Nellie Springston M.Ed.
(a Masters in Education, not to be confused with any sort of medical degree)
As opposed to the typical "mommy brain" that can't remember where she left her phone, and frantically searches for it while talking to her girlfriend about how she just can’t find her phone anywhere, my mommy brain is overwhelmed with the amount of research I am consuming about language environment, brain development, learning, behavior, academics and childhood happiness. (Of course I did have the "mommy brain" moments during my pregnancy. In fact, in the middle of a very intense story I told my husband that my friend was simply "humilified", and it wasn't until a few sentences later he stopped me to kindly point out that "humilified" is not a word. It's just not.)
I am a first-time mom, and a former Social Skills and Character Development teacher at an inner-city charter elementary school in San Antonio, Texas. After having my daughter June, I took at seven-month maternity leave that I, unintentionally, ended up using as a sort-of "sabbatical". The more I read about how much influence parents have on early childhood cognitive development the more it related back to what I was (and wasn't) seeing in the classroom. Before digging into the research, I had no idea that a child's brain grows 85% in the first three years of life, and optimal brain growth is completely 100% dependent on parents creating a warm, loving, positive language environment, and I was an educator! The more research I did, the more interconnected everything became; this book author referenced that article I had just seen, then this podcast guest hosted a professor that collaborated with so-and-so that was in the middle of this amazing research that related back to this other person's book that I had just finished reading. It became a very small world quickly, so much so that I was overwhelmed with the amount of information, and how it all related. I told my husband that I thought I was going crazy to which he responded, "you need to start a blog or something" (i.e. you need to find an outlet for this information other than me). With the encouragement and help of a good friend I started this blog, the mommy brain, where this mommy comes to organize her brain.
Of course I want to raise my daughter June to have a ginormous brain, to get all A’s in school, then attend any Ivy League university of her choice so that she can have an amazing career doing what ever it is that makes her tick. But, more importantly than that, I want to raise a person that is happy, ethical, compassionate and kind because, in my opinion, it doesn’t matter how many letters she has behind her last name, or how many 1’s and 0’s she has in the bank if she doesn’t have those other qualities.
Crazy enough, brain imaging research is showing more clearly every day that all of these things: cognitive development, love, language, stress, happiness, learning, intelligence, academics, character, mindset and success are completely related, and very much malleable. The best psychologists, doctors, economists, professors, educators and researchers of our time are currently collaborating to develop, disseminate, and support research-based approaches to teaching that enable kids to learn and flourish, academically, socially and emotionally. But, the research has also proven that parents or caregiver can enhance cognitive development in the first three years of life in order to set a foundation for life-long learning. In my opinion, this leaves me with a total of zero excuses not to access, and use, this wealth of information to grow the heart and brain of my daughter, and every child I engage with, while sharing this knowledge with anyone who is interested.
So, my disclaimer is that I may never post one profound thought of my own on here. That’s just not the point. The goal is to compile, organize and share the amazing research of others that I am consuming, and relate it to my world as a mom and educator.
My Path to this Point
I graduated from Indiana University with a Journalism degree in 2007. It took two years of waiting tables, and traveling the world before I settled down in graduate school at the University of Louisville. While in graduate school, I worked on a research study that measured the increase of student engagement when teachers used positive language. In 2010, I was the top graduate of their School Counseling and Psychology Program. Next, I got a job working for the National Children’s Study measuring cognitive, language, motor and social-emotional skills for children ages 6 months to three-years-old. When that study ended due to funding, I was recruited to be the Project Coordinator for a research study looking for gene-environment interactions and factors that may be related to the development of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder in military soldiers. The study was part of a worldwide effort to defeat combat-related PTSD supported by the White House, DoD and Veterans Affairs. It was the best professional experience of my life, but I ultimately wanted to get back to my passion of educating children growing up in poverty. I worked as a as a Behavior Intervention Specialist, then a Character Development teacher at an inner-city charter school that is part of the KIPP network. I have diverse experience in Education and Psychology research, project coordinating and development, and in the classroom as a researcher, interventionist, and teacher, which gives me a unique perspective to help children in adversity by sharing the latest cognitive, psychological and educational research with parents and educators.