No one can emphasize enough the importance of brain development in early childhood education. Today’s developing technology and research have allowed us to learn more about the brain, how it works, and the critical periods for its development. We now know that through conducted research, that an enriched environment actually increases brain size (Diamond and Hopson, 1998). There is a new growing interest in developmental neuropsychology, or research in brain development.
It has been discovered that the first six years of one’s life is significant for the brain to develop fully, and most importantly, Dr Montessori’s vision applies to brain development. There is new research that coincides with the discovery that the foundation of neural structures in the frontal lobes of the human brain aren’t fully developed until approximately the age of twenty-four. This states that the brain continually develops and that adults and parents who provide the immediate environment of the child can do something to make this experience positive. In order to achieve this full potential, a human being needs interaction with the immediate environment and sensorial awareness.
This idea is reflected in what Dr Montessori perceived to be a ‘prepared environment’. The prepared environment allows the link for a child to reach into their world. Dr Montessori defined a prepared environment to consider the specific needs of the child with concerns to their age of development, and it provides the child what they need in order to live. Along with physical and emotional security, it should be aesthetically pleasing and inviting, hygienic, include appropriate furniture, should have order, and should reflect the interest adult has with the child. These are her main ideas but she also mentions that the environment has to allow freedom of choice, allowing the child to act independently, and to learn to take responsibility for their actions.
To become an active participant, what better way to involve children than movement. Movement is now realised to be essential for increasing learning, and to develop creative thought and high level of reasoning (Hannaford, C., Smart Moves, Why Learning Is Not All In Your Head). Movement has been said to improve the brain functions by improving the interconnections between the two brain hemispheres. We know that the left side of the brain controls the right side of your body, so when you move the opposite arm and leg, you are stimulating your brain to develop more neural pathways that ultimately help the brain function better.
Movement has also been discovered to strengthen the basal ganglia, cerebellum (coordinates muscle contraction), and corpus collosum (a fibrous bundle of axons connecting the 2 brain hemispheres). It also increases the production of neurotrophins which stimulates the natural neural growth factor between the two brain hemispheres, and also increases myelination. Myelination is an important process for brain development, and is essential for the proper functioning of the nervous system.
With the study of early childhood, one always tries to find the best ways to stimulate the development in children. One area that remained a puzzle in the past was brain development, but with the current interest and research, understanding of brain development has broadened, and ways to concretely help this phenomenon has been developed. Dr Montessori’s methods, along with the ‘prepared environment’, conform with current research to stimulate brain development in children, which builds a solid foundation for learning for the rest of their lives.