National Association for the Education of Young Children
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New insights into brain development affirm what many parents and caregivers have known
for years, 1)good prenatal care, 2)warm and loving attachments between young children and
adults, and 3)positive stimulation from the time of birth, really do make a difference in
children's development for a lifetime.
In June 1996, Families and Work Institute held a conference at the University of
Chicago entitled "Brain Development in Young Children: New Frontiers for Research,
Policy and Practice." Convening professionals from the neurosciences, medicine,
education, human services, the media, business, and public policy, the conference focused
on what we know about the developing brain and how that knowledge can and should inform
efforts to improve results for children and their families. The following is taken from Rethinking
the Brain: New Insights into Early Development by Families and Work Institiute.
What have we learned?
- Human development hinges on the interplay between nature and nurture.
The impact of
environmental factors on the young child's brain development is dramatic and specific, not
merely influencing the general direction of development, but actually affecting how the
intricate circuitry of the human brain is "wired."
How humans develop and learn depends critically and continually on the interplay
between an individual's genetic endowment and the nutrition, surroundings, care,
stimulation, and teaching that are provided or withheld.
- Early care has decisive and long-lasting effects on how people develop and learn, how
they cope with stress, and how they regulate their own emotions.
Warm and responsive
early care helps babies thrive and plays a vital role in healthy development. A child's
capacity to control her own emotional state appears to hinge on biological systems shaped
by her early experiences and attachments. A strong, secure attachment to a nurturing adult
can have a protective biological function, helping a growing child withstand the ordinary
stress of daily life.
- The human brain has a remarkable capacity to change, but timing is crucial.
itself can be alteredor helped to compensate for problemswith appropriately
timed, intensive intervention. In the first decade of life, the brain's ability to change
and compensate is especially remarkable.
There are optimal periods of opportunity -- "prime times" during which the
brain is particularly efficient at specific types of learning.
- The brain's plasticity also means that there are times when negative experiences or the
absence of appropriate stimulation are more likely to have serious and sustained effects.
exposure to nicotine, alcohol, and drugs may have even more harmful and long lasting
effects on young children than was previously suspected.
These risk factors frequently are associated with or exacerbated by poverty. For
children growing up in poverty, economic deprivation affects their nutrition, access to
medical care, the safety and predictability of their physical environment, the level of
family stress, and the quality and continuity of their day-to-day care.
- Evidence amassed by neuroscientists and child development experts over the last decade
point to the wisdom and efficacy of prevention and early intervention.
programs created to promote healthy cognitive, emotional, and social development can
improve the prospects - and the quality of life - of many children.
The efficacy of early intervention has been demonstrated and replicated in diverse
communities across the nation.