Neuroscience is no longer the esoteric field it was a generation ago, says Dr. Stuart Shanker.
The York University philosophy and psychology professor, kicked off the second day of the Imagine our Future conference with a talk about the field of neuroscience and how it relates to early childhood development. Shankar is also a member of NeuroDevNet a Canadian network of centres of excellence on early brain development, for which Dr. Nazeem Muhajarine leads knowledge translation.
(Click here for coverage from the Moose Jaw Times-Herald, and here for a video interview with Dr. Shanker.)
He said back in the late 1980s, the discipline was limited to actual neuroscientists or people working in artificial intelligence.
The practice of employing culturally sensitive, community-based, interdisciplinary interventions to early childhood development research was the backbone of Dr. Nazeem Muhajarine's presentation at the first breakout session of the Imagine our Future conference.
Muhajarine is a social epidemiologist who has conducted research with policy makers and practitioners in Saskatchewan for the last two decades, which he described in a video interview here.
He highlighted four programs in Saskatchewan that are designed to have immediate positive effects on children, as well as to educate future policy decisions:
A Saskatchewan pilot program is aiming to give youngsters a “Healthy Start” when it comes to eating and activity.
At present, more than 15 per cent of Canadian kids from to two to five years of age are overweight and 6.3 per cent are already considered obese.
“We can see that their nutritional patterns are lacking. However, their calorie intake is greater than needed,” said Amanda Froelich-Chow, a PhD student from the University of Saskatchewan’s Department of Community Health & Epidemiology department who is working on Healthy Start.
As if it were a fireside chat with an old friend, a seated Dr. Shanker deeply engaged the Imagine our Future breakout session audience of over 100, including education professionals, researchers and policy-makers, in an intimate discussion about one important indicator of healthy childhood development: self-regulation (see here for a video interview with him on this).
Shanker is a York University philosophy and psychology professor who is also a member of NeuroDevNet, a Canadian network of centres of excellence on early brain development, for which Dr. Nazeem Muhajarine leads knowledge translation.
What is Self-Regulation?
First, Shanker made an analogy between the human body with a vehicle, more specifically comparing the gas pedal and the brake pedal with the sympathetic nervous system (fight-or-flight response) and the parasympathetic nervous system (rest-and-digest), respectively.
(We have the Moose Jaw Times-Herald's story on the talk posted here).
The traditional Masai tribe’s greeting “How are the children?” is, in Dr. Clinton’s opinion, rhetorical elegance to the highest degree, an example of what it means to steer social mind toward putting children on the agenda.
As a staunch advocate for child health, Dr. Clinton went on to ask the Imagine Our Future audience: What is our view of the child? (Clinton also gave a talk to parents on the eve of the Imagine our Future conference.
She argues that it is one that simply does not prioritize children and early childhood development highly enough. In terms of social policy, she then challenged the policy-makers in the audience to consider the true variables that affect development of healthy children: the child’s lived experience and language exposure.
While investing in the early years is most effective, later investments in children can still accrue developmental and economic benefits, according to economist James Heckman.
However, the key as time goes on is to invest in children’s non-cognitive or “soft skills” to help them adapt. Heckman, a Nobel laureate, delivered the Friday morning keynote address at the Imagine our Future conference and underscored the importance of skills in the economy of the future.