Articles on Child Development by Rosie

September 23rd 2018
Developing Motor Skills
The development of motor skills and motor control is intricately related to other domains of development and organization (other areas of the brain).
Motor skills develop rapidly at first and then they taper off as control is mastered in the youngster.
WEIRD studies: all current leading research into this area of development has only ever been conducted on a White, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, Democratic cohort.

Variation - the variation of movements that an infant initially produces during motor development stages. Experimenting with these is essential for the development of the nervous system - the motor skills used provide input for the brain and contribute to the creation of a rich repertoire of efficient, functional movements.
Variability - the ability to use the behavioral solution for the situation.

Stages of motor development can be divided into sections: posture, locomotion and motor/manual.
  1. Posture
Probably the most important stage of a child motor development. The age at which the stages occur varies from infant to infant and each stage feed into and compliments the next as well as providing new learning for the brain, and subsequently the brain then develops new or different domains to support this. For instance, in WEIRD children, once a child has learnt to sit, they can then roll, and then crawl and then stand. When they are sitting, they are able to develop eye contact, perception and social learning.
2. Standing then lead into locomotion skills such as balance, spatial awareness, cognitive skills like problem solving. 
The more practice and stimulation an infant has at each stage, influenced by the parent/carers provision of stimulation, is an important determinant in how well and how they develop as a child and then an adult.
3. Manual action - the physical ability of an infant depends on their body, the environment and social and cultural influences. Manual action begins as a foetus as it will make mouth movements, in anticipation.


These different stages occur at different ages (depending on the child).

Week 2 - developmental systems approach and the developing brain (2 parts)
Essays by Rose Fawbert Mills
10 September 2018


Early Brain Development
From 3 weeks, after conception, up until our teens (and beyond) our brain is developing. 
Brain development can be characterized as ‘a complex series of dynamic and adaptive processes that operate throughout the course of development to promote the emergence and differentiation of new neural structure and functions’.
Adaptive processes can range from: molecular events of gene expression (internal) to environmental input (external) and everything in between.
There are two key stages that I will examine here - Gastrulation and Neurulation.

Gastrulation
This is the early stage of development while the brain changes from a single to a multi layered structure.
The first phase of development - Week 3: three layers of cells form (germ cells) from which ALL tissues and structure are formed during development.
Migrating cells form new layers of cells:
  • deeper level cells = endoderm cell layer, which will later become the gut and respiratory system.
  • intermediate level cells = mesoderm cell layer, which will later form the muscle, bone and vascular system.
The new cells migrate towards the where the head will be and past the primitive mode. This mode send two important signals: this is how they work:
  1. One signal triggers migrating cells to produce proteins -  these change the format of the epiblast cells (the ones around the edge) into neural progenitor cells. This are the ones that will lead to the development of the brain and central nervous system.
  2. The other signal changes over the course of development. This signal establishes the basic Organisation of the nervous system (depending on the order of the migrating cells, they will form forebrain structures, hind brain or spinal cord structures).

Neurulation
This is the second phase in brain development - the formation of the neural tube. 
The cells at the ‘head side’ of the structure will become the brain.
The cells at the ‘back side’ or the structure, the hind brain and spinal cord.
Over ONE month the embryo grows rapidly - 10X its size. This is when subdivisions of the brain occur = this is called Neural Patterning, so as the Brain matures it is partitioned into areas . This process is influenced by gene activity and protein production. I will explain this more now.
The fetal period is 9 weeks after conception. During this time, the process of neuron production, migration and differentiation occurs most.
To cope with the production of neurons (that will eventually comprise the brain) the progenitor cells lining the neural tube start dividing symmetrically, and subsequently exponentially multiply in numbers (from day 25-42). After day 42 the progenitor cells shift to a symmetrical division: each division forms a central progenitor cell and neuron - this neuron will migrate to the developing neocortex. This is the beginning of the different sides of the brain being formed. 
The brain grows as neurons are produced. As it grows, the neurons use cells (like glial cells) to migrate from the center out (imagine them climbing along the cells like they are scaffolding). This maturation of cells continues throughout childhood. And then brain continues to grow and develop.
The neurons, once in place, need to connect to become integrated into the neural networks that allow for information processing - in order to make these  connections they produce DENDRITES or AXONs. Axons are like electric wires reaching out across scape between the neurons and, like the wires we use in our homes, are insulated but Myelin which provides support and increases velocity.  Myelin production (or the process of myelination) continues until we are 18 years old, on average.
Initially the brain over produces vast numbers of new neurons and connections. As a result, there is a period of synaptic pruning where damaged or less efficient connections are eliminated (like a survival of the fittest as the neurons compete to be the most effective). The reminder of connections are for ‘normal’ functions. This process is influenced by INPUTS from the environment.
Here is an example from a study into animal development which ought to make that information a little easier to understand. Animals reared in complex environments with varied inputs and stimulates showed increased numbers of cortical synapses and brain support cells. Where as animal reared in deprived environments show deviant neural Organisation with fewer cells.
In other words, brain development requires stimulation. In order to develop ‘normally’,  brains need:
  • critical genetic signaling
  • Essential environmental input
At each point of the development different factors, both inside and outside of the organism, to interact to support the complex and elaborate structures and functions of the brain.

How can this be applied, from the perspective of an educator?
As someone with experience of teaching in secondary schools and with teenagers, this model highlights to me the importance of educating parents, young adults and older adults, before they embark on having children, about the intricacies of brain development. It feels that by the time the child is at Secondary school a lot of brain development has already occurred. As well as this, by the time they are 18 the production of myelin is dropping off and therefore new neural connections after this tie may be weaker or more vulnerable.
 Consequently, it is my understanding that the progress a child makes depends both on:
  • the chances they were given from birth, in terms of the environment they have been brought up in (including diet, love, safety, Brain stimulation and so on)
  • The quality of their early years learning and their relationships as well as the reinforcement of positive learning behaviors to ensure that connections are strong between the neurons 
  • Then, by the time they reach secondary school, they have the ‘normal’ functions of a brain to access the curriculum. 
However I don’t agree that the curriculum in its current state is delivered in the best way for successful and effective learning, nor does it give rise to the creation of independent thinkers and pioneers, entrepreneurs or radicals.
An exam focused approach uses repetition and learning by rote styles of teaching to embed the information into the young persons brain. Rather than develop the child’s ability to problem solve and teach them to have confidence to tackle unknown quantities with a thoughtful and critical response, they learn figures, dates, names and quotes to pass the exam.
 My feeling is that a more creative and explorative approach to Teaching is required in order to stimulate different areas of the brain to ensure a broad and varied production of neural connections - encompassing the arts, drama, science, geography and English in a project (for example) will ensure that the student is creating more neural networks between the different parts of the brain. In doing so they will strengthen the connections. And also learn to take a multi-disciplinary approach to life. 
Passive learning only amplifies the problem of growing passive individuals who may go onto to lead a passive lives in society where they become puppets of the state and lose a sense of individuality.

Is this the kind of society we want?

Developmental Systems Approach
Exploring the interaction between all levels of development: from synapse to society

How can we accurately describe the complexity of development?
R. Lerner proposed a five interrelated WHAT questions to try to recognize the relationship between and at different parts of an individual’s development:
  1. WHAT attributes, of
  2. WHAT individuals, in relation to
  3. WHAT contextual or ecological conditions, at
  4. WHAT points in time?
  5. Then, how can we use this knowledge to promote WHAT instance of positive cognitive development?
In order to answer the WHAT questions one needs to adopt a multi or interdisciplinary approach.
Problems
  • knowing the limits of your knowledge 
  • Knowing the limitations of measures and methods you’re using 
  • Appreciate the value os knowledge and opportunities from other disciplines 
  • Making time to think through these 
Solutions
  • looking for alternative knowledge, disciplines and/or methods
  • Consider and welcome alternate ideas, concepts, understandings 
‘Be eclectic in using information that is relevant for the developmental issue you are interested in.’




Dynamics of Youth @Utrecht University
The facilitation and fostering of interdisciplinary research - for instance between humanities, sciences (social, geo, behavioral, medicine),  veterinary medicine. In particular, a multi disciplinary approach is taken when monitoring the development of children in the YOUth study.
YOUth study, from May 2015  - 6,000 children from the age of before birth, tracking their development from early childhood into early adolescence.
‘Maturational transitions in individual functioning’ - in other words, how do multiple factors affect how we mature? Specifically, they are measuring how an individuals social and behavioral control is impacted on by the 1. environment (context -peer, parents and media) and 2. The child inherent characteristics (the genetic background, temperament, perinatal factors).
YOUth measures this by longitudinal changes in brain structure. Using an EEG/MRI scans as the youth completes a task (tasks designed to trigger different parts of the brain) and by measuring parent-child interaction and IQ.

How could someone working in education use a developmental systems model successfully and what are the obstacles to success?
When working with children in a school environment often the issues or problems are perceived from an narrow perspective - from inside the school and the immediate relationships the child has in school and their attitude towards learning and their behavior (these being inter related). Whilst these are all important and relevant, it is also necessary to include external factors, such as: home life, parental engagement with the child and the child’s own experiences, hopes and dreams.

To adopt the developmental approach, one would need to establish a system using those working in the school, the local community, and the child and their family. One would need commitment from all parties to have success. As well as a pre-agreed set of aims and goals as well as monitoring procedures.

Potential barriers are likely to come from:
Parental and/or child disengagement from the system
A lack of confidence the system -mistrust
The perceived cost of time outweighing the benefits long term by the school
Manpower 
Support from leadership

Ways one could influence these would be to work alongside professionals and passionate individuals from a range of backgrounds and with different knowledge and experience to establish systems of accountability and success. Along side this, the support and cooperation of the child is vitally important. The system almost needs to empower the child so that they feel a sense of responsibility for the positive change. In my mind, parents have to take a strong committed role whereby they are supporting the child first, before the school, and work to establish a positive relationship with them.


Barriers here that I perceive could be: parental working conditions, poverty or wealth, home life, external influences such as peer groups, antisocial behavior  from the parents, poor home environment and illness.


Week 1
Essay by: Miss Rose Fawbert Mills
‘Understanding Child Development - from synapse to society’, Utrecht Univeristy
2 September 2018


Developmental Systems Approach
An Introduction

Development is different for every individual. The most wonderful thing about human existence is that each and every human being (other than identical twins) have a unique fingerprint and set of genetic makeup. Yet how we develop as people, in an ever changing and challenging world with changing contexts, depends not only on the world around us and the influences that these have on us but also how we react to these individuals, places or situations. In addition to this, how we react is influenced by the genetic makeup and the predisposition, through genes, for our bodies to produce chemicals and proteins which affect our reactions and development as well. So an interdisciplinary approach encourages the professional to review all factors contributing to a child’s development, which may lead to the production of a successful system . There is not a ‘one size fits all’ solution.
Bronfenbrenner offers a bioecological model. In this he establishes that recognition must be given to the environment and into the impact on the biology of an individual. He organized these into five sub levels:
  1. Microsystem - the interaction of the individual on a personal and private level (e.g. with a parent, teacher, friend). People will generally move through many of these throughout the day.
  2. Meosystem - these are the systems we are part of in our surroundings, the stable features (work, school, neighborhood, clubs/hobbies and so on). Some of these may be chosen by the individual and some are consequential based on our parents or friends choices.
  3. Exosystem - these are the indirect social settings like politics, mass media and so on: they’re all around us but might not affect us directly, unless they are part of our meosystem. In my opinion, some people may be more susceptible to these than others.
  4. Macrosystem - culture, law, customs, resources ... 
  5. Chronosystem - this accounts for the timing of these influences on the individual: time itself is an influence at both a physical level (‘growing up’) and an external level (timing of development opportunities and challenges - such as exams, job opportunities, relationships etc).

To put this in practical terms, a student might pass their exams and achieve the GCSE grades they wanted. This may have happened for a number of reasons: if you work through Bronfenbrenner’s Bioecological model it might looks like this:
  1. Their own learning habits and commitment to succeed has been positively reinforced in them by positive role models, supportive parents and teachers and from being part of a hard working social group. The student may have chosen to attend revision sessions and has been motivated to work hard in lessons. 
  2. They have good attendance, they may go to a good school and/or have good relationships with that school, at home and in the community where they live. There is little disruption to their daily rituals.
  3. They may not be affected by exosystem factors or they may have trained in themselves the biological reactions to enable them to not be overwhelmed by or too easily influenced and distracted by external influences. This could stem from upbringing and rules/boundaries laid down by parents and teachers etc or vice versa, their disinterest in these things means that the parents/teachers have not had to fight the child’s susceptiblilty to ecosystemic influences.
  4. They feel safe. They are on the whole content with their life.
  5. Things have happened for them at the right time. They were ‘ready’ for their GCSEs.

An alternate model is Grottleib’s Model of Probabilistic Epigenesis.  In this model, he acknowledges that the reactions of an individual to the above contexts (different environmental systems) are likely to change because of an individuals genetic expression. Further more, he outlines that these reactions are based on probability - so there is not always going to be the same outcome to the situation every time by the same indictable or by different individuals. In fact, it’s probable that the reaction can be different and, consequently, this assumes the opinion that reactions (or genetic expressions) can be influenced or changed. 
Grottleib called this the ‘bidirectional relations’ and highlighted four key areas or organization:
  1. Genetic activity 
  2. Neural activity
  3. Behavior
  4. Environment 
Of all these areas, he said they are dynamic - in other words, they are changing over time for the individual (you could say that this is similar to the affect in Bronfenbrenner’s chronosystem). It was Grottleib’s belief that you need to understand the dynamic bidirectional influences between the levels in order to understand the links between genes and the nervous system and with behavior and outcomes. As a result, in order to be able to develop systems to support change in children we need take into account the characteristics of people and contexts equally.
For instance, in a school environment, it is significant to acknowledge that a youth has an active role in their life and development - not a passive one. As well as being influenced by systems and people around them, such as school routines and expectations, they also have the opportunity to make choices, the ability to make changes to the contexts that shape them, as well as being able to change their minds about their futures: what, where and who they want to be, which they have the potential to reimagine. 
It’s my understanding therefore that in order to have successful school systems we would be better placed to make the students responsible for the systems in the school. In this way, students/youths would be more likely to be both empowered by their decisions but also it would have instilled in them a sense of responsibility for their choices and the outcomes. I can imagine this would be most successful when the youths are working alongside parents, Teachers and Leaders in the school, as well as their peers.

Theory in practice

Bronfenbrenner outlines something called ‘Proximal processes’. These are the complex reciprocal interactions between an human being (what he describes as the active, evolving biopsychological) and a person, object or symbol in their immediate environment - components that are making up their microsystem. In layman terms: the interactions a human has with their immediate surroundings (be it alive or inanimate).
Fundamentally, what can be understood under this theory is that, to be effective a system must be introduced where the interaction occurs on a regular basis and over an extended period of time. 
For instance, a report system monitoring a student’s behavior and attitude to learning will only be successful in supporting positive change if there is regular interaction and accountability. But that is not all. What is equally important is the way the student interacts with the system, their relationships with the person or persons monitoring their log and the other relationships, objects and symbols in their immediate environment on a day to day time frame. From studying the research I can conclude that the best person to use this monitoring system and build a more purposeful and successful positive relationship with the child is a parent, rather than the teacher or senior leader.  Let me explain why.
In a study by SAGE (1), they explored how important the child-parent relationship and interaction is and how it can cause and be caused by the development of the individual. An important thing to note from this research is that the best intervention should come earlier in the child’s development rated than later in life. This is because when they are younger they are more dependent on their parents and consequentially parents can have more of an impact on the child’s development: the child’s proximal processes are, when they are younger, a stronger influence than the exosystems and macrosystems. 
Another interesting finding from the SAGE research is that the impact on a child is greater on boys, rather than girls. In other words, if the child-parent relationship is weaker when the child is younger a boy is more like to have it impact negatively on their development and it will mean they will be more likely to be drawn to more negative behaviors, as well as this other indicators from the study were poor mental health and/or they were delayed in their cognitive and social development.  
The Family Stress Model (Conger et al) goes into more detail. To summarize their research, they found that the bond between a parent and child will have a stronger influence on the development of boys, rather than girls. So a better, more positive relationship with a parent or parents means the minimization of negative social behavior, such as those influenced by peers. Another way of thinking about it is: if there is a higher level of family and parenting stress is deleterious to a boys positive social behavior.
This links to Gottleib’s theory of probabilistic epigenesis as he was also focusing on the inter-relations between but also within an individual’s developmental process. Gottleib’s studies highlighted that genes and environment work alongside and against one another. He called these “interdirectional influences”. Some of the influences that could trigger genetic reactions can be intrinsically derived or extrinsically stimulated. So they can be spontaneous reactions (internal)  or evolved from our surroundings or environment (external) - it might help to think of the different components of Bronfenbrenner’s systems in his bioecological model when understanding what these extrinsic stimulants might be. Returning to Gottleib’s theory, he hypothesizes that the determiner or type of reaction plays a significant role in the development process.

Consider: proteins are produced in the body. These can be produced for spontaneous reasons that we may be unaware of and have little ‘control’ over. But equally, stress, anxiety, depression, worry, joy, surprise and other emotions can trigger proteins to be produced. As such, an individual’s genes can both affect whilst being affected by the production of proteins in the body.  
Let us try to make this relatable: for instance, it scientifically proven that the nutritional intake of a woman while she is pregnant will have an impact on the size of a child’s brain. Despite this start in life, the child’s development is not predetermined by the size of their brain. The child’s development can be further hindered by or conversely improved by the influences in its life as is develops. This is called the ‘relational concept of causality’ - the development outcomes of a child are dependent and interdependent on more than one component. And this can change over time (refer to Bronfenbrenner’s chronosystem).

This says to me that there is never a lost cause. With the correct environments, people and symbols in a consistent and carefully managed, adaptable system, any child can improve their development chances. 
To end, let me bring in The World Health Organisation (WHO) in an excerpt from an article by Wexler and Eglinton who explored the inter-relational concepts and co-constitutional elements of a persons development, with a particular focus on wellbeing in youths (2015): “The WHO (2011) considers mental health synonymous with a state of “wellbeing, in which every individual realizes his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community.” While this definition begins to hint at the historical, political, economic, and other sociocultural systems that profoundly affect a person’s wellness, it continues to neglect the co-constitutive elements of a person in context. A co-constitutive understanding acknowledges and emphasizes a relational dynamic that includes the productive interactions between people, culture, and the various social and physical places and spaces they at once shape and inhabit... [this] not only limits our understanding of the dynamic systems involved in youth well-being but hides from view the powerful impact young people are making in their own worlds as they at once create and are created by the places they live in and through.”

References


  1. Conger et al: Conger, R. D., Conger, K. J., Elder, G. H. J., Lorenz, F. O., Simons, R. L., & Whitbeck, L. B. (1992). A family process model of economic hardship and adjustment of early adolescent boys. Child Development, 63, 526-541. doi:10.2307/1131344
  2. Grottleib, Gilbert (2017). Probabilistic epigenesis. The Author. Journal compilation.
  3. SAGE: Child Social Development in Context: An Examination of Some Propositions in Bronfenbrenner’s Bioecological Theory, Godwin S. Ashiabi1 and Keri K. O’Neal
  4. Wexler, Lisa & Eglinton, Kristen. (2015). Reconsidering Youth Well-Being as Fluid and Relational: A Dynamic Process at the Intersection of Their Physical and Social Geographies. 127-137. 10.1007/978-981-4451-15-4_11.

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