Young Children Are Starting Smart at RIS Creative Academy – by Sharon L. Ronen, M.Ed.
In a bright, comfortable preschool classroom, a small group of students is gathered around a child-sized table. “I’m making a book!” exclaims Nina, as she shuffles and puts in order pages containing her own writing and illustrations. Her teacher sits beside her and says enthusiastically, “Tell me about your book, Nina!” As Nina launches into her description, her peers are busily working on projects of their own, some of them block architects making decisions on elaborate building designs, others delegating roles and negotiating about materials they need for their dramatic play scenario.
An observer passing through might not immediately discern the sophisticated concepts being tackled by the brains of these earnest 4-year-olds. However, their classroom is designed based on research conducted over the past 20 years – revealing compelling evidence about how the brains of very young children can be stimulated for optimal growth and development. The human brain is the most immature of all organs at birth; however, when a child is born her brain typically contains trillions of neurons and synapses. The child’s brain development, which began in utero, continues with an ongoing process of wiring and rewiring the neural connections. New synapses between cells are constantly formed, while others are broken or pruned away. Studies of neuroplasticity demonstrate that new synapses can grow and existing connections are strengthened when a child is provided with a rich and stimulating social-emotional environment that fosters exploration and creativity from a very young age. It is crucial that developmentally appropriate experiences be provided to young children so that higher-level circuitry in their brains can expand, mature, and flourish.
Learning communication skills and language lends a powerful example of how early experiences contribute to brain development. The brain is ravenous for language stimulation during early childhood, and very young children who are given repeated exposure to words and are spoken to frequently by their parents and caregivers are being set up for success – their brains are building neural circuitry that will enable them to learn more complex words and increase their vocabulary later on (Huttenlocher et al., 2002, also Hart & Risley, 1995). However, research does not suggest drilling children in alphabet chants or using flash cards to promote rote memorization of letters and words. Rather, it reinforces the principles of brain-based learning and developmentally appropriate practice: children learn language and concepts best in the context of meaningful, day-to-day interactions. For optimal learning children must have active conversations about what they are experiencing – what they do, what they think, the ways in which they respond to the world, and the stimuli to which they decide to pay attention.
The RIS Creative Academy puts this cutting-edge research into action – by providing brain-based teaching and learning through a holistic approach, one that takes into account the whole child and their developmental needs as an experiential learner. Instruction is not teacher-centered; rather, teachers help their young students seek, discover, and understand the meaning of new information. As a result, children who attend the RIS Creative Academy develop skills across a range of intelligences – logical/mathematical, interpersonal, intrapersonal, musical, linguistic, bodily/kinesthetic, spatial, and naturalist (Gardner & Moran, 2006). This strong and unique foundation will prepare Creative Academy students to successfully reason with, reflect on, and respond to the world around them – first as young scholars and ultimately as adults.
Gardner, H., & Moran, S. (2006). The science of Multiple Intelligences theory: A response to Lynn Waterhouse. Educational Psychologist, Volume 41, Issue 4, Fall 2006, pp. 227–232.
Hart, B., & Risley, R. T. (1995). Meaningful differences in the everyday experience of young American children. Baltimore: Paul H. Brookes.
Huttenlocher, J., Vasilyeva, M., Cymerman, E., & Levine, S. (2002). Language input and child syntax. Cognitive Psychology, 45, 337-374.
Ms. Toni Boush
Elementary School Principal