17th Feb 2015

ENRICHMENT IDEAS FOR YOUNG BRAINS

 

SOME THOUGHTS ON THE BRAIN AT DIFFERENT STAGES OF DEVELOPMENT

ENRICHMENT IDEAS FOR TODDLERS

 
The major requirement for toddlers is getting the love and emotional support to encourage their natural curiosity to explore. Neglect and abuse can have serious consequences on a child’s ability to regulate emotions later in life because the brain uses so much energy dealing with stress that the emotional centre in the frontal lobes fails to develop. There are four essential elements for an infant apart from nutrition: Emotional development is essential in the first 24 months to set up the social and emotional skills for later in life. Infants learn this from having it model to them. Sensory motor development happens through exploration and play. The vestibular system in the inner ear controls movement and balance. The vestibular system is stimulated through movement especially rocking. Auditory development needs to be closely checked particularly when your child begins to speak. Infants can usually discriminate most sounds in their environment by 6 months. Vision development can be stimulated through exposure to lots of colours, shapes, movements but not television. Television is 2 dimensional and the infant brain needs depth. Lots of television can cause the brain stress due to its inability to process images.
 
Some ideas:
• Have a mystery box with colourful items, items of different textures, smells, shapes, sounds, etc.
• Have a rocking chair. Reading and rocking is good for the development of the inner ear. This in turn is helpful for the development of auditory processing.
• Three of the most common sounds that are often confused at an early age are da, ba and ga. If a toddler experiences an inner ear problem then these three sounds can be very hard to distinguish.
• Talk to toddlers in your normal tone about things you are doing. Name things that you are using in your everyday tasks.
• Every sound a baby makes is a form of communication.

PRESCHOOLERS

Between the ages of 2 and 5 the brain undergoes an enormous amount of growth and metabolism. Ensuring that the environment is enriched is very important. Don’t push reading. There is no absolute time when a child is ready to read. It depends on a number of factors. Generally boys are ready later than girls. Some will start at 4 others at 7. Different approaches to reading work for different children. I believe a combination of approach to language development is best.
 
Some ideas:
• Lots of print walks on walls and objects.
• Reading to children and letting them continue to use their imagination to build fantasy worlds. Lots of conversing, singing.
• Don’t use television to keep them occupied. While some shows are good most dull their sensitivity, creativity and imagination. It is a passive activity that should not replace mental and physical activities.
• Self-talk can be used when playing with toys. Don’t discourage.
• Don’t let interests become a drag. If it is then it is generally a sure sign that the child is not ready or not interested. • Teach rhyming games and the alphabet.
• Encourage simple toys that require imagination.
 

PRIMARY

 
The primary years are often regarded as the enjoyable years of brain growth. Every child deserves an enriched environment. It is important during primary years to have good routines and boundaries around television, reading, homework or home learning, exercise, screen time and most importantly sleep. The nurturing parent who is confident enough to encourage mistakes is an advocate for learning. School is the place where we start to learn that the world is not always fair. For some children school is the first place where they realise that the world is not just about them. The brain goes through massive development during the primary years therefore nutrition is absolutely vital. Junk food leads to junk brain.
 
Some ideas:
• Reading every night is the best thing. For reluctant readers encouraging them to read 5 to 10 pages a night will soon add up to 3650 pages in a year.
• A healthy diet is more critical than you think. Limiting or not allowing soft drink at meal times is a good thing.
• Don’t reward kids with treats for doing normal expectations. Once a child has an experience they then have expectations. They learn very quickly about conditioned responses.
• Balance the amount of out of school commitments during the week. If a child is passionate about a certain hobby or sport sure encourage them but monitor their progress and always keep it balanced.
• Music is a great brain booster. Learning a musical instrument can build neural pathways, as can learning another language. The brain is really fertile and is stimulated by different inputs.
 

TEENAGERS

Anne Frank wrote in her diary July 1944 “ all children must look after their own upbringing. Parents can only give good advice or put them on the right paths, but the final forming of a person’s character lies in their own hands.” How true. Enrichment for teenagers is pretty much in their own hands. Parents need to be on the bus offering support but they can’t actually make CHOICES. Life really takes shape during adolescence. The brain is designed to prune back during adolescence and practically redesigns itself. The reason for this is to develop specificity. There are dangers for the adolescent brain in that it is extremely vulnerable to genetic express. The brain is more susceptible to mental illness during adolescence than at any other time. The massive restructure of the teenage brain along with fluctuating hormones is the reason why many teenagers can seem like a different species. Teens need time to catch up to what is happening their brain. Sleep is where they catch up. The teen brain is highly sensitive to the pleasurable affects of nicotine and alcohol. For many teens risky behaviour, drugs and sexual activity activate an increase in dopamine giving them a pleasure hit (usually a false feeling). Many teens have low levels of melatonin making them inclined to go to bed late and get up late.
 
Some ideas:
• Having a good breakfast is vital.
• Getting a consistent 8 to 9 hours sleep.
• Maintain a good exercise routine. Being in sport or an interest that involves physical elements is ideal (martial arts).
• Limit time watching television and computer gaming. Television dampens the brains natural ability to focus. It also shapes our attention span.
• Teach self-talk skills. It can help with self-control, and anger management. Develop simple phrases that can be said in the following manner eg keep cool. 1. Say out loud. 2. Whisper it. 3. Move you lips. 4. Say it silently. The process triggers the brain to know what it is dealing with.
• Teach the equation I + R = C (Incident + Response = Consequence). The response is the educated part. It is the part that determines your life. Responses need to be predominately from our THOUGHTS not EMOTIONS.
• Know your child’s interest and strengths. I sell the Learning & Career Profiling System @$25/year subscription. www.livelifelearning.com.au
• Encourage music to focus and calm. Different styles do different jobs. Performers, athletes, speakers, teachers use music to effectively change emotional states.
• Use colour to highlight information.
• Encourage 8 to 10 hours sleep per night.
• Use Mind Maps to comprehend information. Good mind maps follow very distinct rules.
• Use visualisation and imagery to help build confidence. I recommend the Bio12 Training, a simple guide to developing mental skills. Available through my website www.livelifelearning.com.au
• Build healthy concepts and avoid emotionally powerful conflicts ion the family.
• Talk about the future often.
• Help to guide some form of relaxation. Some teens find it hard to switch off.
• Encourage the arts, musical instruments, drama, and other World 2 activities.
• Allow healthy spaces for study and relaxing.
• Don’t avoid talking about mental health or brain development. Get a simple book and use it as a reference.
• Being healthy means physical, mental, social and spiritual.
• Don’t do stuff for teens that they can do themselves no matter how much you love them.
• Keep computers out of bedrooms until at least Yr 10. That might be a huge challenge but only parents know the level of trust a relationship has. The more trust the more responsibilities.
• Teach that the most important CHOICES are those made in private.
• Encourage volunteer work.
• LISTEN to your teenager for at least 12 minutes a day (as a bare minimum - longer better but really listen) 
• Travel and holiday with your teens for as long as you can.
• Always praise effort over intelligence. The latter takes care of itself the harder one works.