The Plastic, Fantastic Brain!
In their article, "Linking Brain Principles to High-Quality Early Childhood Education," which is included in the Exchange Essential: Implications of Brain Research — Part 2, Stephen Rushton and Anne Juola-Rushton note...
"Neuroscientists now understand that the brain’s neurons continue to both develop (plasticity) and disappear (pruning) throughout most of our lives. However, we experience the greatest growth — and a high volume of pruning — in early childhood. During pregnancy, neurons grow at an astonishing rate of 250,000 per minute. This process slows down somewhat after birth. However, up until the age of 12, pathways continue to be formed and the thickening of the myelin sheaf, which supports the speed of the electrical impulse between neurons, thus creating a more efficient brain, continues to develop as the child interacts with her environment. Those neurons that are not stimulated or make connections to other neurons are pruned away and dissolve.
"Providing meaningful, positive experiences for children actually alter the formation of their brains! Each time a child enters a stimulating classroom — one in which the child is invited to talk, share ideas, and manipulate materials — the number of connections made between neurons increases."
Your Creative Child
Do you ever sit and watch your child while she’s playing and wonder to yourself, ‘What is she thinking?’ To promote your child’s development, ask her. Ask about her doll when she’s playing ‘babies.” Invite her to tell you a little bit about the creation she’s building with blocks. Encourage her in creative play.
Allowing your child to use his imagination and be creative offers him an opportunity to express himself. Share his individuality. Giving your child a way to broaden creativity and imagination benefits all areas of growth and development. These experiences help provide a basis for how a child may handle different circumstances later in life.
Six Ways to Support and Encourage Your Child’s Creativity:
Tall Tales: Listen to your child’s stories. Stories of all kinds. Tales of adventure and fun. If your child is willing to tell you a story, ask questions to encourage him to continue the tale. If your child is not quite old enough to tell his own story, maybe he could add bits and pieces to yours. While you know your child didn’t really eat lunch with a 6-eyed, purple monster, you might enjoy hearing about what might happen if he did.
Give Your Child Props: Common everyday items can offer your child hours of entertainment. You and your child can go on a scavenger hunt around the house to see what you can find (you may want to find just the right storage container for these priceless items). Ask what your child sees as she looks through the binoculars made of toilet paper rolls. Remember how much fun you used to have in your cardboard box race car. Your child might even let you play the paper plate tambourine in the kitchen utensil marching band!
Dress to Impress: In addition to having just the right props, a child needs to look the part. You don’t have to pay a fortune for a dress-up trunk—just make your own. Find old hats, shoes, clothes and costume jewelry, and let the fun begin. You might even be able to hit up grandma and grandpa for some gently used items they may have lying around the house.
Be Art Smart: Keep crayons, markers, paints, construction paper and other arts and craft materials accessible to your child. You never know when your child will decide he is ready to create a masterpiece. When the impulse strikes, you want to make sure you have what you need to make your kitchen an art gallery.
Don’t Stress About the Mess: Messes may happen with creative play and that’s okay. Setting safe guidelines is a must, but allowing for a little bit of flexibility occasionally is motivation for endless potential.
Walk This Way: Don’t be afraid to share your creativity with your child. Ask if you can be a secret agent and help solve the mystery of the missing teddy bear. Think of something you used to play as a child and invite your child on the adventure. Sharing imaginative adventures with your child may be just the break from the adult world you are looking for!
For more information and resources on creativity, check out the following websites:
• How to Raise an Imaginative Child
• Encouraging Creativity in Children, www.PreschoolEducation.com
• Creativity and Play, http://www.pbs.org/wholechild/parents/play.html
• Family TLC, www.familytlc.net
Talking with Your Child About Natural Disasters
Media, school and adult conversations. What do these items have in common? All of these sources are opportunities for your child to hear and/or learn about disasters. The stories your child hears may prompt worry and questions. Are you prepared to handle these concerns and questions? Here are some tips on how you can help your children cope with such emotions.
Maintain your routine. Routines are very important to children. Keeping a regular schedule, especially when the world seems unpredictable, gives your child a sense of reassurance. Comfort lets him know he is safe. Make sure your child gets appropriate sleep, exercise and nutrition.
Avoid too much news media coverage. When a tragic event happens, we can count on the media picking up the story. Keep in mind, media images can be graphic. If your child is watching television, she may have mixed reactions about the things she is seeing. Depending on the age of your child, she may not have the understanding of time and space yet. As a result, she may assume that what she is seeing on the television is close to home. This may cause the fear that a disaster will hit in your neighborhood.
Answer questions. Children are most afraid when they do not understand what is happening around them. Make sure when you are answering your child's questions, you are calm and respond at their developmental level. Your preschooler's thinking is literal and self-centered. Keep your answers simple and on a “need to know” basis. Too much or too many details may only cause him to be more afraid or concerned. Your school-age child can be given a more detailed response. You may sit down with him to explain what happens during an earthquake or a flood.
Get children involved in the effort. If your child feels like she wants to help those in need, let her. Find a local, or even national, organization or charity that is working to help those affected by the tragedy. This will show your child how people around the world are working together to help those in need. Ask your child what she would like to do. There are many things your child can do to be part of the relief efforts.
The Road Home
The trip home is a good time to talk about your child's day.
-Before you leave, look at the daily plans and try to ask your child's teacher for a highlight or two of the day. You can initiate the conversation, as children will often not volunteer this information. Even with nonverbal children, it is good and useful to say, "I heard you played with water today."
-Talk about what you will do when you get home so your child can visualize the next step.
-Don't rush the trip. After a structured day, let your child slow down a little.
-Take turns making the commute with your spouse or partner. It is helpful for each of you to have this time with your child, to get to know the child care situation, and to give each other a break.
-Hungry children (and adults) make lousy traveling companions. Keep a few nonperishable items in your car for snacks so that you don't have to remember to pack snacks each day.
-If your child becomes upset during the trip, it usually doesn't make sense to stop. Talk reassuringly to your child and let him or her know approximately when he or she will arrive home or at child care. Make your terms as concrete as possible: "We have to pass the water tower and the mall and then we will be at your center. I will take you out of your car seat as soon as we get there."
Music and Stories
• Music is obviously great for the car. Choose some CDs or audiotapes that you will both enjoy and won't get tired of.
• Singing in the car can be fun and a great shared language experience. You don't have to sing well, just have fun doing it. Made-up, silly songs are often favorites of children.
• Audiotapes of stories and poetry are available in libraries, bookstores, and children's toy stores. They don't replace great conversation, but are a great change of pace. You can also record your own.
• Expect that repetition will be important to your child. He or she will probably want to hear favorite songs and stories more often than you want to hear them.
• Play with geography and landmarks. "I see the bridge. That means we are almost at the center!"
• For older preschoolers, make a game out of looking for certain things. You can look for letters, colors, or objects (taxi cabs, trucks, exit signs etc.).
• Think about what you want your child to learn and consider your messages. Pointing out the fast food outlets are fun for children, but is that the landscape on which you want them to focus?
• On the trip to the center, ask preschool children to predict who will be there and what will happen.
*If you commute with your child by train or bus, pack (or have your child pack) a small travel bag of books, small one-piece toys or teethers for infants, and wipe-off boards (for example, "Etch-a-Sketch" makes a small travel-size version of their toy), or even a colorful clipboard with paper and a chunky pencil attached for older preschoolers. Make the contents of the bag special by reserving their use exclusively for the commute.
* If you have a longer commute, you may want to create an activity kit by punching holes across the bottom of several heavy-duty, resealable plastic bags and putting them in a three-ring binder. Fill each "bag" page with non-messy art supplies or toys.
Car Seat Information
Child Passenger Safety