What is Brain Training?
What is Brain Training? What Happens When We Learn?
Brain training is a simple but powerful way to enhance a student’s core ability to learn faster, easier, and better. The brain processes information through a complex network of nerve cells called neurons. As we learn, groupings of neurons physically work together to accomplish learning or thinking tasks. Research shows that additional, nearby neurons are drawn into this process when the task is new or unfamiliar, or when the intensity of the learning demand is increased. Once the task is mastered, the borrowed neurons are released to go back to other duties; however, the gains in efficiency and processing speed required for that task are retained and make learning-related tasks easier.
What is Brain Training? The Key to Enhanced Learning
Neuroplasticity defines the brain’s ability to change and modify neuron activity and connections in reaction to increased learning demand. Gray matter can actually shrink or thicken, plus neural connections can be forged and refined or (conversely) weakened based on certain environmental activities. Brain training takes advantage of neuroplasticity by engaging a student in specially designed exercises to promote rapid strengthening and growth of these neuronal connections.
Cognitive Abilities such as attention, sensory processing, memory,and reasoning—can be increased with proper training. This increases immediate and future brain function, quicker processing, and easier learning across a wide range of learning challenges.
For the parents of a soon-to-be kindergartener, you might be a bit astounded by the reading goals your school has set for your child. Today’s parents are often shocked when they come to school for orientation and see what’s on the docket when it comes to reading. What happened to a full day of crayons? What happened to unlimited time in the sand box?
Without a doubt, the skills taught in kindergarten today look more like the skills taught in first grade a decade or two ago, especially when it comes to reading. But fret not, because these high reading expectations for young students are accompanied by very strategic teaching methods, and a meticulous progression of skills that build upon one another. Your child can meet the reading goals set by his teacher, especially if he’s on track when he first enters kindergarten. So, is he?
While every teacher and school has their own set of “prerequisites,” there’s a set of general reading expectations that most teachers share, when it comes to kids entering kindergarten. Before entering kindergarten, a student well prepared for reading should be able to:
- Read her name
- Recite the alphabet
- Recognize some or all of the letters in the alphabet
- Correspond some or all letters with their correct sound
- Make rhymes
- Hold a book right side up with the spine on the left, front cover showing
- Recognize that the progression of text is left to right, top to bottom
- Echo simple text that is read to them
- Recognize that text holds meaning
- Re-tell a favorite story
If your child is not quite steady in all of these areas, don’t panic! We offer “JumpStart” programs at Learning Enhancement Center. We teach reading skills in a systematic way that allows skills to build upon one another: The kindergarten year will start out strong with an intense teaching of letter recognition and sounds. This lends itself to beginning phonemic awareness skills, like sounding out words. Once a child can sound out simple words, we move on to showing them how to recognize patterns in words, such as rhyming, vowel/consonant patterns, and word families. If a kindergartener can recognize letters and sounds, use phonetic skills to sound out words, and use word patterns to figure out unknown words, she’s ready to read sentences and simple books.
March 17, 2014
Here are some ways to bridge the gap between sight reading and phonics:
- Be sure the child can retain a visual image. Many visual-spatial children, especially those with ADHD tendencies, perceive in a blink but have a poor visual memory. They never actually look at words for the necessary amount of time to store them in the memory bank. These children need to play visual memory games. One such game is Concentration, where cards are spread face down and children take turns finding matches. Advantage goes to children remembering where the various cards are. To ensure success for children who are initially poor at this, begin with a small set of cards (six or eight pairs) and build up to a full set of cards as the visual memory increases.Another example is “Kim’s Game” from Kipling’s book. Here, assorted objects on a tray are viewed briefly, then, when children turn their backs, one object is removed. The children then turn back and view the tray to see what is missing. This can be expanded to switching objects or to taking turns describing (while their backs are turned) three adjacent objects on the tray. The goal is to sharpen observational skills and that all-important visual memory. There are activities of seeing “What’s Missing in This Picture?” that can be collected from children’s magazines. Also, encourage children to take “memory snap shots” of favorite words. Importantly, these activities benefit all children, not just visual-spatial learners.
- Build a large sight vocabulary. Create books with photographs of their favorite people and pets, with the name written under each picture. Label things around the house or classroom: door, couch, chalkboard. Buy lots of picture dictionaries and let the children browse through them. Create a gorgeous Treasure Box for words each child wants to learn (don’t balk at “barf” or “stegosaurus”). Glue words to magnetized cards and post them on the fridge or file cabinet. These are great fun to play with.
- Play games with Treasure Box words. Draw out 2-3 words and make up silly sentences. Draw out a dozen words and sort into categories, such as “Foods, Toys, Yucky Things” or “Real and Imaginary.” (Labels chosen by the child can be printed to provide still more learn-able words.) This teaches thinking skills as well as providing a review of words. Don’t use Treasure Box words as flash cards; that places a young learner on the spot and takes away the fun of learning. A better way to review a large number of words is spread them out in a wide Word Well, from which the child can proudly fish out all the words she knows.
- Parents should continue to read aloud to their children. Use this wonderful together time to quietly run your finger under the words as you read and invite your young listener to join in whenever she or he recognizes a word or phrase. Especially helpful are books that have rhymes or repeating phrases, where a pattern helps in anticipating what word comes next. After the story is finished, go back and play Word Hunt on 2 or 3 pages. Choose long, exciting words, with lots of “memory hooks” for the child to find. Even though they are new words, if they are interesting, your youngster is likely to find them. Such activities should always be done lightly and for fun. Any sense of pressure will set back the entire process. A teacher can also do this in a one-on-one situation, if feasible.
- Have the children make their own books. They can cut out or draw pictures, then dictate captions. Staple a few pages together into “books.” Have fun reading these books. (Now little words are used in context.)
- Lay out a number of words (10-20) and look for patterns. Anything a child discovers is fine: words that begin the same, words that end the same, words that rhyme, words with an e at the end. Help build word families: art and part and chart and start and even partner. Create a ridiculous “book” about a “mumble, fumble, bumble bee who used to stumble over crumbs.” Play “Stinky Pink,” the rhyming game with silly definitions (“a humongous pet” is a fat cat, “a T-Rex cart” is a dragon wagon). Pattern recognition enables the analysis of the phonetic structure of words. It leads to recognizing enough about the way phonics works to aid the decoding of unfamiliar words.
- Take analysis farther. On the board, play games substituting beginning or ending sounds. Rather than teach short vowel sounds (which are hard for VSLs to learn) teach a rhyming word or the same word “family.” Remember that these children are good at recognizing patterns, love seeing relationships, have a superb sense of rhythm, but are poor at rote memorization.
- Consonant blends are often a stumbling block. Teach blends by constructing memorable tongue twisters: “Please play on Planet Pluto,” “Greedy Greta grabs green grapes,” “Spray the spruce with sprinkles in the spring.” When a child is trying to figure out how the word “thrill” sounds, recite, “Throw three threads at the throne!” Read the Dr. Suess alphabet book to the children, and then have them make up tongue twisters of their own, the sillier the better.
- Next, provide word analysis through teaching Greek and Latin roots, prefixes, and suffixes. Work from easy affixes, like “non” and “tion” up through “tele” and “able” to “poly” and “helio.” Recognizing roots helps children see the natural syllables into which words fall. Gifted children like the challenge of taking words like the additives listed on cereal boxes and learning to read them by their parts: “poly-un-saturate-d fats” See if they can find these parts of words in field guides with Latin names of animals and insects, in medical books, at the zoo or botanical garden.
- Accompany reading with visualization techniques to assist children in learning to spell words they want to learn in their creative writing. They are likely to spell well the words they care most about. These words can then serve as anchors to compare new words against. Help them to see whether their spelling of a word “looks right” or not. They should be taught that the way to remember how a word should be is to “look up.” Visualization and imagination are two extremely important tools of visual-spatial learners and should be cultivated early.
Visual-spatial learners love to read books with strong visual images, fantasy, and quirky happenings. They also are attracted to books with significant underlying themes of danger and courage, the struggle of good against evil, and the triumph of ingenuity and pluck. Sometimes they will put great effort into reading a fascinating book someone has begun for them even though it is difficult. Although they may not be reading every word, they are getting enough from the story to stick with it.
On the other hand, don’t feel that the children should always be reading at an ever higher level. Reading fluency is greatly aided by reading and rereading easy, familiar books that are fun. Broader phrasing, anticipating what may come next-as good readers do-and using context are all aided by reading many easy-to-read books.
Visual-spatial learners learn best through teaching to their strengths, and Whole Word reading, with its use of visual memory, pattern recognition, valuing the emotional impact of words, and utilizing playfulness and humor, uses those strengths well. Whether or not the school teaches in this way, parents (and venturesome teachers) have the ability to build a bridge for children into the realm of successful reading by having fun and success with the Whole Word reading approach.
The research is clear that ALL young people who don’t engage in educational activities over the summer can lose up to three months of reading progress and 2.6 months of math computation skills. That loss has a cumulative, long-term effect.
Teachers are all too familiar with this loss of knowledge and ability over the summer months when education is put on hold. Most teachers have to spend up to 6 weeks reviewing material and “catching” students back up to where they need to be functioning for the new school year.
The brain functions like a muscle and needs to be exercised so it won’t atrophy.
The following are some suggestions for summer activities.
I encourage parents to build reading and writing into everyday activities. Some ideas are: (1) watching TV with the sound off and closed captioning on, (2) reading directions for how to play a new game, or (3) helping with meals by writing up a grocery list, finding things in the grocery store, and reading the recipe aloud for mom or dad during cooking time.
Encourage writing. Give each of your students a stamped, addressed postcard so they can write to you about their summer adventures. Or recycle school notebooks and paper into summer journals or scrapbooks. Another way to engage young writers is to encourage your students to spend some time researching and writing stories about their community. Not only does it build research and writing skills, but helps kids develop a deeper sense of place.
Watch a garden grow. This builds research, reading, and writing skills. Children are encouraged to write questions and observations in a summer garden journal. Check out the website www.ReadWriteThink.org for some ideas along these lines. .
Looking for more than just a movie? The Kids Off the Couch website takes what kids love — good films, books, music and digital media — and uses it to inspire family adventures.
Plan ahead for fall. Work with the teachers a grade level above to develop a short list of what their new students have to look forward to when they return to school. For example, if rising third graders will be studying ancient cultures, check out educational TV, movies, or local museums that can provide valuable background information on that topic.
** Learning Enhancement Center is also offering their own 3-month, hour a day, summer program for kids of all ages.