Much thought is given to teaching the child, but until recently,
not much thought was given to how the brain learns.
This has often led to a disconnect between teaching and learning. We may be attempting to teach one thing, only to discover that the student has learnt something quite different.
When we combine what neuroscience and the science of epigenetics is revealing about the brain, we discover that the environment in which the brain must survive is the most compelling teacher. The brain is constantly, and unconsciously, learning to survive in its environment. Conscious learning is a very small part of what the brain learns.
What the brain learns fastest and best, is behavior that seems to it to be most successful in its environment. If a formal lesson stands in contradiction to this deeply seated learning impulse, it will be rejected; unless a clear reason is given why this lesson may be beneficial to the learner’s survival.
Once this profound truth is understood, it becomes clear why students may reject algebra, or a certain version of history, as not worth learning, if it is not presented in context of the learner’s environment.
The role of parents in the development of the brain is not generally well understood. Often it is assumed that intellectual ability and character are defined by genetics; neuroscience is showing that this is not the case.
The seminar for parents covers the development of the brain from the womb through the teenage years and into early adulthood. This information empowers parents with children of all ages, and for those just starting to plan a family, to ensure that they nurture their child’s brain optimally. It also creates understanding of their child’s changing behavior and character as the young brain grows, allowing the parent to modulate their own behavior to create a harmonious family environment.
“The main message for new moms is that their babies are listening and learning and remembering during the last stages of pregnancy. Their brains do not wait for birth to start absorbing information,”
–Denise Mann – Babies Listen and Learn While in the Womb
While this first teaching is the responsibility of the mother, once the baby is born this responsibility extends to the whole family, as the infant brain immediately starts to mimic the behavior of its primary caregivers.
“The social brain develops in response to the social experiences that a baby actually has. Neural pathways get laid down as a result of actual experiences, so, for example, the baby needs someone to give her an experience of emotions being managed helpfully, before she can learn to do these things for herself and manage her own feelings well. Basically, babies learn how to do things through their experiences with other people, not through words or instructions.”
–Sue Gerhardt; Why love matters : How Affection Shapes a Baby’s Brain
Research is showing that babies have a sensory memory that starts in the womb, and all this subconscious learning influences their thinking, and therefore their behavior, throughout their lives.
“We already know that the brain develops most rapidly in the first few years of a child’s life. During these critical years, neuroplasticity is at a peak—neurons form new connections at the astounding rate of up to 1000 per second. These synaptic connections are the foundation of a child’s physical and mental health, affecting everything from longevity to the lifelong capacity to learn, from the ability to adapt to change to the capacity for resilience. New lines of research are expanding our understanding of the part environment plays in the formation of these neural connections. If children fail to get what they need—enough nutrition, nurturing, stimulation, and a sense of security—during the most critical years of early childhood, the impact on their lives and futures is enormous.”
–Chan – Putting science into practice for early child development
Through the work of Dr Richard Davidson of the University of Madison Wisconsin, contemplative practices, such as mindfulness training, are proving themselves indispensable tools for the classroom.
Teachers who employ mindfulness sessions are reporting that their learners are calmer, more focused, and therefore more able to learn. Teachers also use kindness and compassion cognitive training techniques to enable their learners to manage their emotions skillfully. This reduces stress and anxiety, showing an immediate increase in learning ability.
This is simply explained by how the brain learns on a biological level; when the brain is stressed and anxious no learning takes place, as the energy is focused in the extremities. A relaxed and happy brain learns best.
The workshop for teachers concentrates on the science and biology behind the contemplative practices of mindfulness and cognitive exercises, focusing on breathing, awareness, gratitude, and compassion.
The workshop instructs the teacher how to practice these techniques. The daily guided sessions enable the teacher to practice at home before introducing the techniques into their classrooms.
These contemplative practices can be used even for very young children, by modulating the techniques to be age appropriate. The sooner the brain is exposed to the discipline of being still and silent the stronger it will become, and the easier it will be to learn in later years.
Families often describe themselves as a team. Unlike other teams, where the members are chosen for certain strengths, in a family the members cannot be chosen for their strengths, but the strengths of each member can be made known and nurtured.
The –Who are you?– workshop for families is designed to let the family discover the strengths of its members, allowing the family team, and the individual members, to thrive.
The workshop uses a lighthearted approach, with serious intent, to guide you through a series of challenges and cognitive exercises that will allow you to find the words to describe who you are, who you want to become, and what you want from life.
This half-day workshop will introduce you to your brain, focusing on your emotional brain; you will discover how this part of your brain unconsciously governs your thoughts and behavior. You will discover your good, bad, and ugly habits, you will define your strengths and values. You will set out the experiences and growth you would still like to achieve in life.
You will be introduced to two cognitive training techniques that focus on different aspects of your brain function. The aim of learning these techniques is to allow you to engage actively with your neural networks and to align them with those of your family, allowing each of you to work towards the individual and collective experiences, growth, and purpose that you will discover during this workshop.
One hour introduction to kindness curriculum
For teachers and parents. Basic brain structure.
Basic brain growth. Introduction to gratitude,
mindfulness and breathing techniques for children.
Further workshops you may consider.
Goal setting and brain awareness workshops for students.
Educator training in contemplative practices.
Brain awareness seminars for parents.