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There has been a lot of research into the brain and we home schoolers have learned many fascinating and amazing things from neuroscientists. Probably the most amazing fact about our brain is that it is constantly changing and growing. Scientists call this neuroplasticity.
Neuroplasticity - a big word but one that is important as we think about teaching kids and actively engaging their brains. According to Judy Willis, a neurologist and educator, neuroplasticity is defined as the selective organizing of connections between neurons in our brains. Basically, what scientists have discovered is that as we learn new things, our brains actually change and physically grow.
Throughout our lives, our brains are growing and changing and making new connections as we learn new things and experience new situations.
As we learn, neural connections are made. The more we use those connections, the stronger the connections become. "Cells that fire together, wire together" has been a saying among neuroscientists since the late 1990s.
When we perform tasks or recall some information that causes different neurons to fire together, the connections between these cells become stronger. As we continue to do the task and associate the information, those connections become strong links between various parts of the brain.
Not only do our brains make neural connections, but depending on the activity, parts of our brains can even grow. Think about how when you exercise your arm muscles, they tend to grow - become stronger and get bigger. Our brains work the same way. If we are doing an activity or learning concepts that use specific parts of our brains, that part will physically change and grow.
This works throughout our lives. Consider how important it is, then, to begin to build useful connections even in young children. As they gain information, connections are made that become strong. When new information is presented, it is added to these connections and becomes a permanent part of their thought processes.
Things to Think About When Home School Teaching
We can start by telling our children that intelligence is not static. It is something that is malleable and they can work to change. When they know they can grow and change, children are more likely to actually do so.
Practice makes perfect. As children practice with a concept by repeating activities, retrieving memories, and reviewing material, strong neural pathways are built.
Remember to teach in context. Learning is the making of new or stronger neural connections so we need to tap into what children already know. Teach so that your children see the connection between the new information and what they already know.
Help children to understand that this is how the brain works. As they realize that they have control over their learning, they are able to change their brains through study and review.
As we teach our homeschool kids a subject like science, for example, we need to constantly be thinking about how to make these neural connections stronger and real. By not being afraid to teach the principles of science, even to young children, we are building pathways that will connect them to even deeper information as they get into high school and college.
Apply what they are learning not just to science but also to the other content areas. Learning the history of how a concept has developed, taking the language and understanding it, and finding out how people have thought about the concept helps children to build connections that become stronger and easily accessible the next time they come across new information.
Most importantly, remember that our brains are not done growing. There is more to do and to learn. The job of a homeschool parent is never done.
Dr. Rebecca Keller is the founder of Gravitas Publications, which produces Real Science 4 Kids homeschool science curriculum. RS4K includes student textbooks, lab workbooks and teacher's manuals on the topics of biology, chemistry, astronomy, geology and physics which makes teaching these difficult subjects easy and FUN!
Please join her and other homeschool parents on Facebook or visit the Real Science 4 Kids blog. Receive Dr. Keller's 10 Tips for Teaching Real Science by visiting either page!
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