A new podcast from Harvard University is taking a deep dive into the brain science of early childhood. The Brain Architects, produced by the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University, examines the practical questions that arise for parents and caregivers about how to stimulate optimal development during the critical early years.
Each podcast presents different experts from the worlds of education, science, and health to create a richer dialogue on early child development. By addressing questions such as “What does toxic stress actually look like in the day-to-day?” and “How can I make sure I’m building my child’s brain?” The Brain Architects is dedicated to spreading the science of early development to improve the lives of children in care.
Related read: Building a child’s brain is like building a house
In episode one, centre director Jack Shonkoff sets the tone for the series by answering the age-old nature-versus-nurture question in early brain development.
“Genes determine when circuits get built,” says Shonkoff. “Experience, individual differences, and people’s life experiences determine how those circuits get built, and together they both explain the development of brain architecture. The key feature of what we mean by environment—of what we mean by experiences that shape brain development—comes down to the nature of the interaction between very young children and the adults who care for them.”
Shonkoff offers essential insights for parents and caregivers who might wonder about the value of interactive devices in early childhood learning: “The brain is wired to expect interaction with other people. It’s not looking for interaction with tablets or mobile phones.”
According to him, infants and toddlers build stronger brain circuits by interacting with real people. Lack of human interactions has grave consequences.
“If your brain is getting bad input, the brain struggles to learn how to deal with that,” says Shonkoff. “If the brain is getting no input, it’s an all-signal alert that the world is crashing down on you—not because it’s harming you, but because it’s ignoring you.”
From brain architecture to toxic stress to the “serve and return” of verbal and visual exchanges between parent and child, The Brain Architects addresses the most important questions of concern for parents and caregivers of infants and toddlers. If you have children, or care for children, it’s worth your time to tune in.