The most recent brain research indicates from birth to three years of age are critical years for the development of neural connections within the brain. From age three to six these connections may expand from multi-sensory stimulation provided in a safe and predicable environment. At age six a child’s dendrite connections within the brain are twice as dense as at age 16!
At ages six to ten the dendrites in the brain stabilize and certain connections are strengthened while other connections are weakened. It is understood that the connections used are kept and the connections that are not used are lost (the use it or loose it theory). At ages 10 to 18 the dendrite connections are “pruned” away with the unused connections disappearing.
From this research it is clear that the early childhood years are optimal periods for learning and development. To encourage learning and development two important factors emerge: the child’s environment and the child’s relationships. An environment that is predictable and safe, having clear expectations and defined consequences, encourages and stimulates growth and development in young children. In such an environment it is also important to foster positive child and adult relationships and begin the transition to positive child and child (peer) relationships. Secure relationships for young children with adults and with their peers in a safe environment is important to learning by encouraging exploration, questioning, risk taking, and the security to make mistakes and then learn from them.
Our instruction is grounded in multiple learning styles, which is critical to provide a wide variety of experiences to strengthen as many connections within the brain as possible during these years. Our classrooms provide spaces for individual, small, and large group instruction. Learning centers, common in our early childhood classrooms, encourage individual growth by providing choices and diversity for children. Our staff is caring and affirming to build trust with children and among children. This research confirms our educational mission and philosophy and this research strengthens our common purpose to help young children grow and develop.
Source: Dr. Mark Larson, Assistant Professor at Wayne State University and Early Childhood Educator.