A NON-PROFIT ORGANIZATION PROVIDING HIGH-QUALITY PRESCHOOL EDUCATION TO THE CHILDREN OF LOS ANGELES COUNTY
January 25, 2010
For much of the last century, educators and many scientists believed that children could not learn math at all before the age of five, that their brains simply were not ready.
But recent research has turned that assumption on its head — that, and a host of other conventional wisdom about geometry, reading, language and self-control in class. The findings, mostly from a branch of research called cognitive neuroscience, are helping to clarify when young brains are best able to grasp fundamental concepts.
In one recent study, researchers found that most entering preschoolers could perform rudimentary division, by distributing candies among two or three play animals. In another, scientists found that the brain's ability to link letter combinations with sounds may not be fully developed until age 11 — much later than many have assumed.
The teaching of basic academic skills, until now largely the realm of tradition and guesswork, is giving way to approaches based on cognitive science.
"Teaching is an ancient craft, and yet we really have had no idea how it affected the developing brain," said Kurt Fischer, Director of the Mind, Brain and Education program at Harvard University. "Well, that is beginning to change, and for the first time we are seeing the fields of brain science and education work together."
This relationship is new and still awkward, experts say, and there is more hyperbole than evidence surrounding many "brain-based" commercial products on the market. But there are others that have a track record. If these and similar efforts find traction in schools, experts say, they could transform teaching from the bottom up — giving the ancient craft a modern scientific compass.