Critical period

Scientific evidence tells us that the influences from the environment are especially important early in life, during a restricted developmental period, during which the neural pathways are highly sensitive to the effects of external stimuli, and a veritable remodelling of the brain is possible.

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Sensory development

The sensory development of a baby is associated with the critical periods, during which the environmental stimuli makes the most impact to the child’s sensory development. Once the critical period is over, the environmental stimuli will no longer significantly make effect.

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Implicit memory

Research has shown that young children are able to implicitly recognize and use perceptual cues to enhance their performance. These indicate that young children possess implicit learning capabilities that enable them to acquire complex rule systems and intuitive knowledge.

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Right hemisphere

Research has established that during fetal, neonatal and infant development, the role of the right hemisphere is more profound. The early childhood education enables children to learn effortlessly, efficiently and creatively with the powerful gift of the right hemisphere.

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Why Early Education?

Published by U.S. National Academy of Sciences in 2000, Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers by Barbara T. Bowman, etl at The Committee on Early Childhood Pedagogy, established by the National Research Council in 1997, states that “Children come into the world eager to learn. The first five years of life are a time of enormous growth of linguistic, conceptual, social, emotional, and motor competence. Right from birth a healthy child is an active participant in that growth, exploring the environment, learning to communicate, and, in relatively short order, beginning to construct ideas and theories about how things work in the surrounding world. The pace of learning, however, will depend on whether and to what extent the child’s inclinations to learn encounter and engage supporting environments. There can be no question that the environment in which a child grows up has a powerful impact on how the child develops and what the child learns.” The report also published some very powerful findings on early childhood learning and program effectiveness, which include: 

  • Young children are capable of understanding and actively building knowledge, and they are highly inclined to do so.
  • Development is dependent on and responsive to experience, allowing children to grow far more quickly in domains in which a rich experiential base and guided exposure to complex thinking are available than in those where they receive no such support. Genetic endowment is far more responsive to experience than was once thought. Rapid growth of the brain in the early years provides an opportunity for the environment to influence the physiology of development.
  • Education and care in the early years are two sides of the same coin. Research suggests that secure attachment improves both social competence and the ability to exploit learning opportunities.

Jack Shonkoff and Deborah Phillips, at the Committee on Integrating the Science of Early Childhood Development; National Research Council and Institute of Medicine, described in the book From Neurons to Neighborhoods: The Science of Early Childhood Development that the explosion of research in the neurobiological, behavioral, and social sciences has generated a much deeper appreciation of: 

  • the importance of early life experiences on the development of the brain and the unfolding of human behavior;
  • the powerful capabilities, complex emotions, and essential social skills that develop during the earliest years of life, and
  • the capacity to increase the odds of favorable developmental outcomes through planned interventions.

U.S. National Association of Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies also published a summary report on Rethinking the Brain – New Insights into Early Development, and emphasized the following key points:

  • 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.”
  • The human brain has a remarkable capacity to change, but timing is crucial. The brain itself can be altered or helped to compensate for problems, with appropriately timed, intensive intervention. There are optimal periods of opportunity – “prime times” during which the brain is particularly efficient at specific types of learning. The first five years are the windows of opportunity for motor development, emotional control, vision, social attachment, vocabulary and math/logic.
  • To have greater impact, interventions must be timely … if we miss opportunities to promote healthy development and learning, later remediation may be more difficult and expensive, and less effective.
  • Evidence amassed by neuroscientists and child development experts over the last decade point to the wisdom and efficacy of prevention and early intervention.

 

Window of Opportunity

The report is ended up with an appeal: we can take heart in the knowledge that there are many things we as a nation can do, starting now, to brighten young children’s future and ours.