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Nurturing the Developing Brain in Early Childhood

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Presentation on theme: "Nurturing the Developing Brain in Early Childhood"— Presentation transcript:

1 Nurturing the Developing Brain in Early Childhood
Lisa Freund, Ph.D. The National Institutes of Health The Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development Bethesda, Maryland U.S.A.

2 The Brain is Still a Mystery



5 The Neuron Each neuron uses biochemical reactions to receive, process and transmit information Neuron’s dendritic tree is connected to a thousand neighboring neurons. When one neuron fires, a positive or negative charge is received by one of the denrites

6 Brain Growth At birth, most neurons the brain will have are present
approx. 100 billion neurons By age 2 years, brain is 80% of adult size What keeps growing? Other brain cells (glia) New neuron connections approx trillion connections by age 3 yrs. Re number of neurons born with: Neurons are the oldest and longest cells in the body! You have neurons for your whole life. While other cells die and are replaced, neurons are not replaced. In fact, you have fewer neurons when you are old compared to when you are young. However, the neurons you have when you are old ARE THE SAME ONES you had when you were young. On the other hand, data published in November 1998 show that at least in one area of the brain (the hippocampus), new neurons CAN grow in adult humans. Neurons can be quite large - in some cases, like corticospinal neurons (from motor cortex to spinal cord) or primary afferent neurons (such as those extending from the skin into the spinal cord and up to the brainstem), can be several feet long!

7 How Does the Developing Brain Become Aware, Learn, Think,?
Overproduction of neurons and connections among neurons Selective reduction of neurons and connections among neurons Waves of intense branching and connecting followed by reduction in neurons Before birth through 3-years-old Again at 11- or 12-years-old





12 Major Areas of the Brain
Self-regulation, problem solving, goal setting, social cognition Sensory motor perception, spatial abilities Hearing, language, memory, social -emotional function Vision and perception OCCIPITAL LOBE Located at the back of the brain, behind the parietal lobe and temporal lobe. Concerned with many aspects of vision. FRONTAL LOBE Located in front of the central sulcus. Concerned with reasoning, planning, parts of speech and movement (motor cortex), emotions, and problem-solving. TEMPORAL LOBE Located below the lateral fissure. Concerned with perception and recognition of auditory stimuli (hearing) and memory (hippocampus). PARIETAL LOBE Located behind the central sulcus. Concerned with perception of stimuli related to touch, pressure, temperature and pain

13 Cortical thickness development from birth to 54 mos
over Months 6 mm 4.5 mm 3 mm 1.5 mm 1 mm under

14 Right lateral and top views of gray matter maturation over the cortical surface.

15 Right View of Gray Matter Maturation Over Brain Surface between Ages 4 to 21 Years

16 How Brain Areas are Developing
Anatomical studies of brain development show Occipital lobes show earliest pruning Frontal and Temporal lobes show growth of neural connections longer than other areas of the brain…through 3 years old Frontal and Temporal lobes show pruning of connections longer than other areas of the brain Greatest change between 2 years and 5 years

17 Synaptic production and pruning correspond with overall brain activity
Young children’s brains work harder and less efficiently than adults’

18 Myelinization Speed of connection
Begins at birth, rapidly increases to 2-years old Continues to increase more slowly through 30-years-old

19 Myelinization Young children’s brains have fewer neuron connections
and work slower than adults’

20 How Brain Function is Developing
Brain areas with longest periods of organization related to… self-regulation, problem-solving, language/communication Social bonding Most vigorous growth, pruning, connecting, and activity occurs between 1-1/2 years through 3 or 4 years old Neuroscience is telling us that this may be one of the most important periods for developing self-regulation, problem-solving, social-emotional, and language/communication behaviors

21 Nature and Nurture Genes and environment interact throughout brain development Genes form neurons, connections among major brain regions Environment and experience refines the connections; enhancing some connections while eliminating others

22 Experience Can Change the Actual Structure of the Brain
Brain development is “activity-dependent” Every experience excites some neural circuits and leaves others alone Neural circuits used over and over strengthen, those that are not used are dropped resulting in “pruning”


24 Differences in brain activity (colored areas) between a typical child reader and a child with reading difficulties

25 Differences in brain activity in the same child before and after specialized reading instruction

26 Experience Can Change Brain Development
The brain is undergoing explosive growth in the first years of life and needs organizing experiences to facilitate development. Learning results in more consolidation of neuronal activity—brain activity becomes more efficient

27 Neglect Impedes Brain Development
Limited exposure to language, touch or social interactions Emotional or cognitive neglect Structural Changes Lack of brain growth beyond effects of poor nutrition Neuronal death beyond “pruning”

28 Brain activity of a normal 5-year-old child (left) and a 5-year-old institutionalized Romanian orphan who was neglected in infancy (right).

29 What early experiences promote healthy brain development?
Important areas of brain development are associated with… Self-control or Self-regulation Language/communication Learning Social emotional function Research shows that everyday experiences with caregivers or other children can optimize the development in these areas



32 Social Basis of Early Brain Development
Early experiences create brain neuron connections Parent-child interactions are key And when are they most effective? Neuroscience and other research says between birth and 3 to 4-years old



35 Self-Regulation Emotion Regulation Capacity to identify feelings
Empathy Management of strong emotions Behavioral Inhibition Delay gratification Control impulses

36 Self-Regulation Attention and Thinking Regulation (Executive Function)
Directing attention Mental representation Planning Focus on goal Monitor actions; information Correct actions Identify and use strategies

37 Self-Regulation Early parent-child interactions lay basis of self-regulation skills that become internalized by the child Directing attention Identifying goals Monitoring Child’s actions Correcting Child’s actions Modeling strategies

38 Parent-child Interaction with Infant or Toddler
Parent who supports optimal development Is sensitive to child’s cues Responds to child’s distress Takes advantage of simple, everyday activities to stimulate learning

39 Parent-child Interaction with Infant or Toddler
The child can influence interaction through Clarity of his or her cues Responsiveness to parent Activity level

40 Parent-child Interaction with 3- to 5-year-old
Directing attention Suggesting strategies Monitoring, evaluating actions Staying directed toward goal Feedback is less directive

41 Reading Comprehension

42 Scaffolding

43 Research has Shown that Successful Scaffolding Results in Healthy Brains Ready to Learn
Faster rates of language learning Increased task persistence Increased self-control More appropriate requests for help Increased self-monitoring during tasks Increased ability to learn Moderates risk factors

44 Implications for Early Education

45 We Know that…. Children show improved school achievement
With planned, intentional instruction in the preschool years. When the literacy environment at home and in school can engage the child. With consistent reading aloud When preschool teachers receive high quality training.

46 We know that… Just as parents who provide scaffolding promote healthy development, so can pre-school teachers provide scaffolding in the classroom

47 Classroom Scaffolding
What types of teacher scaffolding can result in optimal outcomes for children? Providing print and materials that foster their understanding of concepts Responding to children’s requests and signals promptly and sensitively Maintaining and expanding on children’s interests in meaningful learning activities Providing children with choices and prompting children to make thoughtful decisions

48 To Promote the Foundations for Reading
Phonological awareness --ability to notice and work with the sounds in language. How quickly children learn to read depends on how much phonological awareness has developed during toddler and preschool years.

49 To Promote Phonological Awareness
Teachers and Parents can… Chose books to read aloud that focus on sounds, rhyming, and alliteration Invite children to make up new verses of familiar words or songs by changing the beginning sounds of words Play games where children isolate the beginning sound in familiar words, and generate rhyming words

50 Promote Knowledge of Letters
Research shows it is important for young children to be able to: Recognize and name letters Recognize beginning letters in familiar words (especially their own name) Recognize both capital and lowercase letters Relate some letters to the specific sounds they represent Teachers and parents can reinforce learning about letters by providing letters in a form children can touch, by playing games with letters, and by helping children write letters.

51 Read Aloud To Promote Interest in Reading
Establish a pattern of reading aloud frequently to children. Ask children questions as you read. Encourage children to talk about the book. Read aloud many kinds of books. Reread aloud favorite books.

52 Teachers and Parents Research has shown
preschools that support the parent in promoting the child’s cognitive development and learning show greatest child achievement in elementary school and beyond


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