Following on from my previous posting Brainwaves and human development.
This is an excellent article Grey Matters from a seminar by Sir David Winkley which covers the points made here and much more.
I will now discuss this further and identify how this might influence my practice.
Babies are born with some pre-existing neurological connections, which expand rapidly through interaction with people and the environment. Babies are born with the ability to see at a distance from the mothers breast to her face. Nathan suggested this proves that the infant is born with the need to interact with others. He said that 30% of neurological development occurs through independent learning and the other 70% is through interaction with people. Babies are born with an affinity for the human face. They are drawn to face shapes and even have a preference to look and two circles representing eyes.
Learning occurs with the development of neurological pathways and myelination of these pathways. This process is enabled in the presence of endorphins and is disabled by the presence of cortisol. There are several things which promote an endorphin response. Anything which makes the child happy will promote endorphins, certain types of food, notably breastmilk produce an endorphin response. Singing, holding, massage etc promote this type of response. In addition to establish a neurological pathway the item being learned needs to be repeated at least 90 times. If a cortisol response is experienced during learning the connection will be destroyed and the pathway has to be developed again from the beginning.
Cortisol response is produced by stress. Not meeting the needs of the child creates a stress response and therefore reduces the child's ability to learn. Leaving a child to cry will create this type of response.
Photo Asleep in the sling
Babies need to be close to their parents, early sensitive and responsive care promotes future language development as described in this article and in this posting . There are critical periods which have been identified for different aspects of human development. attachment and bonding are important in children under one year. Children who do not have their needs met in this time will have more difficulty in forming warm and loving relationships.
Photo: Maya wrap baby sling.
Nathan pointed out that we can still learn some things later however they will be learned in a different way and are not naturally acquired skills. He likened this to learning another language later in life, no matter how fluent the language is always spoken with a foreign accent, unlike native speakers.
If exposure is not provided within the critical period neurological pathways can not be developed . For example a child might be born with congenital cataracts. If this is recognised and surgery is performed within the critical period of around 3 months the child will develop normal sight. If this does not happen until later the child will be permanently blind as the neurological pathways have not been developed during the critical period.
The body always has some endorphins and some cortisols in circulation. It is the balance of these that is important. If a child is learning something and is scolded, this may be enough raise the cortisol level and destroy the learning connections being developed. Rather than correcting the child it is better to model the correct way of doing the skill, as it is through repetition and modeling that new skills are learned.
Photo: Breast is best
I is also difficult to 'unlearn' an established behaviour. If an adult is quiting smoking the learned behaviour of smoking is very strong. They may have been progressing well and developing new neurological pathways for this new non smoking behaviour. If they then have one cigarette all the new pathways are destroyed and the previous smoker pathways are immediately reinforced. This illustrates the difficulty of overwriting previous learned behaviour.
Lessons from this for me as a midwife are;
*More evidence about the importance and benefits of breast feeding.
*Babies need to have their needs met.
*Leaving a baby to cry is not teaching it anything, rather it is impairing learning.
*We all learn best when we have more endorphins circulating in our circulation.
*In the classroom promoting a happy and jovial atmosphere will facilitate the learning experience.
*For adults things that promote endorphins are, exercise, music and laughter amongst other things.
*Modeling the correct way to do things will result in better learning than correcting errors.
*We all need opportunities to repeat new skills many times before we reach the "Ah ha" moment when all the connections are made and we finally have the skill fixed in our learned experience.