Pruning for growth

Illustration of a head with tree growing inside
General Birth to 18 years

The old line ‘use it or lose it’ is actually very true. As we mature, the brain gradually sheds information we no longer require.

It’s called ‘synaptic pruning’, and it means that the information we have received over the years gets filtered by the brain so we retain the knowledge we need and discard what we don’t.

Between the ages of birth and five, a child’s brain grows to 90 per cent of its adult size. The child’s brain is constantly building connections and synapses.

Then, as children approach adolescence, a great deal of synaptic pruning takes place. The brain gets rid of neural connections no longer needed, and wraps a protective coating called myelin around connections that are required to strengthen them. How often a neural connection gets used determines whether it will be strengthened or removed; the connections that have been activated most frequently are preserved.

This process is a little bit like pruning a tree, removing old branches to help make the tree flourish.

So what does this mean for your child’s learning?

It is important to encourage your child to keep recalling and revising what they have learned at school to reinforce the information in their minds. Using these associated neural connections helps them to be maintained, strengthened and consolidated over time. This will help make sure their learning stays in their long-term memory and is kept easily accessible, which can help them to do better at school.

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