Did you know a 4-year-old’s brain uses more energy than it ever will again?
The first five years of life are a time of tremendous growth and change in the developing brain, said Samuel Meisels, one of the nation’s leading authorities on the development of young children and early childhood learning.
More than 800 people — mostly educators, community leaders and parents — filled the Holland Performing Arts Center Wednesday night to hear Meisels’ advice on how early education can significantly improve the life of all children.
And it starts at the home.
Parents need to nurture and build a positive relationship with their children, Meisels said.
“Their most important educators are their families.”
Environment and community also play a huge role in a child’s development. A child spends 15 percent of his time in school, and 85 percent in his community.
Many children, because of poverty, abuse or other challenges, enter school unprepared to learn and thrive. The root of low academic achievement is poverty, Meisels said.
If parents are unwilling to support their children and there is no strong community base, there’s very little success.
“Those born to parents of limited means will never live up to their potential,” Meisels said.
Meisels recently was named founding executive director of the University of Nebraska’s Buffett Early Childhood Institute, a university-wide research, education and policy center focused on children from birth to age 8.
He has served since 2002 as president of the Erikson Institute in Chicago, the country’s premier graduate school in child development.
Meisels also spoke about the developmental assessment of young children; the effect of standardized testing on children; the impact of state and federal policies on the families of children with disabilities; development of alternative assessment strategies; and developmental consequences of high-risk birth.
“Once someone has been coached on a test, the test is worthless. . .it’s merely memorization,” he said.
So what can a parent do to better prepare their child for school?
Give children early childhood experiences, he suggested. “Preschool is not just learning facts and numbers,” Meisels said.
Instead, parents should focus also on non-cognitive skills, seven in particular:
Confidence. A skill needed to push for opportunity and advancement.
Curiosity. Learning new things, and getting excited about their findings.
Intentionality. More intentional concepts equate to more accomplishments, he said.
Self-control. Inner management of one’s emotions.
Relatedness. Relating and comparing to others.
Capacity to communicate. Trusting and engaging others.
Cooperativeness. Finding the balance of one’s needs and those of another.
Maureen Gregor, McMillan Magnet School counselor, was thrilled to hear Meisels’ suggestions for parents and educators to get excited about non-cognitive skills.
“I love those,” she said, “especially curiosity. We need to just get excited about the world as they do.”
The Holland Lecture Series has brought speakers to Omaha since 2005. It’s hosted by the First Unitarian Church of Omaha with the financial support of Dick Holland.
* * *