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Kid-Friendly Neuroscience (page 2)

Kid-Friendly Neuroscience

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Updated on Dec 22, 2010

Exercise: To monitor the REM stage, quietly observe a family member as they sleep to see if the person’s eyes shift back and forth. There are only four or five periods of REM over the course of a night’s sleep, so you may miss it.

Another activity is to keep a dream journal. Leave a notepad and pen next to your bed before you sleep, and when you wake up, record visuals, sounds, and feelings from, as well as questions about, your dreams. Train yourself to gather fragments from dreams with your eyes shut after you wake up. We lose details from our subconscious the moment we open them.

The Chef:

If your child has seen Ratatouille, there’s a good chance the flavorful film got him interested, or at least hungry for, gourmet food. Budding chefs – and kids who simply appreciate delicious dishes – may be interested in learning how the brain relies on sensory receptors, like the tongue, to collect information about chemicals in food and drinks.

Exercise: Test your taste buds. In paper cups, create different “flavors” of water: Dissolve salt in cup A, mix sugar in cup B, squeeze lemon or add vinegar into cup C, and pour tonic water into cup D. Use a dropper or thick toothpick to graze different areas of the tongue – front, sides, middle, and back – with each liquid. (Rinse between each test with unflavored water). Are parts of the tongue more sensitive to salty, sweet, sour, or bitter tastes?

The Musician:

“Our ability to make sense of music depends on experience,” writes Daniel Levitin, author of This Is Your Brain on Music. Over time, a person grows to prefer a particular style, such as rock, jazz, reggae, R&B, electronic, or classical, and finds certain rhythms, tempos, pitches, and melodies familiar and comforting.

Music – and most creative pursuits – has been associated with the brain’s right hemisphere, which deals with aesthetics, feeling, and intuition. “Each time we hear a musical pattern, we try to contextualize the sounds, and eventually, we create memory links between a set of notes and a particular place, time, or set of events,” writes Levitin. Often, listening to music is subjective and emotional.

Exercise: First, gauge your hearing acuity. You can try this several ways. Situate yourself in a park or busy (but safe) street intersection, put on a blindfold, try to detect various sounds, and compare your results. An indoor alternative is playing a recording of sound effects and identifying noises. (That CD used for last Halloween's haunted house is fitting!)

Next, proceed to more complex sounds. Choose several CDs of different genres: Classical, jazz, and rock are good bets because each is composed of different instruments, from string and wood to brass and percussion. Take note of the instruments you recognize and enjoy in each song, and which ones you dislike. What do you like about a particular sound, but not another?

Neuroscience is a fast-growing field, and scientists continue to discover new, unprecedented ideas about the brain. The possibilities for learning about this science are endless, so get that noodle working!

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