Brain Development Research
For centuries, the study of the human brain was limited to the realm of theory since researchers were unable to investigate a normal living brain without surgery. The development of noninvasive brain scanning technologies in the 1990s, as well as new means for studying brain waves and chemistry, now allow neuroscientists to see how the brain functions without causing distress to the person being examined. A number of new studies have looked at the brains of young children, infants, and even fetuses. A wealth of neuroscientific data has accumulated in the past decade that shows how the child’s brain develops. The importance of this research cannot be overstated since, as one researcher noted, “The last ten years have produced more knowledge about the brain and how it develops than scientists had gleaned in the previous several centuries” (R. Shore, 1997, p. 7).
The new brain research provides early childhood educators with a deeper understanding about teaching and learning. Several findings are relevant for those who work with infants and young children:
- the brain development of infants and toddlers proceeds at a staggering pace and the human brain is most active during the first 3 years of life;
- early experiences have an impact on the actual structure of the brain;
- early experiences have a decisive impact on how a person functions as an adult;
- there are prime times, particularly in the early years, for acquiring different kinds of knowledge and skills;
- positive experiences in the first years of life enhance brain development, whereas negative experiences, such as abuse or maternal depression, can interfere with development, and finally;
- warm, responsive care during infancy is critical to healthy development (R. Shore, 1997).
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