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Varied Experiences & The Young Brain

Last week, we learned that the very young brain’s BASIC BLUEPRINT is coded by genetics. But it is a child’s EXPERIENCES in early childhood that have a lasting impact on the developing brain and determine whether the child will have a strong foundation for learning, for behavior and for health.

We learned that when special cells called neurons communicate with one another, they form circuits in the brain, and the more these circuits are used, the stronger and faster they become. These circuits help a child process emotion, behavior, logic, language, memory, visual learning and motor skills. But when these circuits aren’t used in early childhood, they are PRUNED (i.e. removed). And it becomes increasingly difficult, as the child gets older, to reestablish circuitry in areas that have not been used.

So, having established this understanding, we can quickly come to appreciate the incredible value in ensuring our young children are exposed to diverse experiences that best establish the circuitry in their brain.

We will talk about social and emotional development in the coming weeks. For now, as we work to understand this concept, let’s talk about learning. We want to focus on how critically important it is for a young child to be exposed to a variety of learning experiences that use the four different ways a child can learn, called learning modalities – visual (showing your child), auditory (talking to your child or singing along with music), tactile (having your child point or touch) and kinesthetic (opportunities for your child to “do” things by playing games or doing actions or manipulating objects).

If you notice your child seems particularly skilled in one area, it is sometimes instinctual to gravitate to that particular area, to support and enhance their gift. So, a parent who notices their young child is good at building, might be inclined to offer many opportunities to build. While this strategy does help further develop an area of the brain that is already strong, it is important to recognize the need to be even more committed to offering opportunities in areas that seem somewhat weak in comparison. If a child doesn’t enjoy exploring those areas, there are ways to help make them fun and enjoyable.

For example, for a kindergarten child who can build Legos designed for ages 8+, but cannot recognize his letters, it is important to find ways to engage the child in letter recognition, while using ALL the learning modalities – you can have the child point to the letters, hear the letter, say the letter, draw the letters, mold the letter from Wiki Sticks and playdough, build the letter with Lego, draw the letter in shaving cream or sand, cut out the letter from magazines, circle the letter in a word search, do alphabet yoga (try to form the shape of the letter with their body) and find pictures in a magazine that have the letter’s sound in them.

Likewise, for a child who is gifted when it comes to learning, but struggles with social interactions, it is critically important to support them in learning developmentally appropriate skills for interacting with peers.

Intervening at a very young age (preferably under age 5) can often strengthen areas of a child’s brain so effectively that they will NEVER KNOW they had weaknesses that needed to be addressed.

Before reading this post, did you realize how you could help mold your child’s brain? What are your child’s strengths and weaknesses? Do you focus more on building their strengths? Or trying to help overcome their weaknesses? Will this understanding of the brain change your approach, moving forward?

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