News Herald – Juliann Talkington
You may have inherited your mother’s eyes and your father’s nose, but probably not their brains. The brain is a biologic computer. But unlike a laptop that contains chips programmed with exact code, the brain has the ability to customize itself based on experience and exposure.
According to Dr. Lise Elliot with the Chicago School of Medicine, “We know…that an infant’s experience can have permanent effects on the wiring of the brain.” At birth the brain contains the cells necessary to handle trillions of processes. If signals are sent between brains cells, the connections become hard-wired. However, if signals are not sent between cells, the connections are discarded. Most researchers believe the hard-wiring/discarding process is complete at the beginning of puberty, leaving adults with many fewer brain connections than infants.
Learning certain basic skills, such as language and music, becomes much more difficult with age. According to FSU professor Dr. Karen Glendenning in her book Brain, Behavior and Learning, “After birth there are continuing changes in the brain. For example, cell populations in the language area, may decrease by 30 percent between the ages of two months and 18 years…”
These findings create a challenge. We don’t want to pressure-cook our kids, but we do want to expose them to things early so critical brain connections are not lost. One easy way to start the process may be to limit screen time.
According to educational psychologist Dr. Jane Healy, “Too much television — particularly at ages critical for language development and manipulative play — can impinge negatively on young minds.” Even though a tremendous amount of information is available from these sources, the information enters the brain in similar ways and deprives the brain of other critical experiences.
Most experts believe it better to encourage children to build, create, experience, and explore. This not only helps children learn about the world, but also helps build fine motor skills and spatial abilities. One might also think carefully about focusing young children completely on the arts, sports, math, language arts or the like. Instead it makes more sense to encourage children to participate in a combination of things – art, science, music, math, sports, foreign language, public speaking, building…
If we can just step out of our “old”, inflexible brains for a minute and keep ourselves from becoming too rigid, our children have the potential to be a lot smarter than we are.