Tuesday, April 10, 2007

The following is from Kenneth A. Wesson

Our brain and skin are initially part of the same primitive formation during prenatal development, but they are separated during neurogenesis. Thus, in a sense, our skin is the “other half” of our brain. This, perhaps, explains why at nearly all stages of life, one learns a great deal about his environment (objects, another person, etc.) via our universal human preference “to touch to learn” more about an object. While touching an object, most higher order mammals will also turn it, twist it, view it from a number of other positions, etc., as a means of drawing out the most meaningful clues, cues, and relevant information needed for arriving at conclusions concerning the object. (My 2-year old son, Tyler, provides me daily evidence of this important mammalian information-gathering technique, as he walks past a picket fence and feels compelled to touch each picket as he passes by. Similarly, school children are admonished for touching the hallway walls, schools should install paneled or burlap walls that children are permitted or encouraged to touch whenever passing. This tactile activity helps to “turn on” the brain).

Sustained immobility in the classroom is as incompatible with life as it is incongruous with human growth and human learning. Suppressing the natural excitement of human learning by preventing, ignoring, and even punishing the brain's natural inclinations obstructs our mission for learners of all ages. While mobility separates plants from animals, the inherent need to communicate with others in various elaborate and complex ways serves as another significant characteristic that puts human beings into a category of our own. Combining mobility with hands-on learning in a cooperative learning setting, where learners communicate their ideas with one another appears to be the best equation for yielding the greatest learning results. It is the means by which most young children and adults deem the most comfortable and the most productive learning arrangement. All complex learning and consistent stimulation serve as the serious business of learning and the brain’s dynamic development.

Recognizing that early exposure to a wide range of learning experiences has a tremendous impact on the brain, we are taking a closer look at the critical role that early cognitive development should play in pre-school and child-care programs, as well as a truly foundation-building primary educational setting. These years are not just the “developmental years.” They constitute the most advantageous incubation periods for developing the fundamental skills vitally necessary for successful Kindergarten through college-level (and life-long) learning. No longer do we consider the first five years of life to be a vast cognitive wasteland, during which brain undergoes an arrested development. The neural networks by which all future complex learning will be based are forged during this crucial early period and by a specific series of vitally important brain processes.

Kenneth A. Wesson
Education Consultant, Neuroscience

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