Brain Bulletin #27 - Taking Your Brain Back to School

in Brain Bulletin

Learning is to the brain what exercise is to the body.

When you do the "same old, same old" you use existing, previously established neural networks in your brain. When you learn new things, solve problems, take on new challenges, and have new experiences your brain responds by growning new connections. You build a better brain! 

According to many studies you also greatly decrease your chances of getting brain disease. The number of connections in your brain is a big deal.

The beginning of fall is a great time to commit to learning something new everyday. Start a good book. Take a class. Get a new friend. Call an old one.Volunteer for a new job. Be a coach. The list is endless!

Below is an artice that recently appeared in The Vancouver Province. Whether you are a student, parent, or otherwise you find some things of interest.

Helping kids Make the Grade - Jeani Read, The Vancouver Province

 August 24th, 2007

Parents play a huge role in kids' achievement at school, says education mastermind Terry Small.

"The more involved the parents are, the higher the marks will be," says Small.

The founder of the Terry Small Learning Corporation, Small lectures year-round on success strategies to audiences ranging from young students with their parents, to other educators, to large corporations (see

Parents can make a huge difference in how well their children do at school, says Terry Small, who suggests parents use flash cards to test students or teach them to test themselves.

"The stronger the links between the parents and the school, the better kids perform," says Small.

So, parents, listen up if you want to help out. "The most important thing for parents to do is understand they do make a huge difference," says Small.

We asked him for his top tips, from simple to sophisticated.

The mind-body connection

Make sure your kids show up at school in the best shape they can be, says Small. The physical element is critical to mental alertness.

  • Eat right -- breakfast is key: "(Breakfast is) your brain meal," says Small. "It sets the brain up to be successful. It's remarkable how scholastic performance improves when you have a proper diet."
  • Drink water: A dehydrated brain makes thinking difficult, says Small. The formula he follows is eight ounces of water per 25 pounds of body mass per day.
  • Sleep tight: A tired student is not a smart student. Develop proper sleeping habits at all ages.

The homework hit

Make it a clear assumption in your family that homework will be done on a regular basis. "Homework's purpose is to review, consolidate and extend work done in class, and to prepare students with a basis for the next day's class, so it's an invaluable tool," says Small.

Here are his homework survival tips.

  • - Create a study area: Make a physical space, if possible, with a computer, white board, pens, pencils, a glass of water, some almonds.
  • - Some kids can be in their own rooms, some need to be seen to be working, in a place like the dining room table.
  • - Use school agendas or planners: Talk to kids about what's in the agenda, and ask questions about the activities.
  • - Make a schedule: Make a homework appointment, says Small. Put a time-chart of when homework is to be done on the fridge. "It's like an advertisement to your brain that homework's important," says Small. Let children be involved in deciding what time is a good time for homework. If they have chosen the time there will be less arguing about it.
  • - A basic rule of thumb is, students in elementary school need a half hour of home study, in middle school about 60 minutes, and in high school up to two hours.
  • - Start homework early: Many educators say homework is not necessary until Grade 3, but kids in first and second grade tend to enjoy doing homework, says Small. "This is a good way to establish some good study habits."

Stay in the mix to maximize

Staying connected with your child and his or her schoolwork is crucial. Helping children excel can even involve doing seemingly simple things, such as monitoring the time they spend watching TV or playing computer games.

Small suggests a half-hour of screen-viewing time a day. "There's a direct link," says Small. "If viewing time goes up, marks come down."

Here are his stay-connected tips.

  • - Get involved: Have daily interactions, and make as many as positive as possible.
  •  - Congratulate your child for sitting down to work, have good rapport, and use school issues as a way to spark mini-conversations.
  • - Make and use M&M cards -- for Memory and Mastery: Write the question on one side of the card and the answer on the other. Test your kids, and have them test themselves.
  • - Help set goals: At the beginning of the year, list your child's subjects and have him or her estimate realistically what his or her best mark could be. Post the lists everywhere: in their locker, on their mirror, in their binders. You will be amazed at the results, says Small.
  • - Pay attention to specific skills: "When kids get behind, it can be difficult to catch up," says Small. "For things that build from one day to the next, like math or French, the road back can be long and steep."
  • - Arrange help: An older sibling can help, or a study buddy, says Small. Or hire a tutor. And don't ignore your child's strong subjects. "The odds are (the strong subjects) are going to be your child's career, where he or she is going to make a living," says Small.
  • - Make report cards a ritual: Find out when the first report card is coming home, and prepare to take time going over it. "How you react is huge," says Small. "Any unguarded comments can have terrible results."

- Start with the positives and work down to areas where your child can think about ways in which he or she could do better.

"Don't reward. Celebrate instead, and make it spontaneous. Instead of saying you will give your child money for an A, celebrate a good mark with whatever treat comes to mind."