By Doris Bergen
Doris Bergen, a distinguished professor of educational psychology emerita at Miami University, Oxford, Ohio, is also the coauthor of Educating and Caring for Very Young Children, Second Edition.
As a mother of three, I have had first-hand knowledge of how diverse and unique each child’s thinking processes and behavior can be and how their experiences can shape their brain development. Also, I started my professional career as a second-grade teacher and I also spent 10 years as a teacher of 3 and 4-year-olds at a cooperative nursery school, at which parents served as assistant teachers. Thus, I have had many opportunities to observe directly how young children’s thought processes and behaviors are influenced by their early experiences in out-of-home group settings.
At both the elementary school and the nursery school I noted how much playful and interesting learning opportunities could facilitate children’s cognitive and social/emotional behaviors and I used such methods primarily in my classes. I also had the opportunity to observe the diversity of adult styles of interacting with young children. Some parents in the preschool and some teachers in the elementary school engaged the children in playful and appropriately challenging activities and others stressed routine and narrow behaviors and thinking patterns. It was always of interest to me how important these more playful experiences were, especially for children who came from home settings that were not optimal, and I believed that my examples of such activities (some of which are included in our new book) seemed to promote leaps of thinking and growth of behavior skills in these children.
Subsequently, as a university professor, I observed the cognitive, social, and emotional behaviors of young adults, evaluated methods that assisted learning, and conducted research on brain-related development. I have had the opportunity to do research on children’s play and humor development, play opportunities for children with special needs, and brain processes involved in technology gameplay. These experiences also enforced my perspective on how extremely important the prenatal and first 7 years of life are for optimum human brain development.
There are now many research studies and books about the extreme importance of brain development during the prenatal period and the infant, preschool, and early elementary years because this early period is when the majority of the brain is “built” and the richness of neurol connections is at its height. This newer information on brain development makes clear that the role caregivers and teachers have as providers of good conditions for young children’s brain development is of upmost importance.
That is why, I, with my three colleagues, have written this book, Enhancing Brain Development in Infants and Young Children: Strategies for Caregivers and Educators, in order to help adults provide the best “brain growth” environment they can for all young children.