eMessage Archive

April 2017 - Experience-based brain development May 09 2017


By the time most children are five-years-old they have gone from being wholly dependent on a caregiver to being physically adept individuals with a good understanding of their native language, culture and ways of being and doing. It is no surprise, then, that the brain--which starts out at birth at 25% of the weight of the adult brain--reaches over 90% of the adult brain weight by age five.

As children navigate their social, emotional, physical and cognitive worlds, their experiences contribute to their astonishing brain development. In effect, children are like scientists testing hypotheses, and sometimes lots of “tests” are required. Whether a social encounter, a cognitive concept, or physical feat, practicing and perfecting skills requires time and practice. Viewing children as scientists with a wide world to explore informs the ways we guide and support them on their learning journey.

In the first video, listen as biologist Dr. Joel D. Levine, from The University of Toronto, briefly introduces experience-based brain development. In the second video, a mother patiently gives her child time to dress himself. Notice how she allows him to practice skills and how she uses a variety of ways to supports his learning and autonomy.

March 2017 - Low-cost, no-cost materials April 07 2017


A young child sits on the ground in a busy market, near her family’s vegetable stall. The girl is surrounded by a circle of stones that she has gathered and ordered from smallest to biggest around her. Other stones form lines, radiating out from the circle like the rays of a sun.

Stones are a classic example of a low-cost or no-cost (found, recycled/reusable) material that is naturally occurring, timeless, and easy to collect. There are many ways to use these types of materials, which makes them particularly valuable as play items. Think of all the possibilities: sorting, counting, piling, pretending!

Children naturally gravitate towards these types of open-ended materials, also referred to as “loose parts”. The girl in the market has not received adult instruction or guidance to play as she does. She plays because she is motivated to do so. She uses her imagination and creativity and she shows a tremendous ability to focus. As she plays, she gains knowledge about the physical properties of the rocks and demonstrates mathematical thinking.

The following video, filmed in Tajikistan, shows children using a variety of low-cost and no-cost materials in their play. Did anything surprise you about the types of materials with which children were playing? How were they playing with these materials? What kinds of materials do you have available that you could provide to enrich play opportunities for children?

February 2017 - Family Literacy March 01 2017


Around the world, reading together is a popular family literacy activity. The closeness and comfort of a caring adult along with the words and pictures in a favourite book provide children with a multisensory experience that supports early language and literacy development. It is also a way for adults to connect with children as individuals and build caring relationships. Simply put, it is a wonderful way for adults and children to enjoy each other’s company

Since 1999, Family Literacy Day has been held annually in Canada on January 27. ABC Life Literacy Canada created this initiative to emphasize the benefits that parents and children experience when they participate together in literacy activities. 

This month’s featured video shows scenes of adults and children reading books in Canada, Kenya, and Tajikistan; along with interviews with the late Dr. Fraser Mustard and Dr. Janet Werker, who discuss the benefits of reading with children. As you watch this video, consider what the children are learning about these aspects of communication: listening, reading, storytelling, talking, and taking turns. Also consider how these types of experiences strengthen adult-child relationships and impact the children’s overall development.

 

December 2016 - A baby's first year January 26 2017


As the calendar changes from 2016 to 2017 we are reminded that so much happens in one year. A baby’s first year is filled with wondrous changes that include early language abilities, new ways of relating to other people, grand discoveries, and physical changes like crawling and sometimes first steps. As you consider the transformation you can start to appreciate the remarkable changes that are part of early human development.  

This month’s featured video is from the SECD - Child Development Primer (a module that is available in both English and French). The video presents several scenes of children that highlight the progression of development in the first year of life. As you watch this video consider the amazing journey and significant changes that happen in just twelve months. What advances and capabilities do you notice? How are the caregivers supporting the babies’ development? 

From everyone on the SECD team, we wish you a new year filled with peace, health and happiness.

November 2016 - Nurturing relationships buffer stress December 14 2016


Everyone experiences stressors – the stressful events that may lead to activation of the stress biology in our bodies. Stress biology can include an increase in stress hormones (e.g., cortisol, adrenaline) that cause our blood pressure to rise and heart to race.  The magnitude of the stressors and our perception of the events, along with available support systems, influence the extent to which the stress biology is activated, and the long-term impact of stress on the body.

For young children, the support and presence of a caring adult helps to regulate their stress response and therefore reduce the negative impact on the brain and body. This in turn, helps set the foundation for a healthy stress response system. On the other hand, experiencing stress in the early years without the support of a caring adult, negatively impacts the developing brain and may lead to a stress response system that is activated too easily or for too long, damaging long term health and wellbeing.

Dr. Megan Gunnar, of the University of Minnesota, studies the biology of stress and how it affects brain development and behaviour. Listen as she describes research findings on the role of secure nurturing relationships in buffering stressful events. In the second video, watch as a young infant is given his first needle at a local health clinic in Tajikistan. Notice his response when his mother is able to pick him up after the needle and how he reacts when she puts him down to dress him. What does this scene tell you about their relationship and the role of his mother in helping him to handle this stressful event?

October 2016 - Setting the play environment November 08 2016


A well accepted core value in early childhood care and education is that children come to understand the world through play and play-based learning. In fact, it has been said that play is the “work” of childhood. Curriculum, program philosophy, educator training, and the design and organization of classrooms and play materials are some of the factors that influence the opportunities that children have for meaningful play experiences.
 
Environments that support and encourage play and learning are engaging, varied, and well organized. Children become interested and focused in their play when they have multi-sensory experiences, invitations to explore and create, and opportunities to use a wide variety of interesting materials and tools, along with adequate space and time to get immersed in play experiences.
 
In the first video, Dr. Janette Pelletier, from the University of Toronto, describes the difference between classrooms that do not encourage play and those that do. The second video shows classroom examples from a well-resourced North American program, The Shirley G. Moore Laboratory School at the University of Minnesota’s Institute of Child Development. Listen as Sheila Williams Ridge, the Assistant Director, explains how intentionality and predictability factor into the educators’ decisions about how to set up the environment.
 
Think about play spaces you are familiar with. Do they engage children’s interests, promote creativity and problem-solving and capitalize on children’s curiosity?

Red River College University of Toronto AKDN - Aga Khan Development Network