As Early Educators, our role is huge in supporting healthy brain development of the children in our care.
During the first few years of life, more than 1 million new neural connections form every second (source: The Center on the Developing Child, Harvard University). During these early years, the foundation is laid, either weak or strong, for future brain development.
Interactions between children and their parents or caregivers are a major factor in the formation of brain circuits. “Serve and Return”, the back and forth responsive communication between a baby or child and the consistent adults in his/her life, shape brain architecture. When a baby or young child cries, smiles, or elicits a response from a caregiver, and the adult eagerly responds with a smile, eye contact, a touch, or words, neural connections are built and bolstered. Like a spirited game of tennis, this back and forth communication is key to healthy brain development. Conversely, the lack of these responsive relationships are a serious threat to a child’s dvelopment and well being.
Below are five simple steps for building rich serve and return experiences with a child: (source: Center on the Developing Child, Harvard University
- Notice the serve and share the child’s focus of attention. By noticing serves, you’ll learn a lot about a child’s abilities, interests, and needs. You’ll encourage her to explore and you’ll strength the bond between you.
- Return the serve by supporting and encouraging. Supporting and encouraging rewards a child’s interests and curiosity. Never getting a return can actually be stressful for a child. When you return the serve, the child knows that his thoughts and feelings are heard and understood.
- Give it a name! When you name what a child is focused on, you help her understand the world around her and help her know what to expect. Naming also gives her words to use herself and lets her know you care.
- Take turns…and wait. Keep the interaction going back and forth. Taking turns helps children learn self-control and how to get along with others. By waiting, you give the child time to develop his ideas and build his confidence and independence. Waiting also helps you understand his needs.
- Practice endings and beginnings. When you can find moments for a child to take the lead, you support her in exploring her world—and make more serve and return interactions possible.
Emotional well-being and social competence provide a strong base for emerging cognitive abilities, and together these form the foundation of healthy brain architecture. Parents and consistent caregivers and early educators are the “architects” who support this development. Healthy brain growth is nurtured by speaking to, playing with, and consistently caring for children. Understanding children’s needs and responding sensitively to them, helps to protect children’s brains from stress. High quality early care programs, staffed with well trained professionals who understand their role in building healthy brains, offer a healthy start to brain architecture.