At Turning Point, we raise resilient children who can flourish in any environment. Children are active participants in every aspect of their own education, and we leverage their creativity and enthusiasm to effect positive transformation. Much of this happens organically, as a natural result of the configuration and diversity of our programs – including opportunities to build confidence and test limits through service learning, performing arts and athletics, experiential learning trips, and hands-on learning projects. But, as experts in education, we also actively study the science behind learning, and purposefully and thoughtfully integrate best practices of neuroscience into the planning and curriculum we offer at every grade level.
Understanding the neuroscience behind children’s brain development is an essential step in guiding us, as a school, to create dynamic lessons geared toward helping young brains to activate. It is also helpful (and fascinating!) for parents to have a basic understanding of brain development, as it can provide clues to the “mystery” behind those “phases” our kids go through as they navigate childhood and adolescence.
In the first decade of a child’s life, the brain forms trillions of connections. Each individual neuron may be connected to as many as 15,000 other neurons, forming a complex network of neural pathways. As neurons mature, more synapses are made, and the neural network expands exponentially. As ability develops, skill circuits begin to fire more optimally. Children learn to sense how something feels when it is done right, and just as important, they develop awareness of how it feels to struggle.
Ironically, struggle is essential for building mastery and resilience; one must struggle in order to get the skill circuits to fire optimally. Children must “teach” their circuits to become optimal through the experience of having them fire suboptimally. Brains become better at doing what they practice, which is whatever they do frequently. You may have heard the saying, “brains that fire together wire together.”
Much of this firing together happens during the elementary school years. This is the time when the brain has grown almost to its adult size and can focus on threading together, forging, and organizing. As their brains develop, children move from being dependent on others to becoming ready to take a place in the world. This is also the time when the parts of the brain most closely associated with being human begin to become honed: impulse control, ability to reason, focus, and plan for the future. The brain is at its peak for learning, organized enough to gain mastery, but still fluid and elastic.
Next, the adrenal glands mature, promoting muscle maturation and growth in the areas of the brain involved in social and emotional development. An individual theory of ‘mind’ arises; an awareness that other people have their own minds, plans, and personal desires. Children’s brains are highly active, sorting through an unexplored world.
Elementary school-aged children’s thinking is concrete, meaning that their thinking and reasoning is more logical and organized than it was during the preschool years. This is the time to strengthen social skills and encourage exploratory behaviors and imagination. At Turning Point, we build in opportunities for social growth and the development of imagination through programs such as our Drama Workshops, which use games and story dramatizations as a means to develop students’ natural sense of play and wonder while building communication and collaboration skills, with increasing focus on developing empathy and self-knowledge.
As educators, we understand that brain development and learning are intimately connected, and we are constantly holding a mirror to our programs with the intention of reflecting back increasingly brilliant ways to ensure healthy age-appropriate growth, and steady advancement. This not only anchors our curriculum and teaching to research-based methods and materials, but most importantly allows our students to appreciate learning as a journey that consists of a sense of purpose, increased confidence and resiliency, and limitless potential.
Dr. Laura Konigsberg
Head of School