Exchange Every Day


Early Intervention is the Answer

June 5, 2014

If I were to fall backwards, I would break my nose.
-English Proverb

In April, sixteen neuroscientists specializing in nutrition, chemistry, and child development discussed and debated the influence of early experience on brain development at the UNICEF offices in New York. In her blog, Pia Britto, UNICEF’s Senior Advisor on Early Childhood Development, reported that 3 messages were delivered to UNICEF from this meeting. One of the messages was “Early Intervention is the answer: it becomes progressively harder to fix problems”:

“Brain development occurs shortly after conception and progresses at a very rapid pace in the first few years of life, where neurons form new connections at the astounding rate of 700-1,000 per second. These early synaptic connections form the basis of a person’s lifelong capacity to learn, adapt to change, have resilience in case of unexpected circumstances, as well physical and mental health. While brain development can continue through life, it is most rapid before birth and through the early childhood period of life. As the brain develops the amount of neurons and synapses peak, and then go through a process of pruning and specialization.

“When our brain fails to get what it expects and needs, especially in certain critical or sensitive time periods, then the amount of effort required to set it back on track is enormous and optimal outcomes are less likely. For example, in the case of care and early stimulation, Charles Nelson’s research from the Bucharest Early Intervention Project (BEIP), has shown that when the placement of a child into a family (or ‘placement into high-quality foster care’) occurred before two years of age, children more closely resembled typically developing children, but when placement occurred after 24 months, then placement into a family did not create positive outcomes.”

Mind in the Making

Ellen Galinsky has captured relevant early childhood research and spelled out for parents and teachers the practical applications for raising well-rounded children who will reach their full potential in Mind in the Making: The Seven Essential Life Skills Every Child Needs. She groups this research into seven “essential life skills”:

  • Focus and self-control
  • Perspective taking
  • Communicating
  • Making connections
  • Critical thinking
  • Taking on challenges
  • Self-directed, engaged learning
  • View and Purchase

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