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Windows of Opportunity: Important Points in a Child’s Development

Written by Linda Lin

Children are their parents’ greatest treasures. There is nothing more a parent would like to see than their child’s continued success and development. But how do we ensure that our children develop to the best of their ability? To answer this question, it is important that we look into critical periods, or windows of opportunity.

According to psychologists, there are several periods during development where important connections are being formed in a child’s brain. During these times, children are well-equipped to learn and absorb information in certain areas of knowledge. After these windows of opportunities have passed, however, children may find it difficult, if not impossible, to gain mastery in these subjects.

It is often said that it is easier to learn a language as a child than as an adult. This saying is, in fact, supported by many different studies. Research on feral children – young people who have spent their childhood isolated from human contact – have shown that, without early exposure to some form of language, language development becomes severely hindered [1]. Even after years of trying, language never quite becomes as effortless as it is to most normally-developing humans. Basic language skills, like creating meaningful and grammatically correct sentences to express our feelings, are far beyond the capabilities of such individuals. As a result of the language-deprived environments they have grown up in, these children are forced to live on the edge of society, never truly able to communicate with those around them.

Windows of opportunity do not, however, exist solely for language. Although language is one of the more well-studied areas, it has also been found that such a critical period exists for mathematical and logical skills as well. Where the window of opportunity for language is open anywhere from birth to age 10, with an emphasis on the first two to three years [2], its mathematic equivalent for learning basic math and logic skills is open up to age 4 [3].

It is important to remember, however, that windows of opportunities only indicate the periods during which learning about specific areas of knowledge is easiest. Although the window of opportunity for mathematical learning is only open from birth to age 4, this does not indicate that we are only able to learn math during this period of time. In fact, these critical periods are simply periods during which children must be exposed to the basics of certain areas of knowledge. By age 4, for example, children must have grasped the concept of numbers and counting in order to be able to further develop their mathematical knowledge later on in their lives. Similarly, individuals must have been exposed to everyday language by age 10 in order for them to learn how words should be strung together to form a proper sentence. More complex forms of math and language, like calculus and literary devices, can be learned later on in the child’s life. So long as they have developed a solid foundation of these knowledge areas during their respective critical periods, learning can still occur without much difficulty.

So what does this really mean? All this information simply highlights the importance of starting your child’s education early. By exposing your child to things like language, math, and logic early on in their lives, you are helping them develop many important skills that may be crucial to their success later on in their lives.

[1] To learn more about feral children and their capacities for language development, please visit http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=

[2] For more information on windows of opportunity for language, please visit http://www.flbrain.org/earlylang.htm.

[3] More information on windows of opportunity can be found at http://www.ttac.odu.edu/articles/focuson3.html.


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