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Early Childhood Development

What evolutionary advantage could there be for infants to be born with more nerve cells than they actually need? How might our understanding of synaptic "pruning" affect the way we treat infants?

What are some of the implications of difference in the ways adults speak to boys and girls? How might such speech difference contribute to later differences not only in speech, but also in attitudes?

Why do you think that learning from peers is so effective for young children? How could educators use this idea to improve educational practices?

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1. What evolutionary advantage could there be for infants to be born with more nerve cells than they actually need? How might our understanding of synaptic "pruning" affect the way we treat infants?

In the evolutionary sense, the more nerve cells the more likely the infant will survive. It is about the survival of the fittest, in the sense, the more nerve cells, the more fit, so the more likely to survive. Perhaps the infants would also have increased thinking and memory capacity as well.

According to Meilijson and Ruppin (1997), synaptic "pruning," a fundamental phenomenon in brain development, is the reduction in the amount of synapses that occurs between early childhood and puberty. Recent studies in humans show that synaptic density grows steadily until the age of 2 years, remains constant for few years, and then decreases continuously until puberty. The plateau level in early childhood is up to 60 percent higher than adult levels, as observed also in primate studies. While the data is clear, the reason for this course of development is not: what advantages could such a seemingly wasteful developmental strategy over? Some researchers have hypothesized that synoptic elimination can reduce the interference between memories, thus yielding better performance. These authors found that in the general modeling framework of associative memory networks this explanation does not hold. Meilijson and Ruppin (1997) put forward a different explanation: the observed problem of synaptic density changes arises due to the existence of metabolic energy constraints. Efficient memory storage in the brain then requires a specific learning process characterized by initial synaptic over-growth, followed by judicious synaptic pruning (http://ai.stanford.edu/~gal/Papers/chechik_cns97.ps.).

This synaptic "pruning" might affect the way we treat infants, especially in terms of understanding the greater capacity to learn more with the increases synaptic density until the age of two.

2. What are some of the implications of difference in the ways adults speak to boys and girls? How might such speech difference contribute to later differences not only in speech, but also in attitudes?

The main implication of difference ways adults speak to boys and girls is an increased gap between the dichotomy masculinity-femininity behaviors. It shapes boys and girls to act in a way that supports the way they are spoken to. Young children learn from their role model. For example, by the words spoken, adults might encourage boys to be tough and not to cry ("don't be such a sissy" or "act like a little man" or stop acting like a little girl"), which forms attitudes around not showing emotions ("it is wrong for boys to cry" "boys must be tough" or "only girls cry"). Likewise ...

Solution Summary

By responding to the questions, this solution addresses various developmental issues, including evolutionary advantages for infants, gender differences in the ways adults speak to boys and girls, the reasons why learning from peers for young children is so effective and others.

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