We all know how important it is to keep our body active. The result of inactivity is easily traceable and visually intrusive in our everyday lives. The dangers of being physically inactive are well documented. However a subject that is also well researched, but somewhat less popular for mainstream audiences, is the topic of brain activity. The importance of a healthy, active brain, from a young age, cannot be overstated.
It is now apparent that the Early Years is vital for setting the foundation for a healthy lifelong learning path. In a study by Martha Farah (2012) it was observed that a higher amount of mental stimulation in four year olds, led to better cognitive function fifteen years later. Carl Gabbard supports the idea and discusses work done by (Diamond & Hopson, 1998; Fischer & Rose, 1998) and (Begley, 1997; Nash, 1997) concluding that “rich environments produce rich brains”.
The brain is a network of connections. When a child is born the brain is still growing and connections are still being formed. As we grow older we lose unused connections and strengthen important ones. Before the age of eight these connections are still malleable, so it is of great importance that they are set up correctly before they become fixed. Whilst some parents choose to send their children to play groups that specialize in providing a rich balanced environment, others may choose to keep their children at home, so it is imperative that as a parent, time is used to focus on your child’s brain development.
There is a lot to be said for the use of ICT in education. Some of the Apps available in the Apple store are fantastic and I use Alphablocks DVDs as a way of settling the children down in the morning, whilst simultaneously introducing them to the sound of the day. However while we must embrace technological change, we must also not use this as an excuse to neglect our parenting duties. After all it is very convenient to distract our children with Ipads rather than to actually engage them in conversation. I have fond memories of being stimulated as a child, whether it be from Maths skills learnt through Monopoly, English skills through Scrabble, logic problems from Mindtrap or even through as simple an activity as Eye Spy or ‘count the cars’ while on a family outing.
For those of us who are new to parenting, there are plenty of ideas online. Following a range of Facebook or Pinterest profiles can provide you with plenty of fun, engaging activities. Quirky Momma, Little Hooligans and Toddler’s Approved are especially useful, but there are literally hundreds of pages brimming with activities.
Find a balance
When it comes to choosing activities, find a balance. Make sure to cover the key areas: visual and sensory-motor, social and emotional, physical and spacial, language, problem solving, numerical, artistic and musical. The presentation of the activities is also essential. Create a positive, playful environment. You are not there to teach your child an objective; you are there to foster a relationship between yourself, your child and their learning experience. Keep activities engaging without over stimulating and short enough to keep your child’s attention right to the end. Most importantly enjoy the activity yourself. Not only is this a chance to bond but every child is motivated by the idea of proving what they can do in front of a loving audience.