What’s going on in your homeschooler’s brain when you are teaching him?
Here’s a look at brain development and how it affects learning, taken from 7Sisters high school textbook Human Development from a Christian Worldview by Vicki Tillman, MA.
Brain Development in Children
A Kindergartener’s brain cells have been working on developing branches called axons and dendrites. These branches help retrieve and transfer information around the brain. The efficiency of these branches allow children to think in more mature manners than preschoolers. 5 year-olds have mastered symbols (like riding a broomstick for a horse) but they can’t do abstract thinking (they don’t understand patriotism, algebra, or electricity). They love to classify but may have trouble sorting objects by more than one characteristic (like big, blue beads from little, round beads). Their thinking is usually characterized by irreversibility (they might be able to add but to try to subtract by thinking that it is the reverse of adding might be difficult). Kindergarteners generally learn best in a hands-on, multisensory manner, like these alphabet learning activities.
Early elementary homeschoolers are in what we call the “5 to 7 shift”. The growth of their brain cells from the ages of 5-7 goes in spurts and in uneven through the brain. In lessons it looks like this: He grasped the fact that 7 + 7= 14 yesterday, but it is GONE today. (Concepts at this age are kind of like God’s mercies- they are new every morning). However, their thought patterns are more logical and they can classify from several aspects. They can usually do some basic reversibility: they can handle this series 5 + 9=14 and 14-9=5 (at least, on some days). Like Kindergarteners, they often learn best in a hands-on situation, although many have begun to differentiate into various learning styles.
Many later elementary homeschoolers have well-established neural patterns. They can choose to concentrate and are aware of when they are excited about a topic or bored with it. They can problem-solve in age-appropriate cases (like word problems in math) and try various strategies for completing a task (like assembling models or doing science experiments). Their memory capacity and retrieval is much stronger, which helps in memorizing spelling words and Bible verses. They can infer (read between the lines) in simple cases. These youngsters are capable of longer and more complex study times than their grade 1-2 counterparts.
Homeschoolers in middle school have developed the beginnings of metacognition. Metacognition is the ability to monitor one’s own thinking, memory, goals, knowledge, and activities. It occurs as the brain gradually coats its neurons with an oily-coating called myelin. Myelin sheathing gradually develops over childhood and is complete by sometime in adolescence. With this myelination comes better self monitoring (staying on task during lessons), memorization skills, and logical imagination. They can think abstractly and read between the lines in more complex situations, do more in-depth problem solving, and learn about writing stories with plots. They learn best in their own learning style.
Although it varies wildly from teen to teen, the brain cells usually complete the myelination process during high school. You know when it hits because your homeschooler starts to think about what he’s thinking about, perspective-take in an in-depth manner, speculate, hypothesize, and imagine in ways much greater than before. They have mastered abstract thought so are ready for concepts such as algebra, patriotism, politics, the “why” of religion, and poetry. They can handle literary analysis, word problems that involve more than one step, and developing scientific experiments. They can write more complex stories full of abstract ideas and plot twists. They can write poetry laced with metaphors. They learn best in their own learning style but many can do some great discussion at this age.
These tips might help choose what to teach your children and when. (No algebra for 4th graders- concrete math instead. Thinking-required courses like philosophy or psychology for high schoolers.)
Get your homeschooler involved in understanding himself, his siblings, his parents and his grandparents.
Our Human Development text is a one-credit high school health course. It discusses the ways people grow and change from womb to old age: physically, cognitively, and socially.
Presented from a Christian worldview.
Good, solid, useful information for teens (and adults).
Click here for 3 practical ways to teach Human Development.