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Saturday, August 22, 2015

Brain development myths and pre-schooling

Myths of brain development have contributed to the proliferation of pre-schools. There are many myths of brain. Here is one list. We shall discuss here about three top most myths that affect pre-schoolers.

1. Myth 1: Brain is plastic only till the age of 6: Many parents today believe in this myth and therefore are eager to put their child in the pre-school. They believe that if the brain is kept 'idle', it will remain un-utilised, and therefore the child will not develop better. This myth has been busted and is not considered to be true. Our brain is plastic enough to change at any age. So do not put your child in pre-school, because his brain is more plastic at this age.

But why is it still important for a child to learn the 'right way' till the age of 6? It is due to 'brain wiring'. Each of our brains is wired differently depending on where we start, what we experience, and how we learn. This 'wiring' is unique for each of us. So if we learn 'numbers' in a particular way, for instance, our wiring will be happen in that specific way. And our future learning also gets 'channelised' due to the existing wiring. Certain types of brain wiring, for instance, how we learn to react to people or how we develop patience impact our 'future learning' much more than, say the way we learn 'a subject like geography'. Montessori is more helpful because it helps child to properly wire his development of 'traits' like patience, concentration and overcoming the fear of failing, instead of wiring the 'content' of subjects.

2. Myth 2: Our brain impressions are permanent: This myth makes parent believe that whatever the child learns at the age of 3-6 stays with him forever. Once again, this understanding is mistaken. When we learn something for the first time, we use our 'memory' to retain it. If we however do not repeat this often, we lose the 'content'.

How does the child retain the 'content' for a long time? He/she retains it by using five tricks: repetition, use of emotion, interest, understand the relevance and interlinking. These five keys help the child  retain the 'content' for a long time. That is why, when the child  repeats the content again and again, the child retains it after few repetitions. How do we make the child repeat 'content again? 

One is by force. For instance, ask the child to 'write' 1 to 100 three times in his homework every day. This use of force however creates unintended consequences. It 'distorts' the will of the child and makes the child feel 'helpless'. The state of 'helplessness' affects the child's overall learning, because he loses motivation. This is what happens in normal pre-school. After the initial spurt of learning new content, the child soon loses his motivation to learn. Morever, it also affects his future learning of  arithmetic, because the foundation of his brain wiring of 'numbers' is not proper.

On the other hand, Montessori uses 'interest' to fuel the repetition. A child in Montessori repeats an activity due to his/her interest. And because every child can take the material on his own ( there is no group learning in Montessori), he can repeat it as many times as he individually wants. This repetition enables the child to first master the 'fine motor skills' but also the later 'sensory' impressions. Even when the child is 'taught' numbers, he learns it in a 'fundamentally proper' way. This helps his brain to 'wire' the numbers in an appropriate way, which later helps the learning of numbers through an appropriate channel.  

Myth 3: Brain has compartments for different content and skills: This myth has resulted in misdirected strategies of learning. One is , for instance, left brain-right brain compartmentalization. Now researchers agree that brain does not have these left brain-right brain compartments. 

But this dichotomy has resulted into various misdirected learning strategies. For instance, Left brain retains analytical content and right brain retains imagination. So to teach imagination, some pre-schools teach content like 'drawing, music or craft'. Naturally this does not help the child to 'imagine' better. On the other hand, Montessori takes a different approach. It trains the child to build 'reproductive imagination' which later can mature into 'creative imagination' using the entire brain, not just one part of the brain

Another myth arising out of this compartments is that we have different learning styles. For instance, some learn by 'doing', some by 'visual pictures'. Once again, this is just a myth. We may prefer to use a specific  mechanism of learning more than other, but that is not determined by our 'brain'. It is determined by our 'initial wiring'.

If you are interested in knowing more about brain development in simple language, see this 

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