Having just written a book about children’s amazing brains, I love hearing anything that makes the links between development and neuroscience. It’s discoveries like the existence of a series of exploratory hand positions, that provides a ’lightbulb’ moment and illuminates or explains a particular action. I was treated to a feast of facts at an event this weekend where Sian Ansell, Jean Gross, Katrice Horsley and Elizabeth Jarman all offered plenty of food for thought. I was struck by the call for Early Years practitioners to rebrand themselves as ‘Brain builders’, elevating them to new heights and recognising just how crucial a role some of our lowest paid practitioners play in shaping children’s lives and outcomes. In England educational practitioners working with the oldest children are typically afforded the highest status and pay while those working with the youngest can be the least qualified and lowest paid. Ironically this is completely at odds with the rate of children’s growth and degree of influence practitioners have in shaping children’s lives. By the time children get to secondary school they are either switched off education or can see its benefits and know how to ‘jump through the hoops’. Although parents or carers may be the main caregiver for babies, a poll revealed that many parents expect the setting rather than themselves to provide for their children’s needs – sobering news to most practitioners.

Disturbing cases of neglect can give rise to visible differences in the brain, with key parts inactive (but capable of re-growth). However, the effects of emotional detachment are evident from just a two minute experiment, leaving us in no doubt of the vital role played by individuals working with infants. Having watched the Still Face Experiment several times, I still find it shocking and disturbing to see how quickly a thriving and engaged child changes following just a minute of no interaction. If you haven’t seen this for yourself then go to http://www.youtube.com/wartch?v=apzXGEbZht0 and be prepared to be shocked.

Research is now suggesting that increasing numbers of children are starting school with poor bladder control. Here too early year’s practitioners have a key role to play as ‘body builders’. Children are hard wired to experience the world in a full-bodied way so infants that are confined to car seats, prams and other such inventions can find themselves not getting adequate opportunities to explore their body or environment in a full-bodied way. We know that physical actions are an essential part of hardwiring the brain, but baby care inventions and lifestyle changes can also result in infants not being picked up or cuddled for long periods at a time, limiting opportunities for developing personal, social and emotional security.

I mention this not to add to parent’s guilt (as a parent I have enough of my own!) or convey despair, but rather to recognise the implications of inventions which make our lives easier but which are not without consequences. It’s also to sing from the rooftops of the importance of carers and early years practitioners in the lives of young children and their role as ‘body and brain builders’!

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