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Nursery Managers Show


29 Feb 2024

Nursery Managers Book Club: The Neuroscience of the Developing Child

Nursery Managers Book Club: The Neuroscience of the Developing Child
In this month's Nursery Managers Book Club, NMT features editor Charlotte Goddard learns about the importance of self-regulation and how it can be nurtured in early years settings.

Just before Christmas my mother, a former social worker, sent me a clip of the Lorraine show featuring author, trainer and researcher Dr Mine Conkbayir. She thought Dr Conkbayir’s views on supporting children’s wellbeing were worth sharing. I was already aware of Dr Conkbayir’s work, as she was a speaker at our last Nursery Managers Show, where I believe she first connected with Lorraine, our Managers Show host, so I was pleased to read her book The Neuroscience of the Developing Child.

The Neuroscience of the Developing Child is a book about self-regulation – our ability to manage our thoughts, feelings and behaviour in ways that are healthy and promote growth. It is aimed at early years practitioners, combining academic and scientific research with case studies and practical tips that can be used in settings.

Self-regulation was introduced to the Early Learning Goals within the Early Years Foundation Stage in 2021, but Dr Conkbayir argues these goals are “some way off the mark.” “Those who have written the ELGs have grossly misinterpreted SR (self-regulation) and as a result have misinformed an entire workforce, with children ultimately paying the price,” she writes.

This book sets out to repair that damage and introduce early years practitioners to the complexities of self-regulation, as well as the role early educators play in supporting children’s development through warm and responsive interactions. Dr Conkbayir has drawn on the experience of a number of nursery groups, including Portico Day Nurseries and Thrive Childcare. I was particularly interested in a long case study setting out Portico’s approach to supporting children, including developing a self-regulation policy, creating a self-regulation area where children can use different breathing techniques, and introducing children to how their brain works.

Some of the chapters require some academic background knowledge or a bit of googling – I had to look up “the Vygotskian perspective” when it was first mentioned, for instance. However, Dr Conkbayir is passionate about her subject, and this comes across. She challenges current policy and practice, for example around “school readiness” and baseline assessments, and gives numerous evidence-based ways to bring theory to life in everyday practice, including ways to structure indoor and outdoor environments.

The chapter on the developing brain shows how experiences and emotions in the early years alter the physical structure of the brain for good or bad – a fascinating way of showing practitioners the vital importance of their role. After a detailed journey through synapses, neurons and lobes, it was interesting to read a section on taking this information and using it to teach children about their own brains. One setting, for example, used small world figures in a two-storey construction to illustrate the “upstairs” brain, responsible for skills such as our ability to focus and plan, and the “downstairs” brain, responsible for emotions and impulses – and how the two work together.

The penultimate chapter on behaviour management may be a challenging read for some in the sector, while others will be in total agreement. Dr Conkbayir is absolutely clear that behaviour management approaches, from sticker charts to traffic light systems and from "time out” to “star of the week”, are “harmful to children’s wellbeing and should be avoided in all homes, schools and settings.” She argues that these systems, whether punitive or rewarding (“bribing or threatening”), hinder children’s development of internal motivation, such as being motivated by enjoyment or feeling better about themselves.

She urges nurseries to instead see behaviour as communication, and seek to understand and tackle what lies beneath – beneath anger and aggression might lie sadness and shame, for example. A trauma-informed approach is recommended, with examples such as Thrive’s Promoting Children’s Self-Regulation Through Co-Regulation policy (which replaced its former Promoting Positive Behaviour Policy).  I would have liked to see more detail on what this approach looks like in practice, but this might take a whole new book.

“It is high time to eschew traditional ways of working and dare to do different,” writes Dr Conkbayir in a chapter focusing on sensory integration. This book will help early years managers and practitioners to do just that.


More from Nursery Managers Book Club: Early Childhood Theories Today


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