Find resources / Group parenting programme / Brain development Module 1

Supporting parents to help build a strong and healthy brain in their baby's early years.

A tamaiti who experiences positive, attentive, warm relationships with close people in their early years is learning to trust the world. These relationships help 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 ones.

Learning goals

  • 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.

Session plan

Begin the session with an appropriate settling in time – for example, karakia, gathering thoughts, waiata, simple hellos. This is an opportunity for people to share what’s going on for them, if they wish.

Find waiata for your session

Introduce the topic – today we’re going to spend time thinking about baby's brain development and the role we can play in nurturing a strong and health brain for our pēpi.

Mix and match from the pūtea of related workshops below. Consider the following when selecting which ones will work best for your group:

  • the size of your group
  • how much time you have
  • the ages of the participants’ children
  • factors such as literacy levels and the particular needs of the individuals you are working with.

Background information

  • Unlike baby’s other organs, heart, lungs and so on, their brain hasn’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 – their 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. Myelin helps messages to move along the pathways quickly and efficiently.
  • As pēpi 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 to check 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.’


Tākai resources

Whakatipu booklets(external link) – Te hinengaro mīharo sections

Baby wall frieze [PDF, 3 MB]

Order free printed resources(external link)

Related articles

There are several articles on brain development available on the Tākai website that may be useful in planning your group session.

Brain growth in the first 3 years

Helping their brain develop in the early years

Brain development for babies

What's good for baby's brain (3 to 6 months)

Models of brain function

Using the ‘house’ analogy to explain the various brain functions:

How to teach kids about the brain: Laying strong foundations for emotional intelligence (By Dr Hazel Harrison) | Hey Sigmund(external link)

Introducing the ‘hand’ model of the brain, another useful analogy to explain basic brain functions:

Minding the Brain by Daniel Siegel, M.D. | PsychAlive(external link)


There are many video resources on this topic. You could watch these yourself before the brain development sessions or share some of them with the whānau in attendance.

Brain development for babies | Nathan Mikaere Wallis, Compass Seminars New Zealand (YouTube)(external link)

TED talk: What we learn before we’re born | Annie Murphy Paul (YouTube)(external link)

TED talk: The linguistic genius of babies | Patricia Kuhl (YouTube)(external link)

Attunement and why it matters | David Arredondo (YouTube)(external link)

Attachment or attunement | David Arredondo (YouTube)(external link)

A hand model of the brain | Dr Daniel Siegel (YouTube)(external link)

Relationships and learning | Dr Bruce Perry (YouTube)(external link)

Brain development and self regulation | Dr Bruce Perry (YouTube)(external link)

Babies is a French documentary film by Thomas Balmès that follows 4 newborns through their first year of life in 4 different countries and cultures. If you're a New Zealand library card holder you can watch this free on

Babies (2010) | Beamafilm(external link)