The quotes below from a recent article summarizing recent cognitive neuroscience research illustrate the capabilities many young children have that teachers of preschool and grade school age children may completely miss because of their own education which has created blind spots to what is possible.
Many 4-year-olds cannot count up to their own age when they arrive at preschool, and those at the Stanley M. Makowski Early Childhood Center are hardly prodigies. Most live in this city’s poorer districts and begin their academic life well behind the curve.
But there they were on a recent Wednesday morning, three months into the school year, counting up to seven and higher, even doing some elementary addition and subtraction. At recess, one boy, Joshua, used a pointer to illustrate a math concept known as cardinality, by completing place settings on a whiteboard.
“You just put one plate there, and one there, and one here,” he explained, stepping aside as two other students ambled by, one wearing a pair of clown pants as a headscarf. “That’s it. See?”
For much of the last century, educators and many scientists believed that children could not learn math at all before the age of five, that their brains simply were not ready.
But recent research has turned that assumption on its head — that, and a host of other conventional wisdom about geometry, reading, language and self-control in class. The findings, mostly from a branch of research called cognitive neuroscience, are helping to clarify when young brains are best able to grasp fundamental concepts.
In one recent study, for instance, researchers found that most entering preschoolers could perform rudimentary division, by distributing candies among two or three play animals. In another, scientists found that the brain’s ability to link letter combinations with sounds may not be fully developed until age 11 — much later than many have assumed.
Educated, observant and interested parents are in the best position to see what their children are capable of learning and then should provide the experience their children need. If a parent waits for school to provide the teaching they may wait forever. Most teachers do not have the knowledge of new research and you will find many teachers just burned out to the point they are going through the motions of teaching.
The teaching of basic academic skills, until now largely the realm of tradition and guesswork, is giving way to approaches based on cognitive science. In several cities, including Boston, Washington and Nashville, schools have been experimenting with new curriculums to improve math skills in preschoolers. In others, teachers have used techniques developed by brain scientists to help children overcome dyslexia.
And schools in about a dozen states have begun to use a program intended to accelerate the development of young students’ frontal lobes, improving self-control in class.
“Teaching is an ancient craft, and yet we really have had no idea how it affected the developing brain,” said Kurt Fischer, director of the Mind, Brain and Education program at Harvard. “Well, that is beginning to change, and for the first time we are seeing the fields of brain science and education work together.”
This relationship is new and still awkward, experts say, and there is more hyperbole than evidence surrounding many “brain-based” commercial products on the market. But there are others, like an early math program taught in Buffalo schools, that have a track record. If these and similar efforts find traction in schools, experts say, they could transform teaching from the bottom up — giving the ancient craft a modern scientific compass.
From my personal experience the feelings of frustration with adults when I was a child are still vivid. I could not understand why the adults thought me incapable of learning certain subjects when I was questioning them about those concepts and thus must be interested and capable - how can you ask the question if you are not capable?
In a typical preschool class, children do very little math. They may practice counting, and occasionally look at books about numbers, but that is about it. Many classes devote mere minutes a day to math instruction or no time at all, recent studies have found — far less than most children can handle, and not nearly enough to prepare those who, deprived of math-related games at home, quickly fall behind in kindergarten.
“Once that happens, it can be very hard to catch up,” said Julie Sarama, a researcher in the graduate school of education at the University at Buffalo who, with her colleague and husband, Doug Clements, a professor in the same department, developed a program called Building Blocks to enrich early math education.
“They decide they’re no good at math — ‘I’m not a math person,’ they say — and pretty soon the school agrees, the parents agree,” Dr. Clements said.
If a child's parents are not educated a situation arises where the child will get behind and probably never catch up. Thus ignorance perpetuates ignorance.
That brings up the question of societies responsibility to children and where to draw the line. What do we do in our own country? What is our responsibility to the world?
We see the results of ignorance and minds that never developed and thus very easily corrupted and/or mislead in the news everyday. It translates to crime and terrorists and fundamentalist and closed-minded attitudes in our country and around the world.