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How to build a better brain

STANFORD, Calif. - With flashy toys, expensive classes and music compilations all promising to make your child smarter, it's hard to sort out the best way to help your child's brain thrive. A new policy paper helps put those worries to rest. The gist of the paper is this: what kids need is a secure relationship with adults who adore them.

"It's all about playing with your child," said Eric Knudsen, PhD, the Edward C. and Amy H. Sewall Professor in the Stanford University School of Medicine, succinctly summing up a paper coming out in the June 27 advance online issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. A child's eventual ability to learn calculus or a second language, he explained, starts with the neurons that are shaped by positive interactions with nurturing adults.

The piece, written by Knudsen and three other members of the National Scientific Council on the Developing Child including Nobel Prize-winning economist James Heckman, PhD, doesn't just ease parents' toy-buying decisions - it lays out the scientific basis for why helping all kids have the best early experiences is good economic policy.

Their argument is based on work from the diverse fields of economics, neurobiology, developmental psychology and public policy. Working independently, the four authors each came to the conclusion that the earliest years of life forever shape an adult's ability to learn. Although much research has been published on the value of positive early experiences, this paper pulls those strands together into an integrated message that the group hopes will help guide public policy in the future. They've already influenced legislation in Washington state and Nebraska and have begun working with lawmakers around the country with a nonpartisan partner, the National Conference of State Legislatures.

BUILDING A BETTER BRAIN

Jack P. Shonkoff, MD, chair of the National Scientific Council on the Developing Chil
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Contact: Amy Adams
amyadams@stanford.edu
650-723-3900
Stanford University Medical Center
26-Jun-2006


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