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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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The Beth Lucy Wellman Neuroscience Project

By Marsh Kaminsky


With their brain scanning devices, neuroscientists discovered that a child's brain grows in power and intelligence when it is stimulated by the environment, particularly during a child's first three years. Prior to that, it was commonly thought that inherited genes were solely responsible for our intelligence. Not so anymore. In the battle between nature and nurture as to what created intelligence, nurture is now the dominant causal factor. That's vitally important to know because, while we cannot control our inherited genes, we can sure control the environment. This means we can now make a child as intelligent as we want to. It's no longer "what you see, is what you get." It's now, "what do you want?"

Considering the great promise this brain phenomenon holds for humankind, the educators, the ones who should have jumped on this years ago, have done absolutely nothing with it. That's unconscionable. More about this later.

To illustrate this brain growth phenomenon in simple layman terms, think about what happens when a body builder strenuously exercises his muscles. With enough exercise, his muscles will grow larger and stronger. That's nothing new, everyone knows about body building. But what is new is that scientists have demonstrated that the very young human brain, when stimulated or exercised, grows in power like our muscles. While there is a limit to muscle growth, there is no known limit to brain growth or intelligence. It all depends on the amount and kind of stimulation provided and at what age.

If ten minutes a day is an ordinary amount of brain stimulation and that creates an average IQ, what happens if a very young child is given an hour a day? Or two hours? Three? Will we then get child prodigies or super geniuses with IQs in the 200+ range? Will we get extremely capable children who routinely enter kindergarten already reading at the high school level? We know from the mental powers of savants like Kim Peek that the human brain has incredible latent powers and capabilities, far beyond anything we have thought possible in the past. Could our children develop memory power like total recall? Would it not be worthwhile to find out?

With enough early brain stimulation, can unlock some of those hidden powers

This wasn't exactly a new discovery. It was more like a rediscovery. Mozart's father discovered it almost two hundred and fifty years ago when he turned his young son into a musical prodigy. Throughout the eons, many other parents have become their child's first teacher and have achieved the same amazing results as Mozart's father did.

Most child prodigies are not born smart or talented; they are created by their parents.

Formal schooling begins at five years old, but brain stimulation begins in the womb, or as young as possible.

There is something utterly magical about the young human brain.

The simple mental act of thinking works like a brain growth catalyst or high octane gas. The more a young child thinks, the more dendrites are created and the higher its intelligence becomes. Stimulation that makes a child think can come from a variety of sources. Conversing with family members, listening to music, being read to, or learning how to read and compute are among the most effective, especially learning how to read.

Is it difficult to teach our tots and toddlers how to read? Well, think of it this way. They are already learning how to talk, an incredible intellectual feat in itself. If the brain can handle the spoken language, it can surely handle learning how to read. And let's not forget their amazing facility with foreign languages, something we adults cannot hope to match.

In the learning department, tots and toddlers put adults to shame.

The very young human brain is America's greatest wasted natural resource.

When my son just turned two, I began to teach him how to read. I had no training in reading instruction. In fact, at the time I was a typical CPA, drowning in a sea of tax returns. Nevertheless, with enough repetition and lots of patience and enthusiasm, I learned that I could easily teach him how to read, spell, and even compute. Any parent could do the same. Now that I know how easy it is, I am sorry I did not start his instruction much earlier. And what a joy the experience turned out to be! Incidentally, my son ended up reading at the fourth grade level with an IQ of 148 on the day he entered kindergarten. It was this teaching experience that originally fired my interest in preschool education.

It's easily possible for children to enter kindergarten already reading at the fourth grade level.

As a layman in the neurosciences, I do not pretend to know anywhere near as much as the scientists know about the human brain. But I sure know how to teach a child how to read.

In this author's opinion, the discovery of this brain growth phenomenon is far more important to our species than anything Einstein discovered.

I certainly did not discover any of this by myself. Here is what brain researcher William Fowler said about child prodigies such as Mozart:

"In no instance where documentation exists have I found any individual of high ability who did not experience intensive (emphasis added) early stimulation as a central component of his development ..... The unvarying coincidence of extensive early stimulation with cognitive precocity and subsequent superior competence in adulthood suggests that stimulation is a necessity for the development of high abilities."

And another said:

"Give me a dozen healthy infants and my own specific world to bring them up in, and I'll guarantee to take any one at random and train him to become any type of specialist I might select - doctor, lawyer, artist, merchant, chef and yes, even beggar and thief, regardless of his talents, penchants, tendencies, abilities, vocations, and race of his ancestors."

- John B. Watson, Psychologist 1924

Then there is Dr. Laszlo Polgar, an educational psychologist from Hungary. Several years ago he and his wife decided that their children should be highly capable and intelligent. Using the game of chess as a brain stimulation tool for his daughters, he literally created three extremely intelligent chess grand masters. What a great story this is!

Even poor or uneducated parents can create an extremely intelligent child. It really all depends on the amount of time and effort parents are willing to invest in their youngster. Wealth or social status have little to do with this. In a nutshell, this how inner city parents can close the achievement gap by themselves.

I know that a parental teaching program like this sounds like a lot of pressure is involved. I agree that pressure has no place in preschool education. Nonetheless, there is indeed pressure involved, lots of it, but most everyone has the culprits mixed up. Once youngsters realize that one-on-one reading and learning time with their parents is great fun, they pressure them. When kids really like something, watch out because they can become utterly relentless in their demands for more and more parental time.

The Beth Lucy Wellman Project

To prove what I have been saying here about brain building, a demonstration project with about fifteen mothers and their tots and/or toddlers is the only way to do it. No matter how much I or anyone claims that this is true, there is simply no other way to prove that extraordinary amounts of early stimulation will create highly intelligent and capable children. Since there is no such thing as a magic brain growth elixer, it takes time to stimulate a child's mind. This project, to do right, requires about two a day of brain stimulation for at least three years. Sure, this is quite an investment in time, but the fabulous intellectual rewards the parents, their children, and society gets in return makes it well worth it.

To be really successful at this brain building project, parents should have an enthusiastic and fun attitude. Smiling, laughing, hugging, lavishing praise, and exhibiting joy are crucially important too.

To say the least, the stimulation provided in this project would be quite different from what one might expect for tots and toddlers. For one, the math and reading instruction would be for at least an hour a day. Then the child would be immersed in the Chinese, French, and Russian languages. Lastly, the child's home would be inundated with classical music for six to eight hours a day. This first of its kind project would tell us things about the brain's power and potential that we now just dream about. For the first time ever, we would gain insight as to how intelligent we could become.

For anyone who is curious, Beth Lucy Wellman was a psychologist in the 1930s and 40s. While working at an orphanage in Iowa, she was one of the first researchers to discover a link between brain stimulation and intelligence. In my humble opinion, Dr. Wellman deserves a posthumous Nobel prize.

There have been other projects in the past that have tried to stimulate our youngster's minds make them more intelligent. Some of them like the High Scope Project have marginally succeeded. But comparing them to a Wellman type project is like comparing a shark to a goldfish. The others did not provide anywhere near enough stimulation nor did they use parents to provide the stimulation. Put another way, it looks to me like the educators who organized the other projects had no idea what they were doing. Had they known what to do, the results would have been spectacular and there would not be a need for me to write this.

In 1965 President Lyndon Johnson started Head Start. Johnson's idea was to increase the intelligence of inner city children so many more would succeed in school. It was a great idea that could have benefited many children. But the program fell into the wrong hands. As a result and sad to say, Head Start was never more than a federally funded baby sitting service. What a terrible waste!

The educators could not have succeeded, and for a very good reason. In most of the teachers colleges they teach something called developmentalism. This belief says that our tots and toddlers are not "developmentally" ready to learn how to read. That's not true, but I can understand their reluctance to embrace early academics. It's an embarrassing poison pill because educators do not want to face the fact that parents can do a better job than they can. One can only imagine how many children have suffered because reading instruction was hidden from parents.

* * *

How Smart are We?

Intelligence testing tells us our average IQ score is currently about 100. However, such tests do not tell us how intelligent we could become were we given extraordinary amounts of stimulation at a young age. Our intellectual potential is one of humankind's great unknowns and exists primarily because so few people know anything about very early brain building. Until we start on a parental based brain building program, we will never know how smart we really are. For what it's worth, I'd say our potential intellect is easily another hundred IQ points and quite possibly much more than that. By today's standards, that would make everyone far more intelligent than Einstein. Believe that.

Brain building can only be done by parents. They alone have the love, the patience, and the necessary one-on-one time that's so necessary.

A mother does not need a college degree in preschool education to teach her child how to read or compute. It's simple. In fact, that's the last thing she needs.

I know that brain building will become a common practice someday, rest assured of that. It may take a few hundred years, but someday, someone will organize a brain building project and prove everything I have been saying here. I think our hero will turn out to be someone in the high tech computer industry (no one needs a highly intelligent workforce as much as they do), a cognitive neuroscience department at a university, or a foundation interested in closing the achievement gap. But no matter who does it, he or she will forever change how we educate our children and also rock the world of neuroscience and brain research to its core.

In the meantime, and for as long as I am able, I will continue to look for parents or anyone else who wants to start a brain building project. To do that, I will send this essay to every neuroscientist, high tech company, board of education, and science/education writer I can find on the net. I figure there must be others who are intrigued by the fact that we can create very high intelligence. I absolutely refuse to believe that I am alone in this.

* * *

If a Beth Lucy Wellman kind of project appeals to anyone out there, please contact me and I will help you as much as I can. Lastly, if anyone thinks I am trying to build an empire with this for myself, think otherwise as I am severely limited with a rapidly progressing case of Multiple Sclerosis. Marsh Kaminsky Tel: 847-392-7547



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