The Scientist In The Crib: What Early Learning Tells Us About The Mind Online

If you know your digital literacy from your literacy, you’re on the wrong page.

Over the last few months, new research has been collected on early learning. The fact that very young children spend a great deal of time in their parents’ homes suggests a strong relationship between development and time spent with their parents. We also know that children’s cognitive skills are often established during early development, as are their socio-emotional, social, and emotional experiences. It is in this framework that we should come to understand the subjects of early learning and gain understanding of how our thoughts, views, beliefs, and behavior can affect neurodevelopment.

For the early childhood research community, an important discovery made in 2017 was the fact that reading books aloud and engaging with them in imaginative ways have been associated with better reading ability. In addition, praise – and its absence – has been linked to better reading scores in children. These findings result from research from Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), which explored what new insights can be gained from what little information that was known about the development of language and knowledge in children before age 7 years.

To explore the correlation between reading and hearing words, the MGH researchers analyzed data from a nationally representative sample of over 1500 children of families who are part of the Early Reading Success Initiatives. The sample of children included children ranging in age from three to seven years. These children have had, as far as we know, the best opportunity to observe their parents reading aloud, and they are given a vocabulary test to measure listening proficiency based on the quality of their understanding. There are a number of criteria used to measure this proficiency:

• The complexity of the vocabulary includes “small planets, huge people, big rabbits, birds, figures, people, trucks, and people.”

• Children’s knowledge of the outside world includes the concept of a sky, cities, or neighborhoods.

• Children’s knowledge of their own home environment includes the word “house”, the concept of their own rooms, the word “houseplant,” and the word “bright”.

• The level of children’s formal reading experience differs, but the average amount of time their parents spent reading aloud to them, the amount of words their parents used to read aloud, the amount of time their parents spent sitting with their children while reading aloud, and the duration of times their parents read aloud to them, all separately and prospectively. The researchers also evaluated the parents’ parenting style and the children’s “readiness.” Readiness refers to the likelihood that children will successfully work through problems in order to gain their guidance and expertise. Readiness is categorized as a response to a questionnaire that measures how likely children are to be able to focus, make decisions, remember information, deal with frustration, and make good decisions in the future.

Researchers found that the children who were more successful at reading, who were more willing to listen and seek out information, and who could speak articulately had more favorable reading scores than their peers. Readiness factors were taken into account but showed little consistent effect.

Findings suggest that socio-emotional and cognitive development are profoundly related to each other. This research could have major implications for families and educators. Psychologist Shelley Ryan, author of IQ and Neuroplasticity, found that, “For the first time, neuroscientists have confirmed the amount of ‘exposure’ our brains receive from mothers’ words (Maine, 2017).”

Given the increasing value placed on early development and the endowment of a child’s genes, early parenting and early development have never been more critical to children’s success. For more information about understanding one’s behaviors in the home and their relationship to the development of the brain, visit our website.

Mary S Arendt is a writer, social media manager, and technology advocate. Mary’s work will be featured in select publications starting in February of 2019.

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