by Jenny Kleppe
Why do we do what we do at All Seasons? A Brain Development Answer
Recently, the staff of All Seasons Preschool attended a teacher training conference on the topic of brain development in the early years. The presenter, Deborah McNelis, stressed how the human brain is dependent on having rich and repeated experiences in order to develop healthy neural connections. Ninety percent of the brain develops in the pre-school years, before age five.
McNelis described how the “pathways,” or neural connections between brain cells become more permanent in children’s brains as they learn how the world works through repetition. These pathways that are created are based on a child’s experiences. This holds true whether it is “academic” learning, physical learning, or social/emotional learning. For example, a child who has multiple experiences of raking a pile of leaves and joyfully jumping into them begins to create pathways communicating that autumn is fun, leaves are crunchy, and hard work can be rewarding. A child who is strongly reprimanded for bringing leaves into the house might create pathways indicating leaves are messy, nature is dirty, or autumn is not fun. Pathways in the brain become more permanent the more the experience is repeated.
What does this brain development research mean at All Seasons? We must create the richest experiences possible and repeat them! Repetition is what allows the brain to develop permanent neural connections. One reading of a story with rich vocabulary is not enough. One short outside play time is not enough to create pathways in the brain to absorb nature and environmental concepts. One positive interaction with a senior is not enough to build a relationship. One art project is not enough to learn how line, shape, texture, or color interact to create something beautiful.
We strive for the repetition needed to create the permanent pathways in children’s brains that will support all future learning, thinking, reasoning, and creativity. We go to the same outdoor play areas over and over to see the seasonal changes, retry and re-experiment with tactile materials, reread the same books, and play the same imaginative scenarios again and again.
For the child, each experience, though familiar, is a variation on a theme – new in its own way, because the child and the experience are not the same at any given time. The child brings all her prior experiential knowledge to each repeated experience, laying down a rich tapestry of neural connections.
Our brains are constantly making connections and learning new things. But the most brain development and learning about how the world works that will ever occur is happening right now for preschoolers. How wonderful, how exciting to be a part of that!