Closing the Language Skills Gap Among Children

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Many children are at a disadvantage even before they walk into an early Head Start or pre-K program. Research indicates that children from families of low socioeconomic status (SES) have fallen more than six months behind their more advantaged cohorts in language processing and proficiency skills by the time they are two years old. And this deficiency continues to grow. It is apparent that this language gap has profound and lifelong outcomes, not only in “making the grade,” but in self-esteem and behavior. Brain research is helping scientists better understand the neural mechanisms underlying language processing in infants and young children, as well as the social interactions necessary for honing those skills. What do we know and what can be done to mitigate the long-term effects of this deficit? Learn more about the latest research, the emerging “home training for parents,” and the policy issues surrounding this disparity at the free Neuroscience and Society event, “Closing the Language Skills Gap Among Children: It’s Never Too Soon to Start.”

When:
September 28, 2016
5:30 PM – 8:00 PM Eastern Time

Where:
AAAS Headquarters
1200 New York Avenue NW
Washington, District of Columbia

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Pints and Plasticity

On Tuesday afternoon in New York City, science enthusiasts gathered at Ryan’s Daughter, a bar on the upper east side. It is also one of the many locations of “A Pint of Science,” an annual science festival that takes place for three days in May, in various locations around the country. The premise of the festival is to give adults an outlet for learning about science in a fun and casual environment.

pintofscience aoki

The evening’s focus was on brain plasticity, which is the brains ability to adapt and change throughout life. Chiye Aoki, professor of neural science and biology at NYU, explained her work concerning learning and synapse formation. Synapses play a role in the connectivity of neurons. Synapse formation happens throughout life, and is a key component in learning.

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Aphasia Awareness Month

shutterstock_94532341When a close friend of mine first started telling me about her mother’s sudden odd changes in behavior, my immediate thought was that they must be signs of Alzheimer’s. Hers seemed to be a gradual decline, one that began no more than two years ago, and as I saw her every now and then, I noticed more and more how she was withdrawing, depriving us of her warm, sociable disposition. Continue reading

World Science Festival Focuses on Language

Photo credit: Shutterstock

Photo credit: Shutterstock

Last week’s World Science Festival event, “Planet of the Humans: the Leap to the Top,” opened with a contemporary dancer and a small, three-foot robot sharing the stage in a dance duet. The robot, which stood on its own two feet, “learned” as it went, with the dancer lifting its arms and giving it direction, support, and “love,” in the form of reassuring head nods and slight touches to keep it steady. Its progression was impressively quick, and soon enough it was mimicking the human dancer’s every move, from splits to rolls and beyond. The dance was an excerpt from choreographer Blanca Li’s “ROBOT,” an avant-garde performance currently at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. Continue reading

Singing in the Brain

I have five siblings, all boys. My brothers range from 11 to 21 years younger than me. (I bet that’s not where you thought that sentence was going!) As you can imagine, I am very familiar with the high-pitched, singsong way parents speak to their children. This style of speech, called Motherese (or Parentese), was used so frequently in my household that my mother sometimes accidentally directed it at me. For example, last year when I told her on the phone that I’d found a new apartment, she said, in excited motherly tones, “Did you?” to which I replied, “Yes, I did. And I’m 23.”

Although Motherese can be deeply annoying for older siblings and the general public, it’s important for children’s development of speech. Last Wednesday, I attended a lecture (part of Columbia’s Mind Brain Behavior Initiative and sponsored by the Dana Foundation) where the speaker, Dr. Sarah Woolley, told us that parents’ speech shapes infants’ auditory perception.

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