Are you giving your kids every advantage?
A little over a year ago I took a graduate class designed to, “. . .introduce educators to links between brain research and success in the classroom.” I learned a lot. The brain is a wonderfully complex and fascinating piece of work. And we still have a long way to go before we understand everything about it.
But one thing that we do know is that food (otherwise known as nutrition) plays a critical role in determining if learning will happen.
So, as a teacher, can I tell who is eating well and who isn’t? You bet I can. I see it in kid’s energy levels. I see it in their ability to focus. It shows in the quality of their work.
There is absolutely no doubt well fed kids have more opportunities to learn than kids that aren’t. Why? Because well fed kids have the energy and building blocks to adapt to the stress of learning. And by “learning,” I mean changing–not simply nailing a test on any given day. Learning sticks.
Now, don’t misinterpret the seriousness of my tone. I strongly believe the best learning activities and environments are always interesting, engaging and, well. . . fun darnit. But learning is still stressful. Real learning challenges, stretches and stresses the brain–just like lifting weights puts stress on muscles.
Good stress (eustress as opposed to distress) forces the brain to adapt, to learn and to get stronger.
Brawn: A metaphor for brains
Serious athletes get it. To get bigger, faster, or stronger, athletes (and their coaches) have invented millions of ingenious ways to stress musculature and respiratory systems, in effect, injuring themselves slightly along the way. The athlete understands growth comes not from stress, but from the body’s response to that stress. The better the adaptation, the more efficient the growth, the better they are able to perform.
The focus isn’t on the work out, it’s on the change that takes place after the work out–on a cellular level. Athletes know how to feed (and heal) stressed cells.
At the most basic level, athletes control a process of repeatedly injuring and then nurturing anatomical systems. The game (and the fun) is in the adaptation to stress. Successfull athletes understand that you can’t build strong cells without smart nutrition.
So what’s the difference between learning and adapting? Nothing. But there is one thing everybody should keep in mind:
Adapting to natural growth requires high quality raw materials
A kid’s mind and body is even more stressed than an an elite athlete’s–simply because it’s growing. You can actually see physical changes in a child in very short time increments.
The important thing to consider as it relates to learning is those same growth spurts that trigger you to shop for longer pants and bigger shoes are also happening inside that kid’s skull.
Feed the brain and you have an opportunity to affect the remainder of that youth’s life–in a big way.
Consider the following, from Teaching With the Brain in Mind, by Eric Jensen:
“In the past decade or two, compelling studies have shown the clear effect of better nutrition. In fact, the long-term impact of nutritional supplements (given to children from birth to age 7) is significant. Not only did children who received supplements score higher in quantitative thought and expression, reading, and vocabulary 10 years later, but also, when researchers followed up with these children between the ages of 11 and 26, they had improved socioeconomic status compared to the control group. Research strongly indicates that improved nutrition leads to improved cognition.”
Jensen goes on to say that nutrition is an area where we can easily make a positive difference. Like saving money for retirement, a good early investment will have a positive and lasting effect throughout a child’s life. Talk about paying dividends!
“The foods we serve,” Jensen says, “are not just feeding a child’s daily energy requirements, they are shaping the child’s brain.
Researchers suggest the following for parents who want to give their children every opportunity to learn:
1. Sufficient protein is absolutely essential in the early years because, aside from water, the growing body is made of more protein than any other substance.
2. Minerals and trace elements, including iron, zinc, and selenium are essential to ensure proper mood regulation, reduce fatigue, and improve concentration.
3. Vitamins A, B, C and E are essential for brain maintenance, protective effects, vision, strength, and memory.
4. Essential fatty acids (EFA’s), especially omega 3 and 6 play an integral role in cell membrane function and the development of the brain and eyes.
5. To work fast, brain cells need a fatty coating called myelin. Deficiencies in protein, iron and selenium impair mylelination of axons, which reduces mental efficiency.
6. Although food sources (such as leafy green vegetables, salmon, nuts, and fresh fruits) are the best way to get the vitamins and minerals that support optimal brain function and development, supplements can help to make up for a diet that is lacking.
7. Hydration is important to the brain’s normal development and function. Water should be available throughout the day.
Copyright © 2006 by Chris Wondra. All Rights Reserved.