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Brain development and early childhood

Information about brain development in early years is crucial to inform our practice

Here are some links to research and papers by experts in the area. We will continue to add to this page.

Alison Gopnik

Here is a reminder of the link I shared in our February newsletter from Professor Alison Gopnik's TED talk What do babies think? or the transcript is a good read if you prefer. You can also read a think piece from her called Never ending childhood

Mine Conkbayir

You might like to listen to a very real, honest and gritty interview with Mine Conkbayir about neuroscience and early childhood on BBC Radio London (she is interviewed from 1.41.24). She talks about the importance of growing up as bilingual learners and keeping home languages spoken and her personal adverse childhood experiences. She goes on to reiterate how we as teachers and practitioners are brain builders and then talks inspirationally about how children are active seekers and we must accompany them in their learning journeys. She says, "everything we say and do leaves a blueprint on children's minds". Her message talks personally about how the body and brain is developed and how attachment anxieties and OCD can be developed in response to childhood experiences, arguing that neuroscience must be part of early years discourse and embedded in training. She talks about the concept of "professional love" and that children must receive attention and how the first 1001 days in life are critical. She endorses the value of play and play therapy, saying:

"Play in general is the most critical thing we can give to our children. Not sat down on rugs.. in reception for 40 minutes trying to be taught maths or English... its not about that... let them be free and explore. They're not made to sit down and receive knowledge, they have to go and create that and seek it out for themselves. They need to construct that knowledge..."

If you are interested in reading more, Mine's books is called Early childhood and neuroscience. Her interview lasts 13 minutes and is in between The Carpenters and Robbie Williams and there's some lovely music (according to your taste) either side if you can listen for longer. 

Sue Gerhardt

Why love matters by Sue Gerhardt also reminds us about the importance of early childhood and brain development. In her book Sue writes:

"The basic systems that manage emotions - our stress response system, the responsiveness of our neurotransmitters, the neural pathways which encode our implicit understanding of how intimate relationships work - none of these are in place at birth. Nor is the vital prefrontal cortex of the brain yet developed. yet all of these systems will develop rapidly in the first two years of life, forming the basis of our emotional management for life. Although later experience will elaborate our responses and add to the repertoire, the path that is trodden in very early life tends to set each of us off in a particular direction that gathers its own momentum. The longer we stay on a particular pathway, the more difficult it becomes to choose another and the harder it becomes to retrace our footsteps." (page 85)

The Guardian wrote an article about the book in 2004 and Why love matters: how affection shapes a babies' brain by Sue Gerhardt is a wonderfully informative article.

Other important and useful links

  • The campaign 1001 Critical days highlights the importance of the critical days between conception and age 2.
  • There are some useful videos available online for parents or practitioners and teachers about babies by Best beginnings including topics like sleep states, cuddling and movement, what your baby is telling you and understanding different cries. They have produced an app for parents and parents-to-be which you can find on the same link.