Community development and child development have a tight-knit relationship. Community development can have a positive impact on children by making investments that support healthy social and cognitive development. In turn, when children grow up in supportive environments, they are more likely to succeed in school and boost human capital, a key ingredient for building strong communities.
The work of community developers can influence the quality of environments in which children grow and develop. For example, safe and affordable housing, high-quality childcare, and community health centers, parks, and healthy food outlets help provide a consistent and nurturing environment for children. In addition, these sites can offer safe places to socialize with peers and participate in after-school activities. These “bricks and mortar” community assets provide spaces that can foster supportive relationships between children and caring adults, a key ingredient for child development.
Community development and the quality of children’s relationships can have particular influence during early childhood and adolescence, which are sensitive periods for brain development. During early childhood, neural connections occur at a fast pace—as many as 700 to 1,000 per second in the infant brain.[i] After the first few years of life, the pace of neural connection growth slows as the brain prunes some connections and reinforces others based on a child’s experiences. Neuroscience and psychology describe the types of experiences that help develop strong brain architecture, including stable and nurturing relationships with caregivers, language-rich environments, and encouragement to explore through movement and senses.
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Originally written by Rob Guunewald