Strong Foundations: Neuroscience and Emotional Development in the Early Years

Dan Weir, Research Analyst, Morton Michel 
18th March 2024

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Dan Weir, Research Analyst at Morton Michel, explores the insights and knowledge shared during Sandi Phoenix’s seminar at Childcare and Education Expo London 2024.

One of the great things about the Childcare and Education Expo seminars is that they offer a real opportunity to dive into complex subjects that we might not otherwise encounter. A great example is Sandi Phoenix’s fascinating talk, Strong Foundations: Neuroscience and Emotional Development in the Early Years, which she gave on Friday 1st March.

Morton Michels’ Marketing Manager, Emma Kaine-Barrett was in the audience. Emma is responsible for getting Morton Michels’ message out into the world, and naturally, a strong understanding of psychology is important to achieving this. While the session was of course focussed on children, much of the discussion was relevant to adults too!

While neuroscience might seem a long way removed from the world of early education, Sandi’s talk made it clear that it could have a lot to teach professionals in the sector. Current scientific research around the brain can tell us a lot about how to help young children understand their emotions, and even bring into question some common techniques such as using facial expression cards. Context, here, is everything. This might all so sound quite heavy, but Sandi brought the talk to life with audience participation – and emojis!

Sandi Phoenix

The session challenged some of the preconceptions many of us have. A lot of us had heard the common misconception that we have a ‘lizard brain,’ an ancient fear centre that controls our most primal emotions. This, according to Sandi, is not true. Instead the brain is a complex network of hubs for processing emotions, and not only that, emotions are constructed, not innate. This means facial expressions alone cannot be used to interpret a child’s emotions. Context, cultural and individual factors all play their role.

Something else we took away from the talk was that the human brain is not fully developed at birth, and in fact it is still developing well into adulthood, often not completing the process until the mid-20s! With mental health a concern for adults and children alike, we could all benefit from a stronger understanding of how our emotions develop.

Sandy Phoenix is Managing Director of Phoenix Support for Educators Pty Ltd.

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