Local Speaker: The Impact of the Early Years on the Development of the Life-long Learner

 The Wonder Years Can Last Forever

The Impact of the Early Years on the Development of the Life-long Learner

By Douglas J. Lyons, Ed.D.

Executive Director, Connecticut Association of Independent Schools (CAIS)

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Greenwich Country Day School Performing Arts Center

8:30 a.m. Coffee

9 a.m. Presentation


In the past two decades, dramatic advancements in neuroscience have given researchers a better understanding of how children, adolescents, and adults learn. Scientists are discovering how memory works and what contributes to or interferes with good memory function. Two components of this research are particularly important for parents and teachers. These critical factors are the role of emotion in learning and the impact of the school environment in developing the ideal graduate, defined as the life-long learner.

After 40 years spent working with students and families, Dr. Lyons will share research and personal anecdotes that illustrate the influences that shape a child’s journey from innocence to maturity.

Doug Lyons has been the Executive Director of CAIS (Connecticut Association of Independent Schools) since July 2004. A graduate of Villanova University, Doug has a master’s and doctoral degree from the University of Pennsylvania. He began his career in public education, working for twenty years in the New Jersey public schools. In 1992, he left the superintendency in Mt. Lakes, N.J., to accept the position of headmaster at The Greenwich Country Day School, where he served for 12 years.


The GCDS Speaker Series, sponsored by the Parents Association, seeks to promote parent education by presenting interesting and pertinent speakers, authors, and educators for discussions and lectures. For more information, contact Cary Keigher at caryk@optonline.net or Polly Hanson at pollyhanson1@mac.com. Or call Andrea Mann 203-863-5651. Lectures are free of charge.



One thought on “Local Speaker: The Impact of the Early Years on the Development of the Life-long Learner

  1. This was a great talk! Thank you so much for posting it and giving us a chance to go. Dr. Lyons was charming and informative and left us with many nuggets of wisdom (and modern neuroscience) to consider. In case you were interested and missed it, I’ll share some of his comments with you here.

    Dr. Lyons talked about three levels of brain development: The reptile brain (your brain at infancy which responds by instinct), the emotional brain (used most during the school age years), and the mature adult brain capable of higher level thinking and understanding the full consequences of choices made. BTW, the mature brain is not developed until after the age of 25. He noted that elementary aged children react to things first with their emotional brain, and then with the higher level brain that may be conscious of other things that are going on around them, and suggested patient understanding and compassion when dealing with younger children’s emotional responses.

    At age 11, kids’ greatest attachment is to their parents, but around age 13, it is their social group. Although they may be capable of incredibly high levels of learning in the classroom, if their social standing is threatened (i.e. their parents say they can’t go to their friend’s party Saturday night because they are going to a family wedding), they will resort to their “primitive brain” and fight emphatically to be able to go (and keep their social standing with their friends). This is a hard-wired, developmental response. Dr. Lyons advised parents to never get caught up in this emotional conversation, since, he pointed out, both sides will surely lose. Instead, he said, simply say “I understand you are upset about this right now. I can’t discuss it now but we can talk about it later when we’re both calm,” and don’t give in on the family (higher level thinking) decision.

    He spoke about how optimism and other characteristics are taught in the early years of childhood and elementary school, and about the importance of kids feeling truly connected to their school environments and family. He sited The Optimistic Child by Karen Reivich, for ideas on how to develop optimism and resilience in children.

    He spoke of the importance of fostering curiosity in children, noting that historically, adults could go to college, earn a professional degree and feel more or less confident that they would have learned all they needed to know to do that job for their career. Today’s kids, however, will have to know how to learn and be motivated to continue to learn throughout their lives in order to keep a career. Therefore, fostering a sense of curiosity in children is of paramount importance to this generation. He spoke of playing with them, exploring with them, really spending time with them to achieve this (this does not include time spent correcting, instructing or celebrating with them).

    He commented that after his 12 years as superintendent of Mountain Lakes public schools in NJ and 12 years as head of school at GCDS, he concluded that it was far more important to invest in the early years of childhood than later. In essence, if you have to choose, invest in the younger years (so that they feel connected and their curiosity is fueled) and the rest will take care of themselves.

    Once, driving a bus full of kids (who think grownups can not drive and listen at the same time), he over heard the kids talking about the movie “Back to the Future.” They were discussing whether or not they would want to go back and change their parents. After much debate and siding, one kid said, “Yes, sure I would! I would make them more like my grandparents who just love me no matter what I do. They love me for who I am, not for who they are desperately fighting or me to become.”

    Thank you Dr. Lyons.

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