Do you understand the power of Brain Based Learning – Improving Executive Function in Kindergarten Children
It would seem a strange statement to say that “Brain Based Learning” is an important strategy to employ when teaching children. How else do you learn other than use your brain?
Brain based learning is central to best practice in teaching. When we understand the science of learning we can use strategies that we know will maximize performance.
Neuroscience science is the study of the brain and how we learn. A lot of research focusses on how we can improve Executive Function in children. Executive Function skills include children’s ability to avoid distractions, pay attention, hold relevant information in their working memories, and regulate their impulsive behavior. It is obvious that these skills are important, especially for young children and adolescents. These Executive Functions support both “how”we learn and “what”we learn.
There are many strategies that can potentially improve Executive Function through brain based learning strategies. The following are simple but essential in every classroom, curriculum and school.
1. Activity Centers for Brain Based Learning
Activity centers should have specific activities designed to foster learning that focusses on both content and Executive Function skills. Movement that starts simple but gradually becomes more complex is just one example. We should challenge children in an environment where they need to pay attention and follow the rules. Children are motivated to function better because it makes the game more rewarding. We tend to think that paying attention is a skill for quiet time and a skill of concentration when seated. In fact students can learn this skill best in a much more life like and interesting environment.
2. Brain Based Learning Goals
Children should meet with their teacher and set weekly learning goals. They should create plans that lead towards the achievement of these goals. Executive Function skills and abilities are always driven by goals. When children learn to plan ahead, monitor and review their goals they are effectively improving Executive Function.
3. Reflection and Self Evaluation
Children should talk about their work, reflect on and correct mistakes. They need to understand that what they achieve depends on their sense of how much effort they are investing. They are learning from their mistakes. As adults we know that we all learn best by making mistakes and modifying behavior. A great strategy to support this is a portfolio. We believe it is essential that children create products that can be placed in a folder so that they can visually monitor tangible progress rather than just grades or report cards.
4. Interpersonal Skills
When children work in groups or pairs with a “study buddy” it can help them remember what they are going to do, the rules for completing tasks, finding answers, and they can support each other in steps to complete each activity. They not only observe each others behaviors but their interactions support success.
5. Play that Fosters Brain Based Learning
Play is an essential part of any early years curriculum. When children “make-believe” they are making up and acting out their own versions of stories and events. This activity strengthens children’s Executive Function skills through their attention to plots, different characters and roles. Children in fact experiment, think and feel with different emotions. They take turns and respond to each others versions of make- believe games. Genuine play is used to foster deep learning in contrast to activities such as electronic games and television which guide thinking, imagination and ideas within a certain frame.
It is essential that learning has a purpose, including unstructured play. Teachers engage in a daily assessment of children’s development through informal methods (observations) as well as more formal testing (diagnostics) . Teachers observe and monitor skills and knowledge that each child has mastered and identify what children are ready to learn next. Scaffolding or structured support from the teacher provides the assistance needed to foster each new learning step for the child. This accelerates Executive Function, especially when the child is directly involved in their own reflection and assessment of self.
The research about applying these strategies is supported by Brain Based Learning Research. It is very clear. Using these methods ensures students are better at focusing attention, it improves their working memories, better information processing, reasoning, and in regulating their stress hormones. In addition, children improve in reading, mathematics, and vocabulary. Kindergarten becomes a great start to their education pathway.
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