The crux of early childhood education is connection. The most rapid and progressive period of brain development happens between ages 0-5. Synapses are the neural connections that guide skill acquisition and development. The limbic system, which in very simple terms regulates our social emotional well being, is the most prevalent of brain systems formed in this period and is formulated by synaptic connections Subsequently, our initial interactions with the world are derived in primal connections.
Physiologically, children’s systems connectwith each other to perform high-level functions such as walking, talking, jumping, etc. … These seemingly menial tasks are complex processes that are only possible by connectingthe responses of each system in a synergetic union. Physiological responses are constantly proliferating and pruning as they react to a myriad of stimuli. These interactions begin to train the muscle memory to interpret the responses in a way that connectsthe child to world around them.
Physically, children connectto their environments as they inherently crave safety, stability and nourishment. Their cries, outbursts and tantrums are the primal communication tools they use to get the attention of those that they are connectedto. Children are unable to thrive in environments where they are not or don’t feel connected. Which often is the source for maladaptive behavior. This is apparent as children who may exhibit aggressive or violent classroom behavior are often quelled with some sort of physical connection. This could be getting eye level and close, or a hug or a rub in the small of the back, etc.
Mentally, children learn concepts best when they are able to connectto background knowledge (schema) of a subject. The child brain seeks connectionsin the form of patterns, sequences and order. When children are introduced to a new concept, the memory reserves of the brain are triggered. Learning is extended and seamless as children are able to connect deeper to information that they have previously been exposed to. As much as this is a brain function, pragmatically speaking, even as we learn as adults, we can learn deeper more intensely when the information is interesting and familiar.
Socially, just pay attention to children maneuvering through their learning and living environments. Children intrinsically connect to someone or something that provides them with attention, solace or interest. Social interactions allow children to connectto their environment as the intersection of verbal and sensorimotor skills creates the foundation for developing social skills. In early childhood we study The Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD). ZPD dictates how well a child functions in proximity to their “adult.” For instance, a child may feed themselves when in the presence of their mother at home, however, at school the same child will rely on the caregiver to feed them. This is tied directly to the safe connectionthe child has created with the parent and the connection the child is attempting to gain with the new environment.
Connectionsare the intrinsic vehicles children use to learn about themselves, environment and everything else. It is quite alarming to acknowledge the disparity of men of color as classroom teachers specifically in early childhood education classrooms. According to the 2014 U.S. Department Education Office for Civil Rights Early Childhood Education Data snapshot, suspension of preschool children (new for 2011-12 collection): Black children make up 18% of preschool enrollment, but 48% of preschool children suspended more than once. Boys receive more than three out of four out-of-school preschool suspensions.
Coincidentally, less than 2% of teachers are males of color.Based on the amount of connectionthat is required just in the fundamental process of growth and development, how is it that our teaching force is so disconnected from its most troubled sect of the classroom? The need to diversify our teacher force, and specifically our early learning workforce, is imperative to offset the alarming trend. In this paradigm that America finds itself reckoning with its wicked past, here is a recommendation to truly impact and change the narrative and trajectory of the historically disenfranchised. It starts with connecting men of color to boys of color, especially in our early childhood classrooms.
Kahlil Mwaafrika is director of Early Learning Educate Me Foundation.