If you closed your eyes for just a moment, what childhood memory would come to mind? It might be tied to a person or maybe to an event. Researchers describe a memory as our brain’s ability to reconstruct a whole from fragments. Memories are much more powerful than we realize. Researchers studying the brain are discovering that while we may not even consciously remember something, our bodies will.
There has never been a time like now to learn about how we learn. Technology is empowering advances in brain research like never before. Much of the focus of this research is on the very early years of life. It is during this period that a young child’s brain is developing at an exponential rate, with brain synapses that are firing 700 times a second. These synapses represent connections that are being made constantly, beginning at birth, and this high rate will continue for approximately 2000 days.
Connections that are used less go through a process of pruning, in which the connections wither. The circuitry that is being laid inside a child’s brain is the foundation for the rest of her life. Once it is built or left unbuilt, it cannot be undone. Dr. Shonkoff, the Director of Harvard’s Center on the Developing Child, describes the most beneficial interactions of these early years as “serve and return” experiences. These experiences are more likely to occur when an adult is present, where things like imitation, talk, or motor activities are fueling the child’s attention. The more opportunities young children have in these stimulating and responsive moments, the stronger their foundation for early learning.
Such facts leave me awestruck, not just because I was a teacher, but also because I am a mother to three young daughters. Since they were born I have dedicated myself to ensuring that they have powerful and deep learning experiences. My expectations seemed high, but I was ignorant to just how great their potential really is.
The past 20 years of my career were focused on K-12 math education. This past June I had the privilege of joining The AIMS Center as a Research Associate on the Early Math team. In a way I feel like I am beginning at zero, but I am excited about what I am learning and passionate to be a part of seeing the AIMS Center fulfill their vision. In the next few weeks we will begin working at preschool sites, replicating research studies in order to more deeply understand and recognize important traits of how young children learn math. As we do this we will continue to study applicable research and I will continue to take ideas home to my personal child lab. You are invited to join the journey through this blog. Now that you know it all begins at zero, what will you do different or continue to do? Feel free to comment and share your own experiences as a teacher, parent, educator, and more.