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About cognition and learning


Scientific evidence shows that someones social, emotional, and academic development are interconnected in the learning process.


Throughout life, the way the brain develops depends on the opportunities someone has to actively and safely engage in their environments, social relationships, and ideas.


Cognitive capacity is not fixed.


Brain development is not only about the brain getting bigger or increasing its number of connections. Brain development involves the generation, adjustment and re-organisation of neural connections. This brain networks in turn reflects a person’s ability to adapt to the world in which they live. As a child engages in different situations, relationships and problem solves this influences their brain structure. Over time this underpins his or her level of skill and future capacity.


The way a garden matures depends on its climate, plants, styles and use. Like a brain, the way a garden develops depends on its age, predispositions, experiences, and the environment. When given adequate opportunity, support, and encouragement a child is able to think, feel emotions, and engage with their social and physical world. Their patterns of thoughts, feelings, and engagement will organise brain development in ways that influence growth, intelligence and future health.


Brain development that supports learning depends on social experience.


The quality of relationship and co-regulation that someone experiences influences their biological development. This in turn, influences how they live and think. Even in adults, close relationships are associated with hormone co-regulation, which has implications for cognition, sleep quality, and health.


The brain is malleable and changed by experiences across the span of a life time. The most important periods are those when the brain is most rapidly changing. For example during childhood, teenage years, parenthood, and old age. Emotional regulation is essential for a person to be able to problem solve and learn new skills during these times.

Further reading

“Understanding Neurodiversity: A Guide to Specific Learning Differences” A booklet providing a brief overview of the most commonly occurring specific learning differences.

Last updated 19 November 2020

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