Play the brain game and win smart, happy kids

80 per cent of your child’s cognitive growth happens before age five

WHAT DO ARISTOTLE, da Vinci, Darwin, Gates and Old Doc Lester (here I am using poetic licence) have in common? Brainpower. Using intelligence to excel. There isn’t a parent who does not wish this for their kids. When considering the stimulation of your child’s brain, keep in mind that most brain growth occurs during early childhood. Total brain growth is 50 per cent by one year, 80 per cent by five years, and 100 per cent by 20 years. Therefore the first years are critical and offer a narrow window of opportunity to stimulate the child’s to his or her full potential.

How can parents help their children reach this potential? To develop brainpower, a parent must provide a child with enriched experiences. Constant encouragement of the use of imagination and curiosity fuels the developing young mind. Learning must be fun. It cannot and should not be forced on a child just to meet a parent’s agenda.

Learning is also done in different ways. First there is the type of learning that has no content, no reference points. For example, ask a child to subtract two from three. This type of learning requires memorization and continued reinforcement to be retained. Another type of learning is called authentic or experiential learning. These are lessons taught in context and born out of real experience.

Consider the following, in keeping with the first example: A child may be asked, ‘If you have three apples and you give one to Mommy and one to Daddy, how many apples do you have for yourself?’ Here the learning experience is more real, has more meaning and therefore is more likely to be retained, especially since it is more fun.

A young child at a summer cottage looks into a calm lake and is fascinated by the dancing shadows of a tree’s leaves. This is a perfect opportunity to teach about shadows and reflection and may even shape the course of the child’s interests in the future. This is authentic learning at its best.

While such moments can lead to positive brain development, there are also many factors that can certainly impede brain power. Smoking, consumption of alcohol and stress while pregnant can have adverse effects on proper brain development.
After a birth, chronic iron deficient anemia and malnutrition have negative effects on intellectual development in children. Social isolation and lack of stimulation also prevent children from reaching their full potential.

Everyone has an upper limit to their brainpower. It is up to parents to ensure that each child has the opportunity to reach that potential fully. Every child should also be given the opportunity for a head start. Preschool education is one way to prime your child, socially and intellectually, for learning.

That said, remember that superior brainpower is nice, but it’s not everything. I would rather have a happy, well-rounded, emotionally stable, average child than an unhappy genius.

Post City Magazines’ kids’ health columnist, Dr. Mickey Lester, has been a pediatrician for more than 30 years and is the former chief of pediatrics at Trillium Health Centre

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