BACK TO SCHOOL - 2019
New Year’s School Solutions!
There is something deeply satisfying about ticking off the last item on the school booklist, and walking through the doors of Officeworks with a trolley full of potential. The moment can be even better if you happen to find yourself an inspiring new diary and slip it in with all the kid’s stuff. There must be something ageless about the power of being prepared and turning a fresh new page.
But school readiness, and optimising learning for children, is not really about the latest unicorn book cover or a shiny new pencil case, it is so much more about daily actions, and these start at home.
So grab your new notebook, and let’s make a plan together to start the school year off with a fresh approach on what it takes to ‘set up for success’ in 2019.
First, let’s all go outside!
You want sometimes grubby, barefoot, daisy-chain making, cloud creature watching, risk-takers – children beautifully connected to the natural world they are such a magnificent part of. Word to the wise Parent: Don’t just sit back and watch – get out there too! It is so good for you and your brain to do all of these things with your kids.
What do these outside elements equate to?
Grubby = development of their symbiotic relationship with the diverse world around them, diverse bacteria = healthy bacteria. A mud pie here, and a dirt dessert there, will positively impact their microbiome and gut/brain axis, and is a great step toward rethinking our relationship with our ‘Old Friends’, our microbes.
Barefoot = development of an incredible brain-body connection from the soles of their feet to the top of their head. Balance, muscle development and posture, even the way we self-regulate, can be influenced by this deep ‘head-shoulders-knees and toes’ connection.
All pain comes from the brain, and chronic pain is caused by unhelpful changes in the brain called “maladaptive plasticity” - a term derived from the new science of neuroplasticity, the ability of the brain to change its internal wiring or function.
Daisy-chain making = connected and interested in nature. Studies with pre-school children using the Connectedness to Nature Index (CNI) have revealed children demonstrating greater responsibility toward nature displayed less hyperactivity, fewer behavioural difficulties, less challenges with peers and more frequent prosocial behaviour.
Cloud creature watching = permission to have a rich imagination, and share it with your Family. Goethe wrote ‘children can make anything from anything’, this extraordinary and complex brain ability requires so many varied parts of the brain to be online and working together at once. If celebrated in childhood it can contribute to development of ‘theory of mind’, specialised intelligence, cognitive fluidity and language.
Risk taker = measured risky play challenges children, and it is through challenge that we learn and develop knowledge of our own abilities – and of risk itself. Kidsafe highlights a child negotiating a perceived risk successfully can positively impact confidence, wellbeing, resilience and capacity to regulate feelings of fear and anger.
If you’re stuck for new outdoor ideas: Wild Movement Perth offer wonderful ‘wild child’ programs.
Grow beautiful brains with powerful brain food.
Engage kids in cooking and prepare their school lunches with you. Many children are enjoying the bento style lunch boxes that suggest far more variety than the old vegemite sanga and an apple that we used to have. Label a ‘surprise’ box in there - where you can hide a happy note, a new food or an idea for a game they can try at lunchtime – make an effort to chat about the ‘surprise’ box on the way home.
Celebrate the flavours and especially the colours of a rainbow food, get kids involved, have fun, get a bit messy. Coles Magazine this month has some gems: quick and colourful rice paper rolls; yoghurt bark and funny sandwich faces to try with your hungry bunch in the week leading up to school.
Big screens as an occasional luxury, not a daily pleasure.
Norman Doidge, in The Brain that Changes Itself, challenges parents to think carefully about the presence and purpose of TV, when he states ‘Television watching, one of the signature activities of our culture, correlates with brain problems’.
Treasured Australian Author, Mem Fox, in her book – Reading Magic, talks about Births, Brains and Beyond. Encouraging Parents to replace television time with reading aloud for pleasure. The crucial neural connections for language are developing prior to birth and so rapidly in the early years the rate is almost unfathomable. It is not just the reading, it’s the story, the words, and the talking back and forth, that contributes so profoundly to language development and cognition. The ideal, according to Mem, is three stories a day: one favourite; one familiar and one unknown. With the goal of reaching 1000 stories before they begin to learn to read aloud. Follow Mem’s 10 read aloud commandments.
Get curious, not critical, about why some things at school may be harder than others.
We all encounter specific challenges in our learning journey, some obvious and many others that can ‘fly under the radar’. Children struggling with attention, executive control and emotional regulation can find the classroom a very difficult place to be, and they are there, every day, for longer than many of us are at work.
The reason for these challenges can be multifaceted, and very often entirely brain based. So in this amazing age where we can look closely at how our brains are working, we should feel equipped to find out more about the unique brain, before we treat the symptoms of it not working as well as it could.
Let’s take ADHD as an example.
ADHD is considered to be a disorder of complex brain network dysfunction on a large scale. The parts of the brain that control action and rest, are not working very well together, and often both of these areas are not always operating as well as they could on their own either. A child may show you they are finding the interplay of these brain functions hard, when, they get distracted by something outside and appear to gaze absently out the window long after the bird has flown by, or by slipping into a state of ‘hyperfocus’, where the only thing that matters, or ever will matter ever, is the Mamenchisaurus.
With ADHD, or any other learning difficulty, you can get a detailed 2-D and 3-D maps of how the brain is working with a QEEG brain scan. QEEG brain scans measure brainwaves and can detect unusual patterns of brain activity in specific areas of the brain. Different areas of the brain have different functions (such as regulating attention), and if a brain is not producing the right type of brainwave activity, it cannot do the job it was designed to do. In other words, these types of scans can help to pin-point problems in the brain and actually explain why a child (or adult) has a problem with attention or learning.
The Brain Foundation, Australia, sites that ‘most experts agree that treatment for ADHD should address multiple aspects of the individual’s functioning and should not be limited to the use of medications alone’. With experts still calling for more research into the long-term safety of medication, more and more parents are looking at Neurofeedback as a way to help their children do better at school. Neurofeedback is brain-training (or more accurately brain-wave training) and is already approved in Germany as an effective drug-free treatment for ADHD. Studies show that Neurofeedback works as well as medication, but without any of the common side-effects, and with the added bonus that when you stop treatment the improvements are maintained, and sometimes even improve further. Amazing !
Right now your brain and your new notebook are probably feeling full to bursting with ideas to ponder this new school year.
Neuroknowledge wishes you and yours all the best for a remarkable 2019!