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Cognitive Development through Brighter Minds


Dr. Raghav R.A., N.S. Nagaraja





Improvements in children’s cognition and creativity continue to be the mainstay of modern education. Many approaches can be found in the varied educational pedagogies practiced around the world. Several private institutions promoting improved approaches to learning through neuro-linguistic or computer training also exist. We will present here the cognitive development of children between 5-15 years old through the Brighter Minds pedagogy that is rooted in the neuroplasticity inherent in our brain. More specifically, this involves the four pillars of:

|| Calm mind, Loving environment ||

|| Multi-modal cognitive training and Sensory substitution ||


Pedagogy of Brighter Minds

“Fiona, calm down and focus on the class. Relax and concentrate on the topic. You are too restless and distracted”, said the school teacher.


“How do I calm my mind Ma’am, it seems to have a mind of its own!” asked Fiona.


How many of us have ever got a practical response in the form of a technique to actually calm ourselves and influence our learning in a profound manner? Let us explore this need a bit further.


The purpose of life is to excel, excellence in everything we do

says the Heartfulness guide Daaji.


“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit”

said Will Durant summing up Aristotle.


How does this habit develop? It comes from focused thinking and the necessary prerequisite for such focused attention is a calm and relaxed mind. So, the first principle in the Brighter Minds training pedagogy is to calm the minds of children through appropriate tools and methods.


This habit develops after repeated practice. It doesn’t come about by simply thinking, “I will be calm and focused”. Why not? Because, we have not actively trained the mind to be focused and stay calm since childhood. The mind hops between various thoughts and ideas, giving it the moniker ‘monkey-mind’.


So, the brain does what it has been trained to do best – to be capricious and unsettled. Now, we have to seed thoughts and habits to make it settled and composed. This requires specific tools and techniques which are integral to the Brighter Minds training and are summarized at the end of the article.


A calm and relaxed mind is known to rejuvenate the sense of observation in both children as well as adults, since a distracted mind does not engender effortless focus. Improved focus creates a heightened self-awareness and also sensitivity to our surrounding environment and empathy towards individuals around us. This also enables a better understanding in relationships and overall self-confidence. In fact, there is enough evidence which suggests that a calm mind is a creative mind with high potential. It enables improved cognitive abilities in the form of better comprehension and enhanced memory. People who meditation or relax their mind are known to have more neural connections between various areas of the brain, particularly those associated with attentive focus, self-awareness and auditory and visual processing.


The second pillar of Brighter Mind’s pedagogy is the positive and loving environment which nourishes the young minds. A stressful environment skews the emotional balance of the children towards unhealthy limits making them reactive. Negative feedback, peer pressure, unrealistic competition and expectations, or any other stressful environment is known to affect the mood and overall emotional stability and balance in a child. Continuous stress is known to affect the structure of the brain and impacts the Amygdala (emotional centre) and Hippocampus (long-term memory), loss of synaptic connections between neurons, leading to poor memory, constant anxiety, isolation and even depression. It is now known that the pre-frontal cortex, the part of our brain involved in concentration, decision making and social interaction, also shrinks from continued activation of the HPA-axis and high levels of Cortisol (the stress chemical). All of these affect learning in children. In fact, animal studies have shown that the nurturing effect of loving parents and environment influences how the off-spring responds to stress and that this sensitivity leaves its mark at the epigenetic level that is passed down the generations. For example, off-spring with good nurturing show better adaptability to stress than those separated from the parent. Meditation and physical exercises are known to reduce stress in individuals.


So, how does the positive environment influence the child? Many examples abound from our own childhood and around the world. Love, positive suggestions and confidence on the children’s ability has a transformative effect on the children’s emotional stability and balance. An excellent example is the now famous Pygmalion effect or Rosenthal-Jacobson study which showed that our belief in other person’s potential brings it to life. We know that children have immense potential and a loving atmosphere with positive attention directed at the individual child allows this blooming to take place in children very naturally. While I.Q. gets you through school, E.Q. gets you through life.


The third pedagogy of the Brighter Minds is the multi-modal cognitive training built on the first two, namely, a calm mind and a loving environment. A recent scientific report published in the Nature journal shows clear evidence of enhanced learning through multi-modal training in the form of cognitive, physical and neuroscience interventions. They showed that the enhanced cognition takes places due to the synergy of the multi-modal training. The Brighter Minds training takes into account all three of these, namely physical exercise, brain exercises for developing motor skills and other cognitive challenges.


The fourth pillar of the Brighter Mind’s transformative pedagogy is the often surprising form of neuroplasticity known as sensory substitution. In his inimitable words, Prof. Paul Bach-y-Rita said that it is the brain that sees, hears and senses touch, taste and smell; that he could re-wire the brain to see with the sense of touch or sound etc. While he reported these studies on people with sensory deprivation or handicap, Brighter Minds reports sensory substitution in healthy children using simple blind-fold exercises. This has been observed to correlate to the child’s improved creative and intuitive abilities.


It is proposed that these four pillars of Brighter Mind’s pedagogies work synergistically via neuroplasticity to bring about the cumulative and transformative effect that Brighter Mind’s children have undergone.


Bibliography

  1. Kamlesh Patel and Joshua Pollock, The Heartfulness Way, Westland, 2018

  2. Paul Bach-y-Rita, Brain mechanisms in sensory substitution, Academic Press Inc, 1972

  3. David Eagleman, The Brain: the story of you, Random House, 2016

  4. David Eagleman, Livewired, Doubleday Canada, 2018 (to be released)

  5. Elkhonon Goldberg, Creativity: The human brain in the age of innovation, Oxford University Press, 2018

  6. Ekkhonon Goldberg, The new executive brain: frontal lobes in a complex world, Oxford University Press, 2009

  7. Antonio Damasio, Descartes' Error: Emotion, Reason and the Human Brain, Vintage, 2006

  8. Joseph Ledoux, The Emotional Brain,, Orion Publishing, 1999

  9. Howard Gardener, Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences, Basic Books, 3rd Edition, 2011

  10. Robert M. Sapolsky, Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers: The Acclaimed Guide to Stress, Stress-Related Diseases, and Coping, 3rd edition, 2004

  11. Ransom Stephens, The Left Brain Speaks, the Right Brain Laughs: A Look at the Neuroscience of Innovation & Creativity in Art, Science & Life, Viva Editions, 2016

  12. Joseph Jebelli, In Pursuit of Memory: The Fight Against Alzheimer's, John Murray, 2018

  13. Dick Swaab, We Are Our Brains: From the Womb to Alzheimer's, Penguin, 2015

  14. Norman Doidge, The Brain That Changes Itself: Stories of Personal Triumph from the Frontiers of Brain Science, Penguin 2008


References

  1. N. Ward, E. Paul, P. Watson, G. E. Cooke, C. H. Hillman, N. J. Cohen, A. F. Kramer & A. K. Barbey, Enhanced Learning through Multimodal Training: Evidence from a Comprehensive Cognitive, Physical Fitness, and Neuroscience Intervention, Scientific Reports, volume 7, Article number: 5808 (2017)

  2. Kathryn Gudsnuk and Frances A. Champagne, Epigenetic Influence of Stress and the Social Environment, ILAR J. 2012 Dec; 53(3-4): 279–288.

  3. Mariam Arain, Maliha Haque, Lina Johal, Puja Mathur, Wynand Nel, Afsha Rais, Ranbir Sandhu, and Sushil Sharma, Maturation of the adolescent brain, Neuropsychiatr Dis Treat. 2013; 9: 449–461.

  4. Kilpatrick LA, Suyenobu BY, Smith SR, Bueller JA, Goodman T, Creswell JD, Tillisch K, Mayer EA, Naliboff BD., Impact of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction training on intrinsic brain connectivity, Neuroimage. 2011; 56(1):290-8.

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