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What's Going On In There? How the Brain and Mind Develop in the First Five Years of Life
- By Lise Eliot, Ph.D

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Nourishing The Young Absorbent Mind

By Laura Morris



Brain research is one of the most exciting scientific fields, making revolutionary discoveries during the last decades of the 20th century. Neuroscientists are able to see how the brain develops. Because of this research, new emphasis is being placed on early childhood experiences. "If you want to significantly influence a child's ability to think and to acquire knowledge, the early childhood years are very critical" said neurobiologist Petter Huttenlocher in Inside the Brain by Ronald Kotulak.

The brain is nourished by its environment. It munches on the experiences it has, taking in each morsel through its senses. All the sights, sounds, aromas, textures and flavors that the child is exposed to become fuel for their growing brain. This fuel helps generate the energy required by the brain as it makes the connections between trillions of brain cells. These brain cells are constantly growing or withering away, strengthening or growing weaker depending on the wealth of the feast.

Now that we have a better appreciation for the importance of the environment and sensorial experiences our children have, it is a good idea to look at the different environments that our children spend time in - home, daycare or school. Consider, metaphorically, whether your child is being given a steady diet of fast food - nutritionally void, with the same 7 ingredients being assembled in a variety of ways, served by individuals who are not in tune with the many needs of the young child, in an environment that is institutional and cold. What our children need and deserve is a five star restaurant where each ingredient is carefully selected, where subtle nuances spice up and give unique flavor to each day. The delicacies your child enjoys are best served to them by a parent or caregiver who appreciates unique appetites and who is observant enough to never let your child's cup become low or empty. The ambiance should be warm, homey and interesting.

Dr. Maria Montessori, and Italian physician and educator, observed the interaction between the child and her environment, taking note of the eagerness with which young children engage in the world around them. She also recognized the ease with which a child could learn during the first 6 years of life. She referred to this time as the “Absorbent Mind” stage because of the sponge-like ability of the child to take in new information. Many of Dr. Montessori's scientific observations and theories are being supported by brain research being done today, nearly 100 years later. You should be taking advantage of your child's absorbent mind and feeding it regularly.

You can provide your child with hands-on materials and experiences that refine their senses in their every day environment. Giving your child the opportunity to participate in day to day activities - for example, cooking dinner, watering household plants, making their bed, filling a bird feeder - are just a few examples of the kinds of experiences that engage a young child's mind and body. Active participation in life gives the child the opportunity to think logically, sequencing the steps needed to perform a given task. Each task completed builds self esteem. When the child's mind and body are active his intellect is able to develop fully. Allow your children to explore the world around them, follow their interests, and learn how to delve into new experiences.

As a Montessori teacher with 16 years experience in the Montessori classroom I have had the opportunity to guide 2.5 to 6 year old children in learning to tie their own shoes, read their first book, count to 1000, bake bread, learn the names of shapes, countries in Africa, notes on the C-major scale and much, much more. None of those individual accomplishments compare to what a former student of mine recently wrote to me. “I learned how to learn with Laura,” wrote Emmanuel Verret (now 14 years old). No teacher could be given higher praise. As a parent, you are your child's first teacher, and they can learn much from you. As you think about how your child spends her day you may want to ask, “Is my child having a five star day? Have I created a bountiful experience? Have new connections been created in that incredible brain? Is my child learning how to learn?”



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Laura Morris is the Director of Education at Hopewell Montessori School in Acworth, Georgia. She has taught in an AMI Montessori school for sixteen years. She has spoken nationally and internationally on the topics of parenting and early childhood education. Please visit http://www.hopewellmontessori.com/ for more information.



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