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(103 Posts)
TheOtherHelenMumsnet (MNHQ) Wed 05-Jun-13 16:24:43

The Wellcome Trust is a global charitable foundation dedicated to enabling top researchers to achieve extraordinary improvements in human and animal health. Some of the Trust's current projects include exploring how the latest developments in neuroscience (the science of how our brains work) can help improve how children learn, at home or in the classroom. You can read more about this work on the Wellcome Trust's blog.

The Trust would love to incorporate Mumsnetters' views and experiences into this research.

They want you, please, to post on this thread about any activities/products/techniques you may have come across that are aimed at boosting your child's learning - anything from games designed to affect how the brain learns to products/techniques you might use to make changes to your child's diet or lifestyle. You may have come across these things in use at your child's school or you may be using them yourself at home.

When you post, please think about the following questions...

- Which activities or products (if any) have you come across which are designed to boost your child's learning? And how effective (or otherwise) have you found them?

- Have you tried anything yourself to improve or enhance your child's learning? If so, what have you tried? And what influenced your decision to try that activity/product? How effective (or otherwise) do you think it has been?

- What aspect of your child's school experience (if any) do you think could most be improved by neuroscience? You might want to consider, for example, how the teacher talks to the children, the activities the children take part in, or the materials they study...

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As ever with our sponsored threads, Mumsnet does not have a particular view on this research, we're simply providing the forum for discussion.

Thanks
MNHQ

lirael Fri 07-Jun-13 21:02:07

My older son (11) is mildly dyspraxic and struggled with handwriting and spelling at primary school. We did Write From The Start and Apples and Pears with him - he hated them both, but they did help. He also did a Brain Gym type course, which helped again, although I think 1:1 swimming lessons were the biggest help for his coordination. He has always loved reading and we encouraged it from an early age, buying him books, reading the same books and discussing them, taking him to childrens literature events etc. Since starting secondary school his literacy skills have really taken off - it's now one of his best subjects.

My younger son (10) is autistic with severe learning difficulties - iPad apps that have been successful with him include Stories2Learn and the Thomas Misty Island app. It is very difficult to get him to engage in formal learning - it all has to be made into a game, or rewarded with something he loves, or he just won't do it. We use a technique called Intensive Interaction, where you follow the child's lead to get them to engage and interact - this has made the biggest difference to him.

looseleaf Fri 07-Jun-13 21:52:51

I think promoting health whilst still in the womb is important!

With DD I had the idea that I'd be ok with a diet I thought healthy but I now regret not taking good supplements . I stimulated her intellectually by talking to her constantly to her from a young age and she loved books etc.

With DS however I followed a nutritionist friends advice and took large pills full of every mineral and vitamin deemed important and cod liver oil. Whereas DD had speech problems even at 3-5 DS talked well early and at 22 months very precocious eg heard radio last week and said' I like Mozart actually' . He also recognises many written words, all letters, etc and I do put it down to more than just genetics and DD had just as much of my time and stimulation.

Undiagnosed allergies were also a factor for us that I feel gave DD a harder start as she really failed to thrive until her diet was changed dramatically (wheat &dairy were the problem) whereas with DS we picked up the signs almost immediately. This was serious for DD as even now due to the fussiness in foods it may have caused I don't have the freedom to feed her well (she won't eat most fresh veg etc) but DS enjoys all the fresh foods I offer (avocado, salmon, melon etc)

Mograt Sat 08-Jun-13 03:05:55

Books
My two are now thirteen and eleven and I think much of their learning and development can be attributed to their exposure to books. From buggy books hanging in front of them before they could hold them, through to cloth books, plastic bath books and board books when they were tiny. As soon as they could hold a book, lying down or propped up, i would plop them down with a pile of picture books Story time every night in bed has developed into reading to themselves, either on the kindle, the iPad or a traditional paper book. We use our library regularly and use holidays as a time to read.
Talking - we're big talkers in our family so I'm sure the time spent together talking to them, listening and playing with them has been a major factor too.

GetKnitted Sat 08-Jun-13 08:07:05

Don't know if this contributes to the discussion, but we've bought a series of activity workbooks on colouring handwriting, phonics etc for our son and had varying degrees of success with them. I don't know that neuroscience is involved, except that if neuroscience hasn't managed to prove that practice makes perfect yet, they really need to work on their methods. smile

aamia Sat 08-Jun-13 19:01:13

I feel strongly that the best thing we can do for a child to enhance their learning, is to be a good example and to give them a multitude of experiences so they can find their interests and follow them. If they are allowed to be a little independent within boundaries, they can learn to problem-solve and to be inventive. If, as parents, we read, write things, draw, do sports, music etc - then our children will want to copy us and learn to do those things also. If the maths that is part of our lives as we shop, is shared with our children and they are encouraged to take part, then they will learn. If they are happy and well-adjusted individuals, with no worries, they will learn to the best of their ability in school also.

For example, my husband reads a lot. My 9 month old child picks up books whenever he sees them, opens them and tries to copy Daddy. He will be very receptive to learning to read when he's three or so and old enough to do so.

mummy2benji Sat 08-Jun-13 20:21:40

- When our dc's were babies (ds1 is now 4.5yo, dd2 is still a baby at 7mo) we gave them black and white books with pictures of faces, basic animals, and just shapes. I'd read that babies see black and white pictures more clearly and both our dc's did seem to love those particular toys.

- I haven't tried to push ds1 to learn anything he isn't interested in. I encouraged him to learn the alphabet by simply playing with and making games out of a box of different coloured letters. By making it fun he learned to recognise all of the alphabet before he started nursery. I made some cards with basic words on and separate cards with corresponding pictures, and we played games of matching the word to the picture. They were just simple games and not intended to pressure him in any way but they have certainly helped his learning letters and words. We also play 'what does that word start with' a lot, by just saying words or pointing to things we see around us. He initiates the game a lot, saying "tree begins with 't', doesn't it?" We do counting and basic arithmetic with chocolate buttons and toys.

- Ds1 had severe feeding difficulties as a baby which resulted in an eating phobia and fear of new foods. To try to improve his diet I have employed a step-wise approach: from just tolerating a food to sit on his plate, to touching it with a finger, picking it up, having a lick, and eventually taking a bite. That approach has led to him being less afraid of food, and he has even tried a few new things which would have previously caused hysteria at the sight of them.

- This is not something I have personal experience of, but my sister-in-law took her baby to Baby Signing classes, and my niece was able to sign over 30 words or wants before she was one. I wonder if being able to communicate what she wanted might have helped reduce her frustration or prevented tantrums. I'm hoping to take my baby along, when ds1 goes into full-time school.

missorinoco Sat 08-Jun-13 20:39:55

We talk with our children, rather than to, as I mainly did with the first. My younger children have better language than the eldest did at a similar age, I suspect this is not uncommon.

We read to them, but further to that I prefer to take it at their pace. However, all the children have been to nursery, and the nursery is very up on early learning, so when they aren't at nursery I let them play more.

What do I think makes a difference? Interacting with the children and starting an interest in reading at an early age, so that books are fun and not a chore.

I tried the activities in one of the baby stimulation books for under one year olds with my eldest. He got fed up after five minutes each time I tried, and that ended the "golden time".

Hopezibah Sat 08-Jun-13 23:48:22

- Which activities or products (if any) have you come across which are designed to boost your child's learning? And how effective (or otherwise) have you found them?

keeping hydrated is supposed to help. and classes like kumon or internet resources to practice things like maths and get quicker at maths problems.

I am also aware of how the brain develops during the first few months and years of life and how much learning takes place which quite literally shapes the brain as connections are made!

- Have you tried anything yourself to improve or enhance your child's learning? If so, what have you tried? And what influenced your decision to try that activity/product? How effective (or otherwise) do you think it has been?

My son takes EyeQ tablets (fish oils / omega oils in high dosage) to help with concentration and learning. I do not know for sure how much impact it has but some research had shown it helps and it was recommended by his occupational therapist so we have stuck with it over the past few years.

We also incorporate movement and occupational therapy excercises into his day to help with learning (he has asd - but this also helps my 'neurotypical' son too!)

- What aspect of your child's school experience (if any) do you think could most be improved by neuroscience? You might want to consider, for example, how the teacher talks to the children, the activities the children take part in, or the materials they study...

The activities they take part in. And also understanding and expectations of children. Things like cursive writing - is it really necessary to put pressure on them to do this at such a young age when their brains and bodies may not be fully ready to do it?

tinypumpkin Sun 09-Jun-13 09:23:42

- Which activities or products (if any) have you come across which are designed to boost your child's learning? And how effective (or otherwise) have you found them?

We tried baby einstein etc but more for interest in all honesty. I can't say DD2 or DD3 were impressed at all. I was not convinced either that it was great for learning.

- Have you tried anything yourself to improve or enhance your child's learning? If so, what have you tried? And what influenced your decision to try that activity/product? How effective (or otherwise) do you think it has been?

I must admit that I don't buy anything specific to foster learning. I agree with many of the other posters about engaging with children and answering questions. DD2 is at the constant why stage and is asking questions all the time about why things happen and how they work. I answer as best I can and this often develops her interest in specific things (hovercrafts at the moment!) Showing clips on youtube and seeing one on holiday helped to develop her knowledge of these things a little more but that was led by her.

- What aspect of your child's school experience (if any) do you think could most be improved by neuroscience? You might want to consider, for example, how the teacher talks to the children, the activities the children take part in, or the materials they study...

I agree with another poster who made a good point about creative learning. I think the child being creative rather than 'copying' an example along with everyone else is important. This also fits with imaginative play. DD2 has a great imagination and I play along which encourages her more!

PolkaDotCups Sun 09-Jun-13 12:06:35

My DD has been doing Baby Sensory classes since 4 weeks old. At 7 mo she was able to copy some of the baby signing and do the wave goodbye song. We both really enjoy these classes, both as an activity and social gathering. I wasn't doing it specifically to boost her development but people do comment that she is bright.

She has a lot of black and white pattern cards / books as well as other "stimulating" toys such as Lamaze and Baby Einstein DVDs. Whether these are aiding her it is impossible to really say but she enjoys them which is the main thing.

I hope to engage her through conversation and reading to her rather than through any specifically designed "gimmicks".

flamingtoaster Sun 09-Jun-13 12:55:53

Which activities or products (if any) have you come across which are designed to boost your child's learning? And how effective (or otherwise) have you found them?
I found the best things for developing basic concepts e.g. conservation of mass etc. were simple things like stacking beakers which could be used for pouring water (along with other random containers), and we also used wooden bricks a lot. Talking to and playing with the child is the key to learning - and it's fun for everybody.

- Have you tried anything yourself to improve or enhance your child's learning? If so, what have you tried? And what influenced your decision to try that activity/product? How effective (or otherwise) do you think it has been?
I discovered my son had word recognition of a lot of words the week before he was two - he had developed this through being read to a lot. We then took his reading on through continuing reading a lot to him and by the use of flash cards which he loved playing with, as well as introducing phonics when he wanted to read new words. We visited the library every week and the DC chose what they wanted to read - they particularly liked non-fiction. A good resource for learning to read - and for programmes children are interested in - is BBC schools broadcasting. We used it a lot - and the DC would ask if I could try to find a programme on specific topics as their interests developed. They also loved puzzles of all kinds - we got them books of verbal and non-verbal reasoning because they liked them so much. Anything we gave them was always determined by their latest enthusiasm or interest - learning will happen best when the child is hungry for information or progress.

- What aspect of your child's school experience (if any) do you think could most be improved by neuroscience? You might want to consider, for example, how the teacher talks to the children, the activities the children take part in, or the materials they study...
I would like to see more attention paid to the differences in the way children learn (others on the thread have mentioned this in detail so I won't go into detail again). Also a greater understanding that if a child masters a concept quickly they do not need more practice of that concept - they need a new concept to work on!

insancerre Sun 09-Jun-13 14:54:04

I would like to see more emphais on a child's whole environment to aid learning and brain development, starting from before birth. Theorists like Malaguzzi who introduced Reggio Emillio
I would like teachers better trained in the importance of attachment theory, especially in light of the governments plans to encourage schools to take in 2 year olds.

Lioninthesun Sun 09-Jun-13 22:15:44

- Which activities or products (if any) have you come across which are designed to boost your child's learning? And how effective (or otherwise) have you found them?

First one I noticed was a dumbell rattle we were given with a black and white circle shape in one (as babies can apparently only see in b&w) and rings in the middle and white spots on the black handle at the other. DD did actually seem to really like holding it and watching the b&w shape twirl in the dumbell. DD was an early walker but a late talker and so was more interested in toys that helped her stand. Shape sorters came next and then number puzzles where you put the numbers in the right holes/order. It was around the time number puzzles became popular her speech really improved.

-* Have you tried anything yourself to improve or enhance your child's learning? If so, what have you tried? And what influenced your decision to try that activity/product? How effective (or otherwise) do you think it has been?*
I try to repeat things clearly - words or, as above, numbers. Pointing to things and adding another word "Yes, that IS a bus, it's a RED bus!" We also listen to nursery rhymes once a day in the bath as they rhythm and rhymes are meant to help language too. Now she is a bit older (22mo) we have been watching a few phonics clips from YouTube - KIDSTV123 and they are great! She has learnt letters and body parts from their videos and they do English versions for the alphabet, so you don't have to wince at the 'Zeee' at the end. The songs are very catchy and DD finds it funny if we sing them out and about. DD also loves the NumTums and I think this has also taught her numbers - she happily counts down from 10 now and we point to the toaster at 0 to try to 'make' the toast pop up in the mornings Again I think the music being catchy and fun to dance to definitely helps her remember. We also do a lot of painting and crafting - sequins and glue/glitter. She loves shouting out colours and I think painting helps her remember/associate these.

- What aspect of your child's school experience (if any) do you think could most be improved by neuroscience? You might want to consider, for example, how the teacher talks to the children, the activities the children take part in, or the materials they study...
She is only just in nursery 2 half days. They have posters up to help visual cues for numbers and alphabet.
Any scientific research into how children learn is welcome by me!

BlackeyedSusan England Mon 10-Jun-13 00:45:12

for dd and ds i hve done more or less the same things, though they have followed different speeds and paths to learning. fo example, sharing books. dd was inteested in books at 8 months, looking intently. she understood that the black suiggly bits were the things that made mummy make the funny animal noises as I pointed as I went along, and had started to distinguish whole words at just 2 years. (eg her name, mum and dad)

ds on the other hand was not at all interested in books, he only decided he was going to sit still long enough to look at them somewhere aged 2. he learned/forgot/learned/forgot his letter sounds several times before starting school at just 4, having learned his letter sounds the first time by 2 and a half, he did nothing more with them for 2 years. no blending sounds, no digraphs, nothing more than 26 letter sounds.

both children have had similar resources, envioment and input, though targeted at their ability/interests... yet have done such different things with it.

to enhance their learning, i have asked open ended questions... (where do you think the plane is going?) got more resources than the local state nursery, (instuments, books, role play, dressing up, small world play, sand, bath for water play, slide, construction toys, cbeeebies games and cool math games on the computer, and other educational sites.)

what aspect of education could be improved by neuroscience?
why do some children have dabrowskis overexcitabilities, and does this effect how they learn? do the sensitivities mean conections are laid down faster, or do they disupt mearnign making it more difficult to concentrate?

funnel and cylinder theory. do children that are still processing infomation about a topic at a deeper level... miss out on learning the next thing the teacher is talking about?

research, or dissemination of research about how children with a high iq learn.

nextphase Mon 10-Jun-13 19:59:18

I like the guides on the back of quite a few of the boxes with suggestions of how to play with the item at different levels.

Never really seen the attraction to baby DVD's - but then DS1 was minimal TV (30 mins a week, unless Daddy was in charge) til 2.

I've given both kids the right name for things - we have birds, not birdies. Does baby talk really make a difference? We do get odd looks talking about the Archimedes screw in the playground tho....

I like the games from orchard toys.

We go with the boys interests - I'm sure they could tell you the life cycle of a butterfly, but not very much about some things that lots of other kids know about. I work on the basis it all evens out - DS1 was very physical, his best friend very verbal around 18 months. 4 years later, and its quite hard to tell the difference.

littlemonkeychops Mon 10-Jun-13 20:06:09

I haven't bought any specific learning toys but just try to engage DD's atention/enthusiasm for things as much as possible, things like reading together, encouraging questions, counting things we see. I talk to her practically non-stop and have done since she was newborn, her vocab/communication skills are really good so i wonder if that's why?

I also did an attachment style of parenting and would like to know, as someone else said above, if there is any science behind it.

MammaMedusa Mon 10-Jun-13 20:58:41

We are also Babylab veterans!

I don't think we have really bought any explicit child development products as such. I didn't like the look of the Leapster, etc, and the one Baby Einstein DVD we were given gave my baby nightmares (his only three nightmares were on the three days he watched it).

We have invested in books, books and more books (also lots of audio books). We have many, many board games, musical instruments, puppets, brio, lego, dress-ups, dolls, etc.

All those things require time - time from the parents, but also unstructured time for the children to use their toys and play in a creative way on their own.

We put a huge store by imagination and imaginative play. The children (10 and 7) will both still play with dolls and puppets to create long and detailed stories. OK, the content has changed over the years - they are currently making their own Doctor Who episode apparently. They get lots and lots of praise and encouragement whenever they play like this.

We also ensure we still read to them every day. We get guidance from the library, and from sources such as Dorothy Butler's "Babies need Books" and "1001 Children's Books You Must Read Before You Grow Up" to ensure they are getting exposed to wide range of good quality age-appropriate stuff. They listen to audio books every night - right now one is listening to Ramona the Pest and one is listening to Just William.

We try and make sure they have a range of experiences - music, theatre, sport, gardening, cooking and so on. But we also always think in terms of how much children love repetition - these experiences might not always be new ones, often they enjoy doing the same thing again and again.

Walking and talking is probably worth more than all the above - listening, chatting, learning and growing together.

The facilities for children's learning are ENDLESS. There's so much to choose from. It can be quite overwhelming as some of it is just profiteering on parent's hopes for their children.
We avoided Baby Einstein etc as it seemed like a lot of claptrap. I couldn't see how it could benefit our DD. That said, we didn't have TV in our house so it would be useless anyway.

Over the years we have accumulated so many books. Fiction and non fiction. Musical instruments. Figurines. Play kitchens/houses etc to boost imaginative play....

We bought an innotab thinking that it might be a good 'first media' outlet for DD but I'm not overly impressed with it. The apps can be quite good but the battery life is pathetic.

I have no idea whether our attempts at educating our DD have had any result. She is bright, but may have been bright anyway. We just do things that we enjoy doing together.

I think that going forward, schools should be teaching children more about life and how things relate to each other rather than disassociating information through subjects. I think that it would stop children from having negative connotations with a subject (ie: I don't like maths) as it becomes part of their everyday thinking.
Ways to do this would be to create work encompassing all the subjects following a theme. It would also allow children to understand topics more thoroughly

justsstartingtothink Tue 11-Jun-13 09:13:26

Which activities or products (if any) have you come across which are designed to boost your child's learning? And how effective (or otherwise) have you found them?
My son is now 8. We did not use any specific activities or products when he was a baby. I did take fish oil when pregnant. From when he was born, we talked to and with him a lot, making the assumption he could understand us even if he couldn't speak. He developed very advanced verbal skills (bilingual) very early and continues to be very articulate in both languages. We also are keen readers and he has followed our example. One thing I DIDN'T do, that I wish I had, was write a lot in his presence. When he struggled to develop handwriting, I suddenly realised he had hardly seen either of us write at all -- he had only seen us "write" on a keyboard! ..... so he had no examples of handwriting or of the importance of handwriting. He has now caught up and is writing well -- and I'm trying to improve my writing as well!

- Have you tried anything yourself to improve or enhance your child's learning? If so, what have you tried? And what influenced your decision to try that activity/product? How effective (or otherwise) do you think it has been?
Other than to show an interest in his school work and to show an interest in things that interest him, I haven't tried many techniques. I did use an internet-based maths programme (Tutpup) to help him develop speed in mental maths and it was effective.

- What aspect of your child's school experience (if any) do you think could most be improved by neuroscience? You might want to consider, for example, how the teacher talks to the children, the activities the children take part in, or the materials they study...
Just about EVERY aspect of his school experience could be improved!! For starters... it would be helpful if the teachers actually TALK to the class and encourage children to speak with each other! It seems much of the school day is spent with videos and very little class discussion or direct instruction by teachers.

mercibucket Tue 11-Jun-13 09:20:59

sports and being outdoors

and reading with them

apart from that i never bother, just try to answer every question they have

imperfectparent Tue 11-Jun-13 11:41:03

Oh dear it is so easy to feel totally inadequate reading the posts as you feel your child must surely have missed out on all the brain tuning products that seem to be available. I'm aware that we used a Leap Pad for a year or two. Otherwise I guess we just played, talked, walked, talked, swam, talked, baked, talked, watched TV, talked, painted, talked. I valued weekly visits to Tumble Tots, Sticky Fingers and mummy meet ups, not so much because I thought this would gain the edge over other children but because the activities were normal fun and it gave me adult company to stay sane. I don't see the point of advancing children ahead of when they are ready. They will find their own level with normal interactions. I do think we should have the confidence to trust our instincts and try not to be so anxious around development (she says feeling anxious).

grassroots Tue 11-Jun-13 11:48:11

After DS was born Radio 2 got ditched in favour of Classic FM...does that count? Not sure if any of these things make a difference, but am a firm believer in a healthy diet, lots of exercise and lots of sleep. DS did start learning an instrument at 4yo, but that wasn't really aimed at boosting his brain power so much as having fun! Have always had lots and lots of books around and DS enjoys taking a maths book to bed with him... Don't know whether that impacts his school work, or if school impacts his home interests???

capecath Tue 11-Jun-13 13:40:01

What an interesting thread! I will admit to being fascinated by my boys learning and development. DS1 2.10y is a sponge and currently mirrors me (and my DH, but more me since we are together all day) in so many ways - vocabulary, intonation of voice, the way he treats others, use of emotion - I find it rather scary... He has a great memory and recites stories (he loves books), sings songs most of the day, quotes tv programmes and chats about events that happened weeks ago.

He seems to learn best from watching others and also trying things himself - he is a problem-solver and is fascinated by how things work, prefers to do things himself. He enjoys puzzles and we have a rather complex Noah's ark string of animals to puzzle together, corresponding with letters of the alphabet through which he has also learnt the alphabet (by singing the alphabet song).

So currently he seems to learn best through plenty of interaction, reading, singing together, and through self-exploratory problem-solving.

DS2 10 months is currently learning lots from being around his big bro! He is very inquisitive, gets his hands on everything possible and he seems to like music too!

NayFindus Tue 11-Jun-13 17:08:00

I think songs and nursery rhymes are great, very catchy and easy to remember and these have helped dd, almost 3 with numbers, language and memory, she knows dozens of rhymes now and sings away to herself as she's playing. Stickers are great at the moment for hand eye coordination and she's into jigsaws which are good for problem solving. She loves books too, I imagine because dh and I are always reading books or the paper. Basically, anything she sees us doing or anything she can rope us in to do with her so we do it together and spend time with her and anything that's enjoyable.

Rosehassometoes Tue 11-Jun-13 22:54:05

I do a few things with DS (3)
- follow his interests
- have a good selection of reference books and fiction
- if something sparks his interest eg centipedes go with it- spend 5 mins looking on google/google images and YouTube. Make a note on my phone to remind us to look for this topic in library (have a few things to look up then as well as pot luck)
- make a conscious effort to use newly acquired vocabulary
- revisit things we've looked up
-help him to make links between his learning eg Ibis bird feeds using filtration (learnt today) that's a bit like a blue whale.
- show an interest in his interests
- accept that learning occurs in v short snippets through the course of the day- a meandering path that can be built upon as opposed to planned sessionsz

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