Neuroscience for Kids: Understanding the Brain for Deeper Learning
As children grow and learn, they become increasingly more aware of their own interests and the methods of learning that they most enjoy. Inevitably, however, there will be challenges in a child’s pursuit of knowledge that make learning frustrating or stressful. However, with an increased awareness of how the human brain works and an understanding of metacognition, young learners can learn to see challenges in a different light.
Metacognition, easily and loosely defined as “knowing about knowing,” involves understanding how learning works in the human brain and understanding and paying close attention to how your own personal learning takes place. For young learners, the biggest challenge presented by metacognition is understanding how the brain works; tuning in to personal learning style is easier and is a much more long-term process.
While the human brain is incredibly complex (and isn’t even fully understood yet), children can easily gain critical understanding of what it is that we do know about our minds. Made up of over 100 billion neurons, our brains control everything that we do through connections between these neurons. As we experience life, our neurons build connections between each other, piecing together a sort of road map through our minds. Everything that we do and everything that we learn helps to determine how our neural connections will be organized, and in paying close attention to this organization, children can become empowered as learners.
When learning becomes difficult – the laces simply can’t be tied, the bike won’t stand upright, and the puzzle simply can’t be solved – it can be uncomfortable. We’ve all experienced the stress and frustration that challenges can present, and it can be especially debilitating for young learners. However, it is in tackling these feelings that serious learning can take place. We feel frustrated and stressed when we’re challenged because our brains don’t yet know the way to get to the conclusion we seek. But once we find the way, we learn – and once we’re aware of this, we can use metacognition to consciously shift our focus from frustration to determination when challenges appear.
There are endless resources for learning about the inner workings of the human brain, but few of these resources are accessible to children. A myriad of resources are, however, available via the Center for Sensorimotor Neural Engineering’s Neuroscience for Kids website. Filled with diverse resources for learning about neuroscience, the online resource offers information about the basic workings of the brain and its neurons for beginners, alongside more complex information about the brain’s higher functions and its connections to the spinal cord and the nervous system. Additionally, families can use Neuroscience for Kids’ suggestions for experimenting with their brains using hands-on activities, games, science experiments, and more. Highlights from this resource include activities to explore your body’s ”sidedness” (the preference of one side over the other) and endless ideas for building visual models of neurons and brains in order to deepen understanding.
Additional resources for exploring neuroscience and metacognition include:
- Think, Think, Think: Learning About Your Brain by Pamela Hill Nettleton
- Your Fantastic Elastic Brain by JoAnn Deak
- Phineas Gage: A Gruesome but True Story About Brain Science by John Fleischman
- The Owner’s Manual for Driving Your Adolescent Brain by JoAnn Deak
[Photo credits: (cc) dierk schaefer]