Episode 213 – Teaching and parenting young children is the hardest and most important job in society. In this episode, we interview Richard Biegel, Founder of MindEDU about the free science-based course that is taught by researchers from top education institutions to support early childhood development even in a crisis.
We now know that they [infants] have an awareness of us and what we’re doing at three months of age. How much would that impact how parents and caregivers would care for, would be aware of any of their actions around their child, knowing that they’re laying down wiring at that young age?
Richard, welcome to the Preschool Podcast!
Hey, Ron, thanks for having me on. And thank you guys for what you do, too.
It’s awesome having you on the show, Richard. And for our audience, Richard is the president and CEO of an organization called MindEDU. And I’m pretty excited to learn more about it. Let’s start off on that note, Richard: tell us what MindEDU all about?
We’re building a community of parents and caregivers educated in early life-changing childhood science through brief captivating videos presented by the world’s greatest researchers. And it’s free. We have profoundly effective parenting answers, but infinitely more to give parents and caregivers their greatest wish: the evidence-based best chance for their children to live a happy, healthy, fulfilled life. And we think we’ve got a hat to teach millions this life-changing science and make the world a better place.
So, why did you decide to do this, Richard?
It’s quite a story but I can I can make it short, having told it a number of times. So, briefly: I’m a second-time-around father. And by the way, this story is as deeply personal as it gets. So, if I have to take a breath and get a little emotional for a second, just a heads-up.
Days before my oldest daughter Danielle was born, I was in a nearly fatal motorcycle accident. My spiritual belief at the time was that I was saved to be the best parent I could be. I threw myself into it – parenting books, classes, volunteering at the Montessori school.
It was clear even in those early years that that period of life sets the stage for everything. I was a real estate developer. And over the past 30 years as a real estate developer I always had this passion to get this science out to parents. So, I’ve continued to follow it as a citizen scientist. The idea was to have a charity and create something called the “Operating Manual” that was just a brief pamphlet to be given away to parents of newborns.
Then I was blessed to become a daddy again [of] identical twin daughters. I’m a single father – I had primary custody of them and they’re five [years old] now. And about two-and-a-half years ago when I started looking for parenting information again, it was like a gut punch. It was like, “Are you are you kidding? It’s still hard to find trusted answers?”
Like any other parent out there knows, you don’t have time and you need trusted answers. And even the science that I knew then was difficult to find. Then I had a health scare. And there’s a gift that comes from that. At the time, I didn’t know it was a scare – that’s what’s important. And what was most important was my daughters and leaving the world a better place for them.
The blessing is, it was just the health scare. But it made a massive pivot, left real estate development to create a better world for my daughters. So, I invested my life savings and we’ve assembled for the first time ever many of the world’s greatest researchers in early-childhood development in one place. And it’s great.
Very cool. Can you tell us a little bit about some of the people that are contributing to this content? Maybe choose a couple, tell us about them. Maybe you’ve got a list, I don’t know. I was on your website and [it] looks like some quite experienced folks on there.
Oh, my goodness, they’re legends. Truly, each one of them are legends in their field. Adele Diamond: In the world of… so, let’s see where to start with this. Let me start with Adele Diamond’s area of expertize [is] executive functions. She was educated at Swarthmore, Harvard, Yale, and effectively opened the field of developmental cognitive neuroscience. A mouthful, I know, it’s executive functions.
Probably the best way to describe executive functions is someone who’s done some additional research, Dr. Angela Duckworth, in executive functions, it shows over twice as much variation in academic outcomes as IQ. That’s Dr. Diamond’s area of expertize. And she’s not only become a great friend but an incredible contributor. And her research is just extraordinary.
Even to be more specific about executive functions: there was a study done in in Dunedin, New Zealand, where they followed over 1,000 children for more than 30 years. It’s investigating almost every area of their life. And one of the things that they discovered, looking at age three, at a child’s inhibitory control.
And they found that 30 years later, children with worse inhibitory control had greater interactions with the law, less chance of graduating from high school, substance abuse, a lower quality of life. Those with higher inhibitory control: greater quality of life, greater chance to go to college, higher incomes, better relationships. We refer to it is the “Prison or Princeton Outcome”. Those are executive functions and are teachable.
In the world of parenting, when you look at parenting styles, some of your listeners may have heard of “authoritative parenting”, the authoritative parenting style. The person who coined that phrase is Dr. Diana Baumrind. She was 90 [years old] when we reached out to her. She said she was still at Berkeley. She had done her research 60 years ago in over 400 studies, cross-cultural women around the world.
The authoritative parenting style has shown to be the best parenting style for a child’s optimal outcome. She had never codified her work into a parenting program. We approached her about the idea of doing it. She said, “Richard, I’m too old to do this. But let me identify a team of some of my closest collaborators to do that for you.”
After she did that, unfortunately, we lost her. We’ve been blessed with that gift, codifying her work into a parenting program. And I can go on and on. We have extraordinary… these are the people who opened the field of these just extraordinary, life-changing sciences.
And I can tell you, as much is it’s frustrating for parents to get answers, these researchers, as I’ve come to know them and have developed their confidence because of my “Why?” that they decided to come on board – and MindEDU has gone from a “me” to a “we” organization – I’ve come to discover their frustration, as well. Their research is effectively secret because it’s only published in academic journals. And they’re frustrated that it’s not well known. That’s our mission, is to get it out there so it does become well-known.
Yeah, that’s kind of what I figured because I look at the profiles of these advisers and experts and they must know something that a lot of us don’t know. And so I guess you’re kind of like a medium to get all of their amazing research and science into the hands of parents, right? Is that a fair statement?
That’s exactly it. And the idea is, the ultimate goal is… so, there’s two things we’re doing. One is we’re working with them to translate their research into very digestible, short, concise videos. Our role is that most of the videos that we do from these researchers – often it’s just a single video, sometimes it’s a few videos – that the goal is eight minutes. Some of them are as short as two or three; some of them are a little bit longer. So, that was Goal One.
Goal Two was, for the first time ever – one of these, “Oh my god, why doesn’t this already exist?” – that parents and caregivers are on the same page, teaching children, everyone singing from the same songbook. Interestingly, music, little known that music is such a powerful contributor to a child’s development of math skills.
I mean, there’s so many gifts. We have over 200 different video vignettes that are in production. And each one of them are just extraordinary bombs of awareness and education and science.
And I can tell you, having gone through this – I noted that this was something on your website – we refer to as “the Great Awareness”. What we now know from these two disparate worlds of genetics – specifically epigenetics that switches and turns on and off genes and noninvasive, functional MRI and magnetoencephalography and the ability for us to see young brains being developed from those two merging worlds – what we now know, we call it the Great Awareness.
More than any of us ever knew about our child’s futures, for better or worse, gets wired into their brains and their bodies in their first three years of life. That tells us that the most important person on the planet other than a child’s primary caregiver, their parent, is the person who’s watching them when they [the parents] are not. Or another way to say that: the most important person on the planet next to parents are preschool teachers.
That’s what we want to let the world know and to get everybody on the same page on this science. And magically, the plan is, ultimately, to certify coaches, parents, preschool teachers, nannies, babysitters, and start creating neighborhood preschools where we begin to provide, quite frankly, how we used to live in creating a village.
Can you imagine how incredible it would be and how much less stressful a parent’s life would be – especially in this environment now – where here’s this small preschool of four, five, six kids and it’s three houses away? And you get to know the neighbors. And when you’re having a difficult time, you know the mother that’s four or five houses down.
I don’t know about you, but I know the subdivision that I live in, if it’s more than a couple of houses way, I don’t know them. That’s not the way we evolved. For 200,000 years that’s not the way we lived. How easy would it be and how much less stressful and how much less commute would it be for parents if they could drive that far?
And how awesome would it be if we look at some of these other preschools that are larger in size and they can be more of a neighborhood preschool instead of parents having to drive eight, ten, twelve miles to get to them?
We have lots of goals. But the two key ones are educating parents and caregivers in this science and creating effectively a marketplace where parents can find these coaches, preschool teachers and caregivers. Now, we haven’t created a marketplace yet – that’s a to-come item. But the science is there and that we need to get out to the world.
Awesome. And yeah, I’m personally a very big supporter of getting more of the science-based approach to early-childhood education out into the world. So, I wholeheartedly appreciate what you’re doing here and working with renowned experts. Can you talk a little bit about some of these videos and the content? Maybe you can give a couple tangible examples of what one of these might be about?
Absolutely, here’s one: so, this is one that’s in development. This is just such a fascinating science, it really is. When you ask… this is this is something across-the-board that I’ve asked parents and researchers and I’ve probably talked to several hundred between researchers and parents. “At what age when you assume children start making moral judgments about the world around them?”
Well, for most parents and researchers – this is one of the other things that’s fascinating about these researchers. They’re legends in their field but if you get very far outside of their lane – because their focus necessarily for them to do the incredible work that they do is narrowly in their lane – they won’t know somebody that’s four, five, six lanes over.
And Dr. Kiley Hamlin, who did her work and she got her PhD at Yale and then went on to the University of British Columbia now, when she was a young child growing up, her parents… she grew up in a very religious community and her parents practiced a different kind of religion. And children and [their] parents would tell Kiley that she didn’t know right from wrong because they didn’t practice the kind of religion that she did. And she thought that she did.
So, you can imagine the passion she had going to school, ultimately obtaining her doctorate degree at Yale [and] asked that question, “How does it come to be that children have these moral judgments about the world around them?” Most people – researchers, parents, caregivers – will say, “Probably between two-years-old and seven-years-old.”
For Hamlin’s research, what they do is, they’ve got this stage where there’s this hill and they have this one-color object, like a yellow triangle. Here’s this blue circle that’s trying to get up the hill. And then here is this yellow triangle that comes and helps push it up the hill. So, we’ve got something trying to achieve a goal and here’s this yellow triangle that is the helper.
And then you see the blue circle trying to get up again the hill again – the yellow triangle is not in there. Here comes this blue square that they call “the Hinderer” because it stops the circle from getting up the hill. And they show it to babies a bunch of times until the babies get nice and bored and then they bring in.
Three-month-old babies will pick almost universally the helper object. And they change it out with different colors and different shapes and use puppets where it’s playing with the ball on the stage and loses control of the ball. And one helps get the ball back and another one takes it away. And they [the babies] pick the helper at three months of age.
Most of us thought that here’s this child, this little baby that really isn’t aware of much of anything. We now know that they have an awareness of us and what we’re doing at three months of age. How much would that impact how parents and caregivers would care, for would be aware of any of their actions around their child, knowing that they’re laying down wiring at that young age? We’ve got so much more; there’s so much more.
It’s crazy because I am involved in these conversations all the time through the Preschool Podcast and otherwise in my job. And one of the things we talk about a lot is underestimating young children, really, and what they can do and what they’re capable of.
And it’s like, no matter how many times I have that conversation, it’s still hard to fathom just how advanced the thinking is. that that makes it such a tangible example. At even three months that’s a very interesting study. And again, something I love for us to talk about on the preschool podcast to really talk about that scientific side of things.
Cool. So, before we run out of time, what’s next for you? So, you talked a little bit about the goals with MindEDU. And number one is education and number two is marketplace. So, I suppose the next step here is the marketplace side of things. And do you have any sort of timeline around that?
We do. But where we want to focus right now, specifically for your audience right now, is the education side so that parents become aware of this. Because as parents become aware of this, it’s inevitable that they’ll want certified caregivers. And that we’ll start working on – we want to finish the education side and get that out there now.
Currently, what we’ve just released: we have over 90 videos. But we want to do is we want to release these so that someone doesn’t come to the site and be overwhelmed. We’ve named it “Parenting in a Crisis”. And I think there’s eight or twelve videos that are in there.
Basically what it is – it’s perfect for this environment right now – when you look at what parents want and what 21st century skills are most important for your child, if your child had a wish of what skills that they would want, what industry and business is projecting that we’re going to need, in a world where Google knows everything and what you’re paid for is what you can do with what you know, the two things that show up the highest on everyone’s list when it comes to business and industry is the ability to work together and creativity.
And for parents, it’s to be happy, healthy and for your child to achieve their greatest potential. All of those, the path to all of those – the greatest potential to be happy, to be healthy and creativity – it turns out, from the research, comes from relationships. And those relationships get compromised most fundamentally when we’re stressed.
So, this program that we’ve got, it’s just like the airlines say: when someone is reliant on you, put your mask on first. And that’s the title of one of the pieces of the course. So, this first course, if parents come to the site, www.MindEDU.com, what they are going to see is “Parenting in a Crisis”.
It’s free and we’ve got classes in there on – one of your earlier podcasts, talking about play – executive functions, social, emotional learning, creativity, three of the most important sets of skills that we can teach children, those are developed most fundamentally in play.
There is an awareness that parents and caregivers can have to improve those. Fundamentally, for children, one of the most important things they can be doing right now is playing. And think about how much less stressed parents would feel if they didn’t feel like they had to be doing something, like their children constantly had to be doing something to make up for the fact that they’re not in school.
For young children, playing is the best thing that they can be doing. And we take some of that stress away from parents and help the environment where they can have those sorts of relationships to support these functions. So, that’s our focus right now.
Yeah, I feel very lucky to know that because when I see my child playing, I’m, like, “Great, he’s learning!” And I don’t have to be stressed about it. And he’s so good at it.
Oh, it’s extraordinary to see my daughters, to see just the growth, just the blossoming of the storytelling they do. One of the exercises we do – it’s not an exercise – but for our evening before they go to bed, it used to be that I would always read them a story.
Well, one of the things that we’ve added is, one night a week they get to tell a story. And they make it up. I mean, we start out with something like, I’ll start it off with a little seed like, “There was a magic dragon that started out as a cloud but then turned into cotton candy. And it had a baby.” And I just leave it that and let them take it from there. And oh, my goodness, just the level of creativity that they take it to now, just over the past twelve months, how extraordinary it’s blossomed. It’s been wonderful, yes, one of the greatest things.
Oh, that’s a good idea, actually, yeah. I know my son’s pretty good at telling stories but I haven’t done it with him before. I’m going to try that now. If our audience wants to go check out some of these videos, where can they go to get them?
www.MindEDU.com. And I’ve found that Google is pretty good now. I guess most people have gone there [that] if you type “MindEDU” we show up first. And it’s free.
Awesome. Richard, I love what you’re doing here, bringing together a lot of the things I’m really passionate about. And I think our audience certainly can appreciate the fact that you’re making a lot of the things that they all know available to the world who has not gone and studied and been educated in early-childhood education so that they can understand just how important it is, right from the experts themselves. Love it. Richard, thanks again for coming on the Preschool Podcast today!
Oh, Ron, thanks so much for having us!