The Neuroscience of Early Childhood Development

When we talk about early childhood development, especially best practices, we rarely factor in the importance of neuroscience. Before I begin my discussion, I feel that it is necessary to define what neuroscience is.

Neuroscience is the study of how the human nervous system develops and functions. The subcategories of computational, cognitive, cultural, linguistic and developmental neuroscience focus on different pathways in learning. We can derive a greater understanding of how our minds develop, what influences higher education functions, and how to better retain information from the science behind learning from neuroscience.

Neuroscience should be used as a way to understand key issues in early childhood development and education. I am not saying that it should be the main way to accomplish this, but it adds another approach to an essential field of study.

To accurately respond to the needs of young children and to help them grow in developmentally appropriate ways, we have to take a multi-view approach. We are currently seeing more early childhood practitioners and experts discuss the importance of brain science, and the need for early childhood educators to have a deep understanding of neuroscience, and how the human mind works.

By teaching preservice and graduate level teachers about brain science and early brain development, we can ensure that preschool students are instructed by professionals that are qualified to support all facets of early childhood development.

What educators and parents should understand about neuroscience

At the very least, early childhood educators and parents should understand four basic things about brain development in early childhood:

  • Toxic stress and the stress hormone cortisol exert a powerful effect on brain development – when infants and children are continuously exposed to traumatic and stressful situations or when their emotional and attachment needs go unmet, they develop a hyper-reactive stress response. This destroys the developing brain’s architecture and has harmful effects on a child’s ability to learn.
  • The relationships amongst, cognition, brain architecture and learning are tied together– understanding the importance of emotional health as an essential foundation for cognition and learning ability can help teachers develop an environment that is conducive to learning.
  • Brain plasticity is more pronounced in early childhood – this means that the brain is hypersensitive to traumatic and environmental experiences, with neural connections and activations growing and being strengthened based on these experiences (positive or negative).
  • The most profound synaptic activity occurs during the initial five years of life – this gives the young child the ability to acquire enormous behavioral, social, linguistic, environmental, and cultural information. This makes the role of parents, and early years practitioners essential in managing and encouraging healthy brain development.

What did we miss? What additional information should parents and early childhood practitioners know about neuroscience?

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