Like anything in a child´s body, the brain keeps developing throughout the first years of life. It´s quite common sense to state that the first years of life are crucial to one´s development throughout life.
The other day I learned some things with a National Geographic documentary. It´s called My Brilliant Brain and it went like this:
“The main job of the brain in the first years of life is to make sure all brain cells are wired up correctly. A 3-year-old has twice as many connections between brain cells as a grown up. A growing brain is both vulnerable and extremely malleable. Stimulation is essential for a growing brain. By the time a baby is born, it´s already down 12 weeks that it´s listening. Very often the oldest memory of a child is a melody. Maybe the melody he´s been listening since back in the womb”
It´s the experiences the child acquires that will make the synapses get stronger while other connections simply get lost forever. If a type of connection doesn´t get wired up in the first years, some things will never be learned later on in life.
The documentary tells the story of a girl that was kept prisoner for 12 years with no one ever talking to her. That resulted in the loss of connections in her brain necessary for her to learn the language and later on it wasn´t possible for her to learn it.
Many theories on education sustain the idea that people learn in their early years, lessons that will stick for life and that not learning some things, might cause the inability to learn them later on.
According to Italian educator Maria Montessori (1870-1952) for example, education starts at birth and the first 6 years are crucial to develop the body both physically and mentally. It´s during the first 6 years that the child absorbs attitudes and patterns that will last for life.
For the Steiner-Waldorf Educationn, that holds the philosophy of Anthroposophy, our lives go in learning cycles that last 7 years. Guess which are the 7 years period crucial to one´s life? Yes, the first 7.
Science, effective proven educational methods and our own eyes to see a child flourishing in front of us tell us how important the first years of life are. Proper stimuli in the first years of life are fundamental.
A pause for indignation
Yet, how come so many of us are still letting our children be contaminated by stupidity, uselessness, selfishness, consumerism, crazyness… We let our kids be raised to wrong values, wrong attitudes, things that any ordinary person condemns.
Just think how much we can be damaging our children by our own acts of consumerism, extra hours in front of the TV (count me out on this one, I don´t have a TV), impatience to play with them on the floor and [insert your own piece of bad action here].
When I was a kid, we had a TV set in each room and that´s what happened to most of my friends too. We were all watching around 3 hours of TV a day. This summons up to more than 6 weeks in front of the TV a year. Even “an ok” 2 hours a day it´s more than a month a year in front of the screen.
We send children to school (we were sent to school) and ultimately it has taught people to get jobs in their adult life, we get bombarded by commercials and a hidden agenda of keeping the vicious cycle of consumerism. We let our kids be bombarded with all this absurdness going on.
Back to the right path
We should be teaching kids ultimately to develop their bodies and minds. To be problem solvers, to take care of the planet. To learn about all what happens with nature, about the best way to use its resources and how we are extinguishing life on Earth.
The stimuli in the first years must be about being outdoors, experiencing nature, having room to be creative with what´s at hand and well, to be honest, I’m trying to figure it all out myself.
It´s not like I can tell anyone how to do it. I just want us all to wake up to our responsibility, find out what works and possibly share the good stuff with others.
We like to believe we can raise them instinctively, but we are not aware of how we´ve lost the spontaneity. Giving the best stimuli can be very challenging. Mainly our attachment to our own culture is what stops us from giving a more intelligent education.
I can´t tell you which are the best stimuli, but I can tell you what seems reasonable to me, maybe you could add more in the comments.
Here are a few obvious choices for us:
Creativity is about problem-solving. Having to handle situations that don´t have easy answers. We can help children in many ways like with creative play (that doesn´t require toys like follow the leader or role playing), continuing stories together, asking questions like “in how many different ways we could do this?” and so on.
We should let them learn freely through play, make room for their inner creativity to come out and trust that it will.
Cut off TV or diminish it drastically
How much time of TV is proper to each age? Two hours a day is already excessive. Although I don´t have a TV, I do let Luísa watch videos on the laptop, but it´s that limited.
Get out of the routine
Take notice of what you usually do with your child every week. Purposely find a different thing to do, at least weekly and maybe you can find time to do it even more often. The chance to see something different will trigger some good synapses in that little mind (and in yours as well).
Interfere less when kids are playing
Have you ever noticed how your presence trying to help kids that are having an argument just increased the crisis? Sometimes the mom away (or simply not interfering) is what makes kids play more freely and learn to relate to one another. Not helping them in their games and handling new toys is fundamental.