Lonely Jessica

Three-year-old Jessica lives in the country where there are no other preschoolers nearby. Her parents wonder whether it is worth driving Jessica into town once a week to play with her 1-year-old cousin. Based on the readings we have done for this course, what advice would you give to Jessica’s parents and why?

I would tell Jessica’s parents that, in all likelihood, once a week is hardly enough. I would tell them that the first five years of a child’s life set patterns that are very reliable and persistent. I would tell them that stimulation is all important during this time. I would tell them kindly and forcefully that Jessica’s future will most likely be heavily influenced by their decisions and actions over the next several years.

  • I would quote Ramey & Ramey (2004), “children’s experiences prior to kindergarten entry are correlated with degree of cognitive development and school readiness as measured by standardized assessments of cognitive and linguistic performance.”
  • I would show them studies that show that “children enrolled in Head Start or other enriched preschool programs show a gain of about 10 IQ points during the year of the Head Start experience compared to similar children without such experience” (Bee & Boyd, 2007, p. 197).
  • I would point them to studies of imprinting and baby ducks (Bee & Boyd, 2007, p. 6).
  • I would introduce them to the concept of “programmed plasticity” and tell them “this period of maximum plasticity is also the period in which the child may be most vulnerable to major restrictions on intellectual stimulation—such as physical or emotional neglect—making these early years a kind of critical period for brain development” (Bee & Boyd, 2007, p. 95).
  • I would point them to Wikipedia articles on “Critical Period” (“Critical period”, 2010) and “Sensitive Period” (“Sensitive periods”, 2010).

However, balancing the needs of Jessica and their living situation I would give them this advice as well:

  • Fill her life with stimulation: varied play environments, toys, tastes, textures, smells, and experiences.
  • Fill her mind with life: read to her, play music for her, show her nature and art and beautiful things.
  • Give her your love and attention and make sure she knows that she has both.
  • Make her know that she is special by always treating her as special.
  • Find her friends to play with. Ideally, many of these friends would be around her age, but interactions with any caring human are better than fewer.
  • I’ll repeat it, because nothing compares to human interaction: find her kids to play with… often.
  • If there are times when the lack of stimulation can’t be helped, let her watch educational television like Sesame Street. But be selective, TV is more bad than good and only the finest and best designed shows can overcome this to supply a positive outcome.

Then I’d recap and tell them that her brain is learning and developing at unimaginable rates. She needs as much varied stimulation and human contact as possible. It is not optional. It is not “nice to have.” It is their moral obligation to provide stimulation, attention and love, just as it is to provide food and shelter.

References

Bee, H., & Boyd, B. (2007). The developing child (11th ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson Education, Inc.

Critical period. (2010). In Wikipedia. Retrieved March 5, 2010, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Critical_period

Ramey, C. T., & Ramey, S. L. (2004, October). Early learning and school readiness: Can early intervention make a difference?. Merrill-Palmer Quarterly, 50(4), 471-491. Retrieved from http://muse.jhu.edu/login?uri=/journals/merrill-palmer_quarterly/v050/50.4ramey.html

Sensitive periods. (2010). In Wikipedia. Retrieved March 5, 2010, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sensitive_periods

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