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Amy Pybus: Setting foundation for child’s success

I always start the class with a quote from Pat Wolfe: “Brain research validates what effective teachers have always done.”

I like to point out to the class how dangerous a little brain research is in the hands of civilians. The explosion of information right now is making us re-evaluate how we teach, and in some ways that’s very good.

But unfortunately it is also creating a “Baby Einstein” culture of how we view children, and popularizing the idea that we need to stuff as much information as possible into a child’s brain in the early years of life. This is simply not true.

In fact, children don’t develop an autobiographical memory until they’re over two years old. So anything you “teach” them before that time cannot be recalled. However, what good child care providers do is use those years to build the foundation for future success, and that is the key.

This foundation for true intellectual promise begins with the basic principles that are displayed in any quality child care or early education program. Routines are crucial because the predictability of a schedule gives children a feeling of comfort and safety. Their brain doesn’t have to waste energy worrying about what’s coming next.

Free play and experimentation prompt learning, increasing problem-solving and social skills in ways that can’t be measured. My two 11-month-old boys have invented their own language and are learning from each other constantly. They already have sibling rivalry, and that’s OK. Because they’ve also discovered how to share toys with each other.

Experts in education recommend gifted programs for all children, and that’s exactly what child care programs provide. They offer rich environments that address all learning styles, speeds and capabilities. Children are allowed to make mistakes and think about their thinking, which is really what’s going to give them future success.

The pressure to learn and high performance expectations set by the Baby Einstein culture actually hinder brain growth (think MCAS testing). Brain research suggests that pumping children full of information for which they are not ready only develops a sense of helplessness and failure.

The consequences of too much stimulation are great: the child tunes out, and their overwhelmed brain cannot function at a high level or engage in creative thought.

One of the other major points I teach is that true learning and memory are tied to emotion. I do an exercise in which I ask the class to remember three things from their school years. Then I ask, raise your hand if any of those memories were academic?

Very rarely do hands go up. We remember teachers we love, or moments with friends, or incidents of bullying. But the periodic table? Not so much. (Unless you’re a scientist, in which case, rock on.) What really interests me are these social aspects in childcare, and building a relationship of trust with a young child. Good providers do this by having clear expectations and boundaries with natural consequences for misbehavior and by giving unconditional love.

They don’t use fear or intimidation to deal with children because they know it doesn’t work. Negative treatment damages brain growth instead of fostering it.

Children naturally seek out and thrive in places where caring is present because that’s what their growing brain needs. To really promote cognitive development, toddlers must be invited and encouraged by adults to participate in the world around them.

Good providers understand young children and communicate honestly with them. They don’t shame kids by talking down to them or assuming they can’t understand what adults are talking about.

Providers don’t see the children they work with as “just kids,” but rather small human beings who they respect. In modeling respect for children, providers teach respect for others.

At the end of the class, two of the older ladies in the crowd approached me and said how good the information was. Of course I was thrilled to hear such a nice compliment, but it really just confirmed what I believe about teaching — that it’s the people who’ve been doing the job for a long time who know what’s up.

I ask the class that if nothing else, they remember this quote from Carl Buechner: “They may forget what you said, but they will never forget how you made them feel.” If you make kids feel like they can learn anything, they can.

Amy Pybus of Easthampton writes on family life issues in a column that appears on the second Thursday of the month. She can be reached at opinion@gazettenet.com and blogs at www.sittingonthebaby.com.

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