School Readiness: Why Your Child’s Learning Readiness Begins in the Womb
This article provides helpful information for developing school readiness in your child as a baby. Affiliate links are included for your convenience. Integrated Learning Strategies (ILS) is a learning and academic center. As a reminder, ILS is not a health care provider and none of our materials or services provide a diagnosis or treatment of a specific condition or learning challenge you may see in your child or student. If you seek a diagnosis or treatment for your child or student, please contact a trained professional who can provide an evaluation of the child.
The first opportunity a child has to prepare for school is when they are first a fetus, developing safe inside the mother’s womb. This is where the brain develops rapidly to build the much-needed cells for further decision making. The developing brain of the fetus grows at an incredible rate.
According to the book, Teaching With The Brain In Mind, at the peak of the fetus’s brain growth, the embryo is generating brain cells at an incredible rate of 250,000 cells a minute! That is 15 million per hour! Most of that growth is produced between the fourth and seventh month of gestation.
During this time period, the fetus is very susceptible to poor nutrition or stress. If the proper nutrients are not delivered to the flourishing embryo, or the mother is under a great deal of stress, both could affect how the brain develops, which can also affect their school readiness as they grow older.
Important Connections for School Readiness
The fast-growing cells in the developing embryo’s brain are called neurons. They begin to form a vast network, joining other cells. In Inside The Brain, Ronald Kotulak describes fetal development of the brain as “going wild.” The brain produces twice the number of cells the fetus will keep. Neurons start competing against each other to connect to other parts of the body.
The cells that fail to “hook up” do not get any feedback. This feedback includes chemicals that maintain and feed the brain cells for school readiness. These neurons start to die off if there is no nourishment or sense of direction. Before the baby is born, about half of these cells die because they failed to perform their task of connecting with other cells.
Starting immediately after birth, these connections to other cells begin to take off. Every response of the caretaker, every noise, sight, or touch creates connections for school readiness. During these critical first years of a baby’s life outside the womb, the brain creates more connections then it could ever use. The overabundance of synapses (connection between nerve cells) causes the brain to learn how to make itself work. Remember the massive die-off of all those cells before birth?
Another extensive decrease in connections occur just before puberty. Side note: this explains teenagers. The death of these connections is caused by the lack of stimulation or interaction with the outside world. The synapses that are not being used will perish. (Inside The Brain, Kotulak) The final number of connections in a child’s brain can easily go up or down by 25 percent, depending on if the child grows up in an enriched environment. This includes stimulating toys, solid emotional support from caregivers and freedom to explore. In a 1987 study, William Greenough showed he could increase the number of connections in rats’ brains by 25 percent just by creating an enriched learning environment.
The First Two Years
I think most people know that infant development is important, but with new research, scientists and educators have realized just how important the first 48 months of life are with brain development and future learning readiness. A baby forms approximately 42,000 new neural connections every minute during the first years of life. Every single minute.
There is so much already built into our DNA for school readiness that predicts and dictates many characteristics, but we must realize that the environment a baby is placed into has a great deal of influence on who we will become.
According to Dr. Jack Shonkoff, the director of Center on the Developing Child at Harvard, the process of building all of these connections is really building the architecture of the child’s brain. He further states that an infant’s brain is dependent upon the responsiveness of parents and caregivers. Dr. Shonkoff calls this the “serve and return” interaction.
Take all of those gurgles, smiles and coos that a baby does and what do the parents do? What is the response? Eye contact. Smiles. Sweet calming words. All of these back and forth interactions are what the wiring of the new brain is built on.
Important Differences that Affect Learning in School
An important predictor of success in school is a child’s vocabulary. Understanding and speaking language holds a great advantage to higher learning in the future. In the age range of 18 to 36 months, language growth occurs rapidly. You will start to hear sounds and pauses and babbles that start to sound like words and sentences. Sounds will start to be more deliberate and the use of one word will grow to two and three. Witnessing these amazing milestones comes with great responsibility. The language growth that occurs in the first few years of a child’s life has an impact on their entire life.
In the 1990’s a famous study came out that was referred to as the “word gap.” This study showed that children in middle-class homes are exposed to many more words than children in lower economic level households. Dr. Shonkoff goes further in addressing the fascinating data suggesting that children with college educated parents in a higher income threshold, hold a higher vocabulary during these critical ages than those peers that interact with parents and caregivers that have limited education.
These numbers and studies suggest what we already knew, that an early childhood enriched environment only helps the child reach their potential. The behavior, learning experiences and health in later life rely significantly on early childhood experiences. We must realize (and be part of a solution) that early childhood has substance and that all of society benefits when a child can have enriching experiences during the first years of life.
Integrated Learning Strategies is a Utah-based center dedicated to helping mainstream children and children with learning challenges achieve academic success. Our services provide kids with non-traditional tutoring programs within the Davis County, Kaysville, Layton, Syracuse, Farmington, and Centerville areas. Areas to find Integrated Learning Strategies include: Reading tutors in Kaysville, Math tutors in Kaysville, Common Core Tutors in Kaysville, Tutors in Utah, Utah Tutoring Programs