Brain development accelerates between ages two and five. During this time, a child’s brain is flexible and responds quickly to emotional interactions, learning experiences, and environmental influences.
Educators must step in at this critical growth and learning period to provide intentional instruction through brain-based learning strategies. Brain-based learning enhances cognitive and social-emotional development and builds a foundation for productive learning.
Brain-based learning has been around for years, so you might already use these strategies in the classroom without knowing it. This article clarifies what brain-based learning is, why it’s important, and how to apply it in the classroom.
What is brain-based learning?
Brain-based learning is a comprehensive instructional approach based on how the brain works. It uses the latest scientific research on how the brain learns to inform school programs, lesson designs, and teaching methods. Research shows stress, emotions, and physical activity affect learning. Therefore, to effectively implement brain-based learning, early childhood educators must create an environment that facilitates learning. For example, teachers may engage children in regular physical activity, reduce instruction time, or play calming music to reduce stress. Recent research in cognitive science also shows that when the brain learns, it changes physically. In addition, practicing certain skills makes learning easier.
Why is brain-based learning important?
Brain-based learning has a significant impact on brain development in early childhood. Here are a few reasons why brain-based learning is important:
Improves retention and academic performance
Brain-based learning enhances retention. Learning in multiple ways and the “turn and tell” method, where children discuss concepts they are learning with their peers and then share with the class, helps them remember information. Children develop an intrinsic love for learning which improves their performance.
Increases brain capacity
This approach develops neuroplasticity (the brain's ability to change and grow) through repetition and practice. As a result, the brain creates and reinforces neural pathways to learn new habits and skills, which motivates children to learn more.
Promotes social-emotional skills
When children learn in a positive and welcoming environment, they come to class with the right mindset and are excited to learn. Brain-based learning also appeals to different learners through various learning styles and develops social and collaboration skills through group work.
Improves overall health
This learning approach promotes movement and exercise, boosting children’s physical and mental wellness. Exercise also relieves stress, helping them learn better.
Brain-based learning strategies
There are multiple brain-based learning approaches to use in the classroom. Here are a few to start with:
Create a positive and safe environment
Cultivating a physically and emotionally safe learning environment is crucial to creating a conducive learning environment. When children feel encouraged and supported, they’re in the right state of mind to learn effectively. In addition, starting the school term and each day with a positive and warm tone increases engagement. For example, something as simple as welcoming the children every morning eases nerves and allows them to transition smoothly into the day’s activities.
Break down content into small chunks
Delivering information to children in small digestible chunks reduces the memory load and maximizes their comprehension and retention rate. Children will be able to identify important words and concepts, paraphrase information to their understanding, and remember what they’re learning for the long term. For example, a child is more likely to remember 10 vocabulary words if the teacher presents two new words each day instead of all 10 at once.
Incorporate physical activity
Physical activity is crucial to a child’s physical well-being and learning. Exercise increases blood vessels in the brain and strengthens neural connections, enhancing cognitive development. Children can exercise through recess, physical education, and any other form of movement in the classroom. The CDC emphasizes that classroom physical activity helps children improve concentration and stay on-task. Besides recess and outdoor play, plan for frequent movement brain breaks during the day, like standing and wiggling their arms or jumping in place. Where possible, offer the children a choice, as voluntary activity is more effective than forced activity, which can cause the overproduction of cortisol and stress.
Establish a “turn and talk” routine
The more children talk about a topic, the more they retain the information. Turn and talk is an instructional strategy in which children “turn and talk” to a partner in class about the learning content. The teacher gives them a short prompt, and each child will speak to and listen to their partner. It helps them verbalize and organize their thoughts before sharing them with the class. This routine can be a warm-up or closing activity for the day.
Use appropriate timing
The human brain works in cycles that allow intervals of prime learning time, and most preschoolers have a short attention span. Therefore, avoid lengthy instruction time as children will likely forget what they’re learning. For example, instead of instructing for 45 minutes, aim for a maximum of 15 minutes. If video material is part of your lesson plan, limit it to 10-minute clips or less, then pause to discuss what they watched.
Brain-based learning activities
Brain-based learning activities result in stronger brain connections and meaningful learning experiences. Consider using these activities in your classroom:
Creating art invigorates the brain and keeps the mind sharp; color and visually stimulating material help to engage the brain and solidify learning. After reading a story, have the children create a visual representation of what you read. For example, ask them to paint a short scene in the book or how a section of the story made them feel.
Storytelling is a creative and engaging way for the brain to process complex information. Listening to stories taps into children’s imaginative and creative side and sharpens their memory. After reading a story, ask them questions to see how much information they can remember.
Incorporate technology like online games, apps, and video clips into brain-based learning. Remember, technology should only enhance non-tech materials and methods to address specific learning goals. It shouldn’t replace interaction and should be used sparingly.
Relaxation and music
Music is a significant factor in memory, learning, and creativity. Music can activate and strengthen brain networks responsible for learning, cognitive function, and happiness. A relaxed mind focuses better on information and takes it in more effectively. During classroom activities like reading or transitions, consider playing calm background music.
Active learning activities
Children learn best when exploring the world around them. Active learning helps children engage in meaningful activities, expand their knowledge, and take charge of their learning. This approach involves engaging children in learning activities, games, and exercises like building, crafts, and role play. Children engaged in active learning display high energy levels, pay attention to details, and focus on an activity for longer periods of time.
Apply the right strategies in your classroom
Brain-based research has provided educators with effective strategies to help their children learn and retain information. These learning strategies can have a positive impact on children’s development, improving academic progress and supporting social-emotional growth. Through experimentation, you can discover the best techniques for your classroom, creating meaningful learning experiences that support your children’s unique needs.