Train Your Brain! (And Your Children’s Too!)
So, I am working on another degree/ certification and I came across a fact that really hit a nerve as I watch my grandchildren go through a school curriculum that is less rigorous than I, or my children, went through.
Glial cells in the brain remove unused synapses between neurons.
While these cells do a few other interesting things, one of their jobs is to get rid of brain connections that are no longer being used.
So why is this important information?
Because we are teaching less varied material (no cursive writing etc), and thus forming less associations between neurons, and our current school aged children will frequently say things like, “I don’t need to know that anymore, I already took that test,” meaning they have forgotten the information and are no longer using those pathways. Thanks to the glial cells, those pathways will no longer be there if that portion of the brain is not stimulated! This means that there will be no long term memory and that the brain will get used to a lower level of functioning, as it will maintain less connections. (You are essentially training your children to be less intelligent!)
As older adults, we also need to be stimulating our brains in as many varied ways as we can to maintain our own neural plasticity (a fancy way of saying that we can use our brains well and quickly, not taking a long time to figure out what someone is talking about, and remembering things better).
As older adults we are told to do crossword puzzles etc to keep our brains in good shape. And we believe this. Crossword puzzles are essentially useless in daily life (they do not make the house cleaner, or bring in more income), but we acknowledge they are good for us, like exercise is.
But when it comes to our children, sometimes we have a different attitude, and the schools seem to have adopted this. Instead of thinking that it is good to exercise the brain in many, varied ways, we are dropping cursive writing out of the curriculum and telling our children that we have never needed algebra in our adult life, so it isn’t necessary for them to do well. We are also teaching to the test, meaning the children are memorizing things instead of developing a deep understanding and then forgetting them, as the test is over so they feel they no longer need the information. This is just training the brain to destroy, rather than preserve neural connections- not a good way to develop individuals who have a lot of information at their fingertips! (Do you want your doctor forgetting most of what they learned in medical school because the test is over?!) What I have noticed in my children (7- all in very different jobs as adults) is that what they learned did not matter as much as how they learned. Learning many varied things, especially things that were difficult for them, to a level of mastery, meaning they actual knew it and could remember it later, long after the test, gave them the ability to learn effectively and remember things they needed for their jobs later in life. Skills such as cursive writing, algebra, music, art, and even physical activities develop skills in different ways and improve the brains neuroplasticity, meaning the brain is able to function in many different and varied ways well. Holding a child to a high, but achievable, standard, in many varied activities, as well as expecting them to remember those things in the future, long after the test, is the best way to train the brain not to overuse the glial cells, so the synapses formed by the initial learning will remain, and not be destroyed.
Use it or lose it! (This is also why it is difficult to teach some old dogs, new tricks!)