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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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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.

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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.

wonderstuff Thu 06-Jun-13 21:04:52

Interesting topic.

I'm pretty sceptical of educational toys for very little ones, I think a stimulating environment is the thing.

I work in SEN education, and knew a little about attachment disorder, this influenced my parenting style when they were very small, determined to foster strong attachments, I stayed close, bf on demand, always responded to them. What impact that had I'll obviously not know, but I do have two children who are very confident, neither has ever cried when being left at nursery or school. They seemed to be able to cope with the concept of mummy going away but always coming back from about 7 months old.

As others have said knowing a bit about general development is useful, it's easy if you don't have a lot of experience of small children to think that they are wilfully difficult when actually you are expecting them to do things they just aren't capable of.

Being rested is obviously really important and is something my eldest struggles with, she find s switching off really hard. So we have tried to help her with this with a strict bedtime routine. We have also always read with the children, story telling has may benefits I think. We put number into conversation when we can and try to give logical explanation for their questions (very proud moment when dd started explaining Big Bang theory to the librarian).

As a teacher I have found having a good explanation of the neurological differences children with various SEN have really helpful. There is a temptation to just seek out what works, but gaining a deeper understanding is so helpful in empathising and communicating and developing techniques. Getting that children think differently because their brains are wired differently, rather than seeing them as lacking a particular skill is really important. I think a better understanding of neuroscience would be great for teachers.

edam Thu 06-Jun-13 21:23:06

Ah, I forgot in my first post that I did read 'How babies think' by (IIRC) Gopnik et al - think lead author was Alison Gopnik? Bunch of psychologists who all had young children themselves and wrote in a human, engaging style (not a 'We Are The Experts Talking Down to Mere Mummies' tone beloved by some authors I could mention...) about what research into very early psychology shows. I can't remember much of it now - ds is nearly 10 - but it was fascinating and helped my understanding of baby brain development. That's why I signed him up to the Babylab, tbh, wanted to contribute to some of that research.

ceeb Thu 06-Jun-13 21:48:19

I'm skeptical about the baby toys and DVDs, although we did have some. What I'm passionate about is building children's brain connections through language and music. We focus on learning a second language (French) and on lots of music in the house.

From a neuroscience perspective, I'm most interested not in skills (eg the three R's) but instead on how to create the foundations for those skills in the brain. I think more could be done from a scientific point of view in understanding how basic skills (listening, speaking, motor skills, balance etc) can be improved, and help find more evidence for how these contribute directly to skills development. A case in point is a friend whose child has been doing balance activities to improve reading and writing skills.

I'd also like to find out more about how to build up a child's EQ: positive thinking/optimism, delaying gratification, confidence, motivation, passion/enthusiasm. It would be lovely to see the molecular evidence for these emotional strengths: whether for instance a bit of positive talk every day over dinner strengthens certain pathways in the brain, leading to increases in serotonin levels. Anyone want to volunteer their DS or DD for such experiments? ;-)

violetwellies Thu 06-Jun-13 22:36:24

Nearly everything DS (2) has was handed down from a friend or relative, so Ive no idea what his toys were meant to do as described on the packet, however after a shakey start we went down the breast fed on demand attachment parenting route.

Dp is keen on positive parenting. Im keen on books and long walks.

DS loves Brio and Duplo and being read to, he likes siting on ponies and digging holes. He was/is a very early talker. His father is an engieer and they have long conversations about metals, right and left hand threads and such tomfoolery. I think having two older parents (one who has a professional interst in child development) who spend a lot of time with him makes a huge impact.

Whatalotofpiffle Fri 07-Jun-13 00:27:50

Shameless place marking to think ...

CouthyMow Fri 07-Jun-13 02:26:05

Mostly for older children, but logical games, like Quirkle, Rush Hour, basically most of what the Happy Puzzle Company sells has really helped them. Also Monopoly, Cluedo, Scrabble, Connect 4...

Obscurely, also Professor Layton computer games - VERY logic problem based.

For younger children, you can't beat shape sorters, mega blocks, wooden puzzles, stacking cups and my personal favourite, Orchard Games. Red Dog, Blue Dog is 2y4mo DS3's current one, and he can now make attempts to say his colours despite his speech delay. And he does now recognise his colours.

Tobbles are great too.

We play a LOT of board games in my house...grin

CouthyMow Fri 07-Jun-13 02:31:51

Fridge magnet letters. DS3 loves his, and can now recognise and say "s", "o", "d", "m" and "h".

Happyland stuff. Brilliant for encouraging pretend play.

Also - a toy kitchen, a tool bench, a pram and toy cars. All for both boys and girls. DS3 loves his pram and baby, and proudly pushes it saying "me daddy".

CouthyMow Fri 07-Jun-13 02:46:27

Signing has helped my DS3 who has speech delay.

Books. Lots of them. I could literally build an extension with all the books in my house. From fiction to non-fiction, classic to modern, baby board books to weighty reference books...

A scooter, a football, a frisbee, basic garden toys.

Reference books on things like leaves and trees, wild flowers, and insects, and walks to tick off the items in those books. Collins pocket guides are good.

A bottle of coke and some mentoes.

Craft materials.

And I agree with the person up thread who says it is important to know what type of learner each child is, and what helps that child to gain a new skill.

DD - tactile learner, learns by doing the same thing over and over and over again.

DS1 - visual learner. Won't take it in with just an explanation, but accompany it with something he can SEE, and he will grasp very complex concepts first time.

DS2 - again, a visual learner, but also a tactile learner too - so he needs to see AND touch something in order for it to 'stick'.

DS3 - very much a tactile learner. You can tell him something, and show him something, but unless he can FEEL it, he won't learn anything from it.

WouldBeHarrietVane Fri 07-Jun-13 06:21:21

My DS almost certainly has a speech delay sad we are going to do hanen method speech therapy from a handn book while we wait for a referral.

PastSellByDate Fri 07-Jun-13 07:25:31

"What you need to understand Mrs PSBD is that your DD1 is just a bit dim. We find with highly educated parents they often are overly ambitious for their children's achievement...." So said the Head Teacher of my DDs school after I raised my concern about the fact that in March of Y2 she was totally unable to subtract - as in 10 - 1 was not possible for her.

I suspect you at the Wellcome Trust are totally aware of the statistics - with two parents employed in the University & Research sector and educated to PhD level and DD1 exhibiting no obvious learning issues (dyslexia, etc...) - this answer seems to fly in the face of statistics gathered on children's achievement in most developed countries.

- 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?

After having had abuse from DD1's Y2 teacher and the charming conversation with the Head quoted above because we had the temerity to request recommendations for workbooks so we could do more at home with DD1 - we stumbled across Mathsfactor.

Now - I don't know what this does cognitively - but Pearson/ Carol Vorderman claim that regular work with maths develops synapses and trains your brain to think in a certain way (and that should be of interest to Wellcome).

What I will say as a parent - is that slowly, month by month, by DD1's facility with numbers has grown to the point that she can see logic in prep questions for the 11+ that just never occurred to me: (i.e. there was a VR problem about a boy 1.1m tall that could only reach the 1st floor button on an elevator and had to walk out 80 steps to the 6th floor and another boy was 1.4m tall and could reach the 5th floor button and then walked up 20 steps to the 6th floor. Lucy - 1.1m tall - enters the elevator - and the question was how many steps did she have to walk up....

Now I was busily working out the interval in height between buttons (0.1m) and therefore lucy could push 2nd floor button when DD1 interupts and says Mummy the answer is 80 - it has to be 80 because none of the other numbers are divisible by 20 and each flight of steps is 20.

Brain synapses? Facility with numbers? I don't know. But regular practice (ye olde practice anything 10,000 times you'll become an expert) does seem to reap it's own rewards.

My question to Wellcome is does regular practice (of anything - an instrument, a sport, etc...) develop a way of thinking - a mental approach?

- 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?

How effective has Mathsfactor been? - DD1 was 2nd bottom group (5 groups in math) Y2 and scored an impressive 1b on her KS1 SATs. As I said she couldn't subtract numbers under 20 and could barely add numbers up to 20 (skills which in fact she acquired in nursery - run by University for Lecturing/ Hospital staff). DD1 is now in top group (Y5) and we are told is working to NC Level 5. I believe that qualifies as 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...

Our experience has overwhelmingly been that the school feel NC Level 4 is the pinacle of educational achievement for 10 - 11 year olds.

Does low expectation breed its own rewards?^: DD1 has been told things are hard before trying them - and been put off. She's been told 'Boys are usually better at this than girls' repeatedly in many areas of the curriculum. She's been told at the start of a lesson 'I'm afraid this will be a bit boring children....' - so my question to Wellcome is ^does all the helpfully negative attitude from within a school result in a child's brain learning to 'turn off' when it gets tricky?

I respect that it is not medically possible to measure positive attitude - but cognitively I would be hugely interested to see what happens with children (like my DD1) who are struggling but are then allowed the time and space to practice and build skills in a supportive environment. [Our context is DD1 has a very healthy diet, plenty of exercise and fresh air].

I feel that low expectation, 'bad advertising' of hard core aspects of the curriculum that may be tricky for less able students and lack of opportunities to practice and imbed core skills all ultimately result in poor achievement or an inability to tackle new challenges.

I came from a school system where we have 5 - 10 maths problems sent home (copied off black board - yes I'm that old) each evening. We had to turn them in the next morning. With computers DD1 is effectively doing the same (5 x a week) - but possibly more problems - and the results have been phenomenal.

Are there cognitive benefits to frequent practice on a little and often basis? Our anectdotal experience has been 'yes there are' - but it would be ultimately hugely beneficial to establish this fact because in 'the real world' Michael Gove has dropped the homework requirement and our school has taken that as permission to suggest to parents that children should 'read at home' - ideally 2 hours a week - but feel no particular obligation to provide books to achieve that and there is only infrequent worksheets/ computer work in maths or spelling exploration (finding words with prefixes or suffixes, or words with certain sounds - long i - spelled igh, i-e, etc...). If little and often has cognative benefits - then should schools be providing short homeworks (on-line/ worksheets/ etc...) and reading materials regularly to all children?

Jojobump1986 Fri 07-Jun-13 07:56:59

The one thing that I've seen results from with my 19mo is singing. He loves it & demands the same songs repeatedly, especially at nappy changing time! He'll be obsessed with one or 2 songs for a week or 2 before suddenly preferring a different one. He's learnt numerous words & actions through songs we sing. I'll often pause before the last word of a line & he'll surprise me by coming out with the word or sign, or both, that I didn't know he knew! 'If you're happy & you know it' is a particularly good one because it's repetitive & can be altered to get the child doing all sorts of things.

Smudging Fri 07-Jun-13 08:15:41

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

fuzzpig Fri 07-Jun-13 08:36:32

I agree about the sport and exercise. Things like a "wake up shake up" session first thing each day, and lots of time outside.

notcitrus Fri 07-Jun-13 10:34:56

I second the Babylab - great couple hours, fascinating stuff, and they pay for you to get to London for the day. I used to be a neuroscientist so I've read loads on child development.

My children are only young so so far it's mostly about providing an interesting environment (lots of random objects and containers - call it Treasure Baskets if you want...), and ways to keep me sane while looking after them. I've done baby sign classes because I'm fascinated by linguistics and language development and the classes were fun for all of us (ds now comes with toddler dd and mostly plays at the back but then sings songs with her after). I suspect it's helped a bit with them realising that a sound or action can tell me what they want, and certainly with my understanding their first 'words' when there was a vague sign as well.

As a parent the most useful things I've found were books/sites that explain what a child is likely to understand or not at various ages, and the misconceptions they often have, ways to get them to understand what you want - like when you really need to get your 2yo to do something, simplify your request (Shoes. On., rather than 'please darling, mummy wants you to get your shoes on, then we can go out to the playground and... Child: PLAY!!!) and don't expect them to understand 'backwards' sentences for a surprisingly long time (Before we go to the park, you have to put your shoes on) - so if they don't respond, simplify: First SHOES. Then park.

Haven't bought any particular toys, though the Junior Learner Laptop (hard to find in UK) was a great hit for nearly 4 years now. I suspect aplhabet wooden puzzles helped with learning letters, and CBeebies with sounds and so much information.

Tiggles Fri 07-Jun-13 12:05:57

Having read for a neuroscience degree, I have always been fascinated by child learning. I have 3 boys, DS1 has Aspergers, DS2 had High functioning ASD, and DS3 is neurotypical.
When DS1 was a baby I bought a book "Baby minds: Brain building games your baby will love" which had loads of great ideas in. e.g. putting a puppet up on one side of a cot, then the other and the baby will start to recognise the pattern and look to where the puppet will be next. Start making the pattern harder e.g. 2 one side then 2 the other. DS1 particularly enjoyed this sort of thing. DS2 interacted very little as a young child, a lot of time and effort was needed to help him to even want to communicate with other people, rather than ignoring them and stimming.
I think sharing books with children is very important, even when they are able to read themselves. We spent a lot of time looking at books together, at 4months DS1 enjoyed looking at board books. He has very weak finger muscles so he struggled with the 'hit a button, see the object pop up' type toys, which I also think are good for brain development. I didn't realise DS2 enjoyed looking at books until he finally became mobile and started crawling to the book pile to look at books, he didn't enjoy interacting with people though, so if I tried to become involved he would just tantrum. DS3 enjoyed books, but not to the same extent as DS1. DS1 however went on to be hyperlexic as part of his AS. He is unable to walk past text without knowing what it says, or eat a yogurt without knowing what the pot says, and has been that way since a toddler.

They did have a few VTech type toys, but I don't really like electronic toys, as i think they remove the 'need' for a parent to be present. i would rather have a real globe, and look at it and talk with the DSs about it, stimulating their own questions, than an electronic one which tells them facts that they may not be interested in.

I have never bought into the 'flash cards' products, but with DS1 who was learning his letters/phonics at about 18months I did used to make colourful and shiny letters to stick on the wall for letter of the day.

DS1 started underachieving in school (year 6) so we bought some of the home study books for him. In a month his maths levels leapt up. I think this is more a confidence issue rather than the books specifically teaching him though. Although they have been helpful as a reminder for things he has studied and then promptly forgets if they move onto new topics. I have also started the Apples and Pears spelling course with him, but this is much slower going, as his spelling is poor, but it is making a difference. I chose this product as it was recommended by SEN teachers on here.

We spend a lot of time outdoors, going walking, running and cycling with the boys as I believe that there is more to life than being stuck in academic school work, and lots to learn in the natural world, and also if you are fit and healthy that you will be more able to concentrate properly on work when needed. We visit lots of historical places as I think that seeing things 'in the flesh' is more memorable than reading about them/seeing on television. The boys also eat fish as in their words 'it makes us clever'. And also on car journeys we tend to quiz the boys on maths facts and spelling. This has been particularly beneficial to DS3 as he has learnt to work out the answers to his older brothers questions, especially in maths.

I think schools could make more use of the research done into the different ways that children learn e.g. visual learning, audio learning, kinesthetic learner etc. This happens through foundation phase (we are in Wales so to end of year 2) but by yr 3 seems stuck more to school books with only a small amount of practical thrown in. Having said that, DS1 has recently been inspired in school by a new student teacher who has been using lots of different teaching methods, and he has learnt loads and wanted to tell me about it. Also, the choice of overall topic seems to make a difference (At least to my boys, but being autistic this may not be true in general). They have all recently had the school topic of dinosaurs. They have wanted to learn so much. Poring over dinosaur booksin the evenings. Writing factual and fiction work off their own backs.

angell74 Fri 07-Jun-13 13:20:10

I haven't bothered with special educational toys. A friend with older kids advised me that she had always found them a bit of a waste of time.

I find that my kids learn best when they want to and when something interests them. So I have just followed where they have led and made sure that when they have wanted to find out more about something we have done so - currently we are growing beans and walking in the woods with books on trees because that is what is interesting them.

My youngest had some speech problems when he was younger and on the advice of a friend I did speech therapy activities daily and he is now developmentally ahead in this area.

I do make sure that we make time to read ever day (mainly because we all enjoy it so much) and both my kids have reading ages ahead of their actual ages.

lurcherlover Fri 07-Jun-13 13:29:58

My children are still very young - 2.7 and 8 weeks - but I would say the most important thing is parental input, more than any toy. And then the best toys are the simplest - jigsaws, wooden spoons, shape sorters. We have had our fair share of flashing-light toys bought by relatives, but the dcs aren't that bothered by them, and I don't think they do anything special. Interaction with parents is vital. DH works in primary schools and in one in a very deprived area there are children in reception who can't talk in sentences because no-one at home talks to them.

Reading aloud is crucial. My two year old DS has a great vocab and I think a lot of it is from books he hears. I saw a poster somewhere which had a statistic for how many words a child will hear if you read a story to them each night - I can't remember the number, but it was huge.

Elasticsong Fri 07-Jun-13 14:16:23

I'm an avoider of all toys marketed with a learning objective. And I'm a parent and primary school teacher.

Elasticsong Fri 07-Jun-13 14:22:57

Oops, posted too soon...
Engaging, interacting and talking with children are the most important things IMO. Children are always learning. Your role as an adult is to facilitate this through interaction, creativity, talking and play but to be guided by the child's interests.

I found it interesting that my then 4 year old played on her 10 year old cousin's Nintendo DS. She was desperate for her own so, she made one - complete with a stick for stylus. She played with her 'DS' for months... Lots of imaginative play there.

Habanera Fri 07-Jun-13 14:44:41

Suzuki method violin/cello. Starts from v early age and takes them to teens and beyond. Strong element of parental involvement and learning alongside unlike most activities. Very good for high ability and SEN kids-does everything. Music training in general- gives pleasure proportional to effort, teaches public performance, resilience and overcoming failures, listening memory and physical skills. Lifetime of enjoyment whether they carry on themselves or not.

Bloody hard work for parents.

Cies Fri 07-Jun-13 15:56:32

Marking my place to come back later when on the pc.

PolterGoose Fri 07-Jun-13 18:43:32

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've consciously avoided any toy claiming to be educational, and anything that can only be use in one proscribed manner. We have a house of books, art and craft materials and a significant proportion of toys have been quite traditional, Lego, Duplo, wooden blocks, dolls house, toy farm, Brio set, play dough...

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, we just encourage questions and discovery and thinking. ds has aspergers and often has 'special interests' and we use these to develop other skills, eg his earliest obsession was cars, his earliest speech was car related, he learnt colours, numbers and a whole range of scientific principles through this interest.

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

Less constrained teaching, I hate when each child has to make identikit art work, 30 identical butterflies do not demonstrate creativity. Need to encourage thinking more. Need to differentiate school work more depending on learning styles. Children need more breaks, but at the same time I'd like lesson times to be longer eg 2-3 hours on literacy with breaks, rather than 40-60 minutes, then change to maths etc, so the children can really develop their work instead of the stop start teaching. Water bottles should be within reach at all times.

Wigeon Fri 07-Jun-13 20:26:49

I would be interested to know why the Wellcome Trust is interested in our views here. Frankly, I think a bunch of anecdotes about what individual parents think worked for their individual child are almost useless to a serious research institution such as the Wellcome Trust. Asking parents how effective they found various products / activities in this way (ie participants entirely self-selective, no data about either the parent or the child and so on) is surely completely meaningless, from an academic point of view.

Maybe they are just trying to raise awareness of something (perhaps their website with proper, academically-valid surveys?)? But then why dress it us as quasi-scientific research? (For example, asking about parents' perception of the effectiveness of various interventions. Would it have been better simply to ask parents about their views about activities / products designed to boost children's learning etc?

I think my personal views on what I think might have helped my child learn are probably only of interest to DH and my parents!

Wigeon Fri 07-Jun-13 20:27:33

(Interested to see several other people posting about BabyLabs - my DDs have both participated in experiments at Royal Holloway's BabyLab!)

lirael Fri 07-Jun-13 20:58:33

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.

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 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

I am not convinced by some products on the market.

I talk and read to the children. We are bringing them up bilingual (English - Me and Arabic - DH). I've encouraged music and sport. We have supported their phonics work with things like Toe by Toe and Dancing Bears because both are probably dyslexic (seeing an Educational Pyschologist shortly).

I would love to understand more about how children learn and process information. I would like schools to understand different ways of presenting information to make it accessible to children who absorb and process information differently.

Hasitfallendownagain Wed 12-Jun-13 14:39:17

The only thing I use specifically to enhance my child's learning is a phonics-based learning to read computer program, and a set of "teach your child to read" type books. We don't live in the UK, but may return soon, and I want the DC to be able to read and write in English if we do (formal schooling starts later here).

I'm not that keen on "educational" resources for younger children; my 2 year old seems particularly bright (time will tell!) but I'd rather focus on things being fun than being educational or a "learning opportunity" until she is a bit older.

lljkk Wed 12-Jun-13 18:11:32

Which activities or products (if any) have you come across

we get "Tutor your child with us!" flyers from the school, is that what you mean? For someone's business, waste of money. I bin them.

Have you tried anything yourself to improve or enhance your child's learning?

Other than usual supportive parent things I don't think so.

What aspect of your child's school experience (if any) do you think could most be improved by neuroscience?

Not a clue. Don't know enough about neuroscience.

rachaellewis Wed 12-Jun-13 22:36:24

I have a 2.5 year old girl and 1.5 year old boy. We have been concerned and interested in how to teach our babies reading, writing, counting; all of the basics from a young age so they are ahead of the game. The aids we have used for this have mainly been educational videos such as 'your baby can read' and Apps on toddlers innotabs and our phones. It may not seem the right thing to do for a child so young. Yet it has held our toddlers attention and she has enjoyed learning this way. She knows her alphabet 100% and recognises all of the letters. She can read some words and recognise many words. She also counts to 30.
I do read to my children. I also try to teach them to write and play counting games. They like to count with me. But do get frustrated if I try to teach them things without a prop, such as flash cards.
I believe there are a few problems with schools in the way they teach, the main areas that I think need working on are as follows:-
1) Too step a gradient. Some children are not thoroughly;y grasping the basics and the teachers are speeding along, leaving the child with a lack of basic comprehension, so they then become more and more confused as time goes on as they do not know the foundation steps needed to comprehend what is being taught to them.
2) Misunderstood words. If a word is misunderstood as there is not a full understanding of the meanings of that word there will not be full understanding of that sentence the child is trying to learn, nor the paragraph and so on. More work should be done to make sure the children understand and can use those basic words in sentences.
3) Grammar. A child must know what a comma and full stop and other symbols are and how they are used. Otherwise again great misunderstanding will be present when trying to read or form sentences
4) A lack of mass. For example- when teaching a child what a foot ball is, show them the ball. Have them play football with it, throw it up in the air, pass to another child. If you have not seen something and someone is trying to explain it to you, confusion may come.
I will be having my children take extra courses in grammar and communication and how to use a dictionary once they are old enough. there is a whole series of courses, learning books and videos available to help your child learn how to learn.

vor Thu 13-Jun-13 00:53:29

I have a child in Year 3 with motor skills difficulties, so ergonomic pens/pencils; construction toys; craft activities have been our focus in developing his learning as traditional activities such as reading, colouring, writing were difficult to engage him in without a fun element. He struggles with writing and concentration relative to his peers, so while cognitively capable, he doesn't have the ability to sustain effort. We have found activities such as reading fact/topic books; toy based play eg construction, animals; card games to be a much better way for him to express what he is learning or know than written work. Number based Card games and visual perception games are a great way to see how strong he is in maths and logic. Books like 'Smart but Scattered' have been really helpful in understanding our natural ways of self organising and how to help a child who may have weaknesses or immaturity in organisation.

My sons school experience has been mixed. I think that the school curriculum generally provides a great variety of ways of stimulating and engaging children in learning - he loves school, the way topics are interwoven with practical activities eg building a volcano model and preparing a slide show with your class mates on volcano facts and doing an improv theatre piece on people caught in the eruption of a volcano. What is less satisfactory is the way evidence is gathered on a child's learning. Things like writing speed and concentration vary greatly in children, and this is a natural developmental scenario. Yet the evidence of learning achieved assumes all children can achieve the same level of speed and concentration. We let children learn to walk in their own time - why don't we do the same for speed and concentration? For example, in recent SATS, my sons teacher felt he could have got all questions right for Maths if he could work faster and concentrate, but only manage to complete one of the two assessment. Another example, is when doing more traditional written work, he experiences not doing as much as everyone else as being not as capable. Now I'm not bothered about the SATS score, but I do worry about the impact this has on his self esteem and confidence in his ability to do well. In summary, if the learning experience takes neuroscience into consideration, so should the assessment process and approach to more formal class work.

Mashabell Thu 13-Jun-13 07:32:30

When I worked as a voluntary assistant with weak readers a while back, I found that the words which kept tripping them up were nearly all ones which contained graphemes with irregular sounds (such as ou, ough, o in soup, through, once). I helped them to learn to read the words over which they kept stumbling by respelling them more simply.
e.g. said - sed

one - wun

people - peepl

I used to fold a sheet in half and make a note of the words which tripped them up when I listened to them read the book they were on at the time.

When I had collected 7-10 such words, I unfolded the paper and wrote the simpler spellings on the other half, telling them that they were only there to help them to learn to read the tricky words. It worked very well.

I found this very effective with struggling readers who don’t get any reading help at home, because it helped them to learn the tricky words at home by themselves, without help from a literate adult.

Perhaps the Welcome Trust could do some research into what effect learning to read words with regular and irregular spellings has on children's brains?

Masha Bell

starray Thu 13-Jun-13 14:26:32

I have a toddler who is nearly three years old. I have used Baby Einstein DVDs with him, also the Brill Kids Reading Programme. He enjoys them both, but I don't know how much he has actually absorbed from them. But that might not be the fault of the programmes as such but rather that I don't play them often enough. I generally find it more fun to read to him and sing to him myself.

From the age of 4 or 5 months I have played foreign language learning CDs and DVDs (French and Chinese in particular) for my son as I am bilingual myself and I do believe that learning a different language builds neural links in a child's brain that enhances his learning in many other areas. The Little Pim DVDs are particularly good as they show the language used in real life situations. I have also used flashcards and taken him to language classes, but he seems to have remembered and learned the most from songs in the foreign language.
Jigsaw puzzles are another favourite. I never deliberately introduced him to this, but it started as a gift and as he liked them so much, I have actively encouraged him to do more puzzles and more challenging ones as we have gone along.

It is difficult to gauge how effective all this has been, but he is a very articulate and vocal child with a great love for reading and an insatiable curiosity, so hopefully I am on the right track.

He is not due to go to nursery till September.

Cies Thu 13-Jun-13 19:56:45

I suppose the main things I have come across are related to growing up with several languages , which my dc are. I searched for information online and also read books . It's fascinating to see how it all happens.

I do also remember buying an Amazing Baby book because of the geometric patterns .
As far as school is concerned , teachers should know about different learning types and relevant milestones so as not to leave anyone behind.

v3an Thu 13-Jun-13 20:26:18

I have a 2+ year old boy and I am amazed how he is speaking skills are improving daily in 3 languages, and how he can speak each language according to the recepient. He speaks in Spanish to me, in arabic to his dad and in English at nursery.
A present, he is into learning the time and he asks what time is it every 5 minutes. I showed him and explained how a coo coo clock works, and he loves it. He pays attention and can tell when coo coo o'clock time is near, and we sing together the number of coo coos according to the time it is.
He can count and recognise the numbers up to 12-15 in Spanish. I bought him a book in Spain that has up to number 30 touch buttons, each relates to a picture in the book and makes a relevant sound. Eg 10 sheep bahh. He absolutely loves it, and I think that this book might have helped him to count and recognise from 10 up.
I think Leggo duplo blocks develop the creativity and imagination, and he plays with them frequently.
I think that the dedicated time and motivation I spend with my son is key for his learning and development, nursery also helps as he became fluent in English only attending 3 days a week.

LackaDAISYcal Thu 13-Jun-13 20:27:41

oooh, too much effort for only £50 I'm afraid. Need a bigger incentive to do thinking wink

LentilAsAnything Thu 13-Jun-13 21:13:25

smile @ Lacka!

DS is 2.8.

- 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?
Hard really to say what's been effective as we've used various things, so what to attribute to what! But I was (am!) a SAHM with loads of time on my hands so I did loads - flash cards, educational posters on the walls which we'd 'study', reading loads and loads of books, going out lots and chatting about what we are doing and seeing. We involved him from very early on with everything we were doing - he helps cook, uses sharp knives, bakes cakes, etc. We had an iPad anyway, and DS has had access to it since he was sitting upright. I believe it's been vastly beneficial, all the Apps aimed at babies and toddlers, he's loved playing games and learning things on there - various alphabet and number Apps, Reading Eggs, maze games - sometimes he is better at stuff than I am! Watched some decent TV like Numtums, Alphablocks, Dora. Dora is ace - DS has quite a few Spanish words, understood from early on that it was a different language. We lived in Germany from when he was 18mo til 2.8, and I think exposure to a new language is fabulous for them at a young age.
Activities, I took him to various classes, starting with baby massage to help him feel relaxed and calm and extra close to me, to singing and music classes, gym classes, swimming - he was very eager to do lots of new things, and I feel he is capable of many things ahead of his age. But who knows what's due to anything we did, and what's genes/luck?

- 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?
Oops, kinda answered that up there.

- 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...
We have taken the decision to homeschool/unschool. Just feels like a natural progression from how he learns at the moment - he asks, we answer what we can, we research what we don't know, we read, we inspire, we make it all fun.

kimbiddulph Thu 13-Jun-13 22:40:59

I've come across heuristic play at my local children's centre. This is the idea that kids learn by playing with everyday objects. You give them a load of spoons and plastic boxes and yoghurt pots, sit to one side and don't interact and just observe what they do. Something like this: www.littleacornstomightyoaks.co.uk/Articles/Treasure_basket. I'd like to know whether this is based in solid neuroscience. It seems like a good idea to do if not strictly necessary.

The other thing they suggested is play patterns, that children play in a number of ways, and favour some ways more than others. These include being 'transporters' and moving things from place to place, 'scatterers' etc... The claim was made that anecdotally these give an idea to future interests and even careers! What kind of evidence is this?

I'd definitely be interested in having learning properly informed by what we know about how the brain develops. Should we delay learning to read and write until age 7 (suggested by Maryanne Wolf's book Proust and the Squid)? What's the best ratio for early years childcare to maximise learning and feelings of security? How well is the EYFS curriculum backed up by the latest discoveries in neuroscience? These are just a few questions but there are loads more.

AnnieDanny Fri 14-Jun-13 13:13:02

I agree with many of the comments already posted, namely that any given 'product' is only as good as the dialogue that it inspires and that there is no substitute for authentic, hands on exploration. I would add that I have found a knowledge of schemas invaluable - these help you to look beyond the 'content' of your child's play to the underlying patterns of behaviour and thinking that they are demonstrating which can then be fostered and developed further.

- 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?

The Promethean Trust's Dancing Bears book and flashcards package really helped DSD with reading (age 6-7). We haven't even used it that consistently, and my DH prefers to do the flash cards his own way rather than the book's way, but despite that, this package really helped DSD to get back on track with reading and better understand phonetic rules. It worked far better for her than the Jolly Phonics sign language she did for a year in P1 - DSD had fun making the motions in class, but never made the connection between the sounds and the letter symbols.

DSD's mum and her DP have also done things with DSD. They've mentioned using grapes to help DSD get the hang of addition, and have had her find random words in her school books. I'm sure that has also helped (e.g. finding the word was a method DSD's teachers started to use in class).

- 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?

See above. Dancing Bears was purchased and used after mrz and a few others on the Primary Ed board recommended it. We also purchased several stages of ORT's Floppy's Phonics books, again based on recommendation here. When PBS America broadcast "Between the Lions", we recorded all of the episodes available and let DSD watch them. We rented Sesame Street DVDs. We bought a LeapPad and stocked it up with educational games. We've let her play educational computer games online. We've bought board games.

We've also done "for free" activities like reading to her every night, and counting out loud in the car in the morning, by ones, twos, and fives. We've done counting backwards. DSD's grandma has done simple sums with her using pennies. Last night, DSD wanted to try chimney sums, so DH did some with her using paper and different colored markers - I ended up drawing an actual chimney with a Santa in it, so she could get the hang of which way to add the numbers (she started by adding them side-to-side ... woops).

Hopefully, all of the above has helped a little. Dancing Bears has probably had the most obvious effect. "Between the Lions" got her excited about reading again, after her confidence was knocked in P1 and P2.

Reading and numbers not sinking in right away, and an intense fear that DSD will be left to flounder as the class dummy, and then eventually be told in secondary school that she's "not capable of work at a higher level" (so, no Highers, no chance to go to uni, etc), is the motivation for a lot of this, TBH. Neither DH nor I remember learning how to read, nor do we remember struggling with it, so watching DSD struggle is frustrating, because we don't know how best to help and are just guessing most of the time. Our moms, who had different lifestyles compared to our own 25-30 years ago, taught us reading, counting and basic addition before we entered primary school, so we started primary school prepared. Neither DH nor I started primary school until age 5, either.

- 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 have a hunch that if DSD had been made to start primary school later, and had not been allowed to spend 6 months in P1 before turning 5, that she may have struggled less with taking in the basics of reading and math and therefore struggle less today. She seemed much more able to retain information in P2, when she was 5.5 years old. But because she retained very little of what she learned in P1, she had to repeat a lot of that material all over again. While DSD is improving every day, she's still consistently about 6 months behind her peers when it comes to reading, math, etc.

I don't know how it would help DSD specificially, but it would be interesting to see if my hunch is at all right. I have seen a lot of reports stating that the youngest in the class tend to get the worst high school exam results. But is there any proof out there that there is a difference in how much information a child can retain at age 4 vs age 5, or age 5 vs age 6? If there is a difference, how big is that difference between each age group? Can it set them up for a lifetime of being behind their peers in the curriculum? I think if can be proven that the abilities of your average 4 year old are vastly different compared to your average 5 year-old, and can be proven that this does continue to affect them, maybe that might raise a lot of questions about our approach to early primary. E.g. - is a 12-month cohort (March-Feb birthdays, or September-August birthdays) really the best way to set up a P1/R classroom?

LaraBrabazon Fri 14-Jun-13 16:35:08

I have a three year old and I did the following things to boost her learning.

1) I taught her sign language (BSL) so that she could communicate with me before she could talk. Not only did this develop her conversational skills immensely as she became a talker, but also encouraged her motor skills as well. I taught her signing with songs, which also improved her memory. She now has quite a repertoire of nursery rhymes, children's songs, as well as current and historic popular music.

2) I took her swimming regularly (she could swim without aids by 2 and 3 months) to improve co-ordination.

3) I bought stick on letters and numbers for the bath, so that we could talk about them as she played with them.

4) I make up stories and songs with her toys and get her to think of things for me "where are your teddies going?" "what are they having for lunch?"

5) I have a chart with the date / weather etc. and talk to her about it every morning so that we decide what day it is (I use days of the week rhymes so that she can work it out) and pick the appropriate weather symbol.

6) We play with a lot of different musical instruments. She has her own percussion bag and we play along to her CD's.

coorong Sat 15-Jun-13 16:56:11

We have two dd 5 and 7 late summer born (birthdays in holidays) but top of their class academically. We haven't actively bought anything, but rather actively avoided things - no battery operated toys, no TV on school days, no games consoles. We don't watch TV during the week either. They do rock climbing and piano - great stimulus. Lots of chess, dominos, etc draughts and strategy games. Lots of pen and paper maths games and puzzles.
When they were babies, we didn't buy any of those picture things, we used to park them under trees to watch the leaves and branches blow around - all those black and white shadow.
As to developmental stuff, we follow Carol Dweck's growth mindset philosophy.

coorong Sat 15-Jun-13 16:58:28

We also didn't try to teach the girls how to read before they started school. They knew a few letters, but that was about it. We haven't coached them, rather removed the mind numbing activities fromthei lives.

mousebacon Sat 15-Jun-13 19:03:47

We haven't gone in for 'published' resources for our two sons but agree with other posters about spending quality time together, reading and doing basic number work in real life situations so the boys can see how that style of thinking works in everyday life.

As a teacher, I work in a school that is very interested in the science of learning. We have 'brain' week every September where the children discuss what kind of 'smart' they are and where their strengths lie. For example being people smart or design smart.

Every day the whole school starts with movement to music (wake up shake up) which is a dance with specific cross body movements supposedly designed to awake both sides of the brain and make the children more ready for learning. I'm quite sceptical of this particular idea!

We also do a great deal of collaborative learning, encouraging the children to share ideas, work systematically and most of all, persevere when things are challenging.

beautifulgirls Sat 15-Jun-13 21:50:46

I have tried omega 3 oils but don't feel that they have made any obvious difference in learning ability, though have perhaps helped with the behaviour in a positive way with one of my three children. I started them to try and help with a speech issue with one of my daughters, though I don't believe it helped. I read about it online before trying it.

We have used the Percy Parker times tables CD which is repetition and fun songs to help with times tables and for sure they have helped with learning there. I had the recommendation from the mumsnet site for that and have recommended to a few friends since then.

I tried music classes for toddlers with my older two - specifically to try and encourage speech and noise from DD with speech issues. I think it helped her love of music but I am not sure it actually did anything for her longer term education. DD2 enjoyed the classes and still loves singing and seems to have a lot of confidence in doing this.

DD1 did a lot of speech therapy (ongoing) before and since starting school. I honestly think without this she would have been entirely struggling to read as she learned a lot of the phonic sounds from this (not letter recognition) and so their sounds were at least familiar to her when she started and she had been taught to listen to the breakdown of sounds in words which was a very difficult concept for her for a long time. (she would have to point to pictures to indicate the sound at the start or end of a word for example) Given her obvious learning issue for her this was a big step. DD2 didn't do any of this and has not struggled with her reading but would not expect that.

I think the use of computers in schools has to be looked at a lot more. Keeping the interest aspect for a child has to be one of the most important parts of their learning and given the focus so many children have on electronic gadgets and computers I think this would help many children to learn. Whilst children need to learn to write is too much emphasis put on this early on or would children learn more with alternative ways to record their work (typing or voice recording perhaps) whilst building on writing skills more at their own rate. There seems to be a huge amount of pressure on DD2 to get work written down when clearly her brain is way ahead of her hand. It is having negative effects on her learning as she becomes disillusioned with her written work.

Talkinpeace Sun 16-Jun-13 13:57:14

The best thing for encouraging learning and brain development involves taking children outdoors and letting them get bored enough to start exploring.
Take them to the beach on a chilly day and let them explore and observe.
No money needs to be spent.

psychologymum Sun 16-Jun-13 15:02:57

When my son was a baby, I used a board book with pictures of different objects and I would point at the objects and say them to help him learn the words. As I have a psychology background, I know that parents who point at objects and name them regularly significantly improve their child’s language acquisition. Baldwin (1995) found that babies as young as 10 months old would spend more time looking at a new object when the adult pointed at it and named it. I also repeated the names of objects as part of a conversation to encourage my son's language development. For example, I would point at my son's teddy bear and say the single word ‘teddy’ but then I would say, ‘Do you want your teddy?’, followed by ‘Here’s your teddy’.

psychologymum Sun 16-Jun-13 15:06:58

I have seen neuroscience research showing that mindfulness can improve children's ability to control their emotions and improve their attention span. I would like mindfulness to be taught in schools. I would also like primary school children to be taught about emotions and how to relate to others through stories.

Jellybeanz1 Sun 16-Jun-13 19:00:14

My DS had a speech delay and subsequent S & L therapy for 5 years, however at 2 ( with only a few words prior) he learned all the phonic letters from a singing phonic toy. It gave us great reassurance he was bright and may be wasn't going to be extreme on the autistic scale. We replaced it with speaking aeroplane which allowed up to 3 letters in any order and would also say the word. ( it was magnetic so we stuck on the fridge) he loved it. He was also given a singing bus with numbers which he loved. Regarding numbers he learned the numbers from a 100 poster we displayed for his older sister above the kitchen table so at around 2 he had 150 words but most of them numbers and letters! He is 8 now and mathematically gifted he responded well to the logical systems way of working. Even now if we want him to write his English homework or pick up his toys he'll buzz with excitement if he can do it with the challenge of a time limit. A recent useful present was a stop watch from Argos.

I bought all the jolly phonics range when I knew we had a problem. We played the singing DVD in the car and I didn't display the frieze as I didn't want it in lounge but laid it out on floor. When the song about each sound came on the children used to jump on the correct sound image and do the actions. They loved that. By the time he started school he was already starting to read and is currently 4 yrs ahead in his reading age. We used the Oxford reading tree at home but tin tin annuals and beano helped. My DH says he learned to speak French from Aesterix books in French.

Both my DC went to Montessori nursery, and liked their multi sensory approaches.

savoirfaire Mon 17-Jun-13 21:37:16

Interesting how many people on here have done Babylab at Birkbeck. Both my two have done it (3.5yo and 1.5yo). I would also thoroughly recommend it. They're on Facebook if you want to find out more. Youngest also a participant in Fish Oil Study currently going on at another university. I'm sure Wellcome realise that this is a rather self-selecting sample of interested individuals!!

Like others, I'm reasonably well informed on child development (including the fact that chidlren learn at different rates and there's no point pushing young children into things they're not ready for yet - a fact which some other MC parents I am in contact with seem to take a different approach on).

We haven't had 'educational toys' as such - I'm a sceptic about things which are new fangled and expensive but don't (IMO) do anything different from older stuff. All toys have learning opportunities in them, whether it be caring for a doll, stacking cups, pouring water, or playing skittles, building towers. Someone above mentioned the idea of grasping what children are interested in and running with it. Eldest DC has always had an incredibly intense interest in animals, particularly birds and dinosaurs - he could spontaneously name 10 or 12 different kinds of birds well before he was 2 and is a regular twitcher at 3.5. This has been incredibly interesting for us - we have realised that he has learned about so many others things through this interest. Any task was more interesting for him if it involved these things he loves. He's now starting to read and loves to spell out the names of his favourite animals on the fridge with magnetic letters. He spells out the alphabet in order, making the shape of an animal as he goes (totally spontaneously - not taught by us - we were quite amazed!). Rather than building towers from duplo etc, he built 'ducks' and 'geese' (towers with bases and 'heads') which has enabled us to talk about balance and pivots and all sorts. Like so many modern children he has grown up around an ipad and we have availed ourselves of various apps, the most successful being i-write-words (shame it uses capital letters in the voiceover though, but it doesn't seem to have confused him) and when he was younger the Ministry of Letters alphabet singing which is wonderful. He also loves to sing (Old MacDonalds was his first favourite, obviously!) and I believe this has a strong impact on child development and I would love to understand the 'science' behind it.

I've found it really interesting to 'see' how child development works as my children have developed and I've learnt a few things (or perhaps surmised some stuff which isn't true!). For example, my son never really had separation anxiety and then all of a sudden when he learned to say 'mummy' and 'daddy' properly (as opposed to 'mama'/'dada' randomly assigned to either of us) he suddenly got really clingy for a few weeks, similarly having never been particularly cuddly he became so when he learned to say the word 'cuddle' - it was as though he needed the language to really 'get' the concept.

Bit of a stream of consciousness - I hope it is of some use.

poppy1973 Wed 19-Jun-13 07:05:09

- 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?

There are a few products on the activities that are meant to boost childrens learning. Dancing Bears, numtums etc on tv and the flashcards etc. that can be purchased.

I worked on Baby sign with my first child - this really worked, Showing the child basic signs to link with the language spoken to items. My child could then before he spoke sign to me that he wanted more milk etc. His language now he is older is excellent.

- 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 have always used a lot of language with my children. Spoken to them carefully, extended their language by use of stimulating play etc. Role play is a great way of extending their language and encourages the language development.

- 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...

Multi-sensory approaches should and could be developed more in schools if they had more money and time. Practical experiences to be developed more in schools.

TheOtherHelenMumsnet (MNHQ) Wed 19-Jun-13 10:49:00

Hi all - thank you so much for posting on this thread - The Wellcome Trust really appreciate all of your comments.

I'm pleased to announce that the winner of the prize draw for a £50 Amazon voucher is...

dahville - congratulations! I'll PM you to get your details.

dahville Wed 19-Jun-13 14:03:43

Thanks very much!

pussinwellyboots Fri 21-Jun-13 06:16:19

- 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?
Mainly by having lots of books and a wide variety of toys in the house. Also lots of the Orchard Toys games eg Dotty Dionosaurs has been good for helping learn shapes and colours.

- 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?
Various activity classes (tumble tots/swimming lessons/toddler French singing) - mainly just going to a wide variety of places and participating in a variety of activities.

- 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'm sure that there is a lot of research that if applied would improve the quality of education on offer. DS1 (4) has been benefitting from activities used at school to improve his motor skills.

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