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Boosting Brain Power in Developmentally Appropriate Ways

Posted by on in What If?
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adult and child reading

If you’re an early childhood professional chances are good that you’ve experienced parents who are anxious to give their child a “jumpstart” on learning. Chances are also good that you’ve met with parents who believe the best way to do that is with such things as flashcards and computer software that promises its young users will become instantly smarter.

It’s natural that you would be anxious to please the parents of your students. But you know that flashcards and drill-and-kill software aren’t the way to go. That they’re not developmentally appropriate. But how to convince parents of that?

Boosting Brain Power2

To address this topic, I invited two “brain ladies” to speak with me on a Gryphon House-sponsored episode of Studentcentricity. Jill Stamm and Deborah McNelis shared their thoughts – not only offering advice on how to boost brain power in developmentally appropriate ways but also on how to best get the message across to parents.

Following the interview, Deborah presented these additional thoughts:

Every parent needs to recognize and provide the types of experiences and interactions that growing minds require. Additionally, because 13 million infants, toddlers, and preschoolers are not in the care of their parent during the day, it is essential that [early childhood] programs are designed to provide developmentally appropriate experiences also.

The significance of the early years is still not fully realized by a majority of adults. Our society cannot afford to continue to allow large numbers of children to miss out on the developmentally appropriate experiences they need in infancy and early childhood; the costs in terms of lost potential and increasing rates of emotional and behavioral problems are too high. The IMS Health company shared data in 2013 on the number of young children on psychiatric drugs in the U.S.  The findings revealed the following:

0-1 Years                274,804
2-3 Years                370,778
4-5 Years                500,948

When children are experiencing what scientific research demonstrates is appropriate and essential, stress levels are reduced and children thrive.  Let’s do all we can to create this invaluable understanding.

These numbers are appalling – but not necessarily shocking considering the stress under which today’s young children are placed. A large part of that stress comes from being asked to meet expectations far beyond what the little ones are developmentally capable of achieving.

Jill leaves us with these insights:

1. Routines are effective with young children because they allow the child to know what will happen next.  Because the brain in a pattern-seeking organ, when the need to know what comes next in the pattern is satisfied, the brain can relax and use cognitive energy for learning new things.

2. A child’s ability to focus depends on understanding that he is safe…and that people love him.  A child needs to know that there is at least one, consistent, and predictable loving adult who will never give up on him.

3. Play activates the pleasure centers of the brain, and it is the desire to have that pleasant feeling again that causes a child to repeat something.  It is actually repetition that causes brain connections to grow stronger…but it is play that starts the process.  

To learn more about how to boost brain power in ways that don’t stress young children – that in fact meet their needs – listen to the interview here and check out Jill’s book.


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Rae Pica has been an education consultant specializing in the development and education of the whole child, children's physical activity, and active learning since 1980. A former adjunct instructor with the University of New Hampshire, she is the author of 19 books, including the text Experiences in Movement and Music and, most recently, What If Everybody Understood Child Development?: Straight Talk About Bettering Education and Children's Lives. Rae has shared her expertise with such groups as the Sesame Street Research Department, the Head Start Bureau, Centers for Disease Control, the President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports, Nickelodeon's Blue's Clues, Gymboree, Nike, and state health departments throughout the country. She is a member of the executive committee of the Academy of Education Arts and Sciences and is co-founder of BAM Radio Network, where she hosts Studentcentricity, interviewing experts in education, child development, play research, the neurosciences, and more on teaching with students at the center.

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Guest Tuesday, 25 October 2016