploration in all areas of their lives.
A mindful approach to teaching and parenting can help you provide this environment and support children in developing their ability to navigate the world, form relationships, and regulate their emotions for the rest of their lives.
Our next Teaching Mindfulness to Children course starts on February 22nd.