Emerging Minds

Understanding brain development

About the course

This course was developed by Emerging Minds in partnership with the Australian Research Alliance for Children and Youth (ARACY) and the Thriving Queensland Kids Partnership (TQKP), and in collaboration with the University of Queensland’s Queensland Brain Institute (QBI).

This course will provide you with an increased awareness, knowledge, and understanding of foundational concepts about developmental neuroscience (brain development). It includes information on strategic framing, best practice and ‘what works examples’ to improve children’s development and wellbeing.


The foundations of brain architecture

In this module you will learn about the brain as a constantly evolving organ which adapts to a child’s experiences and surroundings.

Stress, adversity and the developing brain

In this module, you will explore how children are affected by different types of stress.

Building healthy and happy brains

In this module, you will explore the importance of positive experiences and stable and supportive relationships in building children’s brains.

We are all brain builders

This module examines ways to translate our knowledge of neuroscience into our engagement with children in the family, community, education and service delivery contexts.

The following animation will introduce you to the concepts covered in this course.

Who is this course for?

This course is for anyone who interacts with children and families during their day-to-day service delivery. It will benefit practitioners across multiple sectors and systems including health, social and community services, justice, housing, and education. It will also be useful for professionals involved in management and leadership, policy making, strategic planning, quality improvement, and systems change.

The course is suitable for people with no prior understanding of neuroscience and those looking to increase their knowledge of the research and best practice. These concepts have been distilled, arranged and presented in a way that is easy to understand and use in everyday life. It may also be of interest to parents and caregivers.

Learning aims/outcomes

As you progress through this course, you will work towards being able to:

  • Understand the biological, social and environmental core story of brain development and how you can use this to support children and families.
  • Recognise that children exist in the context of their local ecology – their lives are shaped by the people, communities, and environments around them.
  • Understand the impacts of stress, adverse childhood experiences and trauma on the developing brain and how children can be supported to recover.
  • Apply the various metaphors/key concepts introduced in this course to your own practice context, whether you’re working with children, parents and families; managing, designing or implementing programs or services; or changing systems.
  • Consider the development of children’s resilience, social-emotional and executive functioning skills and how they can be supported to build the skills that will hold them in good stead for the rest of their lives.


It is estimated that this course will take you approximately 4–6 hours to complete, including reading the material and watching the videos.

You can undertake the course across multiple sessions at your own pace. The last screen you visit before logging off will be bookmarked and you will have the option of returning to that screen when you next log in.


As you work through the course, it is important to be aware of your own emotional responses. Please follow the self-care tips below and seek help if needed:

We do not recommend undertaking the entire course in one sitting. Give yourself some breaks. Even if you don’t feel that you need a break, it’s a good idea to take one anyway and come back later.

Be aware of your emotions as you progress through the course, and take action if you are starting to feel stressed or upset. For example, consider taking a break and doing something for yourself that you enjoy.

Be aware of your emotional responses after you complete the course.

Learning about developmental neuroscience including child development, trauma, and resilience can make us reflect on our own experiences in childhood. Recovery from adversity and trauma is possible and it is normal to go through this reflective experience. If you are finding this process difficult, please take a break and access support if you need.

If at any point you find you are struggling, please talk with your supervisor, seek help, or call Lifeline on 13 11 14, Beyond Blue on 1300 224 636, or SANE Australia on 1800 187 263.


Brain health is ‘the state of brain functioning across cognitive, sensory, social-emotional, behavioural, and motor domains. It allows a person to realise their full potential over their life course, irrespective of the presence or absence of disorders.’ (WHO, n.d.).

Social and emotional wellbeing refers to the way a person thinks and feels about themselves and others. It incorporates behavioural and emotional strengths and is a facet of child development.1

In broad terms, social and emotional wellbeing is the foundation for physical and mental health for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. It is a holistic concept which results from a network of relationships between individuals, family, kin and Community. It also recognises the importance of connection to Land, culture, spirituality and ancestry, and how these affect the individual.2

Social and emotional wellbeing is also used by some people from culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) backgrounds, who may have differing concepts of mental health and mental illness.3

Social and emotional development involves the development of skills required to:

  • identify and understand one’s feelings
  • read and understand the emotional states of other people
  • manage strong emotions and how they are expressed
  • regulate behaviour
  • develop empathy
  • establish and maintain relationships.4

Brain architecture refers to the physical structure and organisation of the brain, including the connections between different regions and the patterns of activity that occur within them. It's like the blueprint or wiring that helps the brain function and communicate effectively. Just like a building needs a strong foundation and well-designed structure to stay standing, the brain's architecture influences how it processes information, learns new things, and makes decisions.

A brain builder is anyone who supports children’s development through positive relationships and nurturing experiences. This term acknowledges all adults who provide care and support in the lives of children and young people, whether as a caregiver or as part of their professional role.

For the purposes of this course, the term parent encompasses the biological and adoptive parents of a child, as well as individuals who have chosen to take up a primary or shared responsibility in raising that child.

Parts of this course explore prenatal brain development. In that context, the term mother is used to refer to parents who have been pregnant/given birth, including female, non-binary and transgender people. However, we recognise that not all people who give birth may identify as a mother, and not all mothers have given birth to the children in their care.

A child’s ecology is made up of biological, psychological, social and ecological factors. Each of these factors – such as a child’s relationships, environment, culture, and economic context – has an impact on the child’s development and wellbeing.


Emerging Minds, ARACY and TQKP would like to acknowledge the generous contribution of all those involved in producing this course. A full list of contributors can be found on our Contributors page.

TQKP partnered with QBI at the University of Queensland to ensure the evidence underpinning this course is current and rigorous. To learn more about the identification, development and knowledge translation process, download a copy of the evidence brief.

A quick guide to Emerging Minds Learning

Watch the following video for a quick guide on how to navigate Emerging Minds Learning courses.


  1. Ștefan, C. A., Dănilă, I., & Cristescu, D. (2022). Classroom-wide school interventions for preschoolers’ social-emotional learning: A systematic review of evidence-based programs. Educational Psychology Review, 34(4), 2971-3010. doi: 10.1007/s10648-022-09680-7
  2. Commonwealth of Australia. (2017). National strategic framework for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ mental health and social and emotional wellbeing. Canberra: Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, p.6.
  3. Everymind. (n.d.). Understanding mental health and wellbeing. Newcastle, NSW: Everymind.
  4. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. (2009). A picture of Australia’s children. Cat. no. PHE 112. Canberra, ACT: AIHW.

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