Many of you will have heard this term before, in relation to opportunities which come our way. The idea being to grab the chance to do ‘xyz’ now, because the opportunity is only available for a short time.
Did you know that there are windows of opportunity in relation to children and their development?
For babies and young children this is when it is optimal for learning to occur in a certain developmental domain, because the conditions are ripe for learning. It means there is a time when it is easier to learn or develop that area. Let me give you an example using animals.
Whilst researching this using young birds, a patch was applied to one eye by scientists, thereby preventing that eye from ‘learning’ to see. It was left there for some weeks. When the patch was removed the still healthy eye was unable to see, as the neural pathway in the brain had not developed, and the bird was effectively blind in that eye. The time for learning or developing that skill had passed. (I add here I am not in favour of animal testing!)
In developing children there are optimal times for learning in the various developmental areas. If learning doesn’t occur during that time and a strong neural connection made in the brain, then it is much more difficult to learn later. If you imagine nature opens a window in the brain and allows air in (‘air’ here means learning), for a certain period. And then nature closes it or lowers it – it is more difficult for the air (learning) to happen.
So, when are these Windows of Opportunity open and how will you know?
The easiest way is by observing your baby or toddler. A newborn baby looks intently in your eyes, and also stares at high contrasting objects – this tell you the ‘window’ for Vision is open. Their brain is building neural pathways around vision. You can assist their learning by placing interesting objects close by (remembering that newborns can only see clearly for a distance of about 30cm for the first month).
Have you noticed that babies around 15 months are intrigued by opening and closing doors and drawers. This is because their Intellect is developing and they are gaining valuable brain learning about these concepts. They develop the skills quickly when the time is ripe for learning – and the ‘window’ is open.
And what about when your toddler starts climbing….. They seem to climb on, and onto anything – whether it’s stairs, chairs and even tables. They are so proud of themselves! And, they have no idea of our concerns as parents about their safety. Lots of climbing tell you that ‘window’ of Motor development is open.
Language is another – children seem to all of a sudden exploded with language – the number of words they use and the length of their sentences. Young children learn a 2nd language ‘easier’ than adults, as their ‘window of opportunity’ for Language is open, whereas by puberty it’s closed – which is why it is generally harder to learn a new language as an adult.
So, take the opportunity as you notice what your child is doing…. If they are climbing a lot, provide them with safe climbing options. If language is blossoming, then read and sing with them, teach them nursery rhymes, and utilise the time.
When the ‘windows’ are open it’s the best time for learning to occur. This is also why I encourage parents to seek support early if there are any questions about their child’s development. If their language is not developing, then the earlier you seek support the better, as the ‘window’ is still open – provided you get the support at that time.