a child’s social and emotional development (Parker et al., 1995). A number of studies have documented relationships between poor peer relationships and children’s later school difficulties and mental health problems (e.g., Parker et al., 1995). From a longitudinal study of kindergarten children (Wasik et al., 1993; Wasik, 1997), results showed that children’s peer status, as rated by their peers within the first three months of kindergarten, was highly predictive of their social and academic performance in third grade. Other researchers have documented the predictive value of children’s social status in the elementary grades for later school success and mental health adjustment in adolescence (Lynch and Cicchetti, 1997).
Collectively these findings and those of many other researchers during the past two decades make it clear that children’s social interactions and peer relations are critical considerations when young children come together in education and care settings. Teachers and other staff need to be careful observers and knowledgeable of ways to facilitate positive peer relations.
The proliferation of research on the brain that has accompanied advances in brain imaging technology has provided a physiological description of the mind’s organ that in some respects complements the understanding that is emerging from research in developmental and cognitive psychology. The brain undergoes enormous changes as a child grows and acquires skill in dealing with the environment. We first consider some findings in neurobiology related to the role of experience in shaping brain circuits. Then we examine findings based on neuroimaging of the anatomy and circuitry involved in high-level skills.
It is important at the beginning of this discussion to caution against thinking that brain research is directly applicable to instruction and pedagogy. There are many popular accounts and heavily promoted learning programs that make that leap, but so far, there is no evidence of the effectiveness of particular educational programs, methods, or techniques on brain development (see National Research Council, 1999: Chapter 5; Bruer, 1997).