Kids are natural scientists, it turns out.
In an article published last week in Science, psychologist Alison Gopnik reviewed the literature about the way young children learn, and she finds that the way preschoolers play is very similar to the way scientists do experiments: Kids come up with general principles, akin to scientific theories, based on the data of their daily lives. Gopnik argues that the research should steer educators and policy makers away from more-regimented, dogmatic kinds of preschool instruction.
Young children need attention—and not just to keep them from wandering off or yelling their lungs out. Social interactions actually help their developing brains. We know about this from studying children and animals raised in relative isolation: Neglected children, like those raised in Romanian orphanages, suffer from behavioral and cognitive deficits as adults, and isolated young monkeys grow up to have weaker memory and learning abilities than their socialized peers. Just what is happening in the brain to trigger these mental problems?
According to a new paper in the journal Science, it’s all about the fatty tissue myelin, and the cells that produce it. Babies are born with very little myelin in the brain—as they develop, specialized cells called oligodendrocytes wrap insulating myelin sheaths around the long, rod-like sections of certain neurons. These myelin coatings help electrical signals travel more quickly through children’s brains. Read More
A study published this week in the journal Pediatrics found a link between levels of bisphenol-A in pregnant moms and behavioral problems such as anxiety and hyperactivity in their daughters at age 3. No such effects were seen in boys. BPA has estrogen-like activity and can lead to developmental and behavioral problems in animals—but whether or not it does the same in humans, and at what dosages, is a subject of considerable debate. This study won’t settle the debate but highlights the need to answer some basic questions about BPA that remain surprisingly unclear.
A study published yesterday in the journal Pediatrics found that pre-schoolers who watched a nine-minute clip of Nickledeon’s SpongeBob SquarePants scored lower on a variety of cognitive tests given to them immediately afterward, compared to peers who spent the same time watching an educational PBS show or drawing. Although the researchers don’t specifically call out SpongeBob (one of the most popular shows amongst children ages 2-11), they conclude that fast-paced, entertainment-oriented shows like this, which rapidly cut between different scenes, could cause short-term reductions in children’s ability to focus and solve problems.
That may sound ominous, but it’s important to note that the study only looked at children immediately after watching the show, so there’s no evidence that this effect will persist. And although previous research has shown a clear association between watching television at a young age and attention problems later in life, it’s not clear whether TV—or any particular shows—are actually causing long-term problems. Still, if your 4-year-old is about to take a preschool entrance exam, it’s probably not the best time for a SpongeBob marathon.
[Via the Los Angeles Times]