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