Montessori and Brain Development

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Running head: MONTESSORI’S APPROACH AND RECENT BRAIN RESEARCH

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Montessori’s Approach and Recent Brain Research Brenda Gilstrap Adrian Dominican Montessori Training Institute May 14, 2011

MONTESSORI’S APPROACH AND RECENT BRAIN RESEARCH

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Abstract

New technological advances in brain research allow scientists better understanding of how the brain develops. From birth, the task of the brain is to establish and reinforce connections between neurons. Dr. Montessori’s approach on brain development in young children coincides with much of the most recent brain research. Dr. Montessori discovered from her observations that the early years of a child’s life is the period when the brain’s capacity for learning is at its peak. She frequently compared the young child’s mind to a sponge. Recent brain research agrees with her findings that a child’s brain develops from environmental factors. Things that influence positive brain development include loving relationships and meaningful interactions with their environment.

MONTESSORI’S APPROACH AND RECENT BRAIN RESEARCH

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The author’s rationale for selecting the topic of current brain development research and the works of Dr. Maria Montessori stems from a desire to understand how young children learn. Dr. Montessori stated that “In order to educate, it is essential to know those who are to be educated” (Hainstock, 1997). By understanding how the brain develops and learns it helps us as educators to be more successful with children. The reader can expect to learn how the brain begins developing in the womb. The reader will understand how the brain cells form and travel to the right places in the brain for the organization of neurological functions. Most of the baby’s brain is not completely developed at birth. It grows and develops through experiences in the environment after birth. The Bible states, “I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are thy works…” (Psalm 139:14 New American Standard). God’s miracle and mystery of the brain begins in the womb. The brain is one of the most complex things in the universe. A baby’s brain weighs around a pound at birth, but it is very complex. Within its folds, the brain holds memories, dreams, emotions, and ideas. These various functions find a home there, evolving and changing over a lifetime (Grubin, 2001). A baby is born with billions of brain cells, but only a small amount are connected at the time of birth. As a baby interacts with their environment through things like crying or cooing the baby’s brain cell’s will send and receive thousands of connections and by the time they are three there will be trillions of connections that will be made in their brain. The connections that are repeated in the young child’s brain will be active but the connections not reinforced will be lost.

MONTESSORI’S APPROACH AND RECENT BRAIN RESEARCH

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These connections become the permanent wiring of the brain and will allow the young child the ability to learn and think (Restak, 2001).

How the Brain Develops The development of a baby’s brain starts around week two when the baby is only about one-eighth of an inch long. The first outlines of the future structures of the brain begin even before the details are completed. The basic design of the brain follows the DNA blueprint of the baby’s genes. Only three or four weeks after conception, (see figure at right from Restak, 2001, 2) the first brain cells, the neurons, are already forming at an amazing rate of 500,000 every minute. These 500,000 neurons are never replaced or reproduced like other cells in our bodies. The neurons we have in our fetal development are the very cells we have into old age (Restak, 2001).

Migration As the tiny baby grows, neurons make their way out the neural tube to build the brain layer by layer upon layer like an onion (Grubin, 2001). Neurons follow a cellular pathway as if they are traveling down a highway. The neurons grab hold of glial cells,...
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