"I Know How My Brain Works" - Why It's Important to Teach Young Kids about Neuroscience

  • Cognitive
  • Curriculum
  • Dyslexia Research
Steve Wilkins, Head of School Blog

The fourth grade at Carroll has made a deep commitment to learning about how the human brain functions. Yes, you heard it right. Fourth grade. Nine and Ten year olds. Teacher Jamie Mathews and her fourth grade colleagues are dedicated to this work.

When I met with these inspired learners a few weeks ago, we began by having each student explain something they had learned about the brain from their teachers. Their answers were so well informed:

“The amygdala controls my emotions.”

“The hippocampus is where memory and learning happens.” 

“The prefrontal cortex helps us make plans and decisions.”

The focus of our time together was to explore the concept of neuroplasticity. A series of short videos captured by the student themselves in their Seesaw video portfolios reveals the depth of their understanding of the concept and its importance to their education. Why doesn’t every school teach children about the power they have in their heads and convince them of their ability to make their brains to grow and change in positive ways?

A decade ago, perhaps, the concept of neuroplasticity was little-known in schools and an alien concept to teachers. Fifteen years ago when I would speak to parents and ask them if they knew the word “neuroplasticity,” I would often get a blank stare. Today, parents not only know the term but can verbalize that neuroplasticity is the potential salvation for their children who struggle to learn to read and perform in school.

Students’ comments about neuroplasticity are so insightful about neuroplasticity, learning, and education:

“The brain is plasticy, flexible, and makes new pathways when you want to learn new things.” 

“You can get rid of old bad habits.”

“Your brain is flexible, when you learn your brain makes new pathways and gets bigger and better.”

“Neuroplasticity makes your brain stretch.” 

“Your brain never stays the same. It is always under construction.”

Teaching Kids about the Brain and Neuroscience

Neuroplasticity provides the logic behind Carroll School’s Cognitive Curriculum, in collaboration with researchers and neuroscientists. Targeted Cognitive Intervention is designed to exercise weak pathways in brain areas crucial for reading efficiency. We seek to improve reaction time, processing speed, working memory, and executive functions. Neuroplasticity is not controversial; it is established scientific fact. Whether schools can do anything to promote neuroplastic response in desirable cognitive functions is much less certain. Nonetheless, Carroll is taking on a challenge that few schools dare to accept: under the guidance of neuroscientists, we are studying whether we can improve cognitive functioning through dedicated curriculum. So far, the signal and direction of our work (and student outcomes) is incredibly promising.

By any measure, though, teaching young children that they can gain control over various functions of their brain is healthy and gives them agency and power to affect positive changes for themselves. “My brain does lots of things well and some things not so well. Neuroplasticity says I can get better at things.”

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