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November 27, 2021

The Effectiveness of Preschool & Football Concerns for Parents
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Pre-Kindergarten programs can benefit children that attend them. But one child development expert warns that not all preschool programs are created equal. Then, recent research showed that kids who played tackle football at an early age had more cognitive and behavioral issues later in life.
Episode Segments:
Pre-Kindergarten and the Future of Our Children
Suzanne Bouffard, PhD, expert in child development and education, author of The Most Important Year: Pre-Kindergarten and the Future of Our Children discussed the critical importance of pre-school programs. She noted that children who attend quality pre-K programs have a host of positive outcomes including better language, literacy, problem-solving and math skills later in school. She said also they have a leg up on the most essential skill: self-control. She offered advice for parents on how to choose a quality pre-school.
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The Perils of Youth Football
Robert Stern, Ph.D., Professor of Neurology, Neurosurgery, and Anatomy and Neurobiology at Boston University School of Medicine, Director of the Clinical Core of the Boston University Alzheimer’s Disease Center, Director of Clinical Research for the Boston University Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) Center led a study that found that athletes who began playing tackle football before the age of 12 had more behavioral and cognitive problems later in life than those who started playing after they turned 12. He outlined the symptoms of CTE, and discussed the factors that parents should consider before allowing their child to participate in contact sports.
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Developing Perserverance
Julia Leonard, graduate student in Brain and Cognitive Sciences at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology was the first author of a study that found that when 1 year olds observe an adult persisting at a challenging task, they themselves try harder when faced with a problem. She explained why developing perseverance in early childhood pays off later in school and other pursuits.
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Guest(s) Appearing on this Episode
Suzanne Bouffard
Suzanne Bouffard has written about education and child development for The New York Times, Parents, greatschools.com, and The Harvard Education Letter. Her most recent book is The Most Important Year: Pre-Kindergarten and the Future of Our Children (Avery, 2017). Her first book, Ready, Willing, and Able (with Mandy Savitz-Romer, Harvard Education Press, 2012) covered challenges and strategies for first generation college-bound youth.

Suzanne has a Ph.D. in developmental psychology from Duke University and a B.A. from Wesleyan University. She was a writer and researcher at the Harvard Graduate School of Education for ten years. She lives with her husband and two young children in Massachusetts.

Suzanne's Website

Robert Stern
Dr. Robert Stern is Professor of Neurology, Neurosurgery, and Anatomy and Neurobiology at Boston University School of Medicine, where he is also Director of the Clinical Core of the BU Alzheimer’s Disease Center (one of only 27 centers funded by the National Institutes of Health, NIH), and Director of Clinical Research for the BU Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) Center. A major focus of his research involves the long-term effects of repetitive brain trauma in athletes, including the neurodegenerative disease, CTE. He has funding from NIH and the Department of Defense for his work on developing methods of detecting and diagnosing CTE during life, as well as examining potential genetic and other risk factors for this disease. His other major areas of funded research include the assessment and treatment of Alzheimer’s disease, the cognitive effects of chemotherapy in the elderly, thyroid-brain relationships, and driving and dementia. Dr. Stern has also published on various aspects of cognitive assessment and is the senior author of many widely used neuropsychological tests, including the Neuropsychological Assessment Battery (NAB). Dr. Stern has received several NIH and other national grants, has published over 250 journal articles, chapters, and abstracts, and is a Fellow of both the American Neuropsychiatric Association and the National Academy of Neuropsychology. He is on several editorial boards and is on the Medical and Scientific Advisory Boards of the MA/NH Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association and Concussion Legacy Foundation, and is also a member of the Mackey-White Traumatic Brain Injury Committee of the NFL Players Association. Dr. Stern has testified before the US Senate Special Committee on Aging. He appears frequently in national and international print and broadcast media for his work on CTE and AD. He also appears in the feature length documentaries, “League of Denial” (PBS Frontline, 2013), “Head Games” (2012), and “I Remember Better When I Paint” (2009).

Learn More About Dr. Stern

Julia A. Leonard
My research aims to use discoveries from cognitive science and neuroscience to help children thrive in school and in life. Specifically, I am interested in understanding what environmental factors support both children’s approach to learning and their capacity to learn. Few things are more central to children’s relationship to learning than their feelings about effort, especially their judgments about how hard they should try when things get difficult. While many studies suggest that the ability to persist on difficult tasks affects children’s academic achievement, relatively little is known about how young children learn about when and how to deploy effort. Given that effort is a limited resource, it makes sense to not try hard at everything. In work with Dr. Laura Schulz, I explore how young children learn from environmental factors (e.g., social and statistical) about when effort will pay off. Our goal is to elucidate the sources of evidence children use to make inferences about when a task is worth the effort. This research may help parents and educators to foster effortful behavior when it matters most.

Children’s ability to learn is rooted in their neural architecture, which rapidly develops and changes with early life experience. In work with Dr. John Gabrieli, I look at how differential early life environments impact neural structure, function, and cognition. Currently, this work focuses on elucidating the neural mechanisms underlying cognitive success in children from low-socioeconomic backgrounds. My hope is that a better understanding of resilience will inform tailored interventions across diverse environments.

Julia's Website