The Growing Brain

Decades of research indicate that the early years of life are a period of exponential brain development, characterized by great opportunity and vulnerability dependent on the child’s relationships and environment.  Research on the topic is exploding, underscoring the need for early childhood professionals to stay up-to-date on brain development and strategies to best support the growing brains of the infants and young children in their care. 

Developed by ZERO TO THREE©, The Growing Brain: From Birth to 5 Years Old is an innovative course that provides a toolkit of how the brain develops—step-by-step, neuron-by-neuron—along with science-supported practical ways that early childhood professionals can encourage healthy brain development in children from birth to 5 years old.

This 7-unit, 21 hour curriculum provides explanation of brain processes and the effects of environmental influences.

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Professional Development

Participants will develop skills and strategies to:

•  understand the architecture and neurobiology of brain development

•  support language, cognition, prosocial behavior, and social-emotional development              

•  reduce toxic stress that can negatively influence brain development of very young children


Unit 1 – The Basics: Focuses on how the brain grows and develops from conception through 5 years old. Participants will learn the names of different parts or regions of the brain and their functions; gain an understanding of how nerve cells communicate and connect; learn about neuroplasticity; and examine the role of early experiences in making connections between areas of the brain.  

Unit 2 – Factors Affecting Brain Growth and Development: Focuses on the key factors that affect brain development and how to support healthy brain development overall. Participants will identify factors that affect brain growth and development; understand how stress can affect brain development; and learn strategies (the 5 R’s) for supporting healthy brain development.

Unit 3 – Communication and Language Development: Focuses on communication and language skills that develop in the first 5 years, the brain’s role in the development of these skills, and how to support them. Participants will learn about specific communication milestones and when they typically emerge and how this relates to brain development; learn strategies for supporting early communication skills; and gain an understanding of how multi-language learning occurs. 

Unit 4 – Cognition and Executive Function: Focuses on how young children develop cognitive and executive functions in relation to the developing brain. Participants will learn how cognitive development unfolds in young children and how to support its development in young children; learn about executive functioning and its critical role in cognitive and overall development; and how to support the development of executive functions.

Unit 5 – Social-Emotional Development: Focuses on how social-emotional development unfolds in the first 5 years and the brain’s role in this process. Participants will learn about the areas of the brain involved in social interactions and emotional reactions; explore the role of relationships and attachment in social-emotional development; the effect of stress on social-emotional development; the development of empathy in very young children and how to support social-emotional development in young children.

Unit 6 – Understanding Behavior: Focuses on how children’s behavior is influenced by the brain. In this training, you will learn about basic brain anatomy; connections between areas of the brain and how these connections are expressed through behavior; key factors that influence behavior; the root causes of challenging behavior and effective strategies for helping children with these difficulties. 

Unit 7 – Play: Focuses on the stages and types of play that unfold in early childhood, the role of the brain in this process, and how to maximize children’s learning through play. In this training, you will learn about the development of play; the differences between free and guided play; and core skills children develop through play and how to promote these skills. 


This introductory training is recommended for early childhood professionals seeking an overview of early brain development and ways to encourage healthy brain development in infants and young children in their care. This training was designed for early learning professionals as well as others serving infants, young children, and their families, such as home visitors, doulas, and community health workers.

Endorsement Competencies & Continuing Ed. Credits


This training can be utilized when applying for Infant Mental Health Endorsement®.

CEUs and STARS credits will be available.

ZERO TO THREE© Competencies for Prenatal to Age 5 (P-5) Professionals

These ZERO TO THREE® competencies are addressed in the content of the training:

  • Unit 1: Domain 1 (Early Childhood Development) & Domain 3 (Relationship-Based Practice)

  • Unit 2: Domain 1 (Early Childhood Development), Domain 3 (Relationship-Based Practice), & Domain 4 (Health and Developmental Protective and Risk Factors)

  • Unit 3: Domain 1 (Early Childhood Development), Domain 3 (Relationship-Based Practice), & Domain 5: (Cultural and Linguistic Responsiveness) 

  • Unit 4: Domain 1 (Early Childhood Development)

  • Unit 5: Domain 1 (Early Childhood Development), Domain 2 (Family-Centered Practice), & Domain 3 (Relationship-Based Practice)

  •  Unit 6: Domain 1 (Early Childhood Development) & Domain 4 (Health and Developmental Protective and Risk Factors)

  • Unit 7: Domain 1 (Early Childhood Development)