From our Board Chair, Patti Berardi (This is my opinion based on my experiences at the Brain Power Conference)
Last week, I had a chance to attend the Brain Power Conference in Toronto. It was presented by the Brain Power Initiative and featured a variety of presentations from neuroscientists, educators and parents. I attended the conference with representatives from Kids Can Fly.
I first became involved with Kids Can Fly about 10 years ago when I took over the role as First Local Producer for Rogers TV in Brantford. Sharon Brooks, the Executive Director of Kids Can Fly approached me to cover stories surrounding early learning and development. It was then that I learned about Brain Wiring and how a child’s early experiences affect their future success. At the time, I was newly married and didn’t have children but I was incredibly intrigued about the research surrounding brain wiring and human development. I became committed to advocating and educating the public about Kids Can Fly programs and early learning issues. In 2005, I gave birth to my first son. I felt so blessed to have had the chance to learn so much about parenting through my work with Sharon. In 2007, I gave birth to my second son and signed up to be a parent for Roots of Empathy. My son and I visited a grade 3 classroom throughout the school year. While I had covered Roots of Empathy, I didn’t really get a chance to fully understand the impact of the program until I participated. It was an incredible experience and I treasure those memories. After that experience, I committed to being a part of Kids Can Fly and joined the board in 2008. I believe in the work that we do and I’m fueled by the results we have achieved in Brant.
Attending the conference last week was a chance for me to hear from researchers first-hand about brain development. My background is journalism and broadcasting and even though I have read countless articles in this area, I have no formal education in child development. What I wasn’t expecting was to hear about the use of technology and particularly TV and videogames to help train a child’s brain. I work in a technical world. I don’t take notes on paper anymore, I use a tablet. My blackberry has become an extension of my hand. I’m always in front of a computer or TV for my work. As a parent though, I have to admit that I fought allowing my kids to use a lot of technology. Sure, they watched TV when they were little and we bought into the Baby Einstein thing (which proves now to be ineffective) but I just allowed them to start playing with the wii, a DS and now a tablet recently. I do limit their time though. I realized that part of a child’s social life is discussing things that they play with and most kids watch tv, have a DS and have been exposed to technology. I also recognize the benefits of making learning fun!
What researchers have found is that there is a place for videogames and technology in training a child’s brain. I’m not talking about Lego Batman or Halo, I’m talking about developmental appropriate TV programs and videogames that make learning fun! I admit when it came up at the conference I had to stifle my “mom voice”. I thought you have to be kidding me? Videogames to teach my kids? Come on? What am I being sold on?
After listening to speakers present their findings in this area, I realized that it makes sense. Kids enjoy playing with games and technology, why not build programming that is developmental appropriate because they’re going to play video games anyway?
Dr. Sylvain Moreno from Baycrest’s Rotman Institute has focused his research on bilingualism and musical training and how it affects the higher order processes in the brain such as language, memory and intelligence. He has studied musical training and bilingualism as experiences that depend on brain plasticity to modify cognitive networks. Brain Plasticity is the lifelong ability of the brain to reorganize neural pathways based on experiences. Through the use of his “Smarter Kids” software, a group of pre-schoolers were able to show a boost in verbal IQ scores after only using a computer based music program featuring cartoon characters and games for 20 days of classroom instruction. The children scored some five times higher than kids who did not receive a program based on musical concepts.
A teacher at the conference also presented on the benefits of using computers and I-Pads in Grade 3 classrooms in a Toronto Private School. Children in the classes used the Sims Videogame to build cities and the teachers were able to relate the video game to civic lessons. The groups of students collaborated and worked on building these communities. They had to work as a group, discuss what the best things were to give people living in these “communities” and delved into issues such as taxes, city services and much more. These students also use web blogs to write and other students can provide feedback and evaluation. More examples of how technology can be beneficial if used in the right way.
After listening to the presentations, I started to realize that we can no longer look at teaching our children the same traditional way. Technology is here and if we can use it to their benefit and ensure that they have age appropriate programs to work with we can actually improve their success in learning.
Still, my mom voice resonates! Children under the age of 2 should not be exposed to a lot of TV and certainly not video games. After that age, the use of age appropriate programming can be beneficial but nothing will be more beneficial than spending time with your children. When you hold a child on your lap and read a book to them so much is happening in their development. You’re creating experiences of bonding, early learning and family closeness. Children need that touch and human contact. Placing a child in front of an I-Pad, TV or computer doesn’t give them that chance to bond with you.
Talking to your children, playing with them and spending time with them also builds good brains! There is no doubt that technology will play a role in your child’s life, but parents should be cautious that it doesn’t over-take an opportunity to spend time together.
For more information on the research of Dr. Sylvain Moreno and Smarter Kids Software visit http://www.baycrest.org/