The Brain-Heart Connection

In last week’s post we discussed School Readiness (if you missed the post go here), and today we are delving a bit deeper into the practical steps you can take to ensure your child is as school-ready as possible.

Firstly, it is interesting to understand the physical make-up of your child’s brain. According to Mike Bruton (whom we quoted last week as well) in his article “Smart Play”, written for the Mail and Guardian (2 Aug 2010):

“The brain is a remarkable organ, widely considered to be the most complex system in the universe. It is soft, has no moving parts and is not sensitive to touch. It needs oxygen, glucose and physical exercise to function properly, is flushed by 35 litres of blood every hour, and uses about 20% of our body energy. It contains more than 10-billion neurons, has more than 1 000-billion-billion connections and sends and receives electro chemical messages through a 50 000km-long network of nerves.”

This is amazing to think of, that this bundle of nerves, neurons and connections is in the process of being built in our children… And our interactions with them – the quality of experiences we gift them – directly affects the way in which their brains will develop.

As discussed last week, while it is fun to teach your child certain things (types of dinosaurs, makes of cars etc), it is far more productive to develop your child’s ability to make sense of the world around them – this will enable them to process information given to them in a learning context such as school. The major difference is that it is relatively quick and easy to teach facts, but it takes time and shared experiences to ‘switch on’ processing skills.

These processing skills include gross motor, fine motor, sensory, visual, auditory, and language development, as well as thinking, reasoning, emotional and social skills. And while this might sound like quite a list, these areas can be worked mostly through one-on-one interaction and play with your child.

Lizette explains it as such, “Play with your children at home so that they can learn at school.”

Everyday activities that stimulate these areas of development are simple and fun!

Reading to your child; music and singing songs; playing construction games; building and taking apart puzzles; physical activities like running, jumping, climbing, swinging, pushing, pulling etc; fantasy play; and creative activities like drawing and painting.

We understand that as parents, sometimes there simply isn’t enough ‘in the tank’ to make the effort. It is easier to switch on Barney and make that cup of coffee that you so deserve. “Anyway… what difference does playing in the sandpit make at the end of the day…” you may ask yourself…

What we want to share is that it is important and it does make a difference. Playing the sand; making silly faces in a song; poking at bubbles in the air; wrestling in the grass; letting your child ‘help’ you pack away the groceries; making mud cakes and sharing giggles while you stare up at the clouds… this is the stuff that feeds a child’s growing brain.

If the saying goes that a way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, then the way to a child’s brain is through his heart.

So, we know that you’re tired sometimes, and motivation is nowhere to be found. But simply taking that step, sitting down and pulling out the play-dough, will get the ball rolling and you will find it gets easier every day. Soon, it will be your escape from the maddening world – to experience life through your child’s eyes.

Offering your children a wealth of experiences, sprinkled continuously and generously with love (to make it all stick), is not a waste of time, in fact it is the essential ingredient for nurturing school-readiness.

Now isn’t that great news?

Words: Loren Stow
when we know better… we do better

*Practica Parents: The reality of the situation is that a parent who knows better, does better. This is one of the founding principles of the Practica Programme –  the better we understand our children, the more we can draw from everyday opportunities as well as new and exciting research.

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