10.1 Brain Development in Middle Childhood
The brain reaches its adult size at about age 7. Then between 10 and 12 years of age, the frontal lobes become more developed and improvements in logic, planning, and memory are evident (van der Molen & Molenaar, 1994). The school-aged child is better able to plan and coordinate activity using both the left and right hemispheres of the brain, which control the development of emotions, physical abilities, and intellectual capabilities. The attention span also improves as the prefrontal cortex matures. The myelin also continues to develop and the child’s reaction time improves as well. Myelination improvement is one factor responsible for these growths.
From age 6 to 12, the nerve cells in the association areas of the brain, that is those areas where sensory, motor, and intellectual functioning connect, become almost completely myelinated (Johnson, 2005). This myelination contributes to increases in information processing speed and the child’s reaction time. The hippocampus, which is responsible for transferring information from the short-term to long-term memory, also shows increases in myelination resulting in improvements in memory functioning (Rolls, 2000).
Changes in the brain during this age enable not only physical development, but also allow children to understand what others think of them and dealing socially with the positive and negative consequences of that. Within this development period, children may struggle with mental health disorders or other health problems. As children are growing and becoming more capable, adults need to remember that children don’t grow physically in isolation. The development of their bodies isn’t separate from the changes that are occurring socially, emotionally, and cognitively. Awareness and understanding of their other developmental domains and needs will support the child during these changes.372