09 March 2010

The Urban Child Institute Event- "Brain and Body: How The Immune System Makes A Smarter Brain"

The First Years: Early Brain Stimulation May Aid Cognition

By Barbara Holden
Special To My Life

The Neuroscience Institute of the University of Tennessee Health Science Center will feature nationally recognized neuroscience professionals during a national Brain Awareness Week presentation March 18 to promote brain science and positive behaviors that enhance brain development in early childhood.

The Urban Child Institute considers stronger brain development among future generations one of the key long-term strategies for improving quality of life in Shelby County.

One fact we know now is that most brain development occurs in the earliest years of life. Most of the brain's cells are formed before birth, and most connections among cells are made during infancy and early childhood.

"There is no doubt the brain is the most flexible early in life, when synaptic connections are being made and optimized," said Dr. Staci Bilbo, a professor in the department of psychology and neuroscience at Duke University and one of the program's guest speakers.

The free presentation is open to the public and will be held at the Urban Child Institute, 600 Jefferson Ave., at 6:30 p.m. To register, call Brenda Williams at 385-4234 or e-mail her at bwilliams@theurbanchildinstitute.org.

We are fortunate to have this availability of professionals to drive understanding and improvements for early-child brain development in Shelby County.

"This is an event for child care professionals, educators, but really to reach ordinary folks -- parents and caregivers," said Dr. Paul Herron, a professor with the UT Neuroscience Institute. "We want to emphasize brain development so that parents and families have a better understanding of what causes and enriches development, learning and behavior."

A hurdle in education is overcoming a myth that because infants and toddlers aren't talking that not much is happening behind those pretty little faces. Far from it, people in their early years of life have much more brain activity occurring than they will as adults.

"You only have neural cells being born in adults in a very limited capacity," Bilbo said. "Because new neurons and new connections between these cells are the very basis of cognition, you automatically have less of it occurring when you are older than when you are young."

Parents and caregivers can have maximum impact on a young child's brain development by doing a couple of basic things.

First, talk -- a lot -- to your children. Research demonstrates that when children hear more words, spoken in complete sentences, it contributes to making them better learners and achievers later in life.

Second, environment is so important to cognitive development. Children need nurturing, loving care. Singing, playing and reading make a mighty contribution.

Barbara Holden is a director at the Urban Child Institute, a Greater Memphis organization dedicated to promoting early childhood development. The Commercial Appeal is a partner with the Urban Child Institute in this effort to help parents and other care givers learn skills that nurture and educate the minds of infants and children. For more information, go to theurbanchildinstitute.org or dial 211 for the Public Library and Information Center.

* This First Years article appeared in The Commercial Appeal on March 9, 2010.

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