How can we help balance brain development?
All movements and thinking activities that children engage in help to develop the network of brain cells that are so crucial to learning and coping in life. We can create new connections in our brains throughout our lives but during childhood this is crucial for their state of learning readiness and ability to meet academic demands.
The brain is composed of a left and right side – called right and left hemispheres. It may be that we develop a preference for using either side to function but rather than encourage a decided dominance of a particular hemisphere, it is far better to balance the brain. We need the specialised areas of both hemispheres to function optimally – especially in school. With this in mind, we should try hard to provide opportunities that will promote development of both brains in our children.
What kind of activities does your child gravitate towards? TV, computers, video games and texting will wire the brain in a certain way. Art, music, sport, messy play will result in other areas being wired. What is needed is a variety of activities to help the brain’s left and right sides develop equally and be able to communicate efficiently.
The left hemisphere predominates when we are using our right hands and right side of our bodies, speaking, reasoning, or working out a maths or science problem. You will be helping the development of this brain when you get your child involved with:
- You can play with numbers, for example having the child learn to count by jumping up and down a flight of steps; call out a number and ask the child to tell you what number comes before or after it; introduce shapes and have them cut out different paper shapes; teach quantity in the kitchen.
- As soon as a child is speaking his home language well, introduce a second language. Teaching songs, rhymes and simple phrases is a good beginning.
- Install a love of reading. Children simply must have stories read to them.
- Once children are older and can read, play a dictionary game: give them the first three letters of a word and have them find words with those letters.
- Play with science concepts. For example, ask children how water turns into ice and back again; what makes wood burn? What is wind? Where does our water come from? Explore the environment: have children draw everything they can find in the garden, including insects and discuss their discoveries with them.
- Introduce them to music: if at all possible, let them learn to play an instrument. Studies have shown that music appears to accelerate language development, speech and reading skills.
- If learning an instrument isn’t possible, at least play music in the home with chances to move to the rhythm, beat out the rhythm on homemade drums and learn the words of songs. Be sure to include a variety of music – including classical.
The right side of the brain is specialised for control over left-hand and left side of the body, imagination, intuition, understanding the ‘big picture’ and more. Activities that encourage right brain development include:
- Telling stories and hearing stories read or told out loud.Understanding content through tone of voice and speech inflection is an important part of comprehension.
- Dealing with feelings: talking about the child’s own feelings and how others feel; watch a film together and talk about how events affected the child and you. Ask for suggestions how the story or ending could be changed and how that would affect feelings.
- Encourage children to engage in fantasy play. Playing make believe is a very important part of childhood.
- Study the faces of other people and try to guess their feelings. This can be done with ‘emoticons’ too, but looking at people when you are out and about can be fun and enlightening too.
- Use music to discuss feelings. How do different pieces of music affect feelings?
- Use art to express feelings: blank pieces of paper with paint or crayons stimulates imagination and the release of emotions. Don’t overdo the colouring-books.
This list provides some examples of the many activities that can be used to help whole-brain development. Spend some time on the internet to lengthen the list, and then enjoy the time spent with your child. Your brain will benefit too!