Inclusion in the Early Years: Brain Research

Inclusion in the Early Years: Brain Research

Inclusion in the Early Years: Brain Research

Questions from the field

Responses from Dr. Bryan Kolb

How do we thin the layer of the brain (cortex) to improve vocabulary?
The key point here is that experience is leading to the cortical thinning. Motor experience will thin motor cortex and language experience will thin language-related regions. Thus, exposure to lots of new words will act to prune the cortex and, counter intuitively, thin the cortex.

The speaker spoke about a "chaotic" classroom as being beneficial to a highly reactive child. Could you please define what a "chaotic" classroom might look like? Is this referring to a noise, organization, choice...?

A chaotic classroom is one in which children are moving about and things are happening. The moving could be related to the organization of where things are. This could include noise and many things that less reactive children might find disrupting.
Some stress is healthy and productive, what level of stress starts to affect the success of a child negatively?

Like most experiences, stress has a U-shaped function where too little is bad (you are asleep) and too much is bad (you are unable to function). Different children will have different tolerances for stress, likely related to their reactivity.

How does second language learning and musical training affect executive functioning? (ability to focus, multi-task etc)

Wilder Penfield argued 50 years ago that second language and musical training affected cerebral functioning in general. He had no real data. Now there are studies supporting the idea. For example, Carlson & Meltzoff (2008) have shown that in spite of differences in socioeconomic status (lower in multilinguals) the multilingual kids have superior frontal lobe functions. See SM Carlson & AN Meltzoff, Developmental Science, 11, 282-298.

Responses from Dr. Robbin Gibb

When children come into early learning settings with significant traumatic experiences are there practices that can compensate for these "pre-set" experiences?

This information was obtained from recommendations for Early childhood educators dealing with children exposed to domestic violence (PDF included). Young children benefit from supportive caregivers and safe places, such as a school setting. Early childhood teachers can assist young children affected by trauma by providing a nurturing environment; creating predictability through routine; developing strategies to support children’s adjustment in the childcare program providing support to parents (e.g., child management strategies) and information about community resources. The number one focus for these kids would be establishing a strong, nurturing relationship (See Brazelton and Greenspan Reference. 1)

How can we improve/increase parent engagement and education?

The article linked below provides ideas on ways to engage parents.

What is the success rate of children with two uninvolved parents?

The best research that I could find to address this point comes from a review on parental engagement in their child’s education by Bonnie Stelmack at the University of Alberta. I have included the Pdf of this resource. The resource makes it clear that parental involvement does have an impact on student learning through all grades and parental interest in their child’s schooling can improve outcomes through to Grade 12.
In regards to father attachment - What are the effects of divorce on father attachment benefits? Is the benefit the same if parents are in 2 homes?

It appears that strong Father attachment works outside marriage and despite living apart from the family. There is an excellent review published online in the Encyclopedia on Early Childhood Development on Divorce and Separation on the effects of divorce on kids and based on what I have read this is exactly how it works for Father attachment as well.

What other factors need to be taken into consideration in order for father attachment to be a positive influence?

There is strong evidence that the extent of father involvement in early care of the child predicts the strength of attachment later (and this particularly relates to divorce and separation-See Reference 9 Kamp Dush et al). Quality (warm) relationship with the child established early in the child’s development will initiate a stable attachment with Father that will be a positive influence on the child. This research is based on North American fathers. I have not seen any work directed at understanding cultural influence on this

What activities define the play that support the development of executive functioning?

One of the most successful play strategies for developing executive function is reported to be “dress-up or role playing” types of play. Children have to use empathy to imagine the appropriate mindset for the role that they are playing and then challenge their working memory so they understand what the other players have said and what the appropriate next response might be. (References 2-5)

What is considered “sitting too long” for preschools?

Boys have more difficulty sitting still than girls (Boys and girls brains are on different developmental trajectories)Average length of attention span is approximately 7 minutes for 2 year olds, 9 minutes for 3 year olds, 12 minutes for 4 years olds, and 14 minutes for 5 year olds.
I have had no luck in tracking down scientific validation for these estimates. The Review by Adele Diamond (ref. #5) is the reference that suggests better success with kids when activities are less than 20 minutes.

What about same sex marriages and role affects?

Very little research has been done on same sex marriage and its effect on child development butthere has been research on successful completion of school of children raised in same- sex partnerships. Children from these marriages are as likely to complete school as children from heterosexual marriages (Rosenfeld reference below). The neuroscience literature shows from animal studies the importance of fathering (Helmeke et al. Reference 8) and how it is different from rearing with mother and another female. The work of Kyle Pruett and Marsha Kline-Pruett (Reference 11) clearly shows the positive impact of Father involvement on child development as well.

Bibliography for Inclusion in the Early Years- Jan. 20, 2012

  1. Brazelton, T.B., and Greenspan, S.I. (2000). The Irreducible Needs of Children: What Every Child Must Have to Grow, Learn, and Flourish. Cambridge, Da Capo Press.
  2. Bierman, K.L., Nix, R.L., Greenberg, Blair, C., and Domitrovich, C.E. (2008). Executive functions and school readiness intervention: Impact, moderation, and mediation in the Head Start REDI program. Dev. Psychopathol. 20: 821-843.
  3. Bodrova, E., Leong, D.J., Akhutina, T.V. (2011). When everything new is well-forgotten old: Vygotsky/Luria insights in the development of executive function. In R. M. Lerner, J. V. Lerner, E. P. Bowers, S. Lewin-Bizan, S. Gestsdottir, & J. B. Urban (Eds.), Thriving in childhood and adolescence: The role of self-regulation processes. New Directions for Child and Adolescent Development, 133, 11–28.
  4. Diamond, A. (2010). The evidence base for improving school outcomes by addressing the whole child and by addressing skills and attitudes, not just content. Early Education and Development, 21: 780-793.
  5. Diamond, A. and Lee, K. (2011). Interventions shown to aid executive function development in children 4-12 years old. Science, 333: 959-964.
  6. Dubinsky, J. (2010). Neuroscience education for prekindergarten-12 teachers, J. Neurosci, 30:8057-8060.
  7. Essex, M.J., Armstrong, J.M., Burk, L.R., Goldsmith, H.H., and Boyce, W.T. (2011). Biological sensitivity to context moderates the effects of the early teacher-child relationship on the development of mental health by adolescence. Development and Psychopathology, 23:149-161.
  8. Helmeke, C., Seidel, K., Poeggel, G., Bredy, T.W., Abraham, A., and Braun, K. (2009). Paternal deprivation during infancy results in dendrite- and time-specific changes of dendritic development and spine formation in the orbitofrontal cortex of the biparental rodent Octodon Degus.Neursocience, 163:790-798.
  9. Kamp Dush, C.M., Kotila, L.E., Schoppe-Sullivan, S.J. (2011). Predictors of supportive coparenting after relationship dissolution among at-risk parents. J Fam. Psychol., 25:356-465.
  10. Lyytinine, H., Erskine, J., Kujala, J., Ojanen, E., and Richardson, U. (2009). In search of a science-based application: A learning tool for reading acquisition.
  11. Pruett, K. and Kline-Pruett, M. (2009). Partnership Parenting: How Men and Women Parent Differently- Why It Helps Your Kids and Can Strengthen Your Marriage. Philadelphia, Da Capo Press.
  12. Pancsofar, N., Vernon-Feagans, L., and The Family Life Project Investigators. (2010). Fathers’ contribution to children’s language development in Families from low-income rural communities. Early Child Res Q, 25: 450-463.
  13. Rosenfeld, M.J. (2010) Nontraditional families and childhood progress through school. Demography, 47:755-775