preschool child

Benefits of music training on the brain

August, 2010

A comprehensive review of the recent research into the benefits of music training on learning and the brain concludes music training in schools should be strongly supported.

A review of the many recent studies into the effects of music training on the nervous system strongly suggests that the neural connections made during musical training also prime the brain for other aspects of human communication, including learning. It’s suggested that actively engaging with musical sounds not only helps the plasticity of the brain, but also helps provide a stable scaffolding of meaningful patterns. Playing an instrument primes the brain to choose what is relevant in a complex situation. Moreover, it trains the brain to make associations between complex sounds and their meaning — something that is also important in language. Music training can provide skills that enable speech to be better heard against background noise — useful not only for those with some hearing impairment (it’s a common difficulty as we get older), but also for children with learning disorders. The review concludes that music training tones the brain for auditory fitness, analogous to the way physical exercise tones the body, and that the evidence justifies serious investment in music training in schools.

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[1678] Kraus, N., & Chandrasekaran B.
(2010).  Music training for the development of auditory skills.
Nat Rev Neurosci. 11(8), 599 - 605.

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Early intervention for toddlers with autism highly effective

January, 2010

A study involving autistic toddlers has found a novel early intervention program to be effective for improving IQ, language ability, and social interaction.

A five-year study involving 48 diverse, 18- to 30-month-old children with autism and no other health problems has found a novel early intervention program to be effective for improving IQ, language ability, and social interaction. The Early Start Denver Model combines applied behavioral analysis (ABA) teaching methods with play-based routines that focused on building a relationship with the child. Half the children received two two-hour sessions five days a week from specialists (but in their own homes) plus five hours a week of parent-delivered therapy. The remaining children were referred to community-based programs. After two years, the IQs of the children in the intervention group had improved by an average of around 18 points, compared to a little more than four points in the comparison group. The intervention group also had a nearly 18-point improvement in receptive language (listening and understanding) compared to around10 points in the comparison group. Seven of the children in the intervention group received an improved diagnosis from autism to the milder condition known as 'pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified' (PDD-NOS), compared to only one child in the community-based therapy group.

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Mothers influence how children develop advanced cognitive functions

February, 2010

A study of 80 pairs of middle-income Canadian mothers and their year-old babies has revealed conversational strategies that are associated with better executive skills among toddlers.

A study of 80 pairs of middle-income Canadian mothers and their year-old babies has revealed that children of mothers who answered their children's requests for help quickly and accurately; talked about their children's preferences, thoughts, and memories during play; and encouraged successful strategies to help solve difficult problems, performed better at a year and a half and 2 years on tasks that call for executive skills, compared to children whose mothers didn't use these techniques.

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Length of time in institutional care may influence children's learning

February, 2010

A study of internationally adopted 8- and 9-year-old children has found those adopted from institutional care performed worse on some cognitive tests.

A study involving 132 8- and 9-year-old children, some of whom had been adopted into U.S. homes after spending at least a year and three-quarters in institutions in Asia, Latin America, Russia and Eastern Europe, and Africa, while others were adopted by the time they were 8 months old into U.S. homes from foster care in Asia and Latin America, having spent no or very little time in institutional care, has found that those adopted early from foster care didn't differ from children who were raised in their birth families in the United States. However, those adopted from institutional care performed worse on tests measuring visual memory and attention, learning visual information, and impulse control -- but not on tests involving sequencing and planning. The findings suggest that specific aspects of cognitive function may be especially vulnerable to postnatal experience.

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How lead exposure damages the brain

July, 2010

The damage lead exposure does to brains, especially young ones, is well-established, but new research tells us how it works.

We know that lead damages the brain, and that it does so by somehow affecting the release of neurotransmitters at synapses (the process by which neurons pass messages on). Now a new study explains exactly what lead does. Apparently, during the formation of synapses, lead lowers the levels of key proteins involved in neurotransmitter release (synaptophysin and synaptobrevin), and reduces the number of fast-releasing sites. These effects may occur through the inhibition of the NMDA receptor (which produced similar effects), disrupting the release of BDNF. While new synapses are created throughout our lives, there is an explosion of synapse formation during a child's early brain development, explaining why young children’s lead exposure is particularly damaging.

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Regular bedtimes linked to better language, reading and math skills in preschool children

July, 2010

A large study reveals language and math skills were all better in 4-year-old children whose parents reported having rules about what time their child goes to bed.

A national study involving some 8,000 children, has revealed receptive and expressive language, phonological awareness, literacy and early math abilities were all better in 4-year-old children whose parents reported having rules about what time their child goes to bed. Having an earlier bedtime also was predictive of higher scores for most developmental measures. Recommendations are that preschool children get a minimum of 11 hours of sleep each night. These findings (which confirm earlier studies) indicate not only that lower scores on phonological awareness, literacy and early math skills are associated with getting less than this recommended amount of sleep, but that many children are not getting the recommended amount of sleep.

Reference: 

Gaylor, E., Wei, X. & Burnham, M.M. 2010. Associations between nighttime sleep duration and developmental outcomes in a nationally representative sample of preschool-age children. Presented at SLEEP 2010, the 24th annual meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies LLC, in San Antonio, Texas.

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Quality of early child care affects academic achievement in adolescence

July, 2010

A long-running study has revealed that while hours of non-relative childcare in the preschool years affects later behavior, quality of childcare continues to affect academic achievement into adolescence.

Data from the same long-running study (the NICHD Study of Early Child Care and Youth Development), this time involving 1,364 youth (followed since birth), found that teens who had spent the most hours in non-relative child care in their first 4½ years reported a slightly greater tendency toward impulsiveness and risk-taking at 15 than did peers who spent less time in child care (21% were in care for more than 30 hours a week; 24% had had more than one year of care by 4 ½). But it was the quality of child care that made the difference as far as cognitive and academic performance was concerned. Those who had higher quality child care had better results on cognitive and academic assessments at both age 4½ and age 15. High-quality care was characterized by the caregivers' warmth, support, and cognitive stimulation of the children under their care. More than 40% of the children experienced high-quality (17%) or moderately high-quality (24%) care. The findings were consistent across gender and socioeconomic status. Previous research has tended to focus on the effects of child care on disadvantaged children; this one is notable for involving children across society. The study is important not only for pointing to the effects of childcare quality, but for the finding that the effect continues into adolescence.

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At-risk children who can self-regulate have higher test scores

July, 2010

At the end of first grade, at-risk children showing strong self-regulation in preschool and kindergarten did dramatically better on math, reading and vocabulary, than at-risk children with weaker self-regulation.

A study following nearly 1300 young children from birth through the first grade provides more evidence for the importance of self-regulation for academic achievement. The study found that children showing strong self-regulation in preschool and kindergarten did significantly better on math, reading and vocabulary at the end of first grade, independent of poverty, ethnic status, and maternal education (all of which had significant negative effects on reading, math, and vocabulary achievement in first grade). At-risk children with stronger self-regulation in kindergarten scored 15 points higher on a standardized math test in first grade, 11 points higher on an early reading test, and nearly seven points higher on a vocabulary test than at-risk children with weaker self-regulation. The findings emphasize the need to help children learn how to listen, pay attention, follow instructions, and persist on a task.

Reference: 

[1590] Sektnan, M., McClelland M. M., Acock A., & Morrison F. J.
(Submitted).  Relations between early family risk, children's behavioral regulation, and academic achievement.
Early Childhood Research Quarterly. In Press, Uncorrected Proof,

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Repeated anesthesia can affect children's ability to learn

March, 2010

A rodent study provides more support for the idea that repeated anaesthesia in children can lead to memory impairment.

Supporting the idea that repeated anaesthesia in children can lead to memory impairment, a rodent study has revealed that repeated anaesthesia wiped out a large portion of the stem cells in the hippocampus. This was associated with impaired memory in young animals, which worsened as they got older. The effect did not occur in adult animals. A similar effect has also been found with radiotherapy, and animal studies have found physical activity after radiotherapy results in a greater number of new stem cells that partly replace those that have been lost.

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Foster care associated with improved growth, intelligence compared to orphanage care

April, 2010

A study involving healthy institutionalized infants from six Romanian orphanages has found that those randomly assigned to a foster care program showed rapid increases in height and weight, and that this was associated with better caregiving quality and significantly improved verbal IQ.

A study involving 136 healthy institutionalized infants (average age 21 months) from six orphanages in Bucharest, Romania, has found that those randomly assigned to a foster care program showed rapid increases in height and weight (but not head circumference), so that by 12 months, all of them were in the normal range for height, 90% were in the normal range for weight, and 94% were in the normal range of weight for height. Caregiving quality (particularly sensitivity and positive regard for the child, including physical affection) positively correlated with catch-up. Children whose height caught up to normal levels also appeared to improve their cognitive abilities. Each incremental increase of one in standardized height scores between baseline and 42 months was associated with an average increase of 12.6 points in verbal IQ.

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