Brain Awareness Week—March 2006
What's Going On in There?
How Enrichment Activities Create Better Brains
Aside from life itself, perhaps the greatest gift that babies and children can receive is an interactive loving environment that stimulates and nurtures brain development and it's capacity for learning, memory, and creativity. The Neuroscience Institute at the University of Tennessee sponsored a series of activities to promote greater awareness of this idea to the general public as part of its' annual Brain Awareness Week in March. The Institute presented a two-hour symposium titled "What's Going On In There? How Enrichment Activities Create Better Brains."
The symposium was directed toward parents, childcare providers, and teachers. It was held at the The Urban Child Institute and co-hosted by the First Years Institute and the Memphis City Schools pre-school program. The First Years Institute is a collaborative created to improve the health and welfare of children prenatal to five in Memphis and Shelby County.
Dr. Elise Eliot and Dr. Richard Smeyne
The two symposium speakers were nationally known neuroscientists who presented scientific data in a manner that could be grasped by all the attendees. Dr. Elise Eliot, of the Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science in Chicago, Ill and author of a very poplar book titled "What's Going On in There? How the Brain and Mind Develop in the First Five Years of Life", spoke on brain development and early learning. The second speaker was Dr. Richard Smeyne of St. Jude children's Research Hospital, who discussed how enriched experiences create better brains and how deprived experiences retard brain development. Dr. William E. Armstrong, Co-Director of the University of Tennessee Neuroscience Institute, moderated the program. The presentations were followed by questions and answers. The symposium attracted 220 parents, child-care providers, teachers, and other people interested in brain development.
The speakers stressed how proper experience is necessary for the growth of intricate neural connections and development of functions that underlie adequate use of our sensory systems and learning and memory in the brain.
Parents, child-care providers, and others involved in caring for babies and children need to know how crucial the early years are for growing better brains
The speakers used scientific data to distinguish between strategies that work to enrich development and to debunk some well-known misconceptions. The audience, which consisted mostly of people with little or no knowledge of brain development, appeared to have learned the critical message: "I found that you must teach a child all you can before they turn 4," wrote one of the parents in an evaluation.
On March 27th and 29th, Dr. John Boughter visited kindergarten and 2nd-grade classrooms at Farmington Elementary School in Germantown to give a presentation for Brain Awareness Week. Dr. Boughter showed the students skulls and brains from a variety of animals, including a monkey, deer and alligator. The classes learned that the size of an animal's skull and brain are often quite different, with the large skull and small brain of the alligator proving to be an interesting example when compared to the smaller skull but far larger brain of the human. The kindergarten students also learned that different parts of the brain have different functions, and were then challenged to use the “memory” part of their brain with a fun memory test.
Drawing by David Okulski, 2nd Grade
The second grade students learned that the brain normally has a consistency like jell-o, and is protected by layers of fluid-filled membranes.