Primary School Age Brain Development
What's going on in the world of kids ages five through twelve? There is far more activity observed in these young brains than was originally thought, and it's more diffuse in children relative to adults. Scientists believe that the increasing cognitive capacity during childhood coincides with radical changes. Peak growth rates, the extension of the connecting axons to the memory and language cortex, stretch through and after puberty. A severe, spatially localized loss of gray matter occurs in the lower brain.28 As the brain gets more streamlined, there is a gradual loss rather than formation of new synapses and presumably a strengthening of remaining synaptic connections.29 Children have, on average, 60 percent greater brain activation in the prefrontal cortex than that of adults. This highly active brain is sorting out a brand new world, and it takes plenty of glucose to do that. During the educational process, the brain is both losing the unused dendrites and gaining new ones; it's a complex picture.
Children also have significantly more right-hemisphere activity, too. Their brains are not quite as efficient, and they have to work harder, not always using the most efficient areas.30 As you might guess, this just about ensures that children end up more susceptible to interference and less able to inhibit inappropriate responses than adults.31 Adults have more effective interference suppression than children, and they use the opposite (left) hemisphere for the purpose. Interestingly, positive emotions are generated more when we are using our left, not right hemisphere. This suggests that sequential tasks that activate the left hemisphere are more likely to lead to positive thoughts.32 That also means that youngsters may get a mood lift from analyzing, counting, arranging items in a sequence, following a numeric order, and doing tasks that require a specific order. Brains develop in curious ways, with the sensory and spatial areas first and the frontal lobes being the slowest. This is illustrated in Figure 4.5.
Working memory tasks show a larger degree of immaturity in boys than in girls aged six to ten. Give them just one thing to do at a time. In addition, the visual working memory reaches functional maturity earlier than the corresponding auditory system.33 This is the time to strengthen social skills and exploratory behaviors in reading, traveling, and imagination. Yet in spite of all the changes going on in the brain at this age, it's almost quiet compared to the firestorm happening from birth to five and in the teen years. Overall, if you're working with these children, enjoy the break. From ages five to twelve, you're in the eye of the storm.
Brain Maximizer: This is a great chance (before they get "too cool" when they're older) to enrich a youngster's life with travel opportunities, exploring nature, visiting museums, participating in plays, taking martial arts, playing soccer, 4H, dance classes, and scouting. Take this golden opportunity—you only get it once!
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