The New Paradigm: Early Learning
Apr 29, 2016 Learning Methodology 1922 Views
In today's society, a pervasive view still persists that a person's intelligence is innate, fixed by the genes, and cannot be altered significantly by the environment, be it the influence of parental nurturing or early childhood education. Apart from the overwhelming anecdotes over the Internet of parents who swear by the success of their early teaching efforts on their little ones, some as young as babies, scientific evidence has been steadily accruing over the years to point to an indisputable fact: There is a critical stage in the early development of a child's brain when the right environmental stimulation will give beneficial effects that last throughout life.
The Beginnings Of Early Learning
The idea that the early part of a child's life is closely correlated with his future intelligence is not exactly a new idea. In the 1950s, a passionate pioneer of early childhood education arose by the name of Glenn Doman. He is a physical therapist, who was working with brain-injured children to help them keep up with their normal peers. His developmental programme was so successful that he decided to try it out on normal children. Using a combination of flashcards (with words and mathematical dots) and physical stimulation, he accelerated the learning of many children from infancy.
Glenn Doman believes that all babies are born with a genius potential, that if properly developed, could well exceed that of Leonarda da Vinci and Albert Einstein. To share his theories and practices with other parents, he went on to publish several books since 1964 about how to teach young kids to read, to do mathematics, to be physcially superb and to have encyclopaedic knowledge.
Dr Robert Ornstein and Dr Roger Sperry
In the late 1960s, Dr Robert Ornstein and Dr Roger Sperry changed the course of man's understanding of how the brain works with their groundbreaking discovery that there are 2 distinct functioning parts to the brain --- the left and right hemisphere. The two hemispheres possess characteristics and mental abilities opposite from each other.
The left brain deals with language and mathematics; it analyses information in sequence, i.e. in a logical step-by-step manner. The left brain rationalises and verbalises. In contrast, the right brain deals with creativity, imagination, intuition, visual images, music and certain kinds of ideas such as love, loyalty and beauty. It takes in information at a single glance, and processes them in one holistic thought. The right brain works in a nonverbal way.
The Accelerated Learning Movement Takes Off
The research by Ornstein and Sperry opened doors for more scientific discoveries about the workings of the human brain, leading to a new wave of educators adapting the knowledge to a plethora of brain-building techniques to use with children. This accelerated learning movement took off with trailblazers the likes of Tony Buzan, Edward de Bono, Ivan Barzakov, Colin Rose, Betty Richards and many more.
When word of this movement made its way across the oceans to Makoto Shichida in Japan, he began to apply similar principles of accelearated learning on children, beginning as young as prenatally. His educational programme, in particular, emphasised and harnessed the potential of the right brain in young children to achieve many amazing feats such as photographic memory, speed reading, lightning-quick mathematical calculations, perfect musical pitch, etc. His method worked so well that a businessman bought over his ideas in the late 1980s, and proceeded to create a franchise of over 350 Shichida centres all over Japan. Till today, the network of Shichida schools has expanded across many Asia-Pacific countries (including Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Hong Kong, Australia).
Early Learning: Current Developments
Early Learning Raises IQ By Up To 30 Points
At a 1996 scientific conference, Dr Craig Ramsey from the University of Alabama, noted that intensive tuition helped to increase the intellectual performance of underprivileged children by between 15 to 30 IQ points. Not only can early environmental stimulation improve IQ, it can also reduce the incidence of mental retardation. But help needed to be given fast, as early as when a baby is just 6 weeks. "Intervening at the kindergarten stage has only a minuscule effect, compared to intervening in the first year of life," he warned.
Citing further evidence from more than 20 studies (involving more than 1000 children) which bore out the benefits of early help for children, Dr Ramsey concluded, "There is now substantial evidence that intellectual development is malleable in the positive sense. Early experience is critical for full development of intellectual capacity."
Early Learning Affects Brain Cortex Development
As recently as 2012, science found that the more mental stimulation a child gets around the age of 4, the more developed are the parts of his brain responsible for language and cognition in the decades ahead. This was revealed by Martha Farah from the University of Pennsylvania through a 20-year-long study. Her results were evidence of a sensitive period in the early years of a child's life that is especially influential in determining the optimal development of the cortex.
As Andrea Danese from King's College London noted, Farah's study highlighted the importance of a nurturing home environment for a little kid, irrespective of whether he has a familial or genetic predisposition to a better brain. Parents and caregivers have a big role to play in providing a variety of educational materials and tools in a child's everyday life to enable him to develop his cognitive abilities to the fullest.
Start Early: Don't Wait Till School
Sending your young children to formal educational institutions (e.g. preschools and kindergartens) is all very well, except that a lot of these formal education programmes require your kids to be at least 2 years before enrolling. In these formal settings, the classroom is central to the teaching of the curriculum. So what about those long hours when your child is at home with you or other caregivers? And how about children below the age of 2 years? We believe that learning should happen every time and everywhere, since young children do so love to learn, and are capable of learning just about everything.
Learning need not be limited to the classroom. Parents can also conduct educational activities at home, even with kids as young as just a couple of months old. However, you probably might want to do some research first on which early teaching methods and techniques are better at stimulating young children's brains; in lieu of which, you can still turn to many wonderful online and offline resources in the early childhood education market to formalise and achieve more effective learning for your children in an organised way.