Monday, 9 August 2010

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Why early childhood educational interventions are SO important?

According to "How to Raise a Brighter Child" by Joan Beck (Ch. 2), early childhood educational interventions are important because of the following reasons:

• Genes provide the basic framework of the brain, but experiences (in the form of input from environment) largely build the rest. Heredity is the brain’s hardware, and experiences are the software programming.

• At birth, a baby has 100 billion neurons – virtually all the brain cells he will ever have. Some of those neurons already are dedicated to controlling the heart-beat, respiration and other vital functions. But the rest are waiting to be wired into the complex tapestry that will form his working mind. Each neuron sends out branches called dendrites, which connect with the dendrites from other neurons and exchange information through connections called synapses. These connections/synapses form at an astonishing rate during the first few years of life – as many as 3 billion per second. By the time your baby is 8 months old, he will already have about 1,000 trillion. Most of these synapses form randomly in this frantic infant growth spurt, but they are activated and strengthened by sensory input from the outside world.

• Each new stimulus your baby receives sends tiny burst of electricity shooting through her brain, building new synaptic bridges. The sight of a new colourful mobile over her crib stimulates neurons in her retina to make electrical connections in her visual cortex. Hearing a new lullaby sparks neurons in her ear to signal her auditory cortex. The touch of a soft stuffed animal or a father’s scratchy beard sends similar signals flashing through her sensory motor cortex. The outside world comes in through the senses – vision, hearing, smell, touch, taste – teaching the brain what to become.

• The more such input your baby has, the stronger and more elaborate his neurological connections become. Those, in turn, will determine how smoothly the electrochemical impulses of more complicated thoughts and emotions flow as he grows older. By giving him wide, open access to as many experiences as possible, you can actually improves his brain, raising his intelligence and his potential to keep learning all through his life. Early stimulation can actually produce changes in the size, structure and chemical functioning of the brain.

• Between ages 1 and 2 the cerebral cortex adds more than 2 million new synapses — the connections between brain cells — every second (according to Zero to Three, a nonprofit educational group). By age 2, your toddler will have more than 100 trillion synapses — the most she'll ever have in her life, and part of the reason why she has such an incredible capacity to learn.

• This extraordinary growth spurt doesn’t last forever. A young child’s brain forms nearly twice as many synapses as it will ultimately use by roughly age 2.

• The brain of a 3-year-old is 2.5 times more active than that of an adult.

• This period of "synaptic exuberance" can last until age 8, but it's also accompanied by the constant pruning of unused synapses. By the time your child reaches adulthood, more than 50 percent of those neural pathways will be gone.

• After age 10, the brain ruthlessly prunes the weakest synapses (those that have been least used). By age 16, the brain has only half as many connections as it did at age 2, a level that stays steady until around age 70, when the number of synapses declines once again.

• The overabundance of synapses early in life ensures that the growing baby’s brain can adapt to virtually any environment he finds himself in – a jungle, a desert, an urban high-rise. The synapses that are stimulated early in life become part of the intricate web of the mind, and the more such connection there are, the greater the child’s ability to learn and understand, to make sense of his surroundings and generate new ideas. Scientists believe that the number of connections can easily go up or down by 25% or more depending on whether a child grows up in an enriched environment or an impoverished one.

• If a child gets too little stimulation, play, affection, discovery, language and person-to-person contact, development of the brain that depends on experience will be slowed down or will fail to progress.

• Exposing children to simulating environments and quality preschool programs where they are given individual attention can raise children’s IQ by as much as 20 or 30 points beyond those of children in control groups.

• It is the interaction of the environment with heredity which has changed the brain over millions of years. You can’t do anything to change your child’s heredity, but you can alter your child’s environment. It is your child’s environment that determines how much of his genetic potential will be realized.

Changes in mental capacity are greatest during the first few years of life, when the brain is growing most rapidly:

• The brain grows at a decelerating rate from birth on. A child’s brain undergoes a great spurt of activity between the ages of 4 and 10, using more than twice as much energy as an adult’s brain. After age 10 or so, the brain’s use of energy begins to trail off. By around age 16, it resembles an adult’s. In short, the brain is busy building itself in the years before age 10. This cerebral building boom in the early years helps explain plasticity – the young child’s remarkable ability to reprogram itself even after serious injuries. In numerous cases, children who have lost entire hemispheres of their brains because of accidents have been able to learn to walk or talk or write again through practice and therapy. Excess synapses in their brains are reassigned to compensate for the lost functions. Adults who have lost function because of strokes or other injuries can learn to reprogram their brains too, but with less success and far more difficulty.

• Your child will continue to learn and acquire knowledge after age 17, of course, but what he can’t change is the IQ level. The opportunity to increase his basic intelligence will be almost completely gone by the time he is old enough to finish his secondary school. Therefore, the stimuli you add to your child’s environment will have the greatest impact and results during the earliest years of his life. The same amount of input or efforts during his primary or secondary school years won’t result in nearly such high gains.

References:
- Start Smart (2012) by Pam Schiller
- How to Raise a Brighter Child - Kindle Edition - Kindle Book (Feb. 21, 2001) by Joan Beck



- How to Raise a Brighter Child - Paperback (Sept. 1, 1999) by Joan Beck


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