Our amazing brains
Sunday, September 23, 2012
This week we begin our reading of Heaven on Earth by Sharifa Oppenheimer. For those of you who do not have the book, I would encourage you to get it—we still have a few copies left to borrow, as well.
The first chapter discusses how children learn. She tells us that children learn “through sensory experience; through both energetic and fine movement and through imitating everything they see in their environment." She describes how the brain develops from conception through early life. Look at these amazing photos of how the human brain develops which appeared in an article in the New York Times on September 15, 2008. One interesting observation in these photos is that the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain that affects abstract thinking, reasoning skills and emotional maturity hasn’t really developed at age six. The author says “This lack of maturity is one reason young children can’t juggle a lot of information and throw tantrums when presented with too many choices.” In fact, this part of the brain doesn’t really develop until the teenage years, and while the brain is mostly developed by age 21, it isn’t really mature until a person reaches around 25. It is helpful to look at our own expectations of what young children should be able to do in light of the child’s actual development. We often expect too much.
In "Awakening to Child Health,” Dr. Raoul Goldberg writes about how the speech center of the brain is located in the same part of the brain as the motor center for the dominant side of the body. Movement actually prepares the brain for the development of speech—thus underlining the importance of movement for the young child. He also describes how thinking develops. Towards the end of the first year, a child develops object permanence; this is the first appearance of memory. In the second year, the child develops memory based on repetition. This rhythmic memory really imprints these experiences into the child’s body. In the second or third year, the child begins to be able to recall something that made a strong impression without the object being present or invoked through repetition. He also points out that when a young child begins naming things, he begins to separate himself from the whole, and when she begins to name actions, she enters the stream of time.
I find all of this fascinating, although I surely don’t have a deep understanding of it. But it reassures me that the work I do with young children in the Waldorf school supports their healthy development in all of the ways described by Sharifa. She writes about the importance of letting the child go through all of the developmental stages in their own time, but also reassures us that if our child missed any of the critical stages, there are ways to help—our brains are amazing and have the capacity to repair themselves most of the time.