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Brainy kid fun

I subscribe to a rather unusual newsletter for kids. It’s called the Neuroscience for Kids newsletter. I heard about it through some mailing list or other. It seemed to fit my little scientists well. (Did I tell you about her Halloween costume? H1N1, of course! She said, “I want to be something really scary!”)

The H1N1 costume

The H1N1 costume

The cool thing about the neuroscience for kids newsletter is that it assumes that kids would be interested in neuroscience. Something that homeschooling has taught me (that I already should have known, and I suppose I did in some sort of subconscious way), is that kids are never really too young to learn anything. You just have to figure out what they are ready to hook into.

There’s this weird part of our culture that tries to tell us that “it’s not worth educating kids in things they’re not ready for.” This is a corollary to the idea that travel with kids is wasted if they’re not “old enough to get something from it.” We’ve found in both cases that that’s pretty much the adult’s easy way out of figuring out how to reach younger kids.

So Neuroscience for Kids is the work of one Eric Chudler, PhD., who I am assuming also knows that anything can be interesting to kids if you present it as interesting. He does all sorts of things, but right now he’s running a poetry contest.

Huh? Poetry and neuroscience?

I love it! This is exactly the sort of thing that has meaning for kids: when you don’t present science as something that is “hard,” but rather as something that is really cool and interesting and worth writing poetry about.

The other thing I like about this contest is that it’s not age-discriminatory. Well, OK, he doesn’t offer it for preschoolers, most of whom are pre-literate, but he does offer it for K-12. My daughter and I are always disappointed when we see something cool for kids and then we find out that she is too much of a kid to take part.

I wish our schools had the ability to be this flexible and creative. I wish that people who worry about test scores understood that it’s precisely this sort of hooking into kids’ brains through their passions that a test-focused school can’t do. How can you justify a morning talking about how weird our brains are and writing poetry when you need to get your API up or you lose funding?

I know that this is, actually, the sort of thing that some of our local schools are able to do, but I know they’re in the minority. I know that when a teacher doesn’t send home math workbook pages every night and announces that tomorrow the kids are going to learn to dance the multiplication tables, some parents get nervous. And the parents talk to the principal, and the principal wonders how he can justify dancing when the school is depending on those test scores…

So when your child gets home tonight, write a little haiku about dopamine receptors. Or a sonnet on the relative positions of synaptic neurons. It won’t be time wasted.

Posted in Culture, Education.


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