“Every individual matters. Every individual has a role to play. Every individual makes a difference.” Jane Goodall
“Experience is the best sculptor.” That is the title of the introduction to Dr. Marian Diamond’s book Magic Trees of the Mind. Neuroscience research has demonstrated clearly over the last few decades that a child’s brain develops through experience, by interacting with the environment. While genetics play a role, the experiences we have, from the womb to the day we die, are continually changing and shaping our brains.
What does that mean for raising and teaching a child? It means that everything we do, as parents and teachers, physically changes the brains of the children and students we interact with. There is a large body of evidence that children who are raised in an environment that deprives them in various ways and at various stages, will generally have less well-developed abilities and intelligence than children who grow up in an enriched environment.
It is often helpful to keep in mind some of the most important developmental tasks children face at different stages. The following is based on presentations by Dr. Douglas Gentile.
Birth to 12 Months (Infancy)
- Attachment to caregivers
- Regularity of patterns
- Transition from reflex to voluntary behavior
1 to 2 ½ Years (Toddlerhood)
- Curiosity, exploration, and mastery
- Differentiation of self from the world
- Independence of actions – self-care, feeding
- Learning of language
2 ½ to 5 Years (Early Childhood)
- Learning behavioral control and compliance with external rules
- Learning emotional self-control
- Learning gender roles and stereotypes
6 to 12 Years (Middle Childhood)
- Learning to build loyal friendships
- Learning social rules and norms
- Adjusting to school
- Learning importance of academic achievement and real-world competence
- Moral development begins
- Consolidating self-concept (in terms of peer group)
13 to 19 Years (Adolescence)
- Learning to build intimate and committed friendships/relationships
- Adjustment to puberty
- Transition to secondary schooling / college
- Developing strong and coherent personal identity
- Moral development continues
It is important to understand that these are not strict start and end times for the development of these skills. For example, there is now evidence that the development of language skills actually begins in the womb and that hearing plenty of language (rhymes, songs, etc.) in infancy is important for the dramatic explosion of language that occurs in toddlerhood. Between ages 1 and 3, however, children acquire language at a breathtaking pace and expend a great deal of energy on that task, assuming they are in a language-rich environment.
The Development of Intelligence
What does all of this mean for the development of intelligence? First, it is important to understand that the concept of intelligence has changed dramatically over the last 20 years. It used to be thought that intelligence was fixed (mostly genetically determined). Today we know that it is not. More importantly, children who understand that their experiences are actually helping their brains “grow” and helping them become more intelligent, will work harder at and master more challenging tasks than children who don’t understand this important fact. This concept of “growth mindset” is strongly supported by the work of Dr. Carol Dweck and others.
Because our intelligence develops in interaction with our environment, every mind is unique, with individual strengths and weaknesses. And because our brains are continually changing as we interact with our environment, we can continue to build our cognitive capacity at any age.
Developing Cognitive Skills with BrainWare SAFARI
How many times have you heard someone say, “I’m just not good at math,” or “I can’t remember information I hear, I have to see it?” The fact is that skills like logical thinking, auditory memory, and dozens of other mental processes don’t just happen – they develop in our brains through use and training.
Whatever we are good at, we can probably get better. And we can bolster the skills that are relatively weak.
BrainWare SAFARI is designed to work on a broad range of cognitive processes that contribute to intelligence, including various attention skills, memory processes, visual and auditory processing, and more. It is appropriate for ages 6 and up (through adult).