Wednesday, April 14, 2010

For optimal brain development, high quality early learning experiences should be available to all children, regardless of the setting they are in, and regardless of their abilities, special needs, and regardless of family income.

As I often say to audiences at the beginning of brain presentations , “ I am thrilled that  technology allows the study of the brain, like we've never seen before”. When Scientific research began demonstrating that a child's early development is largely determined by the daily environment and experiences, rather than genetics alone, I became extremely excited. I was an early childhood educator at that time and knew the impact of the early years, but having scientific evidence to support the dramatic difference quality early childhood educators make was very reinforcing.

The good news is that advances in brain research have demonstrated the enormous importance of the early years in determining a person's future success in learning and in life. It is now known that a child’s brain continues to develop long after birth. The term “brain development” means more than just intelligence building. It means the actual structural changes that take place in the brain. The experiences a child has in the early years activate the actual physical connections between brain cells that make the brain grow—in other words, the brain's "wiring." We now understand that school readiness is based on this brain wiring, most of which takes place before age 5. This wiring develops best when a child is exposed to good nutrition, a variety of positive experiences, hearing rich language, and has opportunities to develop relationships with caring people and to learn through exploration.

Conversely,  constant exposure to stress, limited stimulation, poor nutrition and lack of  nurturing relationships all lead to types of brain wiring that can contribute to emotional and learning problems. Brains learn very early how to cope with the environment to which we are exposed, sometimes with harmful results.

This information is critical because 13 million infants, toddlers, and preschoolers are not in the care of their parent during the day, including 45% of children under the age of one. Early childhood professionals who are trained and are knowledgeable about early brain development have a dramatic and very positive influence. These dedicated educators and care providers create healthy learning environments and the loving interactions growing minds need. 

However, the significance of the early years is still not fully recognized. Only 10% of early childhood education programs meet national accreditation standards!   Our education system and entire society cannot afford to continue to allow large numbers of children to miss out on the positive 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. Brain research show us what children need; our challenge is to ensure that every child receives it!

The following clip clearly demonstrates and explains the difference early educators can make.

Please thank the quality educators in your life for the difference they are making in many children's lives and please share any experiences you have had to illustrate the value of a positive educator. We want to recognize those who make an impact!

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