The Efficacy of Enriching Preschool Environments

Arguments based on brain development

Photo by Jason Sung on Unsplash

Perhaps one of the most contentious debates in childhood education is the efficacy and relevance of early enrichment programs for preschool children. Concerned parties on both sides of the issue have strong feelings about their positions and propose persuasive arguments quoting ardent research in support thereof. Sifting through the myriad of somewhat conflicting evidence and overzealous arguments, one finds that perhaps the truth regarding the optimum level of infant/toddler stimulation lies toward the middle of the deprivation vs. early rigorous program continuum.

Scientific inquiry into brain functioning and development has uncovered important information related to the processes of early learning and skill acquisition. Specifically, brain imaging technologies such as Positron Emission Tomography (PET) and Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) have been employed to track developmental changes in brain structure and function. Using these technologies research has discovered that early brain development involves six major processes: neurogenesis and neuron migration; structural elaboration and differentiation of neurons; formation of connections between neurons (synaptogenesis); formation of glial cells and myelination; increased connections between regions of the brain; and pruning of excess synapses and loss of plasticity (DeHart, Sroufe & Cooper, 2004). Additionally, the research has shown that at birth the infant’s brain is only about 25% of its adult weight, while by age 3 the brain has achieved about 90% of its full potential (National Child Care Information Center, 1999).

During the first 18 months of life, the structure of neurons in the cerebral cortex becomes increasingly complex and the interconnections among them multiply rapidly. The progression of synaptogenesis and synaptic pruning are two related processes that drive the brain’s development and specialization. Synaptogenesis refers to the rapid proliferation of synapses which occurs shortly after birth. Within the context of this process, various areas of the cortex reach their maximum at different stages. This rapid development in the cerebral cortex in the months after birth is responsible for the many changes in infant competencies and skill mastery. The subsequent…

Donna L Roberts, PhD (Psych Pstuff)

Writer and university professor researching the human condition, generational studies, human and animal rights, and the intersection of art and psychology