The Science

 

We are all born different
Each person has a unique genetic make-up that predisposes him or her to meaning-make in different ways and to be interested in different things. Each person has different pre-dispositions, intelligences, strengths and capacities. And each person perceives and experiences the world in different ways. This is really important as the world needs people with different skills and abilities. The environments that we come from and find ourselves in really do matter and help shape who we become.

1. The Interaction of Biology and Environment, National Academy of Sciences, 2015
2. What makes a difference for early child development?, Human Early Learning Partnership, 2013

We are part of the natural world 
Although the human mind is affected and shaped by the modern social world, its deep structure is adapted to, and informed by, the natural environment in which it evolved. Young humans therefore have an innate connection with, and empathy for, the natural world that is evident from the earliest years. One of the most striking changes in children’s lives over the past century is the erosion of the time spent in nature and it is becoming clear that this may be having a profound impact, not only on child health and wellbeing, but on their environmental understanding and attitudes in later life.

3. Barrows, A (1995). The Ecopsychology of Child Development, in T. Roszak, M.E. Gomes & A.D. Kanner (Eds) Ecopsychology: restoring the Earth, healing the mind. New York: Sierra Press
4. Louv, R (2005). Last Child in the Woods
5. Schultz, P. Wesley, Shriver, Chris, Tabanico, Jennifer J. & Khazian, Azar M. (2004) Implicit connections with nature. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 24(1), 31-42

Brains are built through the interactive influence of genes and experience
The basic architecture of our brains is constructed through an ongoing process that begins before birth and continues into adulthood. In the first few years of life, more than one million new neural connections are formed every second (1). After this period of rapid proliferation, connections are reduced through a process called pruning, so that brain circuits become more efficient. Sensory pathways like those for basic vision and hearing are the first to develop, followed by early language skills and higher cognitive functions. Connections proliferate and prune in a prescribed order, with later, more complex brain circuits built upon earlier, simpler circuits.

6. Five Numbers to Remember about Early Childhood Development, Harvard Centre on the Developing Child, 2017

Disadvantage damages brain development
Socioeconomic disadvantage and stress in early childhood is associated with striking differences in cognitive structure and function during a time when dramatic changes are occurring in the brain. It is becoming increasingly apparent that children living in poverty, or in materially sufficient but emotionally deprived circumstances, may see delayed or diminished development of their language, memory, and executive functions. In other words diminished life experiences literally result in diminished and less effective brain architecture.​​

We know that strong, loving and consistent early relationships, particularly that of parents, but also through high quality early caregivers, can really help to combat the impact of poverty. Governments are increasingly investing in early intervention schemes targeted at disadvantaged families and children, but we urgently need to explore why so many people are living in poverty and what we can do to improve basic living conditions. Mother-infant bonds and parenting skills really matter, but reducing inequality and better understanding the reasons behind social deprivation are key to solving the problem.

7. Associations between cortical thickness and neurocognitive skills during childhood vary by family socioeconomic factors, Journal of Brain and Cognition, 2017
8. The Effects of Poverty on Childhood Brain Development -The Mediating Effect of Caregiving and Stressful Life Events, Washington University 2013
9 Neurocognitive development in socioeconomic context, Society for Psychophysiological Research, 2015
10. Policy Briefing: The Biologisation of Poverty, Policy and Practice in Early Years Intervention, Discovery Society, 2014 .
11. Beware Brain-based learning, Stephen Rose, Times Higher Education article, 2013

We are more than our brains!
There is increasing global recognition that we need to recognise the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual dimensions of what it is to be a human being – and that if we only focus only on some areas at the expense of others it results in unhappy and stressed children and adults. We are complex beings that are designed to live in dynamic connection with others and the wider world. Although our brains are amazing organs, to feel whole we we need to nurture our spirits, inspire our minds and engage our hearts.

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12. Image: Nurturing the Whole Child, Save Childhood Movement, 2016

13. A Conversation with Dr Lisa Miller, author of the Spiritual Child, Watkins Magazine, 2016

Needs and Values
All human beings have seven core developmental needs that motivate them and help them to grow. These start with feeling safe and secure, having enough to eat and drink and being able to make positive connections with others and go on to help us make sense of the world and our place within it. For healthy development each of these needs must be addressed before the next one can be fulfilled. Natural environments promote healthy learning and growth, whereas unnatural environments inhibit it.

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14. Image: Foundations of Wellbeing, Save Childhood Movement, 2016

We are more than our personalities
Our personalities/self image (the outward-facing masks that we develop over time) are created from the lifetime accumulation of mental and emotional patterns which make up the person that we believe ourselves to be and present to the outside world. They develop according to our different dispositions and capacities and also through the unique experiences that we have within the environments that we live. We all develop the personality type that we need to survive in the outside world, but we also all have a sense of true self beyond the personality that is constantly seeking to express our authenticity and uniqueness. There is an inner guide or spirit within each of us that wants us to feel connected and whole (just as we did when we were born).

15. The Unique Child, the impact of culture and how we foster human wellbeing, Wendy Ellyatt, WATCH Conference, 2016

The Mind of the Child
The mind of the young child wanders through awareness and searches for gaps in its experience. We call this curiosity. It is not yet constrained by the restrictions of cultural order (although this happens increasingly quickly in the modern world) and seeks to fill these with creative possibilities. It then seeks to attribute meaning to these experiences, which can be expressed in one or more of many of the multiple languages of childhood i.e. sound, movement, emotion, colour, words, numbers, shapes etc. Play, risk-taking and challenge are all essential to the creative process as they allow the mind to safely explore and make sense of unchartered territory. ​We are amazing natural learners and, through our imagination, we constantly reach out to novelty. In fact to feel whole both children and adults need to experience playful, imaginative thinking.

“Understanding the psychology and neuroscience of the imagination will lead
to improved capacity for human innovation and allow
people to make better life choices”
Martin Seligman, 2013

16. The Decline in Play and the rise of Psychopathology in children and adolescents, Peter Gray, American Journal of Play, 2014
17. Building the State of Wellbeing – A Strategy for South Australia. Professor Martin Seligman, 2013