The Formative Years: Exactly What Happens in the First 8 Years of Life?

During the formative years (0 – 8), children observe and learn everything they come across, like no other time in life.


Updated May 12, 2022
learning during the formative years

The experiences children go through during the 8 first years of life, also known as the formative years, are critical for growth, development, and shaping what they will become later in life!

What happens is that both mental and physical growths are taking place, and are directly influenced by the interactions children have with parents, the community, and the environment.

During these years, children observe, learn and take everything in like no other time in life! The positive experiences they learn usually manifest in a positive lifestyle, and the negative ones manifest in negative attitudes and behavior as they grow up.

The 0 – 8 are cornerstone years designed to shape them for:

  • better health
  • good manners & social skills
  • efficient executive functions
  • optimal learning abilities
  • prodcutivity

According to the US CDC

Although the brain continues to develop and change into adulthood, the first 8 years can build a foundation for future learning, health and life success.

When parents miss out on investing in children the right way during the formative years, all the wrong things can happen:

Children may lag behind in learning and social skills, lack empathy, are always angry, disregard human life, become self-entitled, and be less productive. Ultimately, they will be bad parents themselves, during adulthood.

So, what happens in the eight first years of life?

1. Child brain grows by over 90 percent before 8

Children are born with ‘empty’ brains and ready to learn new things from the moment they pop out of the womb. Everything depends on the readiness of parents and caregivers to exploit the virgin brain.

When does it start?

Brain development starts way before birth, and during conception. Following birth, however, its growth goes a notch higher and becomes real.

At birth, the brain of the child only weighs 370 grams, but expands at an average of 1 percent every day, up to the third month. By now, the volume of the brain is almost 65 percent of what it should be, when fully mature.

The brain is actually over 90 percent in volume when a child makes eight years.

Why the rapid growth?

Well, the brain goes through accelerated development during the formative years because it is preparing the child for future health, behavior, and of course learning.

Early brain development is the foundation of human adaptability and resilience, but these qualities come at a price. Because experiences have such a great potential to affect brain development, children are especially vulnerable to persistent negative influences during this period. On the other hand, these early years are a window of opportunity for parents, caregivers, and communities: positive early experiences have a huge effect on children’s chances for achievement, success, and happiness.

http://www.urbanchildinstitute.org/why-0-3/baby-and-brain

Maximizing, optimizing, and making full use of the brain during these first early years is crucial in preparing children for mental and general wellness during adulthood.

2. Executive functioning skills peak during the formative years

Executive functioning skills entail mental readiness in children and adults to positively regulate their actions, emotions, and thoughts.

These include the cognitive skills and abilities they need to plan and achieve goals, have self-control, develop a flexible mindset, follow instructions, multitask, prioritize tasks, learn to stay out of trouble, etc.

These skills are critical for learning, in addition to physical and cognitive growth. When done correctly, these are enablers of positive lifestyle and behavior for the good of the family and community.

Fortunately, or unfortunately, children are not born with executive function skills. They learn the skills from parents, caregivers, and the community through their actions and responses.

According to Harvard University Centre on the Developing Child,

Adults set up the framework for children to learn and practice these skills over time by establishing routines, breaking big tasks into smaller chunks, and encouraging games that promote imagination, role playing, following rules, and controlling impulses.

Executive functioning skill acquisition is developed as early as 3 years and this goes on to the 5th year.

Whereas these skill sets are developed even further through the adolescent years, and after, their maturation is critical during the formative years.

What do the above observations mean to parents?

Children do not have a repeat opportunity to experience the 8 first years of life. Everything must be done right this early, for them to have good health, learn better, become productive, and of course, develop appropriate behavioral traits.

A well-developed brain and executive functioning skills prepare them for the tough times ahead, both in their private and productive lives.

The factors listed below will greatly influence how children maximize the wonderful 8 years of early life to be happy and achieve life goals:

1. Bonding is very important

The presence of love, care, and happiness, or their lack, matters a lot in early childhood development. A child that feels loved and receives optimal care will evolve into a happy, loving, and caring adult.

Parents, caregivers, and the community must take it upon themselves to associate with children appropriately. While at it, they can provide supportive real-life structures to enable children to master executive function skills.

2. Nutrition

Good food will prepare your child for a healthy body and optimal cognition. This translates to healthy adulthood. Nutritious food types rich in healthy minerals should be preferred over junk food. Children should be encouraged to eat plenty of natural foods, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, seeds, and healthy proteins. They should also remember to drink plenty of water.

3. Exposure to toxins, infections and EMF

Toxins in the environment, sickness, and electromagnetic fields are all contributing factors to poor health as children grow up. They should live and play in safe environments, and use technology safely to avoid related side effects. They are also entitled to medical attention when they fall sick.

4. Physical well-being

Children need room to play and avoid the popular sedentary lifestyle behind computers and gaming consoles. Physical wellbeing is instrumental in shaping brain development and executive functioning skills. Medium-to-vigorous physical activity (MVPA) is known to increase blood flow to the brain. This will facilitate the supply of much-needed oxygen and nutrients.

5. Sufficient sleep

Sleep is highly crucial in shaping children into healthy adults. Upwards of 8 hours of sleep (at night) is recommended, while technology in the bedroom should be avoided. Actually, smartphones and gaming consoles should not be kept in the bedroom – at all. The bedroom should also be free from noise and light, because these can interfere with sleep quality. Sleep will facilitate cell growth, repair, and detoxification of body organs.

In conclusion: adults are made during the formative years

By conventional standards, adulthood is achieved by the time a child is eighteen years. But science begs to disagree a little by pushing this age further up to 25 and 28.

But again you are who you are as an adult because of the complete mechanisms that surrounded your upbringing in the eight first years of life, or simply, the formative years.

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