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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

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

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

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.

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