Intelligent Child: neuroscience and multiple
B. Roumani (2002)
brain is the "great synthesizer" of the many biological,
psychological, and sociocultural phenomena that make us who we are.
Through sophisticated modern
imaging technologies, neuroscience revealed how early brain development
interact with the environment to foster learning and further development.
It is now known that the human brain is a collection of about 100 billion
neurons. Each neuron is a cell that uses biochemical reactions to receive,
process and transmit information. Neurons have specialized extensions
called dendrites and axons. Dendrites bring information to the cell
body (soma) and axons take information away from the cell body.
At birth, the human brain is still preparing for full operation. The
brain's neurons exist mostly apart from one another. The brain's task
for the first 3 years is to establish and reinforce connections between
neurons. These connections are formed when impulses are sent and received
between neurons. Axons send messages and dendrites receive them. These
connections form synapses. This circuitry makes possible the development
of sensory, perceptual, emotional, regulatory, motor and cognitive functions.
As a child develops, the synapses become more complex,
like a tree with more branches and limbs growing. During the first 3
years of life, the number of neurons stays the same and the number of
synapses increases as the brain creates more synapses than it needs.
The synapses that are used a lot become a permanent part of the brain,
while the synapses that are not used frequently are eliminated, as a
result, the brain contains more synapses at infancy than in adulthood.
This synapse overproduction and loss, which continues until about the
age of ten, is a fundamental mechanism that the brain uses to incorporate
information from experiences. It explains why stimulation and experience
in the early years play an important role in wiring a young child's
Neuroscience research has also validated earlier observations made by
educationalists (Montessori), and confirmed stipulations made by cognitive
scientists (Piaget), about the existence of certain periods when the
brain is most sensitive to learning specific tasks. Critical periods
represent a narrow window of time during which a specific part of the
body is most vulnerable to the absence of stimulation or to environmental
influences. Vision is a good example: unless an infant sees light during
the first 6 months, the nerves leading from the eye to the visual cortex
of the brain that processes these signals will degenerate and die.
Sensitive periods are the broader windows of opportunity for certain
types of learning. They represent a less precise and often longer period
of time when the brain is particularly open to new experiences and especially
able to take advantage of them. If these sensitive periods pass by without
the brain receiving the stimulation for which it is primed, opportunities
for various kinds of learning may be substantially reduced.
While it is certainly possible to develop basic skills later on, as
new synapses are added in response to learning experiences and for memory
storage, it becomes increasingly difficult. A good example is the difference
between how children acquire language during the early years, and how
adults 'learn' a second language later on in life.
The brain has remarkable capacities for self-protection and recovery.
But the loving care and nurture children receive in their first years
- or the lack of these critical experiences - leave lasting imprints
on young minds.
How the social and physical environments respond to infants and toddlers
plays a big part in the creation and elimination of synapses. Infants
and toddlers learn about themselves and their world during interactions
with their parents, caregivers and the surrounding environment. Brain
connections that lead to later success grow out of nurturing, supportive
and predictable care. This type of caregiving fosters child curiosity,
creativity and self-confidence.
It is important to mention here that the brain creates synapses also
in response to stressful situation, such as those caused by abuse and
neglect. When children are vulnerable to these risks, problematic early
experiences can lead to poor outcomes. The misfit between a child's
temperament and the parent's attitude is a good example of situations
where children's brains can wire in ways that may result in unsympathetic
child behaviour. If the home environment teaches children to expect
danger instead of security, then their brains will be wired to be hostile
and fearful of the world around them.
Parents role in early brain development
Young children need safety, love, and a stimulating environment to develop
and keep important synapses in the brain.
Parents need to remember that the brain takes in the external world
through the five senses of sight, hearing, smell, touch and taste. This
means that infants and toddlers need a stimulating environment filled
with sights, sounds, with motivating parents and caregivers.
Before children are able to talk, emotional expressions are the language
of relationships. Research shows that infants' positive and negative
emotions, and caregivers' sensitive responsiveness to them, can help
early brain development. For example, shared positive emotion between
a caregiver and an infant, such as laughter and smiling, engages brain
activity in good ways and promotes feelings of security. Also, when
interactions are accompanied by lots of emotion, they are more readily
remembered and recalled.
Parents need to be:
Sensitive (to the child's
needs and abilities)
Responsive (to the child's
behaviours and communications)
Stimulating (to the child's
senses and emotions)
Parent need to learn to read the physical and emotional
cues of the infant. Recognise the individuality of each child and sensitively
respond to these differences. They should accept their children's strong
emotions as signs of their desire to communicate with the parent and
the world. Respond quickly and appropriately to these communications;
give meaning to these emotional communications. Parents need to find
a balance between being overinvolved and being underinvolved; recognise
the child's current developmental status and create opportunities for
each child to reach beyond his/her abilities.
The eight intelligences (all children are intelligent;
in their own way!)
What Howard Gardner offered us in his theory of 'Multiple Intelligences'
is not just another theory of cognitive development. I believe that
he offered us a cure from the persisting complex caused by the daunting
questions of 'What is your IQ?', 'What is your child's IQ?' and the
continuous worry about branding our children with an IQ number.
This test that, for years now, have been judging people's intelligence
on the basis of a discriminatory set of one-dimensional questions in
a specific area of human abilities.
For those of us who suspect that intelligence is too
complex a phenomenon to be measured by the single number of I.Q. derived
from an 'intelligence test', Gardner's book is a refreshing experience
and an open door into a whole new way of looking at human beings
(Isaac Asimov, quoted in Gardner, 1993: back cover)
Modern IQ tests were originally developed in France
around 1904 by Alfred Binet and Theophile Simon as a measure of potential
for success in school. The tests originally focused on a narrowly defined
set of abilities in school aged children. Many controversies surrounding
IQ tests arise from attaching meanings or accuracies the tests never
had. Even advocates of these tests admit that these tests are less accurate
and more difficult to perform with small children who may not be motivated
to answer IQ test questions, or may lack some of the verbal skills required.
Howard Gardner rejected the prevailing scientific view of intelligence
as a single, general faculty of mind that can be measured, for example,
by an IQ score. Rather, he emphasized that 'what is important is not
how intelligent are you but rather how are you intelligent', and that
'children should be evaluated by what they can do, not what they cannot
do'. By ignoring the full potential of the human brain, schools have
denied students the ability to utilize all of their aptitudes and innate
abilities, often resulting in reduced student satisfaction, learning
frustration and even discipline problems. In addition, failing to recognise
a student's full potential may result in an escalating cycle of sub-par
student performance and lessened self esteem.
In his 'Multiple Intelligences' or MI theory (1983), Gardner redefined
intelligence as 'the human ability to solve problems, or to make something
that is valued in one or more cultures'. The theory elaborately sets
out eight criteria for qualification as an intelligence and consequently
identified seven different types of intelligences, to which Gardner
added in 1997 an eighth one, while still evaluating the possibility
of qualifying more domains as types of intelligence.
Although one may agree or disagree with the use of term 'intelligence'
to describe what others may call 'talent', it is, according to Gardener,
merely a question of terminology:
In delineating a narrow definition of
intelligence, however, one usually devalues those capacities that
are not within the definition's preview: thus, dancers or chess players
may be talented but they are not smart. In my view, it is fine to
call music or spatial ability a talent, so long as one calls language
or logic a talent as well. But I balk at the unwarranted assumption
that certain human abilities can be arbitrarily singled out as qualifying
as intelligence while others cannot.
The eight types of intelligences identified by Gardner
to communicate and make sense of the world through language. a sensitivity
to the meaning and order of words.
ability in mathematics and other complex logical systems.
Musical intelligence: the
ability to understand and create music. Musicians, composers and
dancers show a heightened musical intelligence.
Spatial intelligence: the
ability to "think in pictures," to perceive the visual
world accurately, and recreate (or alter) it in the mind or on paper.
Spatial intelligence is highly developed in artists, architects,
designers and sculptors.
the ability to use one's body in a skilled way, for self-expression
or toward a goal. Mimes, dancers, basketball players, and actors
are among those who display bodily-kinaesthetic intelligence.
an ability to perceive and understand other individuals -- their
moods, desires, and motivations. Political and religious leaders,
skilled parents and teachers, and therapists use this intelligence.
an understanding of one's own emotions. Some novelists and or counsellors
use their own experience to guide others.
the ability to recognise and classify plants, minerals, animals,
stars, and other things in nature, and generally recognition and
classification of objects in the environment. Librarians, botanists
and collectors are examples of people with developed naturalist
Parents role in nurturing children's multiple intelligences
Gardner suggests that virtually everyone has the capacity to develop
all eight intelligences to a reasonably high level of performance, if
given appropriate encouragement, enrichment and instruction. Multiple
Intelligences is a theory that values nurture, as much as, and probably
more than, nature, in accounting for the development of intelligences.
During socialization, intercourse occurs principally
between the individual and the domains of the culture. But once one
achieves a certain competence, the field becomes very important. The
field -a sociological construct- includes the people, institutions,
award mechanisms, and so forth that render judgments about the qualities
of individual performances. To the extent that one is judged competent
by the field, one is likely to become a successful practitioner; on
the other hand, should the field prove incapable of judging work,
or should it judge the work as being deficient, then one's opportunity
for achievement will be radically curtailed.
(Gardner, 1993: p.xvii)
Parents in the early years are the 'field'. They should
recognise their role in discovering their child's patterns of strengths
and weaknesses, creating learning environments responsive to these traits,
encouraging them to explore this environment, providing the right instructions
that match their strengths, and most importantly, recognizing their
achievements no matter how small.
© 2010 Gulf Montessori