12 BRINGING HEART AND MIND INTO STORYTIME Clearly, her squishy, plasticine, spongy brain was in uber mode, while I could barely come up with the word caveman. Tania Swift is the founder of B Inspired, “a training and consultancy company for practitioners delivering physical activity to children.” In her book Learning Through Movement and Active Play in the Early Years: A Practical Resource for Professionals and Teachers, she explains the amazing activity that is going on in the brain during the early years with these words: “From birth until the age of three, children’s brains grow and change at an almost unbelievable rate. Synapses—developed by neurons in order to join them to other neurons and to transmit information from one to the other—are formed faster during this period than at any other time in our lives” (Swift, p. 31). The area of the brain responsible for emotional devel- opment, and where all these neurons are connecting, is the prefrontal cor- tex. Every sound, every motion, every visual that an infant or toddler experiences is resulting in neurons connecting and transmitting informa- tion. “Dog. Soft. Lick.” And later, “Funny dog. Stinky poop. Loud bark.” Still later, “Me sleep with dog. Dog’s name Midas. I love Midas.” And then, “Midas makes me happy when he sleeps with me. I feel sad when we have to leave Midas at home.” An essential piece of information to understand about how the brain retains the information it has learned has to do with blooming and prun- ing. I’m sure it’s no coincidence that terms were used relating to the growth of a rose or lilac bush. The flowers bloom and there is new life, color, abun- dance. But then there is the need to prune, to remove unwanted or dead branches in order for the flowers to have the best chance at multiplying and thriving. The brain is similar, and Lisa Eliot, professor of neuroscience at the Chicago Medical School at Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science, describes the process in the previously mentioned book, What’s Going On In There?, “(B)eginning about two years of age, cells in the prefrontal cortex . . . enter a very long phase of synaptic pruning, which continues well into adolescence. This prolonged phase of synaptic refinement—which is clearly influenced by a child’s environment and experiences—underlies the emotional growth that is the very essence of what it means to ‘mature’” (Eliot, p. 297). Tania Swift also explains the importance of this process. “Blooming and pruning are important to allow the brain to transmit efficiently, expanding its capacity to retain knowledge and develop to its optimum” (Swift, p. 31). In other words, use it or lose it. So, the more a child is exposed to a par- ticular bit of information, the more likely it is to be retained. If he is being reminded at home about sharing with his little sister and then he comes to storytime and the theme of the day is manners, including the book, Pass It On by Sophy Henn, plus he learns a simple song that his mother can sing
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