Human beings are truly magical.
Do you know that our brains are continually sensing, processing, storing, perceiving and acting in response to information. Our human brains are very much like a computer.
Just imagine having your very own personal computer inside your head. But my computer is not the same as your computer. Each of our computers are completely unique, running a different program that is individualised to each of us. We are born with our own special ‘hardware’ and download our ‘software’ programs from the interactions and experiences we have within our first few years of life. Although by some comparison, the human brain can process far more information than the fastest computers.
In essence, we are designed to take the information from the external world inside us, THE ENERGY of our external world inside us, through our senses and transform it into patterned activity in our brains.
When we have an experience, we take that experience from outside of us,
and it forms part of who we are on the inside.
When we experience love, we can take that love from outside of us,
and it becomes part of who we are on the inside.
Recently I had the pleasure of listening to Nathan Wallis for the first time and as well as having a good laugh I gained new knowledge, developed a better understanding of human development and felt affirmed that research backs the importance of love, partnerships, interaction and creating the “right conditions” for the brain to develop.
He gave an easy to understand explanation of how the brain develops showing a graphic which introduced us to Bruce Perry’s Neurosequential Model. Here’s some of what I took away with me.
The majority of our brains development takes place in early childhood. This means that out of all of our experiences throughout life, the experiences of early childhood have the most profound effects on the brain. The first 1000 days of life can either cause a lifetime of dysfunction or it can allow us to develop into our fullest potential.
THE BRAIN IS A HOUSE:
The brain is similar to a house with four floors and is organised from the most simple (1st floor), to the most complex (4th floor) and can change depending on what is used.
The brain develops from bottom to top. Just as we can’t skip floors and go straight from the ground to the roof, we can’t skip the stages of brain development and go from birth to reading. We need to ascend one floor at a time in a sequential order.
The lower parts of the brain directly affect the higher parts of the brain and either support or disrupt higher functioning which has a powerful impact on how individuals think and act.
Our stress responses that originate in the lower parts of the brain help regulate and organise the higher parts of the brain so for healthy growth and development we need to ensure that children experience love rather than fear in their early years.
THE FOUR FLOORS:
1st- Reptile Brain - The first to develop is our survival brain which is responsible for keeping us safe eg. heart rate, breathing, reflexes, eating and stress responses; fight, flight, freeze. (Brainstem; before birth-infancy)
Children learn and develop best when they are raised by the most responsive and attuned person available to them, known as the ‘dyad’. When we eliminate stressors and support and encourage secure attachment, our children develop a sense of trust and safety.
2nd- Mammal Brain - Our movement brain which is responsible for important functions such as motor control and sensory processing. (Midbrain; infancy-childhood)
We can support children by providing free, unrestricted, unstructured, uninterrupted play. Time and space to move, explore and learn about their bodies and opportunities to use and practice acquired skills.
3rd- Feeling Brain - Our emotional brain is responsible for how we feel and is involved in the regulation of emotion, memory and processing complex socio-emotional communication. (Limbic; early childhood-puberty)
We can support this development by providing opportunities for children to interact with others. Supporting children socially, with emotional intelligence and providing multiple outlets for creative expression.
4th- Thinking Brain - Our intellectual brain which is responsible for higher functioning such as abstract thought, rational thinking, reasoning and problem-solving abilities. (Cortical; childhood-adulthood)
Children are able to participate in more complex thinking and mental processes related to thinking. It’s important to note that part of the ‘thinking brain’ does not come online until around 7 years of age (depending on the child).
Before this time it is vital that each child has the freedom to explore and discover, develop dispositions and create a love for learning in a play-based environment. If we wish for children to be able to participate in complex learning and teaching environments we must first allow the time and opportunity for them to develop stress, motor, social and emotional functioning and regulation.
Children must first learn to control and regulate their internal world
before they can learn about their external world.
The development of skills needed to ‘prepare’ a child for school and to ‘prepare’ them for a healthy life have their roots in infancy, in a child feeling safe, loved, and in partnership within those first 1000 days. A child exposed to consistent, predictable, nurturing and enriched experiences within the first 1000 days of life will develop neurobiological capabilities that will increase the child’s chance for health, happiness, productivity and creativity in later life.
The more knowledge we have of the human brain
the more able we are to support children
by connecting what we see on the outside with
what is happening on the inside.
With this knowledge we are better equip to nurture children's minds and hearts and align education and care with their developing brain. Our only obstacle is a society that struggles with adapting to change.
“One of the biggest challenges that we have in the modern era and really in any era, is figuring out how to make the world better, for our children and our grandchildren. How do we take the things that we have learned from our parents, and our ancestors, and our neighbours, and our educational systems and what ever means we have used to come to who we are. How do we take that information and sort through and decide what parts of that are worth passing on and what parts should not be passed on?”
I believe the answer lies in us. We are the key. When we recognise the child within ourselves we see the road blocks, the hurdles, and the closed doors. We have the ability to break the chains and clear a path for our children.
Evolution lies in our ability to be reflective, in questioning, in accepting difference and embracing change. In committing to personal growth and continual learning, challenging the norm, solving problems, listening and following our hearts.
We have the ability to be intentional about how we care for our children, about the environment that we provide for them and when/how they are educated. In all honesty, if we stop deciding what children need to learn and allow them to follow their own biological urges they will drive their own education instinctively. When we step in, we stop the natural process of learning. I truly believe that by supporting rather than enforcing, we have the ability to mirror the child’s external world with their internal needs so they have everything they need to grow into the best possible versions of themselves.
"Your brain has a capacity for learning that is virtually limitless, which makes every human a potential genius.”
Michael L. Gelb