Practical Neuroscience for Parents and Teachers

Practical Neuroscience for Parents and Teachers

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“There is no such thing as a boring topic—just boring training.” So says Stella Collins, founder of the Brain Friendly Learning Group and author of the 2015 book Neuroscience for Learning and Development.

The average person does consider neuroscience boring or, more likely, incomprehensible. As with most specialty fields, we hear about it primarily through the experts—making it hard to grasp how useful the basic principles can be in daily life.

The neuroscience-based or “brain-friendly” approach is in fact very helpful to teachers and parents as they seek to kindle children’s passion for learning—and you don’t need even a bachelor’s degree to understand the basics.

Basic Neuroscience Principle #1: Habit Has a Physical Basis

As repeated passage through a field eventually wears a clearly visible track, repeatedly responding to similar situations in similar ways carves a detectable “path” in the brain’s neurotransmitter network, creating a “comfort zone” that triggers discomfort when we attempt a new response. Although the brain’s “habit-building” system is there to ingrain necessary life skills (that’s why we never forget how to swim), it can turn into an enemy when we choose unhealthy responses too many times.

Be patient with children who seem resistant to learning; change does hurt. Instead of labeling them “stubborn” or “defensive” (which only gives them a reputation to live up to), look for ways to ease into learning through their existing habits.

Basic Neuroscience Principle #2: The Developing Brain Has a Shorter Attention Span

Although it may be hard to believe if your kids are television fans, small children can listen with genuine, focused attention for only a few minutes. Even the tween-and-up crowd will “zone out” after ten or fifteen minutes (for that matter, few adults really hear the bulk of a ninety-minute lecture). Rather than spend long stretches telling groups of students what to know, encourage interpersonal interaction, and build in regular breaks where they can test new knowledge hands-on.

And, parents, don’t hamper your children’s basic life learning by deciding for them when they’re ready to try a new skill or have practiced it enough for one day!