Neuroscience – kindergartner brain

15 Jul

5409What insights can neuroscience offer parents about the mind of a kindergartner?

Indeed, the kindergarten range of four-and-a-half to six years old is often bossy, belligerent, and boastful about newly-acquired motor skills like sprinting and monkey-bar tricks. The kindergarten brain also features superior memory, beefed-up attention span, a tighter grip on reality, improved self-control and social skills, and a firmer grasp of knowledge codes — i.e., numbers and the alphabet.

Even so, kindergartners are burdened and blessed with brain activity that’s wildly alien to adult intelligence. A five-year-old noodle has 100 billion brain cells (neurons) with 77 percent in the furiously-networking cerebral cortex — the zone that constructs language, math, memory, attention, and complex problem-solving. The neurons are maniacally sprouting dendrites, skinny octopus arms that slither out to receive data from up to 15,000 other cells, and axons that transmit information to other cells. Links between neurons — or synapses — build cognitive pathways that create every individual’s specialized “brain architecture” that allows them to comprehend, accumulate, and retain knowledge.

Harvard’s Center for the Developing Child notes, “early experiences in brain architecture make the early years of life [ages 0 to six years] a period of both great opportunity and great vulnerability for brain development.” In other words, these are crucial years for building the foundation of “brain architecture” — a time when, as a parent and caregiver, you can have a significant impact on your child’s development. Kindergarten is also a critical year because you want your child to enjoy the educational process. How can you help your child navigate the new world of “grown up” expectations? Start by following the guidelines to come.

Talk, Sing and Read:
Talk, sing, and read books frequently to your kindergartner. Steady exposure to verbiage enables their cerebral cortex to develop strong neural circuitry for swift acquisition of language. Parents also would do well to be active listeners, asking open-ended questions that initiate thinking. explain how things work, use high-level vocabulary, encourage writing, and include your kindergartner in adult conversations. Kindergarten is an optimal year for introducing new words and a second language. Children’s book author Tomi Ungerer recently opined in the New York Times that, “between the ages of three and seven, children can learn three languages a year. If you’re not teaching them another language, you can always develop their vocabulary.”

Reading help in kindergartner:
Learning to read by “sounding out” letters in words is difficult for many kindergartners, even if their brain’s auditory development is excellent.

Be gentle in Kindergarten:
For their learning ability to flourish, kindergartners need to feel safe and confident. A 2007 Stanford University study indicates that traumatic stress and fear can release toxic levels of the hormone cortisol; this can destroy neurons in the hippocampus, a region that supports factual and episodic memory. To protect your kindergartner’s self-assurance, give your child positive, loving, and encouraging feedback. Minimize reprimands, avoid unnecessary power struggles, and don’t use shouting or spanking in discipline. Express sympathy if they’re afraid of nightmares or the dark, and be patient about bed-wetting.

Tiny inventors:
Kindergarten brains thrive on exploring, playing, inventing, experimenting, constructing, and tinkering with three-dimensional materials. Their brains actually grow in response to novelty and challenge because curiosity secretes dopamine, a chemical that stimulates the dendrite expansion that wires the brain. For these reasons, it’s worth finding a class where children’s physical activity is encouraged and teachers truly understand the developmental needs of the age group. Your child’s kindergarten teacher also needs to be encouraging, understanding, and supportive to help him learn best. At this age, the big academic topics they need to master — reading and math, most notably — should be presented as fun, with minimal and enjoyable homework.

Stimulate the senses:
Expose your child to hands-on interaction with three-dimensional materials and take them on sensory-rich outings to festivals, zoos, museums, concerts, and outdoor natural areas.

Lets focus in kindergarten:
A kindergartner’s attention span is about five to15 minutes long. To bolster your child’s concentration level, engage her in activities that require focus, like meditation and board games. Teaching self-control and delayed gratification will also help your child academically: The correlation between self-control and GPA is twice as high as the correlation for IQ and GPA. You can also boost your child’s patience by modeling it in your own behavior — by speaking and acting calmly. Finally, limit TV watching to an hour per day — studies suggest TV over-stimulates young children’s neurological systems, resulting in hyperactivity and shortened attention spans.

Body building in Kindergarten:
Ideally, kindergartners should have at least 30 minutes a day to run and play outside. Columbia University research discovered that exercise builds brain cells in the dentate gyrus. According to John Ratey, MD, author of Spark, exercise elevates a chemical he dubs “Miracle-Gro for the brain” because it builds the brain’s infrastructure. Full-body exercises like soccer, swimming, gymnastics, and dance are recommended. Plus, for optimal brain growth, feed your child a balanced, nutritious variety of vegetables, fruit, whole grains, dairy, and meat, and limit ingestion of candy, cookies, fruit juice, and sugary, salty junk food. Egg yolk, fatty meat, and soybeans contain choline, the building block for the neurotransmitter acetylocholine, which is crucial in memory function.

Tuning up in kindergarten:
Expose your children to music, and if they show any aptitude, get them an instrument. Play structured, melodic music for them and sing songs. UC Irvine’s Gordon Shaw gave 19 children piano or singing lessons for eight months, and found that the kids demonstrated dramatic improvement in spatial reasoning. Shaw, who regards music as “a window into higher brain function,” has published numerous studies indicating that children who study music are ahead of their peers in math.

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2 Responses to “Neuroscience – kindergartner brain”

  1. cathymcallister July 15, 2013 at 2:20 am #

    Great post! Thanks for the insight into my 5 year old’s mind. Helpful tips too!


  1. Neuroscience for Kids and Adults | My School of Thought - July 28, 2013

    […] Neuroscience – kindergartner brain ( […]

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