Educational Neuroscience and Early Childhood Brain Development
Many modern early childhood classrooms are center based. Children learn to write in the writing section, read in the reading center, and paint in the art center. Children develop social skills and imaginative play in the dramatic play center, develop fine motor skills and reasoning in the manipulatives center and develop problem solving and mathematical skills in the math center.
Educational neuroscience has proven, however, that this is not how children learn. The sections of the brain do not form and develop in a vacuum, they are interdependent. While a child is playing in one designated learning center their physical, cognitive, and socioemotional brain processing may all be engaged but we have only set the center up to encourage the development of one area, neglecting the others. Why? We focus so much on how we can shape children into what we want them to become that we have forgotten their brains are developing regardless of our influence. Rather than trying to fit children into the classroom mold that we, as early childhood educators, have created, we should be designing classrooms that form around the child. Classrooms that are conducive to the organic development of children’s brains. As educational sciences advance, so should our classrooms.
Interdependent Brain Development
"The challenge of cleanly separating these concepts highlights a key attribute of all of these domains, which is that they do not develop or operate in isolation. Each enables and mutually supports learning and development in the others.It is less important that all fields of research, practice, and policy adhere to the exact same categorizations, and more important that all conduct their work in a way that is cognizant and inclusive of all the elements that contribute to child development and early learning, and that all fields recognize that they are interactive and mutually reinforcing rather than hierarchical."
Transforming the Workforce for Children Birth Through Age 8: A Unifying Foundation (2015) Chapter: 4 Child Development and Early Learning
The K-Way classroom structure (IN/OUT/HUB) is an important aspect of this methodology. It is the basis for all of the learning that will take place within. We believe that children to follow their inspiration and learn the way their brains are designed to. It is understood that the brain can be divided into sections with each section serving specific functions. The parietal lobe, for example, helps a person to identify objects and understand spatial relationships, whereas the frontal lobe is involved in judgment, decision-making, some language functions, personality characteristics, and movement.
The neural connections that we make create a web of pathways connecting one area of the brain to another. While engaged in a single activity children are creating and strengthening many neural connections. A child stacking one block on top of another is not just engaging their frontal lobe; the child’s occipital lobe, parietal lobe, temporal lobe, and spinal cord must all communicate in order to successfully execute this maneuver. This is also true for the function of developmental domains. While stacking a block, the child is reinforcing their cognitive development, approaches to learning, and motor development. They are using math, language, problem solving, gross motor, and creative thinking skills.
The K-Way is designed to help children make strong, positive connections. We do not want a child to “switch centers” 15 minutes into self-section because this will interrupt their play and sever the connections the child is making. We want children to engage in activities that interest them, to direct their play according to their needs and desires and to take the time they need to get the most out of their experiences.
The images below are an example of center-based learning vs. the K-Way. Center based learning (left) divides learning into developmental domains, similar to the sections of the brain. The K-Way (right) goes deeper, structuring our classroom and teaching method to reflect the way our brain’s neurological connections create pathways that weave the sections of the brain into one complex network.
Image credit: Northeastern physicist Dmitri Krioukov
Image Credit: Stanford Children’s Health