When Brain Science Meets Public Policy: Strategies for Building Executive Function Skills in the Early Years


Scientific advances over the past decade confirm how critical a child’s first five years are to health, well-being and early school success. This is when a child’s brain is growing at the fastest rate and in the most extraordinary ways. One key area of growth during this period—executive functioning and self-regulatory skills—sets the stage for subsequent learning and successful adult outcomes.

From governors’ offices and legislative office buildings to the halls of academia and classrooms for children and adults, interest in the development of executive function and self-regulation skills is increasing dramatically. This white paper explores the development of these critical life management skills, identifies evidence-based and promising practices that foster them, and suggests four strategic opportunities for policy make.

Source: Institute for Child Success

Available at: www.instituteforchildsuccess.org/mydocuments/brain_science.pdf

Brain Gain: Implications for Programs for Children and Youth

November 11, 2014

The brain has hit the big time. Between the Obama Administration’s BRAIN Initiative, and the European Union’s Human Brain Project both ten-year, multi-million-dollar undertakings, we can expect to gain a much more detailed understanding of this organ that distinguishes us most from our closest species-relatives.

As highlighted in the recent Kristin Anderson Moore Lecture presentations at Child Trends, one of the remarkable features of the brain is its plasticity. With new imaging tools, researchers like our presenter Dr. Jane Roskams, from the Allen Institute for Brain Science, are demonstrating that important learning as evidenced by new neural connections can happen, even into late life, particularly in the prefrontal areas of the cortex. In some cases, parts of the brain that have been damaged can be repaired, and in others their function can be taken over by other brain regions not normally “assigned” to that job.

Source: Child Trends

Available at: http://www.childtrends.org/brain-gain-implications-for-programs-for-children-and-youth/

Empowering Our Children by Bridging the Word Gap


By Mary Shankar, White House Office of Science and Technology Policy

Research shows that during the first years of life, a poor child hears roughly 30 million fewer total words than her more affluent peers. Critically, what she hears has direct consequences for what she learns. Children who experience this drought in heard words have vocabularies that are half the size of their peers by age 3, putting them at a disadvantage before they even step foot in a classroom.

This is what we call the “word gap,” and it can lead to disparities not just in vocabulary size, but also in school readiness, long-term educational and health outcomes, earnings, and family stability even decades later.

It’s important to note that talking to one’s baby doesn’t just promote language development. It promotes brain development more broadly. Every time a parent or caregiver has a positive, engaging verbal interaction with a baby – whether it’s talking, singing, or reading – neural connections of all kinds are strengthened within the baby’s rapidly growing brain.

That’s why today we are releasing a new video message from President Obama focused on the importance of supporting learning in our youngest children to help bridge the word gap and improve their chances for later success in school and in life. The President’s message builds on the key components of his Early Learning Initiative, which proposes a comprehensive plan to provide high-quality early education to children from birth to school entry.

Source: The White House

Available at: http://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/2014/06/25/empowering-our-children-bridging-word-gap

Early Brain and Child Development Education and Training Modules

The first thousand days of life are a critical and important period of development for helping ensure positive long-term health and educational outcomes. Primary care pediatricians can play an important role in fostering healthy child development by providing preventive care that promotes safe, stable, and nurturing parent-child relationships. By gaining a better understanding about the impact that toxic stress can have on a childs social, emotional and physical well-being as well as the role Adverse Childhood Experiences ACEs play, better identification and understanding will help you identify those who may be at risk or those who have already experienced toxic stress.

In response to this evolving understanding, the EBCD Leadership Workgroup, with assistance from our consultant Kelly J. Towey, MEd, developed five modules to provide some key information and resources on early brain development, toxic stress, ACEs, parenting and how to be an advocate in your community. We designed these to be flexible and adaptable to a variety of needs and situations: group presentations and discussions and individual learners are both intended audiences. Some of you may be familiar with these concepts but require a framework to be able to effectively share this information with others; I hope these modules will enable you to do that. For others, this may be largely novel information that you will review on your own. I think youll find that these modules will give you a good foundation for understanding the principles of EBCD.

Each module includes a PowerPoint presentation with presenter notes, as well as a guide that provides tips for presenting the content, suggestions on timing, and additional activities and video clips that could be added to the presentation. Additional resources are also provided for those seeking more in-depth information. For the online learner, there is a guide to help navigate through the materials. Each module also contains prompting questions and case studies that you can use to encourage active participation.

The modules and their accompanying guides were intentionally designed as stand-alone presentations and do not need to be viewed sequentially; likewise, time constraints may make it possible to not cover all the modules these were written to accommodate that eventuality as well. However, as you are able, I suggest starting with the Core Story module. This module will help provide a framework for the subsequent modules.

Each module is designed to take about 45 minutes, incorporate real time learning, as well as to be fun and interactive. While each guide is unique to the content of the specific training module, they also include intentional repetition of key themes and follow a similar format. Upon completion of each training module, I encourage you to have your attendees complete the evaluation form and send it to the AAP so that we may continue to review and refine the content of the modules. We view you as an important partner in our efforts to provide training on EBCD and value your feedback. Please dont hesitate to contact the EBCD staff at ebcdstaff@aap.org or 847/434-7941 regarding any questions you may have or if you would like to share your comments and input with us.

Source: American Academy of Pediatrics

Available at: http://www.aap.org/en-us/advocacy-and-policy/aap-health-initiatives/EBCD/Pages/educationModules.aspx

Prenatal Brain Development: Nurturing Babies in a Healthy Environment Webcast

Brain development starts at conception. The mother and fathers emotional and physical well-being is critical for a baby’s healthy brain. In work with expectant families, Early Head Start staff have an incredible opportunity to influence brain development at a crucial time. This plenary describes the foundational growth and development of the prenatal brain, the value of early intervention, and offers insight in the many factors that impact long-term health and learning.

Source: Early Childhood Learning and Knowledge Center and the Early Head Start National Resource Center

Available at: http://eclkc.ohs.acf.hhs.gov/hslc/tta-system/ehsnrc/Early%20Head%20Start/family-engagement/expectant-families/WebcastPlenaryB.htm

Driving Science-Based Innovation in Policy & Practice: A Logic Model

This narrated interactive feature presents a logic model showing how policies and programs that strengthen specific kinds of caregiver and community capacities can build the foundations of healthy development. These support beneficial biological adaptations in the brain and other organ systems, which lead to positive outcomes in health and development across the lifespan.

Source: Center for the Developing Child, Harvard University

Available at: http://developingchild.harvard.edu/resources/multimedia/interactive_features/a_logic_model_to_drive_science_based_innovation/?utm_source=Center+on+the+Developing+Child%27s+mailing+list&utm_campaign=7a33388ecb-September+2013+Newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_b803499e01-7a33388ecb-11023769

Front Porch Series: Archive – Head Start


Research about early childhood adverse experiences and early brain development have highlighted the importance of promoting key executive functioning skills—such as memory and attention—to improve children’s outcomes. In this presentation, Dr. Morrison described definitions and development of executive function, as well as how adults can support children within early learning environments.

via Front Porch Series: Archive – Head Start.

Home Front Alert: The Risks Facing Young Children in Military Families


When a parent goes to war, families are deeply affected. Young children may be especially vulnerable to adverse outcomes, because of their emotional dependence on adults and their developing brains’ susceptibility to high levels of stress. Nearly half-a-million children younger than six have an active-duty parent—and some have two.

Just as we properly give attention to the needs of returning combat veterans, we also need to attend to the implications of their war experience for their children. This research brief, adapted from a comprehensive review by Child Trends of the scientific literature, examines the special circumstances that characterize the lives of children in military families, and highlights both what we know and don’t know about how military life affects their well-being.

Source: Child Trends

Available at: http://www.childtrends.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/2013-31MilitaryFamilies.pdf

Working Paper #11: Building the Brain’s “Air Traffic Control” System: How Early Experiences Shape the Development of Executive Function


Being able to focus, hold, and work with information in mind, filter distractions, and switch gears is like having an air traffic control system at a busy airport to manage the arrivals and departures of dozens of planes on multiple runways. In the brain, this air traffic control mechanism is called executive functioning, a group of skills that helps us to focus on multiple streams of information at the same time, and revise plans as necessary. Acquiring the early building blocks of these skills is one of the most important and challenging tasks of the early childhood years, and the opportunity to build further on these rudimentary capacities is critical to healthy development through middle childhood, adolescence, and into early adult life.

This joint Working Paper from the National Scientific Council on the Developing Child and the National Forum on Early Childhood Policy and Programs explains how these lifelong skills develop, what can disrupt their development, and how supporting them pays off in school and life.

Source: Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University

Available at: http://developingchild.harvard.edu/index.php/resources/reports_and_working_papers/working_papers/wp11/?utm_source=Center+on+the+Developing+Child%27s+mailing+list&utm_campaign=cafc53140f-june_news&utm_medium=email

Brain Hero

Following a two-year collaboration with the Interactive Media Division of the School of Cinematic Arts at the University of Southern California to develop and test new ways of communicating the science of early childhood development, the Center on the Developing Child has released the collaboration’s first product, “Brain Hero.” The three-minute video depicts how actions by a range of people in the family and community can affect a child’s development. Based loosely on such games as “Guitar Hero,” “SimCity,” and “The Game of Life,” the video adapts the visual sensibility of interactive game models to a video format and portrays how actions taken by parents, teachers, policymakers, and others can influence life outcomes for both the child and the surrounding community.

This collaboration, now between the Harvard Center and USC’s newly launched Creative Media & Behavioral Health Center will continue joint work on the creation and dissemination of innovative storytelling products designed to inform the public discourse around policies and practices that support healthy brain development during childhood.

Source: Center on the Developing Child, Harvard University

Available at: http://developingchild.harvard.edu/index.php/resources/multimedia/videos/brain_hero/