Some folk in this group may find the following
selected extracts from a research article at
www.NoticeBoard.co.za/read.htm of some
interest. (After all, anyone who repairs his/her own
faucets is also a darn good parent :-) )
Two of their most surprising and profound discoveries are that the
brain uses the outside world to shape itself and that it goes through
crucial periods in which brain cells must have certain kinds of
stimulation to develop such powers as vision, language, smell, muscle
control and reasoning.
''It's just phenomenal how much experience determines how our brains
get put together,'' Pierson, a neurobiologist, said.
''If you fail to learn the proper fundamentals at an early age, then
you are in big trouble. You can't suddenly learn to learn when you
haven't first laid down the basic brain wiring. . . . That's why early
education is so important, why Head Start is so important,'' she said,
referring to the federally funded program for preschoolers.
But what the brain can do depends on whether or not it is used. It is
the ultimate use-it-or-lose-it machine, and it is eager to learn new
skills. The ability to form abstract thoughts, for instance, is now
seen as a consequence of the brain's learning to read.
''In the same way that we evolved a certain cognitive abstract
capability as a function of our capacity to read, there is every
reason to believe that there are other untapped abstract capabilities
of our brains that are not being developed by our traditional
Long thought to be a clean slate to which information could be added
at any time, the brain is now seen as a super-sponge that is most
absorbent from birth to about the age of 12.
Thus, the brain can reorganize itself with particular ease early in
life during crucial learning periods. Information flows easily into
the brain through ''windows'' that are open for only a short duration.
Then the windows close, and the fundamental architecture of the brain
''A kind of irreversibility sets in,'' Harvard's Earls said. ''There
is this shaping process that goes on early, and then at the end of
this process, be that age 2, 3 or 4, you have essentially designed a
brain that probably is not going to change very much more.''
The best time to learn foreign languages, math, music and other
subjects is between 1 and about 12 years of age, yet these years are
usually put on pause, given over to youngsters to ''enjoy their
Faced with the new evidence about how the brain develops and
functions, many scientists are concluding that society is wasting a
tremendous amount of the brain power of its young, and creating a lot
of unnecessary problems-including crime, aggression and
depression-later on in their lives.
That's not to say that all is lost if this early learning period is
not optimized. Using the tools left over from shaping brain cells and
their connections, the brain gives its owner a second chance.
There is, however, a price to pay. Instead of being easy, learning
becomes harder later on.
''If you want to significantly influence a child's ability to think
and to acquire knowledge, the early childhood years are very
critical,'' said neurobiologist Peter Huttenlocher of the University
of Chicago, whose studies helped open the door to understanding the