The latest research encourages parents to teach their children things like how to play an instrument or how to speak a second language while they are toddlers or even infants. This emphasis on early education is due largely in part to the work of Dr. Peter Huttenlocher, who recently passed away at the age of 82.
Huttenlocher was a pediatric neurologist and neuroscientist who stumbled upon the discovery of his career while counting synapses – the “microscopic information highways of the mind.” (“He had all of these pictures of synapses in our house,” his daughter said.) He found that in the first year of life there is an explosion of synaptic activity. A quarter billion synapses might fire in one area of the brain soon after birth and soar past half a billion in the succeeding months. As we get older, synaptic activity decreases significantly as the brain refines its wiring as it makes sense of the constant stimuli it processes.
We now know that the brain is an adaptive organism that changes throughout our lifespan. Just ask Sue Barry, a Neurobiologist who taught herself to see in 3D thanks to the groundwork laid by Dr. Huttenlocher.
Read more about Dr. Peter Huttenlocher in his New York Times obituary.