Childhood Amnesia

After a three-week break from school one year, a four year old student was asked to relay a message to another student in the class, James.  “Who’s James?” the four year old asked.  They had been close playmates for eight months, yet after only three weeks of no contact, James had already been forgotten.  What is early childhood amnesia, and what does it mean for educators?

Newcombe et al. report, “…research has shown that not only is verbal recall for childhood events sketchy,  but visual memories of familiar faces from childhood are sketchy as well” (p.55).  It is presumed the immaturity of the prefrontal cortex in young children is the reason memories cannot be recalled.  However, Newcombe’s research finds that feelings and impressions left from early childhood do facilitate the conscious mind later in life. 

What does this mean for educators?  Elkind suggests, “Reminding policy makers, administrators, teachers, and parents about the phenomenon of early childhood amnesia …can be useful when making a case for the importance of learning the fundamental curriculum- the language of things, in Frobel’s terms” (p. 39).  Children must experience the world.  Before developing the capacity to organize their intellect and reason, the children must make experiences. 

The driver by which this knowledge of the world, or “language of things” is developed in early childhood is play.  As educators we are responsible for social and emotional guidance, the development of trusting and loving relationships and constructive conflict resolution.  Fostering each student’s independence and certainty in their individual capabilities.  Developing positive attitudes and character.  Most importantly to me, is cultivating a love of school and learning which will set them up with enthusiasm for their future academic careers.  Elkind also asserts the teachers’s important role in educating other adults as to these important responsibilities for children’s development in early childhood and advocate for the importance of play. 

Elkind, D. (2005). EARLY CHILDWOOD AMNESIA: Reaffirming Children’s Need for Developmentally Appropriate Programs. YC Young Children, 60(4), 38-40. Retrieved from

Newcombe, N., Drummey, A., Fox, N., Lie, E., & Ottinger-Alberts, W. (2000). Remembering Early Childhood: How Much, How, and Why (Or Why Not). Current Directions in Psychological Science, 9(2), 55-58. Retrieved August 29, 2021, from  

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