• from The Columbus Dispatch - "Chimps Add to Child-nurturing Data."

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Chimps Add to Child-nurturing Data.

August 2002

By William L. Bainbridge

Thousands of children, many of them poor minorities, are entering kindergarten at a disadvantage: They lack the intellectual development and skill development that is routine to other children.

This sounds like a no-brainer echo of what educators have been saying for years, but there have been few reliable models to provide much scientific data for the suppositions. But chimpanzees at The Ohio State University are changing that.

Comical asides are tempting when writing about humans and their closest DNA cousins, but there is only a serious side to the OSU research: Youngsters, be they chimps or people, need basic stimulation and nutrition to succeed.

Our knowledge about preschool readiness and the home influence is limited because designing controlled studies of children's home environments that can be replicated over time is difficult, if not impossible. In OSU's Comparative Cognition Project, however, researchers are providing a fuller understanding of information processing.

Sally Boysen, professor of psychobiology at Ohio State, says: ``Chimpanzees express the same emotions of joy and anger as humans. They think, have feelings and care - just like humans. So it's no surprise that chimpanzees and humans share 99 percent of the same genetic matter.''

Boysen has found over 30 years of research that chimpanzees score higher on scale-model tests when they are provided with high levels of mental stimulation and protein in the early years of life. She applied similar methods to look at cognitive development in human children. Using an information-processing test developed to measure the cognitive ability chimps, she tested the mental activity of a human child who had not yet developed speech. The results showed that the child reacted positively to the presence of parents and other stimuli. While the experiment did not consider the effects of protein on brain development, the results clearly showed that these positive reactions forged a communication channel between the child and his or her parents.

Like their chimpanzee counterparts, human children have varying degrees of the essential stimulation, protein and nurturing essential to the development of intellectual capacity. Boysen points out that chimpanzees must receive these ``ingredients'' by the age of three for appropriate brain development. Pediatric neurologists advise that humans are likely to have a difficult time in life-long learning if they are deprived of stimulation, protein and nurturing in the first 7 to 10 years of life.

Other research over the past two decades confirms that humans need stimulation, nurturing and protein as much or more than the chimpanzees in Boysen's tests. Each human brain cell receives messages from other brain cells and decides to pass each message along depending on the amount of electrical charge behind the message.

Oregon State University researcher Dale Parnell found that ``every time a person experiences something that `connects' with a previous experience, that experience tends to `stick' and something is learned.''

Educators need to focus on the competencies children bring from the home to school and the ways young children respond to and build upon these competencies. Teachers should create opportunities to enhance these competencies by providing situations where students work in small-group settings that encourage comfortable one-on-one interaction and stimulation from peers and tutors.

Parents, grandparents, older siblings and other adults need to be made aware of the importance of the experiences children bring with them to school and the child's need for stimulation, nurturing and protein in developing social and academic skills.

is Distinguished Research Professor at the University of Dayton and is President & Chief Executive Officer of SchoolMatch®, a Columbus based educational auditing, research, data firm.

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