Reading time: 7min30sec.
There is electricity in the brain
Children are born with almost a full quota of neurons – white spaces (blanks) – in the brain. Through experience these spaces are connected to increase mental development. From birth to age 5, a child’s brain develops more than at any other time in life. And early brain development has a lasting impact on a child’s ability to learn and succeed in school and life. The quality of a child’s experiences in the first few years of life – positive or negative – helps shape how their brain develops.
This EXTRACT is taken from: “Benefits of reading to your child”
Children’s brains develop in spurts called critical periods. The first occurs around age 2, with a second one occurring during adolescence.
At the start of this period (two-year-olds), the number of connections (synapses) between brain cells (neurons) doubles. The connections between brain cells are where learning occurs, twice as many synapses enable the brain to learn faster than at any other time of life. What children’s experiences in this phase have lasting effects on their development.
It also provides a prime opportunity to lay the foundation for a holistic education for children.
Here are four ways to maximize learning during this period:
- encouraging a love of learning,
- focusing on breadth instead of depth,
- paying attention to emotional intelligence, and
- do not treat a young child’s education as merely a precursor to “real” learning (play school).
ENCOURAGE A LOVE OF LEARNING
Instead of focusing on performance, Young children need to enjoy the process of learning. Educators and parents can emphasize the joys of trying new activities and learning something novel.
This period is also the time to establish a growth mindset. Talents and abilities are developed through effort instead of being naturally fixed.
Educators should avoid labeling children or making universal statements about their ability like “You’re so smart” these are counterproductive. Instead, emphasize perseverance. Children will learn to love learning if we show enthusiasm over the process. Do not fixate on results.[i]
FOCUS ON BREADTH, NOT DEPTH
Expose children to a wide variety of activities. It is a time to develop skills in a range of fields. Engage children in music, reading, sports, math, art, science, and languages.
Avoid focusing on results during this phase of development as to emphasize the breadth of skill development over depth.
People who thrive in our rapidly changing world are those who first learn how and then draw from multiple fields. They think creatively and abstractly – this forms well-rounded individuals.
Well-roundedness is especially important for children from ages 2 to 7. Their developing brains are ready to soak in a wide range of skill sets. DON’T OVERLOOK EMOTIONAL INTELLIGENCE
Yes, we want children to read well and learn the fundamentals of math. But we should not disregard emotional intelligence. The advantages of learning during this first critical period of brain development should extend to interpersonal skills such as kindness, empathy, and teamwork.
Empathy begins with acknowledging one’s feelings. Therefore help children label their emotions (“I feel sad”) and then tell the story about what made them feel that way (“I feel sad because I wanted ice cream and you said no”). Once children practice labeling emotions, educators can start asking questions that encourage them to consider others’ feelings.
One way to encourage care for others is to include children in what adults do for others. Even allowing young children to help with chores can make them more helpful and considerate people.
DON’T TREAT YOUNG CHILDREN’S EDUCATION AS MERELY A PRECURSOR TO “REAL” LEARNING
Children’s brains can uniquely absorb information during this critical phase.
Research shows that children in this age range are best suited to learn the patterns of language development, enabling them to master a second language to the same level as a native language. However, once children reach age 8, their language learning proficiency decreases, and second languages are not spoken as well as native ones. The same age effect is found when learning musical ability such as perfect pitch.
It is tempting to think of early childhood education as a precursor to “real” education. But these may be the years that matter most.