31 July 2012
Should parents enrol their toddlers in enrichment programs and surround them with smart toys to educate them as early as possible?
This is one of the hot topics addressed in two new books by University of the Sunshine Coast education academic and author Associate Professor Michael Nagel.
One book, ‘Nurturing a healthy mind: Doing what matters most for your child’s developing brain’, distils the latest global research in neuroscience into an easy-to-understand format for parents and general readership.
Published by Exisle Publishing, it is available now as an e-book and will be in retail stores in August.
The second book, ‘In the Beginning: The brain, early development and learning’ is targeted at the education and health sectors as well as parents.
Published by the Australian Council for Educational Research, it is also being used as a textbook this semester in USC Education courses.
Dr Nagel said he had referred to his own studies and examined extensive research to underpin his findings, such as the lasting impacts of relationships, care and environment on a young child’s brain development and overall healthy development.
“For example, there is no empirical evidence that educational toys and enhanced tuition programs can make a three- or four-year-old smarter, despite the global growth industry around this,” he said.
In addition, there was no neurological benefit from trying to quicken a toddler’s learning and brain development before they reached school age.
“To support normal, healthy development, a child simply needs love, nurturing relationships and opportunities to play and explore,” he said. “That’s why a baby enjoys the box more than the toy inside with the bells and whistles.”
His research analysis showed the best ways to encourage language skills and enhance vocabulary development were by responding to children even at the early babbling stage, talking to them and reading to them.
Another of Dr Nagel’s findings related to the much-debated topic of what effects smoking cigarettes and drinking alcohol during pregnancy might have on a foetus.
“People may not realise that a baby’s brain is an electrochemical mechanism that starts to form just 17 days after conception so any chemical, nicotine or alcohol, can have an impact on that brain from then,” he said.
“This means the brain is forming long before many women realise they are pregnant so it’s probably better to stop smoking and drinking while trying to conceive.”
Dr Nagel has been in demand across Australia this year as a keynote speaker on children’s brain development.
— Julie Schomberg