One of today’s hot topics is just how much “protection” children need as they grow and develop. Many new mothers are terrified of germs that lurk on the floor and on surfaces outdoors. Even schools are beginning to respond to demands from parents to keep their children free from germs. Playgrounds are all synthetic now – rubber coated ground will not only keep Frankie clean, but if he should fall, there will be no injury.
At home, children are protected from germ and injury by being kept in containers pretty much around the clock: crib, stroller, playpen, carrier, car seat, just add to the list. While using containers to keep babies and toddlers safe might prevent the parent from anxiety about their child’s safety, the real tragedy in the situation is that as a result of being containerized, so much is NOT happening for the child in terms of healthy brain development.
WHAT?The Role of Overprotection
Yes, most certainly. All this overprotection is actually hurting children by preventing healthy brain growth. According to many experts and researchers, while every child is born with an enormous potential for learning and growth, the brain is also smart enough to realize which brain cells are not being used and allows those cells to die off!
Judith Graham, extension human development specialist, says the following: “A brain is not a computer. The brain begins working long before it is finished. And the same processes that wire the brain before birth also drive the very rapid growth of learning that occurs immediately after birth. At birth, a baby’s brain contains 100 billion neurons, roughly as many nerve cells as there are stars in the Milky Way. Before birth, the brain produces trillions more neurons and 'synapses' (connections between the brain cells) than needed. During the first years of life, the brain undergoes a series of extraordinary changes. Then, through a process that resembles Darwinian competition, the brain eliminates connections that are seldom or never used.”The Best Way to Grow a Child’s Brain
If you want the technical details about this topic, read Carla Hannaford’s book Smart Moves. The book thoroughly explains what happens in your child’s brain as a result of activity or no activity. The book also explains the role of outside play and exploration, of active play, of stress, of lack of sufficient relationship with parents, and so much more.
Eli Meets His Shadow shows in perfect clarity a situation in which all is going well for a small child. He suggests an outing at the park and Mom agrees, so off they go. While the book is about Eli discovering his shadow and playing with it throughout the time they are at the park, what I notice is all the various types of brain-building activities Eli is enjoying. And I love it that while Mom is right there, she’s not hovering nor is she shrieking “Be careful! Get down! You’re too little! Let me hold your hand so you won’t fall!”
Eli climbs, slides, spins, climbs some more, swings, turns wheels, balances on beams, kicks a ball, crawls, and of course presumably runs around. In addition to the hugely beneficial effects of such movement on the brain and its connections, Eli also has the opportunity to discover what happens when you blow bubbles in the air. Do they fall directly to the ground? How long exactly do they stay in the air before crashing or just fading away? He also learns firsthand the peculiar behaviors of shadows. First they are by me, then in front, now very short, whoops! now very long! Now where did he go?
I honestly think that it is impossible to count how many neural connections were made during that one jaunt to the park, but I would venture to say that the benefits to Eli were incalculable. One of the richest of benefits is the time he spent with Mom enjoying the experience. For a very young child, the time spent sharing an experience with a parent is immeasurable.
Once again, the authors have gently shown us with simple words and awesome photos, what it looks like when a child is receiving maximum opportunities for maximum development. They also show what a very young child is capable of doing all on his own – safely.
Eli Meet His Shadow, words by Jeanette Gray and photos by Elizabeth Gray Earl, is now on sale through Child1st Publications.