BRAIN BASED LEARNING
someone who works with early childhood educators among whom the
phrase Brain-Based learning is common, I forget that many people
do not know what it means.
education means that we provide the best learning opportunities
for each stage of the developing brain, as we understand it. How
do babies and young children learn?
people equate learning for young children with academic skills
such as reading and writing. However, in order to learn these
skills, children have some benchmarks they must reach in order
to be ready and receptive to developing literacy skills. There
are certain windows of opportunity for some critical areas of
development. This is because the wiring in the brain is connected
to all the various domains of development. When these windows
of opportunity are missed, there is no going back. For example,
when a baby is born with cataracts, which prevents the eye from
seeing, and corrective surgery is not done until the baby is 8
months old, that child will be blind even if the eye can technically
see. This is because during infancy the stimulation of the eye
triggers the connections in the brain. When those connections
do not happen, the eye can't see and that window of opportunity
we talk about a Brain-Based approach to learning in infants, the
first and foremost elements are human touch and human interaction.
Babies need to be held, talked to, responded to, sung to, and
played with. They need eye contact, which makes them feel connected
and acknowledged. Affection, responsiveness and warm interaction
are the watchwords. Babies also need the opportunity to learn
to self regulate, meaning that we give them what they need to
help them calm down. We provide quiet time and a soothing environment;
we may hold them or rub their back; we may even position their
limbs in a calming position. This is done by gently holding the
arms together in front of the baby's body and holding the legs
together, with the knees bent.
position is especially effective for babies who have been exposed
to cocaine in utero. These babies have a particularly hard time
regulating their states, meaning they don't know how to calm themselves
and may go from one extreme to the other very quickly. For example,
they may go from a sound sleep directly to screaming, rather than
slowly awakening and beginning to stir, starting to cry, and then
escalating in intensity.
babies are also often hyperextended. This means that their arms
and legs are moving far away from their bodies. As you move the
baby's limbs close to its body, the baby calms down. This is a
simple illustration of how learning is mind-body. As the baby's
limbs are organized in this calming position, the baby is quieted.
When this is done over and over again, it learns how to position
itself in order to calm down.
stimuli are brain food to babies. How they are touched triggers
specific hormones, what they see and hear trigger connections
in the brain. When stress hormones are a big part of the daily
diet, these chemicals actually change the structure of the developing
brain. This type of development tends to increase impulsivity,
and fight or flight responses in behavior.
Children learn with their entire bodies. This is why pre-schools
are all about playing with other children. They are about manipulation
of materials, and learning how to cooperate, how to control behaviors
and master physical skills. An important goal is to inspire children
to channel their natural curiosity into a lifelong love of learning.
This doesn't happen with flash cards.
parents ask questions like, "Why aren't you teaching my child
to write?" the early childhood educator will explain that
before children can write they need to develop the small muscles
in the hand in order to hold a crayon or pencil correctly. They
will need to develop the hand-eye coordination required to accomplish
this task, and they will need to understand the relationship between
sound and the written word.
and emotional skills are the work of the pre-school child. Those
of us who work in pre-school centers often hear, "Use your
words." This is because children, at this age, have just
recently gone from being pre-verbal to verbal. When they get excited,
they sometimes forget that they can say what they want; they don't
have to cry or hit. Adults sometimes forget this as well.
Brain-Based learning is a process that utilizes the natural elements
of brain development, as well as the natural windows of opportunity,
that open wide during different stages of development. In addition,
it requires that we understand the key principles of Brain-Based
1. These key principles have been summarized by Renate and Geoffrey
Caine in their book published in 1991, titled: MAKING CONNECTIONS,
Teaching and the Human Brain.
Each brain is totally unique and develops on its own timetable.
3. Stress and threat impact the brain in many ways: They reduce
capacity for understanding, meaning and memory. They reduce higher
order thinking skills.
4. Emotions run the brain. Bad ones flavor all attempts at learning,
while good ones create an excitement and love of learning.
5. The neocortex is strongly run by patterns, not facts. We learn
best with themes, patterns, whole experiences.
6. We learn in multi-path, simultaneous style: auditory, kinesthetic,
conscious and non-conscious. We do most poorly when we "piecemeal"
learning into linear, sequential math facts and other out-of-context
7. Our memory is very poor in rote, semantic situations. It is
best in contextual, episodic event-oriented situations.
8. All learning is mind-body. Our physiology, state, posture,
and breathing all affect how we learn.
9. We need to feed the brain. Our brains are stimulated by challenge,
novelty and feedback in our learning environments.
10. Ritual is a way for the reptilian brain to have productive
expression. More positive and productive rituals can lower perceived
stress and threat. The brain is poorly designed for formal instruction.
It is designed to learn what it needs to learn to survive.
11. Our brain is designed for ups and downs, cycles and rhythms,
not constant attention. The terms "on-" or "off-task"
are irrelevant to the brain.
12. Most of what is critical to the brain and learning cannot
be assessed. The best learning is often the creation of biases,
themes, models and patterns of deep understanding.
BRAIN DEVELOPMENT AND LITERACY
can we understand these principles that Renate and Geoffrey Caine
have outlined regarding brain development and how that relate to
literacy? To provide the necessary elements for laying the foundation
for good literacy skills, keep these things in mind:
takes place in the context of environment. A young child's sense
of safety is critical for optimal brain development. Fear and threat
should be absent, while a sense of challenge will help to excite
and engage a child's attention.
takes place in the context of relationships. Social skills, such
as learning to cooperate, play and explore together, learning to
share, developing friendships, learning to solve problems together,
and negotiating conflicts peacefully all contribute to developing
a frame work that nurture the ability to listen and to focus. Adults
who care and who listen to children, teach them to care and to listen
to others. Adults who model appropriate behavior teach children
those behaviors. Adults who set limits firmly and with kindness,
when children are out of control, help them learn self-control and
respect for themselves and other.
environment and every interaction has an emotional quality. Children
have powerful emotions. Adults who accept children's emotions, help
them name their emotions and find appropriate ways to express them
provide children with acceptable models of behavior and engender
empathy. Remember, literacy skills are nurtured when a child has:
A basic understanding of the relationship between print and the
2. An excitement about learning
3. Comprehension and the opportunity to use new words .
4. An understanding of simple numerical concepts
5. An opportunity for artistic expression including: drawing,
singing, dance and music.
President of Parenting U International
Marlene's book is available directly
and is posted in The Well,
our on -line store.