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Parenting

Is misused neuroscience defining early years and child protection policy?

The idea that a child’s brain is irrevocably shaped in the first three years increasingly drives government policy on adoption and early childhood intervention. But does the science stand up to scrutiny?

“Neuroscience can now explain why early conditions are so crucial,” wrote Graham Allen and Iain Duncan Smith in their 2010 collaboration, Early Intervention: Good Parents, Great Kids, Better Citizens. “The more positive stimuli a baby is given, the more brain cells and synapses it will be able to develop.” 

Neuroscience is huge in early years policy. This week, in what’s been characterised as the largest shake-up of family law in a generation, the 26-week time limit for adoption proceedings has come into force, much of it justified by the now-or-never urgency of this set of beliefs, that the first three years (or sometimes first 18 months) hardwire a baby’s brain, either give it or deny it the capacity for a full life. This is the engine of what is known as the First Three Years movement, which has transfixed politicians from across the spectrum. Allen and Duncan Smith’s report opened with an illustration of the “normal child’s” large brain and the shrivelled, walnut brain of the neglected child. With conferences such as Two Is Too Late (organised by Conservative MP Andrea Leadsom) and papers such as The 1,001 Critical Days, a set of claims are made that echo and reinforce those bold claims made by Allen: first, that we now have a set of scientific findings about the infant brain that can teach us new things about parenting. Second, that concrete events occur – from the production of synapses to the lighting up of areas of the brain on an MRI scanner – that can be interpreted in a straightforward way upon which all science is agreed. Third, with terms such as “critical periods” and “hardwiring”, the thesis is put forward that brains have a finite time window for learning certain things. Fourth, that we can distil the treatment of infants into a set of behaviours that will determine the networks in their brains, either equipping them to empathise, learn, engage and produce, or irreparably failing to equip them. The connections made are endless: babies who fail to make the right neural connections will do badly at school, lack empathy, succumb to criminality, have mental health problems, and end up in a cycle of deprivation themselves.  

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Read more: theguardian.com

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Parenting

The case for a special Democratic climate debate | Kate Aronoff

Housing, immigration, health – there’s no policy area that won’t be touched by the climate crisis. The Democratic candidates should embrace the challenge

Twenty candidates – ten candidates per night – will take the stage during this week’s two-part Democratic primary debates. Each debate will last two hours, and, excluding introductions and interruptions, each candidate will have roughly 12 minutes of total speaking time. How much of that can we reasonably expect to be devoted to the climate crisis?

If past debates are any indication, not much. There were no direct questions about climate change posed in either the 2012 or 2016 debates. In refusing grassroots calls for a debate focused on climate change, Democratic National Committee chairman Tom Perez has promised this time would be different. In a Medium post composed after backlash to his decision, Perez wrote that he considers climate a top issue, and “made clear to our media partners that the issue of climate change must be featured prominently in our debates”. Given that network news spent more time covering the Royal Baby in one week than they’d spent in a year on climate change, that’s not exactly a convincing sell. If the DNC really did care about climate as much as Perez claims, it’d see the debate stage as a chance to offer a valuable counter-weight to the relative silence across television news about the climate crisis.

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Read more: theguardian.com

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Parenting

Kitchen experiments with the kids – just the thing for half-term

Edible slime, jelly worms, ‘unicorn noodles’: what better way to entertain children than by making a mess in the name of science?

The last time I did science in the home with an 11-year-old, something happened that I can’t tell you about until the person whose chair it was has died. That is my abiding conclusion about the natural sciences: they stain, and don’t let anybody ever tell you they won’t.

Nevertheless, I have just undertaken science in the kitchen – nudged by a new book, The Kitchen Science Cookbook by Michelle Dickinson – because I have exhausted all the other ways of getting them to join me there. “This dish reminds me of evenings spent making bechamel with my mother, her apron brushing against my cheek as we spake of fat and its magical alchemy,” said every cookbook ever, but my parenting is much more in the Johnny Ball style: “Kids, you can’t teach them anything, but they learn everything from you.” I’m still in phase one: they will not touch my wisdom with a bargepole. C, 11, will enter the kitchen for anything that ends in a cake, but then we just end up with a load of cake. H, nine, will promise me the moon on a stick, then get distracted by a bee. T, 11, thinks it is emasculating to crack an egg. It wasn’t for the science that I tried a new tack; it was just for the company. Plus it was half-term, and you have to keep them occupied somehow.

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Read more: theguardian.com