The Importance of Early Childhood Cognitive Development
America has many programs for graduating students that are involved with education and children. While any college student can appreciate education, I suspect that few understand the importance of early childhood development. Having committed to apply for a position in Teach for America, I want to better understand why it is so important to "get 'em while they're young."
In 2001, the US Department of Education, Academy of the Sciences, and the Foundation for Child Development conducted a study on early childhood development. Several interesting, scientific ideas and trends on childhood development emerged from the study. The questions surrounding this research were: how important is the early life of a child? What early years are most important? Why are later years not more important? In order to better plan education policy, discussing these questions is necessary.
The portion of the study I find most convincing is that regarding neuroplasticity. Neuroplasticity, or brain plasticity, is the brain's ability to reorganize neural pathways based on new experiences. (1) Simply put, every day we experience and learn new things. In order to incorporate this new information into our brains, the brain must reorganize the way it processes that information. Thus, as we learn things, the brain changes.
Neuroplasticity is important because, while it continues throughout the life of every individual, it is closely linked to the rate of brain development/growth. During rapid periods of brain growth, synaptic pruning occurs. Synaptic pruning is the elimination of synapses in the brain that are weaker facilitating growth of a stronger, more efficient brain. (2)As the brain grows, starting with a newborn, its neurons will develop synapses, which link neurons to neurons and transmit information through one another. At first this growth is uninhibited. However, as the infant reaches toddler age, the brain begins to eliminate some synapses between neurons in order to help the brain transmit information more efficiently. The synapses and neurons that were activated most during growth are the ones that will be preserved. This process helps to create a brain better equipped to absorb knowledge. (1) To optimize synaptic pruning, some studies show that "a specific learning process" may help the brain form itself into a more useful tool. (2)
The Eagar to Learn study found five criteria that are based on neuroplasticity. The first, attention, stresses the need to hone the development of this skill during the first five years of life- the years with the most rapid brain growth. Second,...