Why Do the Early Years Matter?
In this article, we will take a closer look at the neuroscience of how children learn best and reveal how you can enhance your child’s learning potential.
Following 6 million years of human evolution, we have developed a remarkably efficient brain – one that is designed to maximize learning and guarantee our survival.
Since Mother Nature’s ultimate goal is the passing on of our genes to the next generation successfully, our brains were designed to adapt quickly to environmental changes, including climate fluctuations and food shortages.
As babies, we come into this world with a great learning potential. We are a walking and talking Encyclopedias, collecting information as we transition through life (Take that Wikipedia!).
“Education must begin at birth”Dr. Maria Montessori
Why is Your Child’s Brain so Amazing?
Children are born with all of the neurons (brain cells) that they will ever need.
During the first few years of life, more than 1 million new neural connections are being made per second!
During the early years of development, the number of connections is reduced (pruning) to fine-tune the brain and increase its overall efficiency.
Figure 1 depicts a magnified view of neuronal connections (synapses) present in a young child’s brain from birth.
Newborns show fewer brain connections, which are strengthened overtime with use by exposure to novel experiences.
By age 6, synapses are selectively cut out (pruned) if unused.
When the child reaches age 14, the brain has become more efficient and the number of brain connection is significantly reduced.
For a fascinating read about the child’s neuroplastic brain and their natural ability to absorb information, click here.
How Does the Child Learns Best?
The brain of the child is dynamic, continually growing and changing well into adult life.
Children learn best by observing and engaging with their environment.
When a child interacts with the world, experiences shape the architecture of the developing brain, get stored as memories and strengthened each time they are recalled.
Jean Piaget, the father of child developmental psychology, understood these basic neuroscience principles of how children learn best, comparing them to little scientists who make predictions about the world and test them.
Believe it or not, throwing cheerios off the high chair allows children to test the principles of physics:
Will the Cheerios fall or float (gravity)?
How fast will the Cheerios hit the floor (speed and velocity)?
And our all-time favorite:
What will mom do if a Cheerios lands on her (social-
Through experimentation, children learn about how our universe works and how to behave in their homes and communities.
What Can You Do to Help Your Child Learn?
The neuroscience principles of how children learn best will be magnified in a nurturing environment.
Follow your child’s curiosity and scaffold the learning process so that one lesson builds upon another, keeping your child challenged and engaged.
Here are 5 scientifically-proven brain hacks to accelerate your child’s learning experience:
Our brains are designed to move! Physical activity releases BDNF, brain derived neurotrophic factor, responsible for new brain connections and enhanced memory.
In an interesting study of pre-adolescent children ages 9 and 10, aerobic exercise (high intensity, blood pumping movement) improved children’s abilities to think and focus.
Brain scans of the children’s brains reveal heat maps whereby physically active brains have higher neural activity (red) and increased volume of brain structures involved in cognition, while a sedentary brain has lower neural activity (blue).
The take home message is clear – aerobic activity makes our children smarter!
Find out how movement supercharges the child’s brain and what type of exercise is best.
A predictable schedule gives children a sense of security and control, the pre-requisites to learning and achieving school readiness.
The child will absorb information with greater ease and efficiency in a relaxed state of mind.
With a predictable routine, your child will take ownership of the day, develop the self-confidence and independence required to master difficult tasks.
Learn how to establish a world-class routine in your home and watch your child thrive.
Have you ever wondered why babies need so much sleep?
The baby brain works overtime, taking in new information and exciting experiences, it is no wonder it needs some down-time to take a break and make sense of it all.
Sleep allows the child’s brain to consolidate information learned during the day, decide what information to keep and what to discard, and convert it into long-term memory for future use.
Make sure that your child is getting enough sleep so that their brain is fully recharged with this time table from the American Academy of Sleep Medicine.
Learn why resting the brain optimizes learning gains and how to relax and recharge your child’s mind.
Buried deep inside the human brain, a structure called the Amygdala houses our emotions, enriching our life by adding feelings to daily experiences.
Stories filled with emotions are much more memorable, so find creative ways to trigger feelings in your child during those teachable moments.
Take for example, a weather lesson plan, where you can integrate the feelings of joy jumping in puddles on a rainy day, the calming warmth of the sun on your skin in the spring and the love you feel in your heart cuddling with cozy PJs by the fire on a cold winter day.
A multi-sensory approach to learning helps us encode information in many of the brain regions involved in memory formation.
When the 5 senses are engaged, the child’s curiosity and understanding of the world skyrockets.
Take, for instance, Dr. Maria Montessori’s clever math learning materials.
Through the use of colorful beads and textured number cards, the child learns important math principles through visual stimulation and tactile manipulation.
It is up to us, caring parents and educators, to provide a nurturing environment for optimal brain development and effective learning.
By understanding the neuroscience of how children learn best, we can foster a love of learning and build a successful future!
Through aerobic exercise, established routines, rest and relaxation, emotional engagement and a multi-sensory approach, we can elevate children’s learning experiences.
Please take a moment to share your experience with our community – Which one of the 5 accelerated learning brain hacks did you find most useful?
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Wishing you all the best on your journey!