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Preschool        < Previous        Next >


Brain Development: Doesn't It Mandate Early Childhood Ed?


Q. I thought the whole idea of early childhood education was that it was necessary for brain development. They say a good preschool environment is crucially important in developing intelligence and academic skills. Isn't it true that the most important time for brain development is from birth to age 3?


Of course that is an important time, and yes, the brain develops connections at an astounding rate in the early years of life.


BUT . . . that does NOT mean that it is good to turn over an infant or toddler to "experts," or "out-source" childhood, if you will, in the mistaken belief that it will make your child smarter. It is much more likely to make your child mean, resentful and out of control. And the behavior statistics in K-12 schools reflect that, as children are behaving much worse these days than a generation or two ago, when relatively few children were in all-day, out-of-home care in the early years.


Children need love, first and foremost. That's the No. 1 correlate of good brain development. No matter how well-credentialed and caring an early childhood professional might be, he or she is still only a transient part-timer in your child's life. Bottom line: a child-care worker can't possibly love your child the way you do, so they're just not as good for your child as you are.


A good environment for early childhood does not have to be fancy or expensive at all. It should mostly have toys that can be used in more ways than one: blocks, balls, puppets, chalk, paints, crayons and so forth.


The "staff" in early childhood is probably better when unpaid - you, or a family member - than when paid, too. Plain old interaction between a caring adult and a child is the best way to deliver proper speech, vocabulary and logic to a young child. Just think about it: does a child learn more words and concepts from a 1-on-1 relationship with a child, or a 12-on-1 relationship with 11 other small children and one adult?


And let's talk about those early-childhood workers. Even though strides are being made in the professionalization of early-childhood workers, it is still a workforce marked by rapid turnover and a high percentage of workers who are there just for a paycheck, waiting for a boyfriend to get out of school or the military, or otherwise in transition and not really making a lifelong commitment to your child - the way you are, as that child's mother or father.


Of course, a good environment is good for a child's early growth and development. Colors and sounds and motion and textures are good. So is good nutrition, certainly. Safety is crucial, too. So is a consistent, loving caregiver. So is fresh air. So is positive, encouraging interaction with other people.


But all of those things can be had in any child's home, regardless of family income, and don't require an out-of-home child care experience. No matter how good child care is, it takes away time for the bond to form between you and your child, and that's more important than anything. Anything! Early childhood education outside of the home is NOT a prerequisite for good brain development. Neither is having money! Ironically, children in the United States USED to come to school with a better working knowledge of the alphabet, colors, numbers and so forth than they do today - even though the vast majority of children are kindergarten-ready on Day One. But the old-fashioned stay-at-home mom really does do a better job than the most expensive pre-kindergarten program you can imagine.


Just as helpful as judicious stimulation is, though, overstimulation can be harmful. A young child needs to see, grasp and manipulate objects . . . but also to be free to just sit and stare into space or rest. A young child needs to hear music and be given crayons and scratch paper for scribbling . . . but also needs time to roll around to the beat of his or her OWN "drumbeat," and engage in imaginative play on his or her own, without structured stops and starts, or forced playmates.


Too many overanxious parents and early childhood education "experts" would rush children into formalized learning situations that are actually harmful in the long run to the child's cognitive development.


This is why so many child development authorities really do advise parents to stay away from school-based pre-kindergarten programs, because the staff so often are taught methods that might be appropriate for the early primary years, but highly inappropriate for children who are 3, 4 and 5. It backfires, and yet "on paper" it looks as those the early childhood staff is well-qualified.


Homework: Good websites about helping your small child's brain development include and Brain development is a different situation when poverty is involved. It is thought that nine out of 10 American children are growing up with adequate nutritional resources, for example. They could be better in some cases, but basically, the lack of food isn't a crisis for 90% of the children. For about 10%, however, poor nutrition is a concern, especially in terms of brain development. For a look at the special needs of young children growing up in poverty, when it comes to brain development, see the National Center for Children in Poverty's article:



By Susan Darst Williams Preschool 04 2008


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