Nikki Darling-Kuria’s book Brain-Based Early Learning Activities (2010) explains what goes on when children learn, and since our program is based on the same principles, her neurological reasoning has given me new appreciation for how much children are actually doing while engaged in play.
The theory and practice behind brain-based learning centres on how the presentation of information impacts the brain, and especially how it helps the developing brain create and retain connections. Learning is, after all, about forming connections. Connections between the red apple, the red fire truck, and the red chair, that all connect in my brain to the idea of “red” or redness.
While adults have already learned to recognize this idea, a young brain might still have questions before feeling certain that the colour isn’t green, or watery. They are still learning the defining characteristics of all of these. The information will need to be presented many many many times, strengthening the connection, until it finally sticks.
Children’s brains are wired for learning, but as adults, caregivers, and educators, there are lots of things we can do to create the perfect conditions. The first thing we need to do is attract the brain’s attention, and we do this for children the same way we do for adults; with novelty.
In marketing, “standing out,” is the golden rule. If you can’t be distinguished from the rest, you won’t get any attention. But your message also has to make sense, meaning, it must connect to something already known. The same is true for children, and even more so, because so much of the world is unknown, it’s just so much white noise, until they find something they recognize. Something to connect to.
Brain-based learning takes into account the fact that children learn by connecting the new information to something they already know, and build stronger connections by exploring the familiar through novelty.
At Buddings, the activities are specifically designed to attract attention, generate interest, and challenge children to find something that connects with what they already know. Our September theme, Oceans, is a perfect example. By introducing elements that the children have had some experience with, we stimulate their minds so that new information connects.
One activity last week was about counting by feet. We read the book “One is a snail, 10 is a crab,” and practiced counting the feet of various sea creatures on a beach picnic. The kids could relate to running and playing at the beach, and they all agreed that they have two feet, while Benson has four. Introducing the idea that the sea creatures in our book have more or less feet made them curious.
As a group, they counted the number of feet on every page, and by the end of the book, were turning the pages excitedly to count which animals had the most feet.
We learned several new things, strengthened lots of semi-formed connections, and connected it all to information that was already known. Now, without repeating the game several more times, there’s a good chance that our 10-footed crab friend will be forgotten. But, if we repeat it again (on Stories and Games day this week, for example), their familiarity will make the lessons that much easier to remember. That’s how brain-based learning works!
Next time you’re tempted to “lose” the book you’ve read 100 times in a row, think instead about how satisfying it is to make a prediction, on a project at work, or by betting on a sports team, and be proven correct. That’s what happens for your child when they “guess” what will happen on the next page.