New and very exciting discoveries about brain development are being made all the time, and especially recently, when research has accelerated and increased, as a result of new technologies that make it possible to research the brain using unobtrusive methods. This time I'd like to write about a few research reports that were published recently, and what the researchers suggest to parents and educators in regards to activities they can do with children.
David Armor, a professor at the school of Public Policy at George Mason University, has found that parents have more impact on a child's developing intelligence than anyone else. "Parents have more impact on their child's IQ than any other persons or institutions, including schools," Armor said. "The impact is greatest in infancy and early childhood, much less after ages eight or nine." As a result of his research, a few of the things he suggests to parents are:
Americans tend to believe that their children's intelligence is either innate or based on what they learn in school, Armor's research shows the importance of another set of influences: early family environments. There is ample evidence that a child's intelligence is not fully given at birth, but continues to evolve and change at least through the early elementary school years.
A new research published by UC Irvine, shows that piano and computer training boost student math achievements. The study involved 135 second grade students, who took piano lessons and practiced solving math puzzles on a computer. Their math skills improved significantly. This study was published in the March issue of the journal Neurological Research. The study was led by UCI physics professor emeritus Gordon Shaw, who said that this was the latest in a series that link musical training to the development of higher brain functions. Only 4 months of the aforementioned activities increased the scores on fractions tests and proportional math by 27%. Piano instruction is thought to enhance the brain's "hard wiring" for spatial-temporal reasoning, or the ability to visualize and transform objects in space and time, Shaw said. Music involves ratios, fractions, proportions and thinking in space and time.
Marian Diamond, a professor of Anatomy/Neuroanatomy at the University of California, Berkeley, and a former Director of the Lawrence Hall of Science, as a result of her research in the laboratory, suggested to stimulate all the senses, but not necessarily all at once. A multisensory enrichment develops all of the cortex: whereas, an input from a single task stimulates the growth of only a precise area of the brain. She also suggests setting the stage for enriching the cortex by first providing a steady source of positive emotional support - love, encouragement, warmth and caring. She suggests to present to the child a series of challenges that are neither too easy nor too difficult for the child at his or her stage of development. Allowing for social interaction is very important, as well as providing sound nutrition. She also mentions the importance of promoting the development of a broad range of skills and interests that are mental, physical, aesthetic, social and emotional.
Navzer Engineer, Cherie Percaccio and Michael Kilgard, researchers at the University of Texas at Dallas, have mentioned that brains of both animals and humans are "plastic" throughout one's lifetime. They commented that the plasticity, the capacity of the brain to change, is strongly influenced by environmental conditions. They claim that enriched environments increase brain thickness, the number of neurons, and the number of connections between the neurons. In their study they wanted to find out whether environmental conditions influence neurons in the auditory cortex. They performed their research on laboratory rats. Rats were reared in standard or enriched housing conditions.
Their major finding was that enrichment dramatically increased the strength of auditory cortex responses. They also found that when the rats were transferred back to a standard environment from the enriched one, responses decreased by as much as 60% within a week of moving to the boring environment.
Cortical responses of both young and adult animals benefit from exposure to an enriched environment and are degraded by exposure to an impoverished environment and these changes occurred rapidly within days of moving. Enrichment also made primary auditory cortex neurons more sensitive to quiet sounds and more selective for tone frequency.
Dr. Beatriz Marique conducted a research in Venezuela, for a period of over sixteen years. The goal of her research was to analyze the relationship between the the development and stimulation techniques of in-uterus fetus, newborns and children up to the age of six. The research population included Venezuelan first time mothers with healthy pregnancies, and their children.
In this research it was shown that from the very moment of birth, the babies who were enriched were more alert and turned their heads towards their parents. They recognized the music they heard in the womb. They were dynamic and relaxed, had initiative and were very curious. They had good hand-eye coordination, they laughed easily and were very social.
In other research, there is evidence that Omega-3 fats contribute to brain development in young children, and that when mothers have a diet rich in Omega-3 foods (cold water fish fish like Salmon, Trout and Sardines and Flax seed and nuts) while pregnant, the substance will be present in the baby's body. Also, mothers who have a diet rich in these food, will have more DHA in their breast milk, which contributes to healthy brain development. A good balanced diet that includes Omega-3 fatty acids has shown to support brain development in young children and to increase their intelligence.