Thursday, April 22, 2010

Brains are cool

I'm re-reading a favorite book of mine, Endangered Minds: why children don't think and what we wan do about it by Jane Healy. I pulled it out because I was avoiding reading the new biography of Jane Adams. I had suggested it to my bookgroup friend, Ann, because the book received fabulous reviews and Jane Adams is a person I'm interested in. But, I guess I'm the only person who doesn't like this biography. I'm finding I just can't slog my way through it. (Sorry, Ann! I owe you an email.) But anyway, back to a book I do like. I've blogged about Jane Healy before, but I'll say it again...parents should really read her books, especially this one. It's the kind of book where I will come across interesting bits of information and read them aloud to whoever's in the room, or just mark them in the book. The information about the brain and how it developes, especially in regard to higher level language skills, is both fascinating and convicting. I find I immediately pay more attention to how I talk with my children whenever I pick this book up.

Here are some interesting excerpts (don't worry, I won't write all the ones I underlined):

"Before brain regions are myelinated, they do not operate efficiently. For this reason, trying to "make" children master academic skills for which they do not have the requisite maturation may result in mixed-up patterns of learning. As we have seen, the essence of functional plasticity is that any kind of learning -- reading, math, spelling, handwriting, etc. -- may be accomplished by any of several systems. Naturally, we want children to plug each piece of learning into the best system for that particular job. If the right one isn't yet available or working smoothly, however, forcing may create a functional organization in which less adaptive, "lower" systems are forced to do the work." (p. 67)

This is the background information for this idea:

"I often wonder how many children decide they are "dumb" about certain subjects, when the truth is that someone simply laid on the learning too soon in a form other than the one they needed to receive it in at the time. Thus, they were cheated of the chance to learn it in an appropriately challenging and satisfying way." (p. 69)

Of course, since I tend to delay formal academics with my children, I like any type of research that supports my theories.

And remember my post about crazy questions? This statement makes me feel a bit better:

"Children with insufficient language skills have difficulty requesting information or analyzing problems because they can't formulate appropriate questions." (p. 96)

These last two excerpts I find encouraging. Sometimes it is difficult to go against the tide and not have one's children scheduled every minute of the day, but instead involve them in the day to day activities of them home. When becoming involved in the disfunctional game of parenting one-upsmanship (which I try to avoid), admitting your children are not involved in three sports, private music instruction for two instruments, plus a couple of dance classes can be akin to admitting your children are allowed to eat wallpaper paste. While I don't often suffer from parental insecurity, it is nice to know I have some good brain research behind my decisions.

"Children with plenty of time to "waste" can be encouraged to seek out activities that are appropriate for an individual brain's stage of development. Youngsters who are hurried from one activity to another may get lots of sensory input but be shortchanged on the time-consuming process of forming association networks to understand and organize experience meaningfully." (p.74)


"Many children today spend a great deal of time in situations where competent adults are not available or involved in providing suitable scaffolding for inner speech and other problem-solving skills. These abilities are best learned in natural contexts, with real problems that have meaning to both adult and child -- such as helping in the kitchen, the workshop, the garden, the store, or other forms of mutual activity. Watching television does not suffice, since it is not an interactive experience and tends to suppress any tendency to talk through problems or ask questions about why things are happening. It also tends to focus on "magical" solutions and visual effects that defy true logic." (p.187)


Lauren said...

It sounds like I need to get my hands on this book. I am a firm believer in unstructured free play and I am always impressed with the games, stories and adventures the kids come up with on their own.

mrsbroccoliguy said...

This is very interesting stuff! I definitely need to get that book. And I appreciate you posting all this now... it helps to solidify my feeling that Zeeb really does need more time before moving on to 2nd grade...

susieloulou said...

Hurray for kids not booked every minute! Lucky, lucky kids :-)

kimjoystewart said...

So excited to discover your blog! We are one of "those families"--the oddball homeschoolers who don't have their kids scheduled every minute of every day. There's a large homeschooling group in our small town, but one's like our family are pretty rare. It's nice to find a like-minded family. I've wanted to read that book for a while--I'll have to put it on my list.

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