EARLY CHILDHOOD DEVELOPMENT – IT’S NOT ROCKET, IT’S NEUROSCIENCE!

posted Aug 13, 2019, 7:00 AM by Prashant Bhattacharji   [ updated Aug 13, 2019, 7:04 AM ]

A child’s early year’s development is what will help shape them into well rounded and broad-minded individuals. There will be countless influences on child’s early life which will inevitably be both positive and negative and how a child responds to the influences can be attributed to numerous factors but, in essence, it is down to neuroscience. This is something that shouldn’t be over complicated but it needs to be fully understood to understand a child’s development. One key contributor to the subject is Mine Conkbayir.

Childhood education and neuroscience are extremely closely linked but it is alarming how rarely the two are discussed in the teaching of neuroscience with inconsistency frequently occurring.

As an example, a superb early year’s international school with a British curriculum in Bangkok is Kidz Village. The school recognises the relationship with neuroscience and helping youngsters with their early childhood development.

Students and practitioners are encouraged to embrace the theoretical teachings from leading people in the sector including Piaget and Bowlby with explanations about how these concepts can be introduced into international schools with the British curriculum. All groups are encouraged to understand how learning environments and a teachers’ interaction with pupils influences very young children. When it comes to neuroscience, the same emphasis is not placed, overlooking that the two are closely interrelated. Understanding how a child’s brain develops in the earliest of years is crucial to their development.

Why is neuroscience so important?

Knowing how a child’s brain works helps us to understand how we should take care of the child and educate them. We need to understand what works and what doesn’t. When we adopt this approach, it becomes very easy to appreciate how the learning environment and interactions have a direct impact on how infants learn. Here are a few reasons why:

1.    The first five years of life is when the most prolific synaptic activity occurs

It is during this period when a child acquires many skills that will be required in future life. This includes social skills, behavioural skills as well as being able to develop their language skills and start to learn about their environment. They will start to become aware of different cultural influences; something that plays an even more crucial role in an international school teaching the British curriculum. Teachers, parents and carers play a vital part in supporting and aiding healthy brain development in these early years.

2.    The first five years is when plasticity is most rapid

We often hear the phrase that “a child is like a sponge, they are soaking everything up”. This, of course, exposes them to both positive and negative experiences to which they are extremely sensitive. Certain places and environments will quickly become familiar to a child and they will start to form neural connections. Teachers and parents must be fully aware of the potential these associations have in later life.

3.    Cortisol and toxic stress

Cortisol is the stress hormone that is present in all humans and will have a compelling impact on early childhood development. Babies and young children must not be continually exposed to situations where they feel threatened or under stress. Their emotional and attachment needs must be satisfied along with the need for affection. If these needs are constantly not met, they will develop a hyper-reactive stress response. These forms of response, damage a brain's development which harms learning and the child’s development.

4.    Brain physiology, cognition and learning are extremely closely related

The relationship between all three factors demonstrates that emotional well-being is essential to early childhood development. It is the foundation for cognition and learning ability. Parents, teachers and carers should endeavour to create a positive learning environment understanding that these influences are intertwined. This is crucial with the under-threes and should be carefully considered by international schools teaching a British curriculum.

Neuroscience and education

It is now vital that neuroscience is embraced within the education system. It is an alternative way of theorising and fully appreciating early childhood development and needs to be adopted by schools and education practitioners. However, neuroscience should be seen as part of our understanding of brain development and not the only tool. It adds a contemporary dimension to existing ways of thinking that is perhaps more in keeping with the modern world.

Early brain development and neuroscience are starting to be accepted if not embraced by early year’s teachers and practitioners. A greater discussion needs to be encouraged to fully understand child development, especially in the under threes although this is certainly not embedded in professional qualifications. A review by Professor Cathy Nutbrown emphasises this point as she identified the problem, explored it, but didn’t go into any depth.

There are some fantastic primary school teachers at international schools with British curriculum who often have excellent qualifications. However, merely filling a school with superb graduates isn’t a complete answer. Rarely have they been trained about the role of early brain development so it escapes their thinking when planning curriculum, activities and the learning environment.

Nursery education is now globally recognised as being essential in child development with Save the Children calling for all nurseries to be led by a qualified teacher. The teacher should incorporate neuroscience into the school to ensure that early childhood brain development is not threatened or hampered.  Embracing the latest ideas and concepts from neuroscience and including cutting-edge theories can only improve early years’ brain development. Child development will be supported by teachers and practitioners who, in turn, will lead to creating an all-round educational experience for children.

Dowling (2004: 4) has called for the importance of utilising neuroscience in parenting, education and care stating:

“The challenge of understanding how the brain develops and how that understanding might help in raising the next generations to the best of our and their abilities is key to the future of humankind.”


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