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Practical tips schools and parents can adopt to ensure improved cognitive function in children

Learning new things activates different regions of the brain and creates new neural pathways, improving cognitive functioning. Picture: Julia M Cameron/ Pexels

Learning new things activates different regions of the brain and creates new neural pathways, improving cognitive functioning. Picture: Julia M Cameron/ Pexels

Published Oct 24, 2023

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Have you ever wondered how our brains are capable of absorbing and retaining new information?

The human brain, a complex and captivating organ, holds the key to this mystery. In fact, experts boldly claim that it is the most intricate creation in the entire universe. With its many roles and functions, the brain truly wears many hats.

In order to explain how the brain really works, the information processing theory explains how the brain processes and stores information.

According to this theory, the brain functions similarly to a computer, as it receives and stores information of various types. Just like a computer, our brains retrieve this information when needed.

But there's more to our brain's capabilities than meets the eye. It's called neuro-plasticity – the brain's remarkable ability to change and grow in response to experiences.

This means that our brains can form new connections between neurons, reorganise existing ones, and even generate new cells throughout our lives. Neuro-plasticity plays a crucial role in learning, memory and adaptation.

That's why parents and teachers have a vital role in nurturing neuro-plasticity from an early age, according to Desiree Hugo, an education expert and Academic Head at ADvTECH Schools.

Research has shown that a strong foundation in the early years leads to better educational outcomes throughout a child's journey.

In a recent statement, Hugo highlighted the critical role of early childhood development in shaping a child's future success.

According to her, this stage of learning holds immense significance as it lays the foundation for a child's love for learning or their resistance to it.

‘’The early years are crucial because that is where you inculcate a child's love for learning or their resistance to learning,’’ she said, underscoring the need to raise the profile of early childhood development in all schools and at home.

She further explained that during these formative years, a child's brain exhibits greater flexibility and adaptability compared to adults' brains. This natural neuro-plasticity can be used and promoted in a variety of ways to help the child's overall development.

“This is why children should not only be exposed to opportunities to learn but also to develop their thinking abilities, to build the neuro-plasticity around the brain. But the window of opportunity to enhance this is limited, which is why best results are evident if this commences in the early years.”

According to Hugo, teachers and parents should employ the following strategies to help children develop neuro-plasticity:

Encouraging curiosity and exploration

Children are naturally curious and eager to learn about the world around them. By exposing them to new and diverse experiences, you can foster their curiosity and stimulate their brain development.

Provide a supportive and positive environment

For children to develop and flourish, they require a secure and caring atmosphere. Their motivation, self-worth, and confidence can all be improved by a kind and encouraging environment.

It can also shield children from the damaging impacts of stress, which can cause neuro-plasticity to be compromised. Praise their efforts, not only their achievements.

Teaching them new skills and hobbies

Learning new things activates different regions of the brain and creates new neural pathways, improving cognitive functioning. For instance learn a new language together through online apps, learning to bake sew, or garden.

Promoting physical activity and healthy habits

Engaging in regular exercise stimulates the production of certain growth factors in the brain, such as brain-derived neuro-trophic factors.

These growth factors support neuro-plasticity, which is the brain's ability to adapt, change, and reorganise neural pathways. This plays a crucial role in learning, memory formation, and cognitive functions.

According to Hugo, schools and teachers play a crucial role in nurturing neuro-plasticity in children, noting that incorporating different strategies helps stimulate brain development and improve learning outcomes.

Active learning strategies

Active learning strategies such as hands-on activities, interactive discussions and problem-solving games. These approaches encourage active participation, enabling children to develop critical thinking skills and enhance their cognitive flexibility.

Multi-sensory learning

This will contain a plethora of visual aids, auditory learning, and kinaesthetic activities that allow for physical movement while learning.

Mindfulness and stress reduction

This will include techniques that have a favourable impact on brain structure and function, as well as those that promote emotional regulation and stress reduction.

The promotion of curiosity and exploration

Encourages, questions and relates classroom lessons to real-life situations.

Personalised learning

Tailored learning is achieved by feedback and adaptation that enables students to grow from their mistakes, as well as different teaching methods that acknowledge that every child learns differently.

Cognitive thinking

The incorporation of cognitive challenges such as critical thinking exercises and the learning of new skills.