Did you know that in the early childhood years, the body is actually teaching the brain? Young children learn through their brain stem and experiences help their brain form synaptic connections which are responsible for the development of the brain. Brain growth is primarily happening in the right hemisphere of the brain during the first 5 years of life, which focuses on social, emotional, musical, artistic and basic personality and temperament traits.
So many of the activities you see your toddler or preschoolers do that may seem silly, are actually helping the brain grow! Here is an example of some of these activities and how they help the brain grow:
Grasping, Pushing, pulling, stroking, reaching lead to better hand-eye coordination and toning fine motor which are the building blocks of hand writing
Spinning, Swinging, Rolling, Tumbling, Dancing, Balancing and Listening lead to better coordination and sporting abilities. These area also to learn skills children will need to learn how to read and write.
Stacking, sorting, mixing, and mimicking all lead to building memory, math logic, vocabulary, fluency and general problem solving.
Play is work for the young child. What seems like fun and games is actually a brain in formation!
Here's an interesting fact, school teachers are not required to have any child development training. Unless they personally choose to become educated on child development or brain development, they may never learn how a child's brain develops, learns and grows. On the other hand, preschool teachers focus a lot of time and training on child development during the early years.
Many people don't seem to understand how babies, toddlers and young children's brains develop and they often fall for marketing techniques that sell a product that may seem to give a child a jump in their education, but is actually not good for their brain development. Tools like flash cards, tracing sheets and any Television education program are not developmentally appropriate for children under 5.
During the first 5 years of life, the brain is developing in specific areas. These areas are often referred to as 'sensitive periods'. During these periods, parents and caregivers should focus on what the brain is trying to learn and make sure each child is given plenty of opportunities to develop these areas. I will go into more detail about theses areas and their specific ages in more detail during the next few posts.
The need for quality early childhood education is becoming more apparent during our struggling economic times. After a century of leading the world in supplying the educated worker force needed for technology fields, the U.S. has fallen behind in education. Preparing our future workforce begins with early childhood education. During the first five years of life children develop language, motor, social, emotional and cognitive skills. With the proper growth and development in these areas, they are more likely to succeed in school and are better equipped to contribute to society later in life.
It may seem hard to believe that quality care and education for a child under 5 years old can determine their future success as an adult, but it does. Understanding brain development can explain why the early years are so important to the future success of our children. During the first 5 years of life 90% of the brain is developed. The skills each of us need in order to function in society, our executive brain functions, are formed. While the brain of an elementary school aged child are geared more towards learning math, science and how to read, a preschoolers mind is geared towards building executive brain functions such as: focus, self control, communication, social skills, time management and self-direction. Of course early literacy and math skills are also important during the preschool years, but nothing is more important than helping children to enhance their executive brain function.
According to Aurthur J. Rolnick Director of Research for the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, and professor of economics for the University of Minnesota, children who attend a quality early childcare center during their first five years of life are 80% more likely to graduate from high school and are 60% more likely to graduate from college. Why do the preschool years make such a difference?
The skills that we learn during the first 6 years of life are the skills we need to succeed. A child who can focus longer and can be self directed will be able to stay on task longer and complete assignments in school more effectively. As an adult, communication skills and good time management are vital to making it through college and excelling in a career. So while it may seem very important to teach your 2 year old their ABC's and how to count, it is more important to help them establish a strong social and emotional foundation.