Neocortical development represents more than a simple unfolding of a genetic blueprint: rather, it represents a complex dance of genetic and environmental events that interact to adapt the brain to fit a particular environmental context. Most cortical regions are sensitive to a wide range of experiential factors during development and later in life, but the injured cortex appears to be unusually sensitive to perinatal experiences. This paper reviews the factors that influence how normal and injured brains (both focal and ischemic injuries) develop and adapt into adulthood. Such factors include prenatal experiences in utero as well as postnatal experiences throughout life. Examples include the effects of sensory and motor stimulation, psychoactive drugs (including illicit and prescription drugs), maternal and postnatal stress, neurotrophic factors, and pre- and postnatal diet. All these factors influence cerebral development and influence recovery from brain injury during development.