I've spent the past few years working on the development of an exhibition about the science of early childhood development. It is called Wonder Years: The Science of Early Childhood Development . It has been a fascinating project to work on both as a mom and as a scientist. I've learned how important the first five years are and how it is the little things - interactions with my kids that really makes a difference. So it is really exciting to see that over the weekend Education Minnesota announced that Katy Smith, an early childhood family educator, is the newest teacher of the year. I enjoyed reading the interview with Katy Smith in MinnPost. She comments that,
"It is in the mind-numbingly bored, dull times of family life that you really get to know one another and crack jokes and figure out something to do together, because you don't know what to do when you're not so scheduled."
Thanks for the reminder. I think I'll go exploring in the yard with my kids after dinner tonight and look for signs of spring!
What will you do to enhance the development of a child today?
After some three and a half billion years of life’s evolution on this planet – and after almost two million years since people recognizable as human first walked its surface – a new human burst upon the scene, apparently unannounced.
It was us.
Until then our ancestors had shared the planet with other human species. But soon there was only us, possessors of something that gave us unprecedented power over our environment and everything else alive. That something was – is – the Human Spark.
What is the nature of human uniqueness? Where did the Human Spark ignite, and when? And perhaps most tantalizingly, why?
In a three-part series to be broadcast on PBS in 2010, Alan Alda takes these questions personally, visiting with dozens of scientists on three continents, and participating directly in many experiments – including the detailed examination of his own brain.
The British government is encouraging schools to allow young boys to play with toy guns. Their studies have shown that such play helps boys’ development, by allowing them to experiment with risk-taking behavior in a safe environment. This in turn helps their intellectual development.
…building blocks. A new study shows that children who play with blocks develop greater language skills. The theory is that playing with the blocks forces children to think about what they’re doing, assigning names to the pieces, the structures and the activities.
I especially liked this line:
“[U]nstructured play with blocks stimulates thinking, memory and physical mastery of objects….”
Say, isn’t that what museum exhibits try to do?
Just barely. Whoever performed this study has obviously never spent an afternoon with my nieces and nephews.
On a serious note, it was interesting to learn, down in the last paragraph, that the researchers found evidence of empathy in apes--something long considered a human hallmark.
It sounds like a particularly messy disease. Or my reaction to the idiot driver ahead of me. But “word spurt” is the term scientists use to describe the sudden onset of language that most children achieve around 18 months of age. Prior to that, they speak only isolated words from a limited vocabulary. But after the spurt, they suddenly start speaking whole sentences, expressing original thoughts.
Previously, scientists had thought that some mechanism in the brain had to develop to a point where it made language possible. But new research indicates that babies are learning words all along, almost from birth. It's just that they're learning many words simultaneously. Once they’ve figured out how to decipher a few dozen words, they start to understand the basics of how language works. From there, it becomes much easier to add more and more words.
Now all we need is for science to tell us how to get them to be quiet!
For centuries, mothers have told their kids to “cut out your rough-housing!” (Certainly, my mother said that. With three boys, she said it a lot.) But now it turns out that rough and tumble play is actually important for development.
A new study from England shows that animals who engage in horseplay (no pun intended) develop better social skills. They can read a situation better, and respond more appropriately, than animals that had been sheltered from such activity.
So, the next time your mother tells you to simmer down, just say, “But Ma! We’re investigating dominance behavior in primate social structures!”
(This column takes no responsibility for how your mother may react.)