“A boy at my table made fun of me during math today,” my second-grader told me one evening after bedtime. Worries tend to spill out after lights out.
“He said, ‘What?! You are still working on that packet? I finished that yesterday.’ ”
Swallowing my fierce first reaction, I said, “Oh, so how did you handle it?”
“I told him, ‘I like my learning pace. Your fast pace doesn’t work for me. I take my time.’ ”
I was stunned by her courage and her practical insight: speeding through the material is not the path to academic mastery.
In my work as an education journalist, I often take research about learning and the brain and translate it into usable chunks of information for parents and teachers. But this fall, I took on a personal challenge. Could I teach my 8-year-old about how the brain learns? And could this knowledge help her strengthen her academic confidence and agility?
One afternoon, I wrote out 10 insights I wanted to share with her this year — and that I hope to foster through my actions and attitude for years to come.
The brain never stops growing. Brains are amazing. They are constantly growing and changing shape. Everything we do affects our brain. And it goes beyond schoolwork. Anything that is good for a child’s body is also good for their brain. When children play outside, eat healthy food, read a book, move their body, enjoy time with their friends, observe their surroundings, get a good night’s sleep, play a game or figure out a puzzle, they are feeding their brain.
Learning is all about brain chains. When you learn something new, you build a neural pathway — or what learning expert Barbara Oakley calls “brain chains.” The more you practice a skill, the thicker the chain gets, until the task (such as solving a certain kind of math problem) becomes automatic. For example, when you first sit down to learn a song on the piano, it’s slow going. You focus on every note. But after a while, you can sit down and…