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The Bible and the Brain

Research shows that reading to children is important for things like brain development, socialization, and literacy—even “soft” skills like empathy. That’s why we encourage reading the Bible to your children until they are old enough to begin to do so on their own.

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Prodigious advances in technology have revolutionized the field of neuroscience, allowing us unprecedented access to information on the brain’s inner workings. The New York Times has declared the next frontier in science as, “inside your brain”![1]

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Knowing how children’s brains process and store information gives us critical insight on how to help them experience and retain spiritual truths and biblical principles that will deepen their relationship with Christ.

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Here’s a snapshot of how the brain receives and stores information:

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The Bible and the Brain | Experience the Story

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Rote memorization helps lodge information in your short-term memory. But if it is not repeated or attached to prior knowledge—such as associating the new information with a catchy song or important memory—it will quickly be flushed from your brain’s short-term storage any time a new and “more important” piece of information is encountered.

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Getting new information into long-term memory takes work. A good strategy is to connect the information to an additional activity:

  • Using a question and answer format
  • Engaging in a discussion
  • Relating topics to real life situations
  • Role playing or actual application

The more ways something is learned, the more memory pathways are built.[2]

When the brain perceives information repeated in multiple ways, there is a priming process that makes encoding of that information more efficient. That is why writing a vocabulary word in a sentence, hearing classmates read their sentences, and then following the direction to use the word in conversation during that day will result in more successful long-term memory storage and retrieval than just memorizing the definition (Koutstaal et al., 1997).

In other words, the more often information is repeated, revisited, and experienced in multiple ways, the more deeply embedded it becomes.

So what does this have to do with us?

Here at OneHope, we are always searching for effective mediums and ways to communicate the truths of God’s Word to children. It’s our job to instill a deep faith in the next generation. We’re not psychologists or neuroscientists, but we do our best to understand how effective learning takes place so we can leverage those principles in our ministry work.

Ultimately, we trust the Holy Spirit to make the profound truth of the Scripture come alive and move children from simply learning basic Christian doctrine to a deeper understanding and heart knowledge for how to live.


[1] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/12/31/brain-research-2014_n_6334088.html
[2] http://www.ascd.org/publications/books/107006/chapters/Memory,_Learning,_and_Test-Taking_Success.aspx

How Kids Learn Part 2

Last time, I shared how kids learn at different rates, and some of the theory behind the learning process. Now, let’s take a look at specific ways to leverage different learning styles.

Active Learning

Active learning is the process by which kids are busily at work, involved and engaged in their own learning. You can watch kids at work while they are playing with their toys on the floor, creating a picture for Grandma, or doing a science experiment. It is taking responsibility for learning and enjoying it. The motivation to learn grows when kids are exposed to new sights, sounds, tastes, smells, and things to touch. You can almost think about the brain of a child as a sponge, soaking up all the experiences through the senses every day. The more kids are involved in their world, busy at the work of learning, the more they are thinking, writing, building, reading, analyzing, searching, creating, solving, playing, talking, listening, loving, dancing, sharing, singing, exploring, understanding, discovering, and climbing.

All of these verbs are characteristics of learning. A big goal of active learning is to be able to solve problems and, as more knowledge and skills are practiced and mastered, kids are able to solve more difficult problems and challenge themselves even more.

How kids Learn-01

7 Learning Styles

Some of the ways kids learn are academically, socially, emotionally, and creatively. While some children talk early and enjoy books and puzzles, others may walk and run early and enjoy being outside on their tricycles. Researchers have identified 7 learning styles that can be found in children. Most kids learn visually, through pictures or images. Some children are very verbal, using the printed word and spoken word to learn. Kids that are auditory learners learn through sound and music. The kinesthetic learner responds to touch, movement, and physical activity. Some children seem to be able to reason and logically follow through in thought processes; these kids have a logical learning style and will do well in math. Some kids are social learners, responding to group work, activities, and discussions, while some learn better alone and are able to study by themselves, needing very little stimulus from others. Discovering a child’s dominant learning style can help in selecting the types of activities best suited for mastery of new information.

How Much Information Can Kids Retain?

Kids continue to learn and make new connections throughout most of their elementary years, but around age 10, those experiences that have not been used for a long time begin to fade from the memory. This is a good thing because now the brain begins to make new connections, remembering newer experiences, facts, emotions, and real-life interactions that come with the pre-teen years and beyond. Connections that are used more often remain in the brain, like interactions with family, special days, and especially traumatic experiences. The same thing happens at the end of adolescence, as kids prepare to go to college and their studying becomes more advanced.

What Can We Do To Help Kids Learn?

There are many things we can do to help kids learn more effectively. Providing good nutrition, ensuring a good night’s sleep along with good health and safety habits and making sure they feel secure are all very important. Kids need to feel and know they are loved. Physical affection—holding and hugging—communicate love and security to them. Probably the most important thing is to respond to them when they talk or ask questions. Daily conversation, with its constant dispensing of information, requires acknowledgment and affirmation. This give and take between kids and their caregivers opens the door to active learning. Even the discipline involved in training a child should teach them new ways to behave or respond to situations.

Kids who do not have their basic needs met and are not exposed to life experiences, printed material, and a variety of language experiences enter school with a huge disadvantage. These children will need a lot of time to make up for what they didn’t get in their 5 years before entering school. They will need extra time from parents, volunteers, and mentors in order to fill the gaps in their learning and “catch up.”

Kindergarten is still probably the most important year in school for most kids, but they may come to school on that first day knowing much more than we can ever imagine. We might consider a new poster that could be given to expectant moms that reads: “All I Really Need to Know I Can Learn Before I Turn 5!” This puts a lot of responsibility for learning on parents or other caregivers, but this is what it takes to produce life-long learners. These kids will continue to grow and learn as they contribute to their communities, becoming good citizens and global learners. Eventually, they will pass this baton of knowledge acquisition on to the next generation, who will then teach their kids how to learn.


thumbnailPatty Bedzyk has recently retired from a 30- year career in public and Christian education. She holds a BS in Education, an MS in English and Education and a Specialist degree in Curriculum and Instruction. After teaching 24 years in grades 3-8, she spent 6 years as an instructional coach in elementary school, supervising teachers and instruction and implementing and integrating elements of the CCSS into the existing curriculum. She has taught Sunday school and Bible studies, directed VBS and served on several church committees. Currently she serves as the Childcare Coordinator and as a member of the Women’s Enrichment Ministry Team in her church. She works at OneHope as an Education Specialist and is grateful for the opportunity to help spread the Gospel to children all over the world. She is married to Vic, and they have 4 children and 7 grandchildren.

How Kids Learn Part 1

Ever thought, “I wish these kids came with an instruction manual.” Well, you are not alone! And although there are many factors that contribute to the individuality of each child, there are some key core components—such as how kids learn—that when we understand, gives us insight into helping raise the children in our care.

Kids start learning before they are born. Research shows that the unborn are learning sounds, tastes, and smells along with feelings.  So when an expectant mom sings and talks to her baby, or plays classical music while eating pickles, her baby is beginning to learn already.

How kids Learn-04

All children can learn and deserve the opportunity to do so.  They are all unique; even brothers and sisters from the same family learn and develop at different rates. So what happens in the brain of a child that causes talking, walking, building, and writing?  Why are some kids drawing pictures of the story they just heard, while others are pretending to be Spider Man or Cinderella and still others are sword-fighting with dinosaurs and dragons, hiding behind the sofa?

The Learning Process

We know that learning takes place through two things working together: nature (genes) and nurture (parents and other caregivers). Continued language exposure through everyday living is the most important thing kids need once they are born. Singing, rhymes, storytelling, and daily conversations enhance brain development and strengthen learning pathways.

Reading aloud from books of fiction, poetry, Bible stories, non-fiction, nursery rhymes, fairy tales, plays, jokes, biographies, kids’ magazines, directions on how to make something, recipes and anything else appropriate for children has proven to increase learning and ultimately success at school and in life. Daily, normal experiences and regular exposure to creation, wonder, experimentation, and playing leads to an increased ability to absorb new ideas, concepts, and thinking processes, particularly in children ages 0-3.

All knowledge builds upon prior knowledge; that is why background knowledge and experiences are so important for learning new information. Kids retain and are able to use new information when it can be added to the knowledge they already have. When babies figure out that they can crawl by putting one knee in front of the other, they are soon ready to try to walk by putting one foot in front of the other. If you take children to the zoo and they see and hear monkeys, the Curious George books should make a little more sense (with some explanation!) Addition is the foundation for multiplication. Making connections and having “pegs” in the brain upon which to store information is key to gathering further knowledge and meaningful learning.

In part 2, I’ll share ideas on how to leverage different learning styles.


 

thumbnailPatty Bedzyk has recently retired from a 30- year career in public and Christian education. She holds a BS in Education, an MS in English and Education and a Specialist degree in Curriculum and Instruction. After teaching 24 years in grades 3-8, she spent 6 years as an instructional coach in elementary school, supervising teachers and instruction and implementing and integrating elements of the CCSS into the existing curriculum. She has taught Sunday school and Bible studies, directed VBS and served on several church committees. Currently she serves as the Childcare Coordinator and as a member of the Women’s Enrichment Ministry Team in her church. She works at OneHope as an Education Specialist and is grateful for the opportunity to help spread the Gospel to children all over the world. She is married to Vic, and they have 4 children and 7 grandchildren.