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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...

You're also very welcome (no pun intended!) to post any other relevant comments on this thread. And everyone who does so will be in with a chance of winning a £50 Amazon voucher as a thank you for sharing your thoughts and opinions.

If you are happy to provide further responses on this topic, the Wellcome Trust have more detailed surveys for parents, teachers and students on their website.

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

ScienceRocks Thu 06-Jun-13 12:06:53

Marking place so I can give this some thought and come back and answer later.

manfalou Thu 06-Jun-13 12:31:04

With our eldest we used the 'my baby can read' Dvd's... I was very sceptical but it was something my partner wanted to do, so when he was 2 months old we starting putting on the various DVD's as instructed in the manuel etc I was Very surprised that at around 10-11 months my child could actually 'read' (or more likely recognise) words written down. He could 'read' the following flash cards the best: Arms Up, Arms down, Clap, Wave, Dog, Cat and nose. Everyone was very amazed by it. As he got older he got bored of the DVDs and therefore we stopped putting them on and he did in time forget the words, which shows he didn't actually learn to read them. However, it was still fascinating seeing how this small baby appeared to be reading. I will say that his speech has fell behind slightly, wether this is down to watching the DVDs or not we'll never know but it does make you wander if his brain couldn't process both the reading and the speech at such a young age. He's now 2.5 years old.

At nursery he has benefitted greatly from there educational toys, particularly mathematical toys which look like animals as this is one of his interests. He can now count to 20, recognises a few numbers and enjoys counting everyday objects. I have seen a great improvement in his development since going on maternity leave in February which i believe is down to two things: More time spent with myself and a change in nursery.

Nothing is better educationally that one-on-one attention or in nurseries smaller groups. His speech has greatly improved, his general knowledge has greatly improved and so has his fine motor skills.

Hmmm, how fascinating.

I am doing a masters in psychotherapy and as part of this have covered some of the neuroscience around brain development, but mostly how it can be negatively impacted unfortunately. However, I believe it has been immensely beneficial to have just a little knowledge around the subject.

I have 2 sons, a 3 year old and a 3 month old. While we have been given things like Lamaze toys and Baby Einstein DVD's I think they only offer a limited advantage over other toys.

What I have found incredibly useful is understanding a little about brain development. It means I don't expect my children to learn things they just don't have the capacity for yet, but when they do show an interest in something to jump on the bandwagon and take it as far as they want to go. My 3 year old has begun to read and it has happened by him becoming obsessed at various points with Alphablocks on the TV or his phonics bus toy or just asking us all the time about letters and words. He would take a leap forward then drop those resources and become obsessed with something else unrelated.

I believe anyone involved in Early years education should be taught the basics of brain development and how children learn and that early years settings should support that eclectic, obsessive learning style that children have. I also feel it's very useful information for a parent to have, to know that certain elements of brain development need to occur before a child is capable of certain things or grasping certain concepts, and that trying to force it on them is pointless.

kw13 Thu 06-Jun-13 12:58:29

Two things I have been amazed by helping to learn to read/count - Top trumps cards (massive incentive for my DS to make that leap to seeing how useful reading is) and Monopoly (DS suddenly realized how easy it was to count, how to do it quickly, and how it meant that you could then win!). The link between neuroscience and learning is not one that I would feel comfortable commenting on - please just don't go down the road of recommending Brain Gym etc.

A friend recommended emails from productive parenting with ideas tailored to your child's age giving ideas for activities to do with them. You can get emails daily or weekly or whatever and some of them seem quite good. There's always an explanation about what skills you're trying to encourage.
I have to admit though that although I get the emails, we've done very few of the activities because I seem to have so much other stuff to do with DD that we barely have a spare moment.

ScienceRocks Thu 06-Jun-13 14:50:30

Right, I'm back!

I have come across Lamaze and Baby Einstein but found they weren't very different to other toys and books. Most toys seem to list the skills they will help with on the packaging, which is helpful.

The best thing I have found for both my DDs (ages 3 and 6) is to spend time with them, playing, reading, answering questions, explaining things... I am a truth teller when it comes to kids, which is partly because I have very little imagination but mostly because I am a scientist. We have always had reference books around, and even when my kids were tiny and asked questions like "why does it rain?", I would give a basic explanation of the water cycle rather than making up some fairy tale nonsense. If I didn't know, I would say as much and look it up later. This has really fostered my DDs enquiring minds - knowing that people don't know everything and how to find out.

The most important thing teachers and parents can do is engage with a child. This makes a huge difference to their learning. I help out at my local school, and (for example) quietly putting some more reluctant readers onto non-fiction books has made a huge difference in their enjoyment of reading. The teachers I have "helped" have made me feel welcome, given me guidance and listened to my thoughts (such as non-fiction), which is exactly how it should be but often isn't.

All parents and teachers need to have a basic understanding of developmental milestones. These aren't set in stone but help you understand vaguely what your child should be able to do, work on any that they are not quite there with, and seek advice if there appears to be a problem. Timely intervention is key for this kind of thing.

I would love to see more neuroscience resources for parents, but then I am a bit of a geek grin

Bit of a brain dump, but hope the wellcome trust (an organisation I have a lot of time for) finds something useful in there.

LadyIsabellaWrotham Thu 06-Jun-13 14:59:16

I am keen on this stuff - I lap it up in New Scientist, and both the DCs did several experiments at the Birkbeck College Babylab (highly recommended to any London new mums who are going stir crazy btw - they send a taxi, entertain your baby, make you a cup of tea, and you get to talk to friendly adults about interesting things).

Hugely sceptical about most of the commercial products available though. VTech in particular never crossed our doorstep.

The things I did go for were:
Black and white graphic OpArt images downloaded for free and printed onto card - used them from age 0-4 months to distract while having nappies changed, and they worked a treat.
Amazing Baby books - likewise based on the neuroscience evidence that babies like strong black and white images and big faces - likewise worked like magic..
A mantra - "If they're laughing, they're learning"
Teletubbies - as I understand it firmly based on baby research, and went down very well with my two.
Hardcore phonics-based reading teaching. I don't know whether that is within your remit, but I used an improvised pure phonics strategy with great success.
Fish oil for DS, who has ASD. Not definitely well evidenced, but seems plausible, reasonably cheap (I buy Boots own brand liquid), harmless, and I have a vaguely "woo" feeling that DS's voracious appetite for all oily fish in its natural form is his body's way of telling him something.

JedwardScissorhands Thu 06-Jun-13 15:02:45

Our school has short intensive phonics sessions at the start if each day (half an hour). This little and often approach, in a firm routine seems really helpful fir learning. They do similar with maths.

ExasperatedSigh Thu 06-Jun-13 15:08:09

Totally agree with ScienceRocks that engaging with a child is the best boost to learning; when you engage with the child, you can observe where their interests and motivations lie and provide learning experiences or aids that are more likely to grab their interest. My DS is now almost 5 and I've always tried to follow what he's into rather than pushing what I might want him to do. E.g. I am a bookworm and I wish he was more interested in reading, but I don't want to put him off so I don't push him - he loves books and stories and is on the cusp of making the extra jump from just knowing his letters and sounds. Interestingly, he learned these almost entirely via a combination of Alphablocks, a Vtech laptop that I was initially rather sneery about blush and phonics songs on Youtube.

Like ScienceRocks, I always try and be factual about stuff although I don't always know the answers. I also try and encourage him to think through things and come up with his own explanations, although at the moment this throws up a lot of super power related discourse hmm grin

Sorry if this is all completely obvious. We've never gone in much for overtly educational efforts, but I have been fascinated by the effect that certain toys have had on his learning. Board games were a huge turning point in him learning to count and understanding turn-taking, cause and effect, chance etc. More recently he went through an obsession with the Scooby Doo card game (bit like a simple version of Uno), which has introduced the idea of strategic game play.

Got all this to come with DD (nearly 2). She is already parroting counting and stuff from being around him. Maybe a sibling is the best learning aid? I remember my big brother teaching me to count to 15 in French...not to mention all the swear words I learned from him.

ExasperatedSigh Thu 06-Jun-13 15:09:34

God, reading that first paragraph makes it sound like we never read to him. We do! <middle class panic emoticon>

I don't know anything about neuroscience but like some of the posters above, I always try to answer my 2 year olds questions as factually as possible eg what are clouds for etc instead of making stuff up.

DH and I each speak 2 languages fluently as well as the basics of another couple of languages so we try to teach DD a little...not expecting her to pick up Afrikaans or Zulu as such but just so she comprehends the idea that there are other ways to communicate and to hopefully make her little brain more amenable to picking up other languages when it comes to formal education.

And finally - I don't actually know if there's any truth in it - but I do think of fish as brain food and encourage DD to eat it up to help make her clever...,,

fuzzpig Thu 06-Jun-13 15:56:14

Am a bit befuddled due to illness ATM so apologies if my reply is garbled!

For my DCs the main thing that helps them is any way of making things physical. For example when DD was little she wasn't all that sure on colours, but I got her a button board (ELC) on her 2nd birthday and within a few minutes she was naming/matching correctly. I put that down to the fact she was handling objects rather than just looking, if that makes sense?

Similarly with letters we used things like magnetic letters and letter beads, as handling them made her much more secure with the shapes. I know teachers recommend things like drawing the letters in glitter/sand/shaving foam, and I recall making a letter h out of wooden train track once so she could move her train along it! smile

Things like cuisinaire rods are great for maths although my favourite is Numicon. Expensive (it was a gift from a very generous friend) but really great for number concepts. I have also used it in school when I volunteered and came up with activities for yr1 children.

I think lots of easily available toys have immense developmental value, and often the simpler the better. I love watching my DCs play with things like wooden bricks. The more construction toys the better IMO, great for spatial awareness and problem solving/planning etc.

One other thing I want to mention is just being outdoors in a natural space. It is easy to forget how much there is to gain from simply being close to birds, insects, plants etc. <hugs tree>

Bonsoir Thu 06-Jun-13 16:00:08

My DD (8) is bilingual (father French, mother English, we live in Paris). Despite much pressure to the contrary, I was determined that the best way for my DD to learn to read and write was to do so in both languages simultaneously using separate phonics methods for monolingual DC. It has been a huge success and her reading and writing in both languages are of a high standard vs. monolinguals. She has excellent metalinguistic skills.

The other thing which I try to do systematically is to plan ahead and to talk to my DD about what she is going to be doing in the future (which is in fact what I want her to be doing in the future), and then to prepare her by taking her through small steps towards the future goal, reminding her constantly of the goal. She flew UM to the US last year, aged 7, with her brother aged 14, and stayed in a US summer camp for three weeks and loved it. The preparation to get her there was over about 18 months - not once did she get anxious.

OddSockMonster Thu 06-Jun-13 16:05:05

I do maths homework with DS1 using cranberries. We suspect he may have dyslexia and possibly ADD (going through assessments soon) but he 'gets' maths so much more with visual things. So we use cranberries, which he gets to eat after he's done his sums.

This was in part boosted by a neuroscientist doing a talk at his school, suggesting a link between visual, spoken and tactile to help neural connections. Seems to work, though our food bill for dried fruit is quite high.

sickofsocalledexperts Thu 06-Jun-13 16:30:40

I have an autustic boy with severe learning difficulties on top. The best (and only) way I found of teaching him his phonics, and then to read, was a small section of the Jolly Phonics DVD, called Saying the Letter Sounds. On this, usung a split screen, the letter or sound comes up on one side, then next to it you see a nice lady enunciating it clearly. Something about seeing the letter at the same time as seeing the lady's mouth movements to make that sound helped my little boy both to speak and read that letter sound.

Now he has moved onto the Ipad and we are finding so many creative and brilliant apps - eg Hungry Fish for visual maths, or Splingo for listening skills.

When you are dealing with an impaired IQ, as with my boy, you can really sort out which apps have been creative about their teaching, and really empathised with the core learning skills. It's easy to teach clever kids!

PostBellumBugsy Thu 06-Jun-13 16:52:16

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?

Haven't really come across any.

- 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?

Not really sure what is being asked here. Yes, I've sat with my DCs grinding through times tables and spellings and supervising homework - does that count?

- 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...

For me, a really interesting thing has been finding out my DCs learning style. So DD is an auditory learner, whereas DS is a visual and tactile learner. This has helped greatly while grinding through the times tables and spellings, as with DD we have done them by rote out loud, while DS writes them down.

I'm partly Montessori trained & what I realised is that there are so many ways of enhancing a child's learning experience but the most critical thing is to know the child! This takes time & observation and I'm not sure that our big classes of 30 afford teachers enough time per child to ensure that they are being taught in the most effective way.

Another critical thing for children learning is getting enough sleep. There is plenty of research showing that tired children don't learn as well as well rested children - so ensuring my DCs get enough sleep on school nights is important too.

Parietal Thu 06-Jun-13 19:31:08

I have a 2 yr old & 5 yr old. I'm interested in sleep (effects on learning, effects of controlling crying etc). There is a lot of neuro-rubbish around attachment too. Would be nice to know what is true.
At older ages, I'm interested in developmental disorders - what is going wrong & what to do. But that should come with the disclaimer that I'm also an academic working in related areas.

Shiraztastic Thu 06-Jun-13 19:32:48

- 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?

Everything from Leapad, flash cards, to omega 3 vitamins, and kumon. We find talking to them and playing with them far more effective than any 'product. Maths games can be as easily played with acorns as on some vastly expensive ipad for kiddies.

- 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 feed them oily fish twice a week, as it is good for health in several ways. I believe the evidence of its positive effect on brain development is good. Beyond that, mostly we talk to them and answer questions, which is rewarding.

Oh and we did do baby signing with the eldest who wasn't spouting sentences by 16 months like the others, but mostly to reduce frustration, not in a bid to make him 'gifted'.

- 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 use of strong attachments to a primary carer in the early years phase and in transitioning children to school. If teachers better understood the emotional needs of 4 and 5 year olds maybe there would be smoother transitions to school and less children dragged in screaming.

Shiraztastic Thu 06-Jun-13 19:34:41

More info on the different effects of breast milk and modified cows milk on brain development would be welcome (including any noticeable difference between fresh milk and pasteurised donor milk).

dahville Thu 06-Jun-13 19:49:16

- 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?

With his eldest son my husband used flashcards; he was eager to learn and took to them very easily

- 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?

Our approach is to ensure that he is well nourished and gets good sleep and that he is exposed to lots of different experiences, mostly outside. He has football lessons, we read a lot, go for nature walks, sing, and dance. Mostly we want learning to be fun and exciting.

- 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...

N/A at this stage - we feel we're setting him up for the time he starts school

fuzzpig Thu 06-Jun-13 19:58:34

Oh yes we did baby signing too. DS has a severe speech delay so it was essential - and while his speech is still poor, it certainly did reduce frustration and encourage him to attempt more speaking, so I'd highly recommend it to anyone (not just those whose DCs have communication problems).

Although you can also just watch Mr Tumble grin

majjsu Thu 06-Jun-13 19:58:35

I always talked to my baby about all the activities we were doing. I took my LO to baby signing classes and she loved it. I am convinced it helped her talk from such a young age, plus now at 2 she loves to ask lots and lots of questions. Also reading books daily helped her become a bookworm. After reading I Want My Potty for 2 weeks, she potty trained herself. I agree with the other posts, spending quality time with your LO really helps too.

edam Thu 06-Jun-13 20:09:45

Didn't buy any products that claimed to 'improve learning' as such claims are generally extremely tendentious - very little evidence behind the various means of parting parents from their cash.

Just everyday stuff such as talking to ds a lot, from the very start (I talk a lot, at home with a baby I talked to him), 'reading' books (as a baby he loved any with baby faces in - actually revise first point, I did buy books that claimed to be good for babies, not because they would advance him but because they were fun - especiallly the one where the last page was a mirror, that really made him giggle. I can still recite one of them and he's nearly 10 now...).

Chatting about what we were doing whenever we went out (or stayed in) and allowing him time to explore - my pockets were full of sticks, stones and feathers, and we couldn't pass so much as a ladybird without stopping to admire it. Letting him make 'music' with anything that came to hand, banging a wooden spoon against a pan...

Oh, and I signed him up to experiments at the Babylab - think it's UCL, I forget. I have a great pic of him with electrodes all over his head. grin Like to think he's already made a contribution to science!

halkerstone Thu 06-Jun-13 20:25:32

As adults, we love crossword puzzles, Sudokus and quizzes and have encouraged our children to enjoy them too . This has helped to accelerate their learning. The boys learned their times tables with football books, where goals had to be scored. They definitely preferred learning if there was a competitive element and always wanted to achieve 100%. My DD liked magical books, which promised new spells if she obtained the right answer. We also found sticker rewards worked well.

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