BEHS – WKTH – Par Stu – MID – Pap




Brain Development and Executive Functions


Locating sources: All sources are provided for you in the examination. Please do not use outside sources. Why? I need to be sure you are reading and understanding the issues in our course. If you go to the web to answer these questions you will lose points. Please do the readings/viewings that are required in this assignment. Thanks!


Question one:


Readings for Question One:

These readings come from our Week One readings done two weeks ago.

Reading One: please view a very short clip from a Howard Hughes Medical Center Holiday Lecture about prenatal and infant brain development. (It is about 2 minutes long.) This is about the numbers of neurons in a baby’s brain from conception to birth. (The Holiday Lectures are given each December at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute to acquaint high school students with cutting edge medical and genetic and neuroscience information. To view reading one: Please type in to your browser these exact words:

HHMI/biointeractive/Development of the human embryonic brain

Reading Two:

Here is a set of very short (2-to-5-minute) videos will introduce you to important issues about development of brain architecture in infants and toddlers. There are many of these short videos, so you are welcome to “browse” through them beyond the basics suggested here. The most important of these is the one about “serve and return.” Oh! Important! You will find the scientists rarely mention loving, warm and gentle care, but you see it in every frame of these videos. Important: Don’t forget warm and gentle and loving care! I suggest these and I suggest you type in exactly the words I have given you. If you type in Harvard Center for the Developing child and try to find these topics you will be lost in thousands of similar titles:

Each of these videos runs from approximately 2 to 5 minutes. I use Chrome and type in every one of these exact words for each one to get to the video you want:

Harvard Center for the Developing Child serve and return

Harvard Center for the Developing Child experiences build brain architecture

Harvard Center for the Developing Child toxic stress derails healthy development

Harvard Center for the Developing child the science of neglect

Harvard Center for the Developing child in brief: The Science of Early childhood Development.

Harvard Center for the Developing child in brief: executive function: skills for life and learning


Question One: Infant brain development: (7 points)

Using information only from the two readings above (The HHMI short video showing how many neurons are created in a baby’s brain before birth and also the Harvard short videos), please:

  • explain what parents can do and should do with a newborn baby in its first few months of life.
  • describe what activities with a newborn help construct brain architecture and what is critically important to help a newborn develop a normal brain architecture.
  • hypothesize which parental behaviors help develop normal brain architecture and which damage normal brain architecture.

Length of your answer: Please write around a page double-spaced.

Strong warnings!

Warning 1: If you use the Harvard videos that discuss helping children learn words and learn to speak, you will get a terribly low grade on this question. This question asks about the first experiences newborns have in that first month or two. Thanks!

2. Warning 2: Please use as sources only reading one (a video) and reading two (a number of short videos) above.

Informal Reference List: Please make a simple reference list of the sources you used. (Does need authors (if there are any) and titles and computer links given in our classroom.)


Question Two: Executive Functions: (13 points).

Question two covers material that we have not studied before. Executive functions are a set of behaviors young children are capable of teaching themselves if they are allowed to play unstructured, old-fashioned play rather than have structured activities and sports and electronics time offered to them by parents and teachers. Executive functions include behaviors such as self-regulation and private speech. Taken together the executive functions help children regulate their behavior themselves and get along well with others. Executive functions help children plan and learn how to deal with others and with many tasks. Question Two is here below at the end of the assignment.

I will provide you with all the sources of information you need for this brief essay, so please use these sources and not others you find on the web.

We start with an audio program as the first reading:

First reading for Question Two:

Alix Spiegel (21 February 2008) Old-Fashioned Play Builds Serious Skills (audio) National Public Radio: Your Health. This is an eReserve. It is found under Content/Course Resources/eReserves/Week Three. (You must choose the little letters above the chart: Week Three and then the chart of eReserves for Week Three will pop up.

Please notice that the Alix Spiegel reading has a transcript with it. Look around on the opening page of the Spiegel article and over to the right somewhere it says Transcript. I couldn’t follow the audio program well enough to take notes, but then I read the transcript and that helped me a lot.

From the viewpoint of psychologists, educators and parents, this program will help you discover:

  • what private speech is,
  • what self-regulation is
  • and what old-fashioned play is,
  • and why they all matter.
  • why these are critical for normal development
  • in what sort of play self-regulation and private speech occur and why they matter.
  • what things around the home and at school can damage normal development of self-regulation and private speech.

Second Reading for question two: to define and describe executive functions:

These are more materials from Harvard’s Center on the Developing Child. This is a reading on executive function, an umbrella term for the issues in the audio program.

To locate this video and readings: type into your browser: Harvard Center on the Developing Child in Brief: Executive Function: Skills for Life and Learning. Executive Function and Self Regulation

Short Video: There is a wonderful short video offered to you right under the title of that paper. I would watch that video first. It is about executive function and self-regulation. This excellent short video is similar to the Week One videos we watched. Please take the time to look at the video a second time to see exactly what the children in the video are doing.

Just below the video is a two-page paper that do not have to read!!! It is a bit heavy and badly written and I have summarized it here below in a table that helps you understand the paper you are allowed to skip!

Title of this heavy paper: Key Concepts: Executive Function and Self-Regulation. This two-page paper is about the pieces that children need to learn in order to have executive function and self-regulation. To get this reading: Type into your browser:

Harvard Center on the Developing Child key concepts executive function and self-regulation.

Sadly, this two-page paper lacks two important introductory definitions! Here they are:

Executive Function: Here is a formal definition of executive functioning: The executive functions are a set of processes that all have to do with managing oneself and one’s resources in order to achieve a goal. It is an umbrella term (belongs at the top of the outline) for the brain-based skills involving mental control and self-regulation. Source:

Self-regulation: noun. Self-regulation is when a person or group governs or polices itself without outside assistance or influence. An example of self-regulation is when you limit, of your own accord, how much you will eat. (Or, for our case, when a young child is willing to wait to see some thing or toy and then also willing to share it with another child when she finishes looking at it.) Source:


Here is the information from that paper, digested to help you:


The Spiegel audio program discusses activities that facilitate development of executive function.

This is the teachers’ and the psychologists’ viewpoint. The Spiegel audio includes private speech, which is an opportunity for a child to self-regulate by talking to himself or herself about how things should be done. That happens mainly when children are playing alone without adult supervision and are using simple things to invent their own activities. Spiegel also talks about old-fashioned play and alone play, which, in the past, provided the opportunities for a child to teach himself or herself executive functions. Spiegel contrasts old-fashioned play with the usual activities of children today, which are structured activities run by adults, like soccer or baseball games, and video games on the couch. Spiegel reports on a study replicating (copying) an old study years ago looking at self-regulation. Please report on what this study found about children in the past and children today and their abilities to self-regulate —it is interesting.


Here there was a table and Leo messes it up completely. I have moved the material into just two different topics, the Neurological viewpoint of brain scientists and the psychological viewpoint of parents, teachers, and psychologists.


The view by Neurologists:

Executive Functions: This is the view by neurologists (in the Harvard paper you don’t have to read!


Brain structures and processes:

Brain structures include working memory, mental flexibility, and self control. The Harvard executive function paper discusses brain structures and processes that enable a child to manage herself or himself. The authors discuss working memory, mental flexibility, and self-control, all of which are managed and developed in the child’s developing brain, if the right opportunities at home and at school are available for the child to teach herself or himself to self-regulate. This is the neurological viewpoint.


The view by psychologists, teachers and parents (in the Spiegel paper).


These are activities that promote executive functioning: These include private speechThese include private speech, self-regulation and self-control, and time to play alone. Unstructured play is necessary to give children the time to develop these on their own. Unstructured play means that no adult runs it or supervises it. This is play in which children take scraps of paper or sticks or whatever is around, and play alone or with other children. They imagine what some common things (paper or sticks or other things) represent and use those imagined ideas to play with. This kind of play uses lots of imagination and children need to remember what things are. This kind of play does not use fancy toys. Instead, common things and lots of imagination and private speech are going on.


The Assignment for Question Two: Please:

  • define executive functions, and especially those of self-regulation and private speech
  • explain why they are so important for normal development.
  • limit your discussion to children up to age 7 or so, when imaginary play and private speech begin to disappear.
  • design several types of activities in school or at home that can prevent normal development of self-regulation and private speech and also design different types of activities in school or at home that can help normal development of self-regulation and private speech to occur.

Length of your answer: Please write one page or two pages, double-spaced, APA Style.

Sources: Again, please use only these sources and not other sources you find.

For this question there are two sources, the Spiegel audio program and the Harvard Center on the Developing Child videos. Please put these on a simple reference list.