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What's Going on in There?: How the Brain and Mind Develop in the First Five Years of Life
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What's Going on in There?: How the Brain and Mind Develop in the First Five Years of Life

4.11  ·  Rating Details  ·  1,355 Ratings  ·  161 Reviews
As a research neuroscientist, Lise Eliot has made the study of the human brain her life's work. But it wasn't until she was pregnant with her first child that she became intrigued with the study of brain development. She wanted to know precisely how the baby's brain is formed, and when and how each sense, skill, and cognitive ability is developed. And most importantly, she ...more
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Published March 12th 2012 by Tantor Media (first published 1999)
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Jan 19, 2009 Kelly rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction, parenting
Just about every day as I was reading this book, I would flag an interesting sentence or paragraph to share with my partner. I found it fascinating, and before it goes back to the library I'm going to type up a few quotes to keep around for reference.

A few interesting things I learned:
* The flavor of your breast milk changes depending on what you eat.
* For optimal language development, it's important to have conversations with even young infants. You can do this with face-to-face contact and tak
(4.5) Great stuff, going to try to condense it a bit so it's actually accessible/actionable

Very well presented book covering mental development from conception to pre-school age. She breaks development down into several tracks: each of the senses, as well as motor, social/emotional, language, memory and "intelligence" development. She frequently cites studies in humans and animals to back her arguments, and I actually plan to track down a few of them to see if there have been more recent publica
Jan 13, 2013 George rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I'll start off by saying that I loved this book! It's been by my bedside since before my son was born, and from hereon since his birth I'll continue to refer back to it. But, it's precisely because I found it such a useful read that it's short-comings seem to stand out so prominently for me.

I didn't mind the textbook nature of this book, which I found useful for jumping to and fro reading up on sections about certain developmental aspects of babies, but I did have a few gripes with the book:
1. T
Mar 11, 2009 Eva rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I thought the idea of this book sounded great--learn how to be a better parent based on the science of brain development. However, I would argue there is not much science here. Yes, the stuff about sensory development is fine and well-supported, but the rest of the stuff (about intelligence and emotional development, for example) is total bunk. Much of it is based on behavioral psychology experiments in infants, which I find very unconvincing. I know this is the best that can be done in such you ...more
Amazing book! loved it. Definitely one of the most interesting and educative books I have ever read. I did learn a lot about neuroscience and what one can do to improve brain development in kids. Must read for every single parent. Since this book talks about neurology in general, as well as for babies, it is one of the best science books I have ever read.
Katherine Parker
May 27, 2008 Katherine Parker rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: parents or people interested in knowing how the brain develops
Recommended to Katherine Parker by: Tilden
This book breaks down how the brain develops in babies and small children into chapters on the 5 senses, movement and balance, social and emotional development, language, conscience and a sense of right/wrong and consequences, and intelligence. It details where in the brain these elements of consciousness reside and how the mature, both neurologically and developmentally. It's fascinating subject matter, whether or not you have a baby, and the author makes it accessible to a lay-person without t ...more
Katie Clack
I read this a few years ago, out of pure curiosity of the brain and how it works. I might not be a parent, but have spent a huge majority of my life around children.
It was a fascinating read, I loved that it was written to the "normal" person. You do not have to be incredibly scientific to understand.
I loved being able to take my observations from childcare and realizing why young ones do the things they do. Even putting things in their mouth is for the purpose of figuring things out.
I would
Apr 19, 2011 Paul rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Pfew! I started this book around 3 weeks after my baby was born and finally finished it now as she is reaching 3.5 months.

Still, I thought it was a wonderfully written and highly informative book. I recommend it to anyone over, say, a parenting style book.

The only thing I felt was left out was any mention of sleep pattern. Since our little lady loves to fight sleep with every bit of strength I'm left wondering how sleep patterns develop and what effects sleep have on the brain, especially in i
Jul 02, 2014 Silas rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
There is a lot to like about this book, but there are also some drawbacks. First, it covers a wider span of time than a lot of books, going from conception until five years (though really, except for a bit at the end, it doesn't go much past three). Some of the information was quite interesting, particularly the things that were directly related to the author's focus on neuroscience. There were a lot of behavioral studies used that seemed somewhat flimsy. Additionally, particularly when the topi ...more
Christine Ward
Aug 01, 2014 Christine Ward rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: new-to-me, parenting
When I became pregnant with my first (and probably only) child, I wanted to know everything - and then became frustrated at the quality and oft-contradictory advice given to pregnant women. Most books or their online version were patronizing, if not downright condescending (*cough* What to Expect When You're Expecting *cough*), and the more literary, science-based guides were either awash in technical lingo or a mere blurb of the study in question. I wish I'd found this book then, but I'm glad I ...more
Mar 15, 2013 Bertv23 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Four-month olds who are physically reactive (pumping limbs) but not irritable to new stimuli (like smiling or vocalizing) are likelier to end up on the bolder end of the spectrum. -What's going on in there, p. 321
Challenging memory is good for them. Get them to recall the important facts - the who, what , when, where, how, and why. -p. 350
Infants' ability to distinguish foreign speech sounds starts to diminish by 6 months - p.368
Try to limit saying "no"
Talk to and read to baby A LOT
Language exp
Jun 17, 2011 Myridian rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book is a fantastic review of information re neurological/psychological developoment of infants and young children. It covers everything from sensory and motor development to emotional development and gives useful, research-driven tips about how to foster development across all areas.

Eliot has a great style that makes the research accessible without dumbing it down too much for the general audience. She mixes stories about hypothetical kids and tidbits from her own experience as a mother w
Nov 12, 2009 Angie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book struck a good balance between presenting the science of brain development and practical matters that parents should think about with respect to the developing brains in their children. In particular, Eliot does a great job of describing the studies and how researchers were able to determine preferences in children. For instance, they've learned things about newborns by hooking up a pacifier to a machine that plays a tape of mom's voice if the baby sucks at one rate, and a stranger's vo ...more
Jan 15, 2013 Jessamyn rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a must read for all parents! My doula/good friend gave it to me the day I came home from the hospital and it was my bedside companion for the first few months of being a mother. It helped get me thinking about the baby as a person that would some day speak to me! It helped me to understand many of the developmental stages he was going through and I now use it often as a go to reference. I skimmed some of the lengthy parts that detailed studies I wasn't interested in but most information ...more
Katharine Sadler
Fascinating. A scientific take on the nature/nurture debate, as well as an intricate explanation of how the major parts of the brain develop from conception on. Easy to follow, even for someone whose last science class was about ten years ago, and so interesting. Cool factoid: humans are actually getting smarter -- each generation has scored better on IQ tests (an admittedly fallible and questionable measure of intelligence) than the previous generation.
Oct 06, 2012 Kellie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I read this a few years ago and really liked learning about how the brain develops during pregnancy and shortly afterwards. A lot of fascinating, complicated processes really! I wasn't too keen on her referring to numerous animal studies---so I skimmed quickly over those. The biology is super interesting and at the end she gives some suggestions to parents about maximizing brain development.
Feb 13, 2011 Karen rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Fascinating....research on brain dev that helped me be a smarter, more patient mom (I hope.) It also allowed me to enjoy the _process_ of child dev without getting hung up on the end results (again, I hope.) Big take-away...sleep matters!
I read this book for a Brain Development in Childhood course my freshman year of college, just over three years ago. Initially I was very intrigued by the subject matter, but began to jot down questions the author didn't seem to answer for me that I would bring to class. This list became fairly long. I'm still young, and have never experienced pregnancy myself, but I felt that some of the information in the book was outdated, i.e. pregnancy myths. Overall the book made me look elsewhere for more ...more
Nov 15, 2007 Lia rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: couples preparing for a baby
Finally, the development process from a scientistific perspective with real facts and figures and experimental findings. Something I was really happy to have after all the other parenting books full of platitudes and sentimental drivel. The author is a mom and a neurosurgeon and researcher at Harvard Medical School.

This books goes through each developmental skill (visual, aural, motor, language, etc.) and traces how the brain and related organs and hormones develop from the womb to age 5, includ
Oct 15, 2012 Julie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I have taken a break from reading this book. I'm about halfway through it, and I have enjoyed learning about the neuroscience of infant brains. However, sometimes I just want to cut to the chase: what do I need to be *doing* for my baby's development? The first ten chapters (I am on chapter 9) focus on basic biology and then devote a chapter each to the six senses. (Yes, there are six.) As you can imagine, this organizational scheme can prove somewhat frustrating. After learning about "the impor ...more
May 27, 2008 Eliane rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: new parents
Shelves: parenting-books
This book really helped me understand how my son is developing physically, cognitively, and emotionally and why. Individual chapters discuss nature vs. nuture, prenatal influences on the brain, the five senses, motor milestones, memory, social-emotional growth, language, and intelligence. Each chapter begins describing the biological changes that occur in the brain for a particular type of development and outlines the timeframe for when these changes occur. It also gives examples of medical and ...more
Mar 05, 2013 Cristie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I have slightly mixed feelings about this book. On the one hand, it was really interesting to read about baby brain development from the perspective of a neuroscientist. I learned some very cool things about how early babies can do things (even in the womb), what kinds of stimulus they like, what encourages brain development, etc. What I struggled a little bit with was that despite the author's attempt to make it more educational and less prescriptive, it's still hard to not take some of it as " ...more
Jun 07, 2016 Leslie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Although it took me six months to finish this book, I found it had a good balance of specifics (diagrams of brains and whatnot) vs. anecdotes. Sometimes I skimmed the specifics. But it is good information for a clueless new parent and provides fodder for conversation and hypotheses for why a baby is acting like it is. Probably not interesting if not a new parent.
Miller Sherling
Aug 19, 2014 Miller Sherling rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Started reading this on friend's recommendation when daughter 6 days old. Just finished it. She turns 5 months in a couple days. Super interesting, engagingly written, neato in 'most every way. But clearly I couldn't just sit and read it cover to cover; must've read 10-14 other books during the time I've been "reading on" it, as my dad says. 8/19/14
Oct 12, 2012 Briana rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: parenting
It could just be that I'm a total nerd, but this was one of the best books about babies I have read yet. The brain is fascinating and Eliot does a great job explaining the neuroscience on a level any lay-person can understand. I'm not a science geek, so I'm not used to reading this type of stuff, but my impression is that this book is very well-researched. Eliot cites study after study to give clear examples of how the brain develops, without ever drawing any unsupported conclusions. She is care ...more
Mary Messall
May 29, 2014 Mary Messall rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I really appreciated the level of physical and scientific detail in this one -- made me want to go back to school and become a neurologist. But it also helps me understand what the world is like for my kids better, gives me a good handle on what they are, and are not, capable of as babies and toddlers.
Sep 05, 2007 Alison rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A detailed, comprehensive, yet readable work that will interest parents who have seen the "wheels" turning inside their baby's brain and wonder just what's going on in there. The book describes the sensory and intellectual development beginning in the womb until the preschool years. I especially loved the chapter on language since my 18 mo. old is learning words every day. I would have liked more about children's emotional development and how their early experience affects their relationships (b ...more
Oct 26, 2011 Katina rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: parenting, 2012
Lise Eliot is clearly a smart cookie. But even as a smart cookie, and a scientist, she also knows how to write for a popular audience, and she knows how to keep a reader's attention.

This book focuses on all of the neurological development that occurs from conception to basically Kindergarten. It digests scientific studies, separating the fluff and the BS from the solid evidence. It provides parents with some practical tips about how to enhance their child's cognitive development. At the same tim
Aug 23, 2007 Hannah rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: expectant and new parents with children up to age 5
I only wish I'd found this book when I was pregnant. I hunted high and low for a book that would outline children's mental and social development in the first few years, and came up lacking.

"What's Going on in There" can be dense, especially if you don't know anything about neurology, which I don't. Sometimes I find myself flipping back and forth to keep reminding myself what the limbic system is, for instance, by re-reading the part where it's explained.

The general tone, however, is approacha
Tali Green
Jul 15, 2014 Tali Green rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: parenting, baby
This was a fascinating read. Probably one of the most informative baby psychology books I have found. It explains the science in a meaningful but understandable way for non-scientist parents.
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Lise Eliot is a mother of three, and the Associate Professor of Neuroscience at The Chicago Medical School of Rosalind Franklin University. She is the author of What’s Going On In There? How the Brain and Mind Develop in the First Five Years of Life.
More about Lise Eliot...

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“It's the strangest feeling at the end of pregnancy: you look down at this huge belly and try to imagine how some little person, whom you haven't even met, is going to emerge from it any day and completely change your lives. First, you wonder how this pregnancy, to which you've grown so accustomed over much of the last year, can, with barely any notice, come to an abrupt end. Then you try to fathom how this baby is ever going to come out; your bowling ball stomach seems misproportioned for what lies between it and the outside world. And only then do you realize what it all means-that the easy part, pregnancy, is almost over, and it's time to gear up for the tough stuff: childbirth!” 8 likes
“So what does any of this have to do with maternal stress during pregnancy? It turns out that high doses of many of the major stress hormones, including cortisol and adrenaline, interfere with testosterone production. Men, for instance, show a decreased level of circulating testosterone when they are significantly stressed. Because maternal stress hormones can cross the placenta, it has been proposed that pregnant females who are highly stressed may release sufficient quantities of adrenal hormones to interfere with the usual testosterone surge in male fetuses, thereby nudging their brains toward more feminine behavior, including a propensity for homosexuality.” 1 likes
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