The brain-boosting habit you already know how to do

I was talking with Nathan Wallis (Director of X-Factor Education) last night and he mentioned that research shows very few children actually benefit from an early dose of academic learning – the so-called head start vanishes by early school years.

Those who start school-type learning later catch up quickly because it is all about the stages of brain development. Giving a three year old education meant for a seven year old is like feeding a newborn steak and chips – it’s just not the right time. All the reading and arithmetic – that’ll happen, but later, when their brains are geared up and ready to learn that stuff.

You can boost learning in the early years and are probably already doing it without knowing the full benefits.

The boosters are – a one-on-one, loving, safe relationship, lots of verbal language and opportunities to play. Do I mean education disguised as play so that they learn shapes and colours and numbers while they play? No, I mean banging pot lids and chasing the cat and squelching in mud and twanging that springy door stopper thing. I mean play.

As we grow older engaging your brain through play is just as important. Play is still meant to be fun, though it is slightly different than the brain boosting play for our grandchildren. Play for adults can include reading books and magazines, playing games like Sudoku and crossword puzzles, computer activities, even just web surfing.

Unlike with passive TV watching, with any of these activities, you are engaging your brain, learning new things, discovering, stretching. Each of these things requires some level of effort.

There was a recent American neurology study focusing on two groups of people between the ages of 70 and 89. One group had “diagnosed memory loss; the other group had no memory loss. The study found that:

  • People who read, played games, did crafts (pottery, quilting), and/or played on the computer had a 30% to 50% decrease in the risk of developing memory loss.
  • People who “participated in social activities and read magazines during middle age were 40% less likely to develop memory loss than those that did not do those activities.
  • Those who watched more TV were 50% more likely to develop memory loss.

I think the moral of this is that we all need to continue to play throughout our lives, to boost our brains. Not a bad excuse to make sure we get some ‘play time’ each day.


By John Cowan, The Parenting Place

Improving and equipping families to thrive.

Read more from John and The Parenting place here.