Friday, March 16, 2007

Nurturing the thinking child

Brain-Based learning is the informed process of using a group of practical strategies based on sound principles derived from brain research. It aims to help children learn according to how the brain learns best-naturally. It is a borderless approach to learning, crossing and drawing upon multiple disciplines such as chemistry, neurology, psychology, sociology, genetics, physiology and nutrition. This holistic and multidisciplinary approach increases the learning potential of every child.

Brain based learning theorists believe that optimal learnin occurs in five stages.
  • Pre-exposure
  • Acquisition
  • Elaboration
  • Memory formation
  • Functional integration Here are information about these five stages and how parents can help strengthen learning at each stage.

Also known as preparation. The more background children are exposed to a subjetc, the faster they will process new information. Prepare your child for topics he/she will encounter at school from young, in a fun and engaging way. Young children may not fully understand the concepts or terminology but these words will be "familiar" and they will feel more confident when they hear them at school later.

You could try this activity with your child. Through this activity, you are pre-exposing your child to concepts of weight, volume and density (ratio of mass over volume).

Collect a variety of objects around the house such as a leaf, a small rock, a toy car. Fill a large pail or the bath-tub with water. Ask your child to guess whether the item will sink or float before letting her place it into the water.

Explain to her that the items that float have lower density than water. Items that sink have higher density. Whether an item sinks or floats is not dependant on its weight only.
You can try tricky ones like a sponge and an apple.
A dry sponge will float. However, when air in the holes is replaced with water seeping into the sponge it will start to sink, as it becomes denser. An apple although as heavy as a small rock, will surprisingly float.

For older children you could pre-expose with these techniques:
  • Get the course description before term starts
  • Talk to past students
  • Reading other books on the subjects
  • Watching a video about the subjects or about the course itself
  • Get the text that is to be used
  • Bring your child for a family trip to relevant places such as the arts museum or the science centre
For maximum benefit of pre-exposure, keep things fun!

This concerns your child's brain wires. For strong connections to form, the information given must be meaningful. That is why pre-exposure is important.

Acquisition can be direct or indirect. Direct acquisition is mainly from classroom teaching. At home, use indirect acquisition such as related visuals or models.

Things you can do to enhance indirect acquisition:
  1. Teach your child concept of parts and names of different aspects of an aeroplane by constructing one rather than reading it from a book.
  2. help your child design her own alphabet poster. This will provide indirect acquisition of what is taught at school.

At this stage, encourage your child to interconnect topics together and dig deeper. you can help strengthen elaboration by:

  • Role playing Allow your child to play the teacher, because one of the best ways to learn something is to teach it.

    Provide hands-on experience and link it to life experience

    Here are some simple activities you can do at home with your young child whereby you are interconnecting topics together, digging deeper, providing hands-on experience and linking it to your child's life.
  • My family treeYou could make history come alive and significant for your child by constructing a family tree with her. When constructing a family tree, your child will be able to grasp and interconnect concepts like past and present, family relationships and learn how all these are linked to him/her. For very young children, you may like to paste a photo of the person next to their names.
  • Colour my worldTry this painting activity with your child to help understand primary colours, secondary colours and tertiary colours. Your child will also be able to link this to her life through problem solving.
    Paint a picture with your child but have only three colours available-blue, red and yellow. Mention these as primary colours. Create a situation where your child will need green, a secondary colour. Guide her to solve the problem by mixing the two primary colours, blue and yellow together. Do not teach but let your child experiment. Tertiary colours are colours from mixing three primary colours together. Try it and let your child see what colours usually come up!

Memory formation
Memory formation is the cement of learning. Memory is affected by:

  • Age of your child and stage of development.
  • Adequate rest, especially getting enough REM(rapid eye movement) sleep.
  • Emotions-intense emotions strengthen memory

Memory may also be enhanced by understanding how memory is formed and stored. Then by using brain-based learning techniques to process the information you may help strengthen the memory trace.

Functional integration
This stage of learning is a reminder to use the new learning so that it is further reinforced. It is part of maintaining all the brain connections formed. When connections are not maintained by usage, it will slowly be pruned off.

Try this activity with your child at home.

  • Where's my breakfast?
    While doing this activity, your child will encounter chemistry and mathematics in the kitchen and concepts of food supply and economics in the supermarket, functionally integrating and reinforcing information together.

    Bring your child to the supermarket to buy the ingredients needed for making pancakes. Ask your child where the flour, milk and egg originate from. Invite your child to work out how much to pay. Make the pancakes with your child and enjoy the pancakes together.
    What you'll need:
    a. 1/2 cup self raising flour
    b. 1/4 cup milk
    c. 1 large egg
    d. 2 drops vanilla essence
    e. 2 tsp margarine or butter

    What you'll do:
    a. Mix first 4 ingredients into a bowl
    b. Put 1/2 tsp margerine into hot pan and spoon mixture in .
    c. Cook on medium heat till evenly brown on both sides.
    d. Repeat till all pancake mixture is finished.
    e. You should get about 4 little pancakes.

    1. Gluten (a mixture of proteins) in the flour gives pancakes a bread-like texture
    2. The pancakes brown because of a chemical reaction between sugar in the milk (lactose) and protein in the mixture known as the Maillard reaction

    1. Counting, measuring and learning parts of a whole when measuring ingredients.
    2. Adding and subtracting money

    Food supply
    Learn origins of flour from milled wheat, eggs from hens and milk from cows. You can further explore this subject with visits to the farm or reading books such as the charming children's book "pancake, pancake" by Eric Carle.

    Creating a positive learning environment encourages a love for learning that helps a child to better retain essential knowledge, memories and emotions. Indeed, emotions drive attention, and attention drives learning.

    Reference: Marilee Sprenger, US based Educational Consultant & Author, specialized in brain-based teaching.



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