88. According to the Parliamentary Office for Science
and Technology overview of the research on the development of
the brain and its relevance to Early Years education,
educators often cite scientific research on brain development
when arguing for particular Early Years educational practices.
Neurobiological research is often cited as evidence for the importance
of enriched, stimulating early childhood environments (see Box
Early studies showed that laboratory rats raised in an 'enriched' environment, with wheels to spin, ladders to climb on, and other rats to play with, have up to 25 per cent more synapses per neuron in brain areas involved in sensory perception than 'deprived' rats, raised alone in a lab cage with no 'playmates' or toys. Furthermore, the rats raised in complex environments perform learning tasks better than deprived rats. In subsequent studies, Greenough and his colleagues showed that the brains of adult rats form new synapses in response to new experiences and toys (Greenough et al., 1987).
Recent studies have demonstrated that Romanian babies reared in severely deprived conditions, with no sensory or social stimulation, are more likely to have delayed development of skills such as walking and talking, and impaired social, emotional and cognitive development (O'Connor et al., 1999).
Greenough, W. T., Black, J. E., & Wallace, C. S. (1987). Experience and brain development. Child Development, 58: 539-559.
O'Connor, T.G., Bredenkamp, D & Rutter, M (1999). Attachment disturbances and disorders in children exposed to early severe deprivation. Infant Mental Health Journal20(10): 10-29.
Source: POST Report 140, June 2000
89. As noted in the Box, research on animals suggests
that the ability to create synapses in response to new experiences
seems to persist throughout life. So, although the effects of
complex environments occur more readily in younger animals, they
endure throughout life. Overall, the research does not support
the argument for a selective educational focus specifically on
children's earliest years.
Although babies' brains undergo a large amount of change in the
first few years of life, parts of the human brain continue to
develop well into adolescence and beyond. Even the adult brain
is capable of change. It is therefore difficult to make direct
links from the neuroscientific evidence to specific early childhood
environments, experiences and early childcare policies.
90. The Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology
overview concluded that while studies on brain development are
of interest, they are more difficult to relate to Early Years
education policy than studies on the development of children and
different educational systems. Certain skills, such as walking,
talking and emotional understanding, develop naturally in almost
all children allowed to play with their siblings and peers and
explore their environment. Other skills, such as reading, writing
and maths require teaching, but there is no convincing evidence
that teaching these skills early (before about six) is advantageous.
International studies suggest that a later school starting age
(age six or seven) might be beneficial, provided that school is
preceded by highquality preschool provision. Comparative
education studies support the results of developmental psychology
studies, finding that wellresourced preschools that
encourage the development of emotional, cognitive, social skills
and feelings of selfefficacy through natural activities
such as play and exploration result in lasting social and educational
benefits, especially for children from deprived backgrounds.
91. We recommend that the advances in knowledge
about brain development should be kept under examination by DfEE-funded
researchers in the education field so that Early Years policy
is kept up to date and consistent with the available scientific
196 POST Note 140, June 2000. Back
example, David Mills Q. 179. Back
Note 140, June 2000, page 4. Back
Note 140, June 2000, page 5. Back
Note 140 June 2000 page 12. Back