Neuroscience for Kids: Understanding the Brain for Deeper Learning
Estimated reading time: 3 minutes
As children grow and learn, they become increasingly more aware of their interests and the learning methods 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 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 more accessible and is a much more long-term process.
While the human brain is incredibly complex (and isn’t even fully understood yet), children can quickly gain a 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 with each other, piecing together a sort of road map through our minds. Everything we do and learn helps determine how our neural connections will be organized. In paying close attention to this organization, children can become empowered as learners.
We’ve all experienced the stress and frustration that challenges can present, and it can be especially debilitating for young learners. However, in tackling these feelings, serious learning can take place. When learning becomes difficult – kids can’t tie the laces, the bike won’t stand upright, and the puzzle can’t be solved – it can be uncomfortable. We feel frustrated and stressed when challenged because our brains don’t yet know how 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. However, many resources are 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. 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 to deepen understanding. Additionally, families can use Neuroscience for Kids’ suggestions for experimenting with their brains using hands-on activities, games, science experiments, and more.
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]