Academic journal article Childhood Education

Brain Research and Implications for Early Childhood Education

Academic journal article Childhood Education

Brain Research and Implications for Early Childhood Education

Article excerpt

In this article, Gail Lindsey discusses new scientific research on brain development in very young children. The latest neurological findings are providing hard, quantifiable evidence of the significance of the early years in the development of the mind. The author highlights five pivotal discoveries in brain research that should guide the care and education of young children. In addition, she presents information regarding the stages of brain wiring, critical periods for brain development, and the role a nurturing and stimulating environment plays in brain development. Lindsey notes recommendations for broad policy changes that would help parents, child care providers, and preschool teachers put into practice the recent findings of neuroscientists. As the author states, we "must heed the implications of the recent brain development research as it relates to the windows of opportunity, parents, and quality child care for America's youngest children." - S.J.S.

With the turn of the century, America hopes to complete the revolution of the education system that began in 1989. The Goals 2000: Educate America Act defined the hopes and demands of Americans for a revamped education system (U.S. Department of Education [USDOE], 1994). With more than 15 million American children under the age of 4 (Kantrowitz, 1997), one of the Act's most important goals is that "All children in America will start school ready to learn" (USDOE, 1994). Unfortunately, as things stand today, kindergarten teachers report that one in three students is not equipped with the fundamental skills necessary for learning (Carnegie Corporation, 1994). Researchers report that half of a child's critical brain development is completed by the time he begins kindergarten (Simmons & Sheehan, 1997). Furthermore, reports Sharon Begley (1996), "Children whose neural circuits are not stimulated before kindergarten are never going to be what they could have been" (p. 56).

Therefore, in order to ensure that each child starts school ready to learn, Americans will have to pay close attention to the recent research about the importance of the first three years of life. According to Simmons and Sheehan (1997), "A child's potential is determined in the early years - from the first moments of life to countless hours spent in day care. These are the years when we create the promise of a child's future" (p. 1).

Unfortunately, according to the 1993 report of the National Education Goals Panel, at least 50 percent of America's infants and toddlers begin life encumbered with insurmountable obstacles and without the crucial assistance needed for later school success (Carnegie Corporation, 1994). In addition, the National Education Goals Panel reported that a grave number of children under 3 are challenged by one or more of the following major risk factors: "a) inadequate prenatal care, b) isolated parents, c) substandard child care, d) poverty, and e) insufficient attention" (Carnegie Corporation, 1994, p. 1). These alarming statistics symbolize the adversity that endangers the development of America's children (Carnegie Corporation, 1994). Each year, as a result of these staggering statistics, the "American taxpayers reach deep into their pocket[s] to meet the costs, both direct and indirect, of policies that are based on remediation rather than prevention" (Carnegie Corporation, 1994, p. 9).

Consequently, Americans can no longer ignore the significance of the early years of development (Carnegie Corporation, 1994). According to Nash (1997), psychiatrists and educators long have acknowledged the significance of children's early experiences; until recently, however, their realizations have been largely anecdotal. Matthew Melmed, Executive Director of Zero to Three, a nonprofit organization devoted to highlighting the importance of the first three years of life, comments that "modern neuroscience is providing the hard, quantifiable evidence that was missing earlier. …

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