The following article is from http://www.arabnews .com:
Empowering children’s brains
Mariam A. Alireza | mariam.alireza@ gmail.com
It is common belief that a child’s intelligence and cognitive skills are predetermined by genetic factors. Few realize that there is room for empowering young brains and intellects through social interaction, intellectual training, mental stimulation, physical and emotional security, nutritious diets, and healthy family environments. This is our topic today.
Feeding and developing the brain should begin before birth. Studies show that newborns weighing more have higher IQs than their smaller peers, indicating that mental nourishment starts in utero. Mothers-to-be should have quality nutrition to nourish their fetuses. Fruits, vegetables (multicolored) , mercury-free fish (omega-3), nuts, their oils, whole grains, and legumes provide the unborn folic acid, essential fats, and necessary nutrients for brain development. A study showed that preschoolers whose mothers ate fish twice weekly when pregnant demonstrated better verbal, visual, and motor skills in tests than those whose mothers did not eat it or ate mercury-contaminate d fatty fish. “Fish can be brain-food.”
After birth, nutrient-dense breast milk is ideal for babies’ physical, mental, and emotional growth. No other milk can replace mother’s milk’s essential fats needed for the fast growing brains. The more breastfed the infant is; the more sophisticated the brain becomes. Mothers are urged to breastfeed no less than a year. Two years are optimum.
Teaching and learning skills at early developmental stages are very crucial. Scientists believe that babies absorb more information and connect more neurons (brain cells) through hearing new words and active learning. This involves mental stimulation with songs, toys, colors, and interaction during the first year. The process requires love and patience.
Preschoolers should be taught with animation, play, entertaining games, and story-telling to ignite interest; feed mental faculties; increase focus; arouse competitive spirit; and stimulate creativity. Standardized teaching does not produce the same results.
Since cognitive skills develop in the first ten years, learning should be entertaining, through stimuli, quizzes, flash cards, illustrations, touch, smell, sound, bright colors, shapes, and pictures. Such techniques reinforce memory, enhance concentration, promote data absorption, arouse interest, and advance intellectual abilities much more than rote learning.
A very recent UC Berkeley research on children of different socioeconomic backgrounds showed differing brain physiology. According to research member, Professor Thomas Boyce, “Functional differences in prefrontal cortex response in lower socioeconomic status kids [are] definitive.” Knight, team researcher, says this may be due to “the stressful and relatively impoverished environment associated with low socioeconomic status: Fewer books, less reading, fewer games, [and] fewer visits to museums.” However, all three members “. think that with proper intervention and training, you could get improvement in both behavioral and physiological indices.” The above findings support the concept of faculty development in children through reading, intellectual family discussions, environmental stimuli, training of reasoning, and mental challenges, resulting in prefrontal cortex development.
Nourishing a child’s brain is just as crucial as nurturing mental faculties. The child’s diet, first twelve years, determines the extent of the brain development and intellectual and reading performances at school and in adulthood. Like any other organ, young brain tissue requires vitamins (Bs, C), minerals (iron), and essential fats (omega-3) to grow. Such nutrients are found in whole foods like fruits, vegetables, fish, meat, poultry, eggs, dairy, whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, and their oils (avoid nuts for infants and toddlers).
The brain is a high energy consumer. Therefore, you need to jumpstart it with a copious breakfast (whole cereals with nuts, bread, milk, banana and fruit shakes, eggs). A healthy day starter improves mental performance (especially in mathematics) . On the other hand, refined sugars and carbs are detrimental to the brain and concentration. They make energy rise and fall drastically, leaving the child physically tired and mentally depleted. Lunch should be rich in proteins (fish, meat, poultry, eggs), whole carbohydrates, legumes, colorful vegetables, and fruits. Water and milk should replace sugar-laden soda drinks. Hommus or za’atar sandwiches, nuts, apples, bananas, and yogurt are nourishing snacks, satisfying hunger. Studies indicated that a diet low in simple carbs improves children’s IQ significantly.
Motivate children to exercise by taking part in their activities and competitive sports. Studies showed that exercise increases energy and wellbeing; reduces stress and fatigue; and encourages neurons interconnection, improving intellectual abilities.
Psychologists found that music helps in memory tests and learning and soothes nerves. Deep breathing and therapeutic exercises (yoga) show similar benefits. A good night sleep makes brain and body recover. A cup of chamomile tea induces deep slumber.
A child’s environment should be pleasant, energizing, and stimulating with bright colors (red, orange) to animate mental faculties and boost creativity. Chaos, disorder, nagging, and family disputes create confusion in the child’s brain, interfering with learning. Essential oil (lemon, lavender) fragrance can clear and soothe a child’s tired brain. A scented tissue with such oils improves focus and increases mind clarity for problem solving and tests.
Children’s intellectual and academic accomplishments do not depend solely on cognitive competence and intelligence, but also on self-confidence, self-esteem, motivation, and communication and social skills, instilled in them as during infancy with patience, love, motivation, understanding, moral and emotional support, and belief in their abilities. This can only be achieved through parents’ unconditional love and patience.
There is a fine line between motivating and training a child’s brain and overloading and cramming it with too much information, which can be physically, mentally, and emotionally overwhelming. The latter can burn out a child physically and psychologically; turn him into a nerd; or negatively affect mental and emotional abilities, self-esteem, and social skills. Each individual comes with distinctive traits and abilities that should be addressed with customized approaches and according to needs and peculiarities. Even siblings should not be managed equally; but each to his own pace, character, and capabilities. The seed you sow today will give tomorrow’s fruit!