Brain Development - How Knowledge Guides Practice
When I completed my degree, I did so without a deep understanding of children’s brain development. And, if I’m being honest, I didn’t think I really needed it. I mean, I could teach. I understood theory, developmental milestones, curriculum development - I was ready to go. Then, 5 years ago I went to a two day conference that changed everything for me. The name of the conference was ‘The neurobiology of complex trauma’. Sound complicated? It was, at first. But it was also intriguing enough to send me down a long road of research. I could never have anticipated how the knowledge I garnered from this conference would get under my skin, inspire years of research and truely alter my practice for life.
Following this conference I spent the next five years throwing myself into research around brain development and the impact of trauma. It wasn’t long before I realised this was not knowledge that was limited to working with children with adverse experiences. This was knowledge that could be applied across all platforms of practice. And so my research continued. I was lucky enough to attend Mind Up training, see Bruce Perry speak and much more. I read every book, article and blog I could get my hands on. And the more I learnt about the impact of trauma on brain development, the more I understood about how children’s minds are shaped in both typical and atypical circumstances.
Eventually, after years of research and modifying practice accordingly I was able to see what it was like to take a service from start up and build practice around this area of research (combined of course with the practices promoted throughout the EYLF). The results were astounding. In a 96 place service, with 27 educators all well informed in the area of brain development, we implemented a mindful teaching approach that filtered through the whole service. The main principles we worked around were calm environments, primary caring systems, respectful interactions, and educating children around their own brain development.
I can’t say we perfected the practices overnight. It took some time for us to all understand and implement the principles from our research effectively and with a natural fluidity throughout the service. But eventually we had these ideas deeply embedded within our practice. As a result we had the calmest early learning environment I have ever experienced in 20 years in the sector. Children were participating in experiences which were rich, sustained and complex. Autonomy skills and self regulation were promoted easily and children proved to be capable beyond expectations. But the most beautiful part was the respect that could be seen in every corner of the service. Respect between educators, management, families and children. This allowed us to be innovative in our approach to education, and provide opportunities which were especially challenging to the children in relation to social interactions and experiences.
Often within early learning services we hear educators dismiss ideas or approaches due to the belief that the idea in question would be too difficult for the children. I challenge any such statement, because with this sort of understanding of how children’s brains develop, and through the application of principles derived from said knowledge, children can achieve outcomes beyond all expectations. Knowing all that I now know on the subject, I will never again underestimate a child’s capacity to learn.