Neuroscience has confirmed what would seem sensible on a gut level: that environmental factors influence the prenatal and postnatal brain. Since this is so, the question becomes, how can we create conditions that foster healthy children and their developing brains in a way that invites a love for learning?
Here are some thoughts to answer that question:
- Provide a steady source of positive emotional support. Love, encouragement, warmth, and care enrich a child’s brain cortex—the outer, most developed part of the brain where thinking occurs.
- Think carefully about providing a nutritious diet with enough proteins, vitamins, minerals, and calories. The branches on nerve cells in the cortex grow faster and longer with proper nutrition.
- Stimulate all the senses—though not necessarily all of them at the same time. This is a fine line. Overload is not recommended because the brain needs time to consolidate information. Too much stimulation overrides the brain’s ability to learn, making the learning process stressful and something to be avoided. That being said, multisensory experiences are a great way to develop all of a child’s brain cortex. For example, spending time in nature is a good way to stimulate all the senses because it stimulates all of the senses but is not overwhelming; the stimulation is paced, gentle, and balanced.
- Consider the age and stage of development of the child and then present novel experiences and challenges to match that age and stage. The challenges presented should offer a pleasurable sense of intensity rather than undue pressure and stress. Challenges need to be neither too easy nor too difficult.
- Include social interaction in activities. Playmates are not only enjoyable, they can be intriguing.
- Offer an enjoyable atmosphere that promotes exploration. The process of exploration will help children develop a broad range of skills and interests.
- Let the child be an active participant who can become involved in the activities of an enriched environment. Let the child’s energy be a part of the process.
- Support creativity. Toys; friends; fantasy friends; a rich environment filled with language, music, and art; and a mentor who cares and listens will be wonderful additions to a child’s mind that will remain with him or her throughout life.
- Don’t rush. A child needs time to think about what is happening and what will be happening next. Free time gives children the opportunity to think and to use what has already been stored in the brain.
Remember, learning is most effective when it is fun!