The Scientist in The Crib
The Three Pound Universe
Don’t by Jonah Lehrer
The New Yorker May 18, 2009
A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of presenting a workshop in the bay area for ECE and school age teachers (generally up to Grade 8 ) including after school programs. It was ‘dirty science’ or, things involving dirt (a.k.a. earth science). I had been planning on this workshop for at least a month and a half since a woman I had met at another workshop suggested me to the organizer. It was exciting as I was able to share my enthusiasm for science and make a generalized mess (I cleaned it up) for a rather large group (45+ adults).
The morning of the workshop was a bit more of a ridiculous adventure than I had expected. Mapquest gave me bad directions so I was running late. I forgot my pull cart at home (I drive a tiny car so the pull cart goes in at very last minute or nothing else could fit in car) as I was rearranging my subbing materials with workshop materials. There was a tornado in my head (supposedly it is called hayfever, however, I like to pretend the tornado will go back to it’s native nothingness, if I choose not to believe it exists) and my class was to be taught on the second floor of a building at the furthest point from th assigned parking. I put everything I needed in a pile outside my car and decided to just methodically move it in successive piles until I found some one with a cart who would share.
Some people were walking by, noticed the piles, asked if I needed help (I of course said, “YES!”) and this group of four helped me carry some things to the main building. I apologized for what appeared to be a true mess and explained that it had to do with shifting things from subbing and being in the middle of a move to Kenya (when my work permit comes through) and my life was truly chaotic under the best of circumstances. Two of the people said, “Wow – how exciting” almost in unison. A third person asked where Kenya is located. Had it not been for the fact I was juggling a huge clay pot with a dead plant in the soil (we were going to excavate the roots and eplore erosion, etc.) and the fact that it was an opportunity to sport some maturity, I would have died laughing. Instead, I took it in stride, stated it was East Africa and asked what workshops everyone was taking that day. Sheesh – quick, good escape with no exasperation.
I realized that these very people who were kind enough to help me were also responsible to some degree for educating little ones (not that knowing where Kenya is located is an indicator either way of intelligence-although it has gotten a great deal of press since our President’s father is from that country, so it made me worried that some one could not even pin it to a continent) and surely we should all expect more of those discharged with such a serious duty – but how do we do it? What is the expectation of what we want pre-school teachers to know and what is it we wish for them to share with little ones in their care? While I was mulling this over later, I decided to re-read a couple very important books about neuroscience.
These books (listed above and one current article of research on impulse control) helped me reflect back upon my training in speech pathology and my understanding of educational development and come to a more informed way of wrapping myself around the issue. It also helped inform my May 19, 2009 vote regarding ECE funding in CA. I really spent some time thinking about the differences of child care vs. pre-school, in which pre-school is an academic environment for a limited period of time, unlike child care which could be completely unstructured.
Questions wending through my head include: At what point is unstructured play time educational? How does day care provide for success in kindergarden any more than limited parenting, and sometimes is a replacement for limited parenting? Can day care be an effective replacement for pre-school? Should we expect this ability of day care providers, and if so, how do we pay them for child care that is sort of pre-school but not exactly? How much time should be structured? If day care provides a structured activity, how do we measure the success? Is homework help in daycare considered a structured activity which assists in learning and development? Should children in daycare be expected to read? Should TV be allowed? Videos?
At a certain point I decided that day care/child care should provide a safe, nurturing environment for a child under the age of five while the parent(s) are working. Pre-school is more than ‘care’ and requires structure, planning and some degree of education (what exactly do you say to a four year old who asks, ‘Where is Kenya – I heard it on TV?’). Determining the ability to provide a safe, nurturing environment with structured and meaningful developmental activities is something different – I am just not sure how to define and measure the difference. While play time in the garden is a joy for anyone, especially children, it is best done when portions of it have some educational import – this is a seed, this is a leaf, this is a worm, etc. and books are read, seeds planted and monitored over time, etc.
As I was reviewing the books regarding what is now known about the human brain, it became clear to me we need to expect more from child care providers and pay for what we expect. How do we create meaningul experiences for pre-schoolers when there is essentially no funding anywhere for education (welcome to the 21st Century) of any kind, at any grade? It would stand to reason that ECE providers need to have a little more developmental psychology under their belts and should be required to do continuing ed, much as I do for my credential. I don’t know what that would look like, however, it seems to me we must instill the value of what ECE providers do to THEM. It is not a cush, easy job.
ECE is, based on what I know and keep up with in current research, the most significant component to a childs development other than interactions with parents from birth onward. The development of language is crucial and scientists know that the development of language starts right after birth – long before the baby can speak. A baby listens and starts ‘sorting’ sounds, meanings, facial expressions, soundless nuances. Impulse control seems have the possibility to be taught as a manner of thinking/processing a problem. Our capacity to learn is not ‘locked’ in, we are malleable, yet we are only as malleable as our environment allows. Lack of stimulation, lack of language, etc. = lack of ability to learn on a number of levels. It is with this knowledge that we need to expect, require, demand and pay more for ECE. Between parents and ECE is a whole lifetime of success or chronic failures that are not easily ameliorated.
No matter how people go about delivering care, structure and ECE, I hope it includes dirt, play time in the garden and lots of fresh fruit and veggies. In spite of everything, I still believe that dirt/soil has some magic in it- some portent to do good in helping children learn and become wonderful adults. If it were not for the dirt of sub-Saharan Africa, we – as upright humans, would not exist.