The brain undergoes rapid development during early childhood as a series of biophysical and chemical processes occur, which can be observed in magnetic resonance (MR) images as a change over time of white matter intensity relative to gray matter. Such a contrast change manifests in specific patterns in different imaging modalities, suggesting that brain maturation is encoded by appearance changes in multi-modal MRI. In this paper, we explore the patterns of early brain growth encoded by multi-modal contrast changes in a longitudinal study of children. For a given modality, contrast is measured by comparing histograms of intensity distributions between white and gray matter. Multivariate non-linear mixed effects (NLME) modeling provides subject-specific as well as population growth trajectories which accounts for contrast from multiple modalities. The multivariate NLME procedure and resulting non-linear contrast functions enable the study of maturation in various regions of interest. Our analysis of several brain regions in a study of 70 healthy children reveals a posterior to anterior pattern of timing of maturation in the major lobes of the cerebral cortex, with posterior regions maturing earlier than anterior regions. Furthermore, we find significant differences between maturation rates between males and females.