The Program in Community Engagement's newest initiative raises awareness of the unique needs of infants and small children for healthy brain development.
A healthy brain is an essential foundation for all aspects of adult life. The ability to learn, to build self-esteem, to regulate one’s emotions, to make and sustain healthy relationships, all depend on the establishment of early brain development in infants. Because we are bi-pedal creatures, we have big heads and narrow pelvises. Thus, our infants must be born before the brain is fully developed. Much of that development occurs in the first few years of life. When infants receive optimal stimulation from their environment (human relationships, enough food, and safety), they thrive and brain development proceeds normally. When infants do not receive those needed ingredients for normal development, either because of abuse, neglect or constant stress in the environment, their brains cannot grow the necessary platform for normal development. Many children arrive at age 5 without the brain “hardware” to benefit from all the future “software” they will receive through school, work, or relationships with other people. Sometimes love, extra tutoring, or mentoring is not enough if the “hardware” is already damaged or never developed properly in the first place.
The Parent/Child Interaction project attempts to address this problem by raising awareness of the unique needs of infants and small children for healthy brain development in the first few years of life. This is a collaborative effort among many different organizations and individuals, including Nikki Byers and Mary Beth Beck-Henderson (Imprints for Families), Dean Clifford (Clifford Consulting), Joanne Sandberg and Carmen Strickland (Department of Family & Community Medicine), Christine Simonson (The Children’s Museum), Heidi Krowchuk (UNCG School of Nursing), Ellen Wenner (Forsyth Tech), and Chris Kelsey. Tom Arcury and Phillip Summers (Wake Forest School of Medicine’s Program in Community Engagement) lead this collaborative effort.
Building on the research of Dr. Jack Shonkoff at Harvard’s The Center for the Developing Child, the group is in the process of sponsoring a series of workshops to raise awareness of the need for optimal stimulation through interaction with caregivers in order for brain development to proceed normally.
The first workshop was held in January 2014 for early childhood educators, with 65 people attending. Dr. Dean Clifford was the workshop leader, integrating research on early brain development with practical classroom strategies. In April 2014, a second presentation was made to residents in the Department of Family and Community Medicine at Wake Forest School of Medicine. This lunchtime talk was led by Dr. Heidi Krowchuk, Associate Professor in the UNCG School of Nursing. Feedback from this audience will be used to develop a workshop for practicing physicians to educate them about the importance of addressing the role of caregivers in actively stimulating the brain development of infants and toddlers. Additional workshops are planned for other target audiences.
Check back for updates regarding the progress of this initiative.