‘Practise makes perfect’; ‘Try and try again’;‘Use it or lose it’; ‘Train your brain’! These are all phrases that teachers and parents say to children to get them to acquire new knowledge and skills. What they are talking about is brain plasticity, also known as neuroplasticity.
Imagine having to walk from one end of a maize field to the other. You have never been there before and nobody has ever walked there before. At first, it would be difficult. You would struggle to clamber through the tall plants and it would be long and tiring as you navigated your way in the right direction to get to the other side. But once you were through you would have made a subtle path where you had travelled. The next time you had to cross the field, you would use the same path, and it would be a little easier; you might even take a short cut knowing where it would meet up with your original path. Eventually, after walking your path again and again across the field, there would be a perfectly clear path for you to follow, with very little effort.
Each time you walk across that metaphorical maize field, you are thinking, calculating, and memorising and your brain starts undergoing physical changes. It extends and adapts and moulds, as new input comes it, and like the footpaths in the field, new neural pathways are created in your brain. This is how brain plasticity works! This is also exactly how our children’s’ brains grow! Having plasticity means that the brain can be easily shaped. So the more it is exposed to something, the more defined the neural connections will become.
Fortunately, by going to school, children’s brains are being developed all the time. This is why at St Micheal’s, we encourage our children to explore and gain skills in many different areas: academic, artistic, physical, social, emotional, and cognitive.
Here are a few recommendations for parents to have a positive effect on their children’s brain plasticity:
Tend to emotions
Parents can support their children’s developing brains by listening to them and offering them patience, love, and positive regard. The more resistant a child seems to warmth, the more they often need to be exposed to it.
Feed the body
Encourage and support healthy habits of sleep, nutrition, and exercise. The brain is part of your child’s growing body and needs all these basic elements to develop and expand to its full capacity.
Expose and expand
What your children are exposed to, dictates how their brains will develop. Expand your children’s interests by exposing them to different kinds of musical, linguistic, mathematical, natural, artistic, sensory, social, and physical experiences.
Obstacles, failures and misbehaviour are never pleasant, but they are wonderful learning opportunities. They are indications of where your child might be struggling and needs extra attention.
Give it more time, but don’t give up
If every brain is mouldable, then that includes the brains of children with learning problems. So if your child is struggling in a certain area, they are still capable of improving significantly and even mastering it in time.