In part two of this blog series, we ask Dr Laura Jana about preparing children for success in the 21st century and what her hopes are for her keynote address at the upcoming ECA National Conference in October. If you missed part one, you can read it here. Dr Jana talks about her book, The Toddler Brain and introduces readers to the seven key skills that equip children for their future outlined in her book.
Image sourced from iStock.
ECA: How can educators and families work together to prepare children for 21st-century success?
Dr Laura Jana: In a concrete sense, there are lots of ways, but for now, in a big-picture sense, it’s worth starting with the recommendation that educators and parents alike first consider what their (shared) goal is, which I think it is safe to say always includes having the children in their care grow up to be successful (however they want to define success). Then consider the world their children are going to be living in—a world that is different than the one we grew up in, and continues to change rapidly, increase in global connectedness and complexity, and is heavily affected by technology. With that in mind, educators and parents can use the science of early brain and development to work in partnership and strategically provide more intentional, valuable opportunities for learning and QI Skill development and reinforcement. It’s worth pointing out, that when I say, ‘strategic and intentional’, I in no way mean it in a ‘rigid, flash card’ approach to our children’s learning. Rather, it means recognising the immense learning potential and value of everyday interactions and activities including play, reading books, planting gardens, hands-on-exploration, and the arts (as well as the more ’formal’ reading, writing and arithmetic content-learning).
ECA: Is there a role for early childhood educators to empower and encourage families and why is that important?
Dr Laura Jana: Absolutely. Historically early educators have often been undervalued. And even when they have been valued or appreciated, all too often the valuable work they do has not been seen/treated (or compensated) as a profession. Yet we now know a caring responsive adult—which absolutely includes early educators – is the most critical factor in early brain and child development, QI Skill cultivation, and setting children on a successful life trajectory. So, when it comes to the potential role of early educators in empowering and encouraging parents, I think there is tremendous opportunity for early childhood professionals to both learn and apply the science of early brain and child development and early learning, and to share their knowledge, insights, and practical applications with parents (who, as we all know, don’t typically have the benefit of experience or training in these aspects prior to becoming parents!)
In your opinion, why is it so important early education services are high quality and how do we achieve that?
Dr Laura Jana: The short answer is we now know early brain and child development, right down to the healthy connecting of neurons in the developing brain, very much depends on some key things, two of which include interactions with caring responsive adults (who, through these interactions literally serve as brain architects), and the development of foundational skills. While simply making sure a young child is safe, fed, and changed is important, these routine aspects of early care are not sufficient if done in the absence of a warm relationship, interactions, and activities that support children’s sense of safety, curiosity, and imagination—all of which serve to define quality.
The other aspect related to why high-quality early education services are so important is because we know what happens in early childhood doesn’t stay in early childhood. Rather, it serves as a foundation for all that follows and thus has an outsized impact on a child’s life trajectory, whether you look at health, education, work-related, or even overall wellbeing outcomes.
While this intuitively makes sense, it also makes sense and is well supported by economic research (including that of a Nobel prize winning economist) that tells us that the earlier the investment, the larger the return on investment. All of this is most especially true for those children born into poverty and/or facing adversity, and those without the necessary benefit of daily interactions with a caring responsive adult and is what motivated me to create the QI Skill framework, give my TED talk, and write the Toddler Brain in the first place.
Firm in my belief and understanding of the importance of early brain and child development and the critical role that caring responsive adults play in laying a strong foundation for future life success, I was and continue to believe creating a shared language around the skills needed to succeed in today’s world and how best to cultivate them (which clearly starts in early childhood) can help unite us (and by ’us’, I mean everyone from parents, educators and health professionals to the world of business, economics and policy) in our shared commitment not only to high-quality early childhood, but to actual policies and investments that support it.
ECA: What are your high hopes for your keynote address: that is, what would you most want participants to take away from your session at the ECA conference?
Dr Laura Jana: In a broad sense, I certainly hope participants take away a few key messages:
- The overall importance and compelling nature of the early years in impacting children’s future life outcomes
- For those in attendance who are early educators, I definitely want to make sure they know just how critical a role they play. For too long it has been undervalued and under-recognised, and it is my goal to make sure early educators not only get the recognition they deserve, but leave with a sense of pride and motivation related to early relational health the valuable work they do on a daily basis
- Related to points one and two, I hope participants come away with a deeper understanding of and enhanced ability to apply the science of early brain and child development to their day-to-day interactions (as well as share it with families and others to help ‘spread the word’). And finally,
- It is my hope that my QI Skills framework proves valuable to all participants—not only as it relates to their cultivation in early childhood, but their broader application and relevance for all ages. After all, QI Skills are the skills that help define what makes us human. They are what computers and AI can’t/don’t do (and likely won’t master for the foreseeable future), and what play an increasingly significant role in our own day-to-day work, lives, and interactions as well as our children in the 21st century.
Explore Dr Laura Jana’s work further by visiting her website, watch her Ted Talk.
Browse the ECA Shop to find further resources on child development.