Give Them a Boost

As I sat in my brother’s living room holding my eight-day-old nephew for the first time, my brother Brenton asked me a question: “What can I do now to give him a boost?”

It’s a question many parents of preschoolers who visit our Developmental Psychology lab at Northwestern University ask. “What else can I do to make sure my Bobby is learning the most that he can?”

Even though I’ve interacted with many parents wanting the inside scoop on their child’s developmental needs plenty of times before, the question sounded especially ridiculous coming from my brother. After all, this was his eighth day as a father; his lack of sleep probably had his head in weird places. He had other things to worry about, I thought — diaper changing, constant crying, and, of course, the potential for projectile poop (all parents are familiar with projectile poop).

The fact that he was focused on giving his newborn son a developmental edge this early in his life seemed to me at first a bit odd. But the more I thought about it, there were things, even small things, my brother could be doing right now and throughout the early years of his son’s life to promote development.

In short, my brother’s question inspired me to create this blog for three reasons:

1.) It’s an important question. It goes without saying that optimizing children’s learning has profound implications for not only a child’s individual development, but also for our educational system and society at large.

2.) It’s an answerable question. We have lots of scientific research on child development (e.g., language development, spatial development, social development), and this research studies children of different ages, sometimes over long periods of time. There is really good evidence on how children learn, and most of these studies have direct implications for education and parenting.

Most important, the reason I started this blog because …

3.) The research that provides answers to this question isn’t well circulated. I’ve been in academia long enough to be painfully aware of the disconnect between the research that is produced and the communication of those findings to the general public. Academics do great research, and much of it is published in highly regarded journals.

But most of these journals don’t make their way to the coffee tables of people like my brother, who, now with newborn in tow, has no time to sit and parse through dense academic parlance to determine which bits and pieces of that information might be helpful for his child’s early development.

This is where I come in and hopefully play a role busy parents and others will appreciate.

My goal is to take the scientific research that I’ve spent more than five years studying and to translate it into information that can be consumed by and used by educators, parents and others who are curious about child development.

That being said, I am not a parent or an educator — I am a scientist (well, a social scientist). I am not qualified to write a parenting blog, and I don’t intend to tell you how to raise your children. I do intend to provide scientifically based information that can have implications for parents and teachers.

It is also important to note that while I will discuss and reference scientific research, this blog represents my interpretation of that research. Many researchers interpret objective research in different ways, so while I will always provide sources for my claims, they ultimately represent my own take on the research.

One final important disclaimer: The research I write about is valid, but there is a lot of variability in how children learn; not every method is going to significantly impact the development of every child. My hope is to translate the lessons we can learn from this research to a practical level.

So, how did I answer my brother’s question? I did what every good sister probably does: I sent him lecture slides from about a quarter of the Developmental Psychology course I taught last year at Loyola University, Chicago. That should get him started.

Now if I could only help him to dodge projectile poop.