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Kids Don’t Know How Their Own Brains Work

Kids Don’t Know How Their Own Brains Work

A study published in the April issue of Early Education and Development is advocating for neuroscience to be taught in elementary schools. Psychologists Peter Marshall and Christina Comalli surveyed children ages 4-13, and found that the elementary-aged children had no real idea how the brain functioned. In fact, children were likely to see the brain as merely “a container for storing memories and facts” rather than a complex sensory organ.

They attributed this lack of knowledge to several factors. First, parents and teachers talk to young children in detail about how other parts of their bodies work, but rarely mention the brain in everyday conversation. And second, it’s harder for children to understand what goes on in their own brains – they can’t observe the organ directly, and much of what goes on inside the brain can seem pretty abstract. So children are left to guess, or rely on metaphors.

Marshall and Comalli propose to solve this problem by teaching brief lessons on the brain to children as early as first grade. By teaching a 20-minute lesson, they found that children retained and understood the information 3 weeks later. The lesson wasn’t too detailed or complex, in consideration of the age of its audience, but it did emphasize that the brain is for seeing, hearing, smelling, and feeling – not just for thinking.

There are some interesting ramifications of this research. Psychologist Carol Dweck has found that children who know more about how brains work are more likely to persist in a task despite making mistakes, and more likely to pursue a task until they’ve mastered it. This is because children who understand that the brain is plastic and that their intellectual abilities and skills aren’t set in stone are more motived than children who believe intelligence is an immutable characteristic.

What do Care2 readers think? Is first grade the right age to start teaching kids about the inner workings of their minds?

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Photo credit: Jean-Etienne Minh-Duy Poirrier via Flickr

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68 comments

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5:37PM PDT on May 15, 2012

Thank you for sharing

9:21AM PDT on May 15, 2012

Normally I think this would be GREAT but I for see WAY to much bias on this with programs like DARE & things like modern psychiatry which both is mostly complete nonsense and dangerous but have big people pushing it and anyone that knows about neuroscience would figure this out expectantly at that age as it has shown is a VERY influential age so this would be a CLEAR conflict of interest becuz influencing the with facts theyd be less inclined to listen to these people if they knew about how what they were saying didnt make since with the neuroscience they had learned prior

6:12AM PDT on May 15, 2012

Thank you for sharing.

10:31PM PDT on May 14, 2012

And the point is?

12:49PM PDT on May 14, 2012

Children are meant to be primarily learners for the first 18 years of their life. The more they understand about how they learn, the better they will be able to learn. Of course they should know the basics, but not sub-cellular anatomy with second-by-second bio-chemical analyses!

11:13AM PDT on May 14, 2012

WE AS A SOCIETY WASTE SO SO MUCH TIME AND ENERGY.............LET THE KIDS BE KIDS

11:13AM PDT on May 14, 2012

WE AS A SOCIETY WASTE SO SO MUCH TIME AND ENERGY.............LET THE KIDS BE KIDS

6:45PM PDT on May 13, 2012

I think it's a great idea. The more they are taught the more their curiosity rises and they want to know more.

5:28PM PDT on May 13, 2012

How many adults know how their brains work?

12:22PM PDT on May 13, 2012

Mary K says it best! :-)

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Julie M. Rodriguez Julie M. Rodriguez is an arts, green living, and political writer based in San Mateo, CA. Her work... more
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