Brain Day 2011

Last Saturday I took the opportunity to hear a lecture entitled ‘The growing brain: what goes on in your children’s head’ at Brain Day 2011. It was a very lively and accessible talk given by Associate Professor Karen Waldie a developmental cognitive neuroscientist from Auckland University’s Centre for Brain Research.

Karen had some really important messages for teachers yet very few teachers were in the large audience. This in itself deserves reflection. I wonder if the organisers thought to send their publicity to early childhood centres and, if they had done so, whether teachers would have seen this day as particularly relevant to them.  Teachers tend to look to their own when it comes to professional development yet Karen Waldie was a good reminder of why this is limiting.

Here are some of the messages I took from this lecture.

  • Just 20 years ago it was believed that children were born with all the brain cells they would ever have.
  • It is now known that the birth of new brain cells can happen throughout life and is triggered by positive lifestyles.
  • From an early age – soon after birth – there is also a process of progressive pruning of unwanted brain cells. This is the way the environment influences cerebral growth. It’s the old adage  ‘use it or lose it’.
  • The two most important factors in achieving emotionally, cognitively, and physically healthy brains are:
  • encouraging the development of resilience
  • having at least one supportive relationship (parent or other).

Implications for practice?

  • Many of us trained before it was known that the brain can go on expanding physically during life. How is this newer understanding reflected in our philosophy and practice?
  • If we want socially, cognitively and emotionally adept communities in the future we better make rich and positive environments the foundation of our programmes every day.
  • We still have some children being isolated, ostracised or made to feel worthless by teachers. Would this change if all teachers, every day, worked from the premise that they might be that one supportive relationship in a child’s life?

Food for thought don’t you think?