Group Programme / Module 1 Brain Development

Warm, caring and interested parents help to build a brain that's ready for a lifetime of learning and healthy relationships with others.  A tamaiti who experiences positive, attentive, warm relationships with close people in the early years is learning to trust the world.  It helps them build a strong foundation in their brain for all their future learning and relationships.  Whānau can help their baby's brain make strong, healthy connections by providing plenty of positive everyday experiences and avoiding negative experiences.


  • Increase understanding of how a baby’s brain develops and how whānau can help.
  • Understand the role and critical importance of the early attachment relationship.


Begin each session with an appropriate settling in time — for example, karakia, gathering thoughts, waiata and simple ‘hellos’. Whānau may also share news, thoughts or feelings, if they wish. 

Mix and match from the pūtea of workshops. Tailor the session and choose workshops that will work best for the group at this time.

Background information

  • Unlike baby’s other organs (heart, liver, lungs, intestines and so on), their brain isn’t finished forming at birth. It needs input from baby’s world so it can adapt to the environment. 
  • Baby’s brain gets information through baby’s eyes, ears, mouth, nose and skin (the senses). 
  • This incoming information interacts with genes to stimulate brain cells, which make connections with other brain cells, in turn making millions of ‘pathways’. 
  • When pēpi has the same experience again and again, those pathways will become stronger and become permanent — this is how we learn. 
  • All of baby’s experiences with the people, places and things around them influence their brain development. 
  • In some parts of the brain, the axons of the brain cells get a coating around them called ‘myelin’, which helps messages to move along the pathways quickly and efficiently. 
  • As baby grows, their brain makes new connections and grows too. Tamariki Ora nurses measure a baby’s head when they do health checks — this is one way of checking that pēpi is developing as expected. 
  • Connecting brain cells into strong pathways takes time. At around 6 months old, about 50% of baby’s brain is connected, and by 3 years it’s up to about 80%. By about 2 to 3 years, baby’s brain is dense with connections — about twice the number that an adult brain has. Connections that are not used regularly may be ‘pruned’ away. 
  • Whānau can help their baby’s brain make strong, healthy connections by providing plenty of ‘good’ everyday experiences and avoiding negative experiences. 
  • Good experiences for pēpi means that most of the time caregivers respond quickly, warmly and gently to pēpi when they need it; and talk, laugh and have fun with them to let them know they’re special. 
  • This means that pēpi learns to trust the world that they’ve been born into, and feels secure and loved. 
  • When pēpi learns to trust their world, they’re more likely to become curious and confident to explore and learn, leading to more learning as they grow. 
  • Warm, caring and interested whānau help baby to build a brain that’s ready for a lifetime of learning and healthy relating to others. 
  • ‘Create moments, make memories, shape destinies.’



There are many video resources available on this topic. Some are listed below. You could watch these yourself before the brain development workshops, or share some of them with whānau. 

  • Babies (2010), a French documentary film by Thomas Balmès that follows 4 newborns through their first year of life in 4 different countries and cultures. 
  • Brainwave Trust: The first three years last forever

YouTube clips

Home visiting pages

The material in the following Parenting Resource links was written by the Brainwave Trust. They explore the links between brain development and two key SKIP resources — the baby frieze and ‘The six principles of effective discipline’. 

Other resources 

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