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Oxford researchers involved nearly 4,000 children across the UK in three specially developed science lessons to educate pupils about brain development during early childhood. The SEEN (Secondary Education around Early Neurodevelopment) project was commissioned and funded by KindredSquared and is part of a wider drive to increase public understanding of how early experiences can shape the adults we become.

HRH the Duchess of Cambridge on a school visit to talk about SEEN. Dr Louise Dalton in the background.
©Kensington Palace

Dr Elizabeth Rapa, Co-investigator of SEEN and Senior Scientist, University of Oxford, said, "This ground-breaking project could improve the lives of children for generations. In the same way that we teach children about the risks of smoking or poor diet, children also need to know about why experiences in our early years are so important for later health. We hope that the key principles of early child development into KS3/4 (aged 11-14) will now be taught in more schools."

Just one in four (24%) adults recognise the specific importance of the first five years of life for providing lifelong health and happiness. This programme of work from the University of Oxford aims to increase public understanding of how the early experiences of babies and children can influence long-term mental and physical health. The ways in which we talk to babies, encourage learning through play and how to strengthen resilience are all important in early development.

The programme engaged 11-14-year-olds in three science lessons, which taught the neuroscience of brain development, and what that means in terms of how a child grows and develops. Evaluation of the project showed that after the lessons:

  • 86% of children could give a practical example of what they could do to maximise a child's development through everyday activities or play
  • Over 90% of pupils knew how a caregiver should speak to a baby to promote their language development
  • 80% understood that a child's environment affects their development
  • 80% correctly reported that a child's brain develops fastest in the first 5 years of life

Her Royal Highness, The Duchess of Cambridge, visited Nower Hill High School in Harrow, North London, and spoke to pupils about their experiences of taking part in the lessons and how this has impacted on their understanding of early years development.

Read the full story on the Department of Psychiatry website.

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