6 Popular Brain Myths: Deflated

Will Less Internet and More Mozart Make My Kid Smarter?

6 Popular Brain Myths: Deflated

I was just sitting enjoying some downtime from motherhood, when Morgan Freeman flashed across my TV screen saying "Most people only use 10% of our brain.” Now, with his wise, sincere voice, Mr. Freeman can convince me of many things (especially when it comes to penguins), but not this time. I know the 10% brain quote was only part of a movie trailer, but it got me thinking, does anyone still believe this and other often spouted brain myths?

Most of us moms are all working hard to keep our kids’ brains safe, healthy and developing, so I thought I’d expose some myths about the human mind that may be getting in your way.


Myth 1: You Only Use 10% of Your Brain

Nope. We use it all. I mean, our brains aren’t 100% engaged in every task that we perform, but researchers have identified 5 major areas of brains. And, all those areas perform various functions, multiple times throughout the day. Scientists can see brain activity through PET scans, and even while we perform the simplest of tasks, such as changing our 1000th diaper, our brain zones light up all over the place.

We also know that damage to even a small part of the brain, in any area, can have a profound effect on one’s ability to function. Don’t fall for any gimmicks that claim to help tap into the other 90%, because you are already using all you’ve got.


Myth 2: The Internet Is Making Us Dumber

Not true. Actually, in many instances, the internet is making us more knowledgeable. Any time we have a question we can seek out an answer in an instant, although we clearly have to be aware of the sources and verify our information.

What is true in this cyber-world of ours is that technological advances are making us less self-reliant. Our GPS navigates for us, our calendar reminds us of important dates, Google helps us find the article that we’ve forgotten all the details of. Our computers have become stand-in moms at times, reminding us the way to Grandma’s house and telling us how to treat the sniffles. However, research is not showing that this reliance on technological support has had a negative impact on the average brain power.  

Perhaps, by not cluttering up our minds with all those minute details, we create space to remember more important things — like when the next season of Orange is the New Black will start.


Myth 3: Listening to Classical Music Turns Babies into Geniuses

Sorry, Baby Einstein, although an initial, preliminary study once noted an increase in the cognitive skills of young adults after listening to Mozart, no further studies have been able to replicate this result. Despite countless “educational” toys that claim to advance your child’s brain development, there is very little research to back these claims up.  In fact, current understanding in education believe that open-ended toys that inspire creativity (Lego, blocks, art supplies) are the best kind to support growing minds.  You can’t make your child a genius just by loading up a carefully selected playlist to pump through the nursery while they slumber.   

Although, I’ve noticed that classical music has a calming effect on many kids, so maybe hold on to that playlist as you navigate your child’s preschool years.


Myth 4: Alcohol Kills Brain Cells

This one is just for the parents. Now, let me pour myself a glass of wine before I write this bit. Alcohol does impact your brain, temporarily, while you are drinking and for the time it takes your body to process alcohol. It has an effect on how your brain receives messages. This effect compounds the more you drink, as anyone who has ever attended a college party can attest to. Yet, the effects are temporary and no permanent cell loss or brain damage occurs.

In fact, a recent study showed that people who moderately consumed flavonoid-rich wine (along with chocolate, I might add) had significantly better scores on cognitive tests. Well, cheers to that!


Myth 5: People are either "right-brained" or "left-brained.

Have you observed your kids and tried to slot them into the left (logical) or right (emotional) categories? Have you taken one of those online quizzes that determine if you are left or right brained? Don’t place too much stock in the results.

Although it is true that different areas of the brain perform different functions, your brain works together and communication between all parts is important. Brain researchers (and education bloggers) now know that its unlikely for someone to be dominant on just one side of their brain. And, doing well at a certain activity, such as mathematics, is achieved when both sides of the brain are engaged together.  


Myth 6: Your IQ Is Fixed and Stays the Same Throughout Your Life

First of all, Intelligence Quotient (IQ) tests are just one measure of cognitive ability and should never be given too much credit. There are so many ways for people to be smart, warm and wonderful that are not noticed by these tests and IQ results are not direct predictors of future success.  

Secondly, as your tiny newborn looks up at you, all wrinkly faced and scrunchy fisted, they are not already hiding their entire capacity for intelligence behind those beautiful eyes. Intelligence simply is not fixed at birth. Although many people’s IQs remain around the same area in relation to others throughout their lives — if you test in the middle of the pact in childhood, you are likely to test in the middle of the pack in adulthood — the actual number is fluid and subject to constant change. Plus, there are many cases in which there has been a dramatic increase of IQ after several years. Like so many other things, there is room for improvement and nuture plays an important role.

Don’t fall for the myths, even if Morgan Freeman is spouting them. There will always be lots of advice telling you how to make your kids smarter (or kinder, or better behaved) but keep your wits about you as you slog through this endless advice. Nothing can replace your instinct when it comes to great parenting of your little brains.


Parenting is quite a ride.  As always, enjoy the journey.



How TV Can Make Your Child Smarter

Why is this Teacher Telling You to Let Your Kids Watch TV?

How TV Can Make Your Child Smarter

Television gets a bad rap. There are countless studies demonstrating links between kids’ TV viewing and aggression, inability to focus, sleep deprivation, inactivity, and a myriad of other disturbing negative repercussions. The American Pediatric Association recommends zero screen time for children under 2, citing all sorts of learning difficulties that may be connected to early TV exposure.

However, television is part of our modern Canadian lives and its delivery continues to grow and develop as time marches on. Through advancing technology, it is possible to take our TV with us everywhere we go and instantly demand our favourite shows. Television doesn’t show signs of disappearing from our lives soon, so why not use it to our advantage?

I am here to say, as a dedicated educator who values your child’s growing brain, some TV is actually good for you kids! Enter Kids’ CBC programming. The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation is committed to delivering quality, educational programming that actually interacts with your young child.

This week my daughter and I attended Kids’ CBC Day and to sat down with Dr. Lynn Oldershar, children's programming consultant for Kids' CBC and child psychologist, to talk about the new fall line-up and the link between TV and early childhood educational development.

Dr. Oldershar said, “As a developmental psychologist, I’ve always had a singular goal, and it’s genuine and it’s true. It’s to make a positive difference in the lives of young children. So working at the CBC is just a dream, because pretty much everyone of us who work in the Kids’ Department has that goal.”

Any programming that starts with that mission statement must be great! Kids’ CBC presents a slew of great kids' shows that have your child’s development at heart. But, seriously, can TV really make a positive difference to your child’s learning?

According to Dr. Oldershar, it absolutely can! Research shows that developmentally appropriate, intentionally designed television programs do advance the development of young children. Listening to her with my “teacher ears,” knowing that interactive, experience-based learning is the most effective kind, I found myself surprised to completely agree with what she was saying.

In planning their programming, the team at Kids’ CBC considers the whole child, focusing on five areas of developmentsocial, emotional, cognitive, physical, and creative. Studies show that little kids don’t passively watch TV the way adults and older kids do, but rather engage with shows, making connections, asking questions, and building understanding. Knowing this, CBC creates programs that challenge kids and are highly interactive in nature. They have a great line-up of programs designed to target every one of the areas of child development.

Interestingly, these are the same five areas of development that the kindergarten program is based on. It seems CBC really knows what’s up when it comes to helping kids transition to school. By the way, parents of preschoolers, take special note of the shows that target social and emotional development. As any primary teacher can tell you, your child’s social and emotional skills are a far greater predictor of their success in school than their ability to write their name or count to ten.

Now, I’m not suggesting that you plunk your two-year-old down in front of the TV for hours while you check your Facebook.

Parents are responsible for selecting appropriate shows and for keeping the interactive nature of these programs alive. 

Here are my top tips for effectively using TV as an educational tool for kids of all ages:


1) Watch shows with your kids: No, not every time. I know life gets busy and sometimes the kids are watching TV while you get stuff done. No criticism here. But when time allows, sit down and watch shows with your kids. Ask a few questions throughout, encouraging your kids to make predictions or explain a character's action. For the younger set, this will advance the developmental nature of the show. For the older set, this will encourage them to watch less passively and will strengthen your connection with them. It's a way to take an interest in their interests.

2) Talk about what they have seen: Never underestimate the educational power of a good conversation. Have your kids tell you why they like a show, or what they think of a character. Ask them to explain what happened in an episode and what they think could happen next. Have your adolescent reflect on a situation that occurred in a teen drama and talk about what they would do in a similar situation. You never know where the conversation may go, but encouraging kids to connect to and talk about what they are viewing creates a richer experience.

3) Let TV enter real life: Extend your child’s learning by bringing shows into your everyday life. Kids connect with what they know and get excited to see familiar friends. Get books featuring favourite TV characters, allow the kids to dress up in character’s costumes or to re-enact a scene from the show. Plan a theme party around a TV program. Before I became an auntie and a mother, I thought it was a bit tacky to get your kids all those character-inspired backpacks, books, and toys. But then I witnessed my nephew’s faithful, unwavering, 6-year love affair with Buzz Lightyear. I saw the power of my daughter’s connection to Elmo. My stance on character-branded paraphernalia changed. I know from teaching that when kids are excited about something, they are engaged, and when they are engaged, they are learning. Now I saybring on the Elmo!

So there you go, television can in fact make your kids smarter. Feel free to quote me to your meddling mother-in-law when she criticizes your son’s iPad viewing. Help your kids make positive choices about what to watch and help them to interact with shows. Go on, grab some popcorn and get learning!

Oh, and don’t forget to enjoy the journey!

Need to know what's happening in the world of television? Check out our new TV blogger, Jennifer Rathwell. Want to know some more ways to advance your child's learning? See these Teacher-Approved Summer Activities or these Tips to Help a Struggling Reader.



We Do Learn The Most Important Lessons In Kindergarten

What Do You Mean No Desks?

We Do Learn The Most Important Lessons In Kindergarten

For those of you following my journey, you know I was declared surplus to my school this year and was taken out of a job that I was rather attached to.

However, I do believe that change induces growth, so in spite of the stresses of finding a new position (and the school board sure did make it a cumbersome, time-consuming, anxiety-producing process), I kept my positive attitude and looked at it as a chance to become a better teacher.

Towards the end of the school year, I finally received my new posting. Kindergarten!

With the expansion of Full-Day Kindergarten across Ontario, kindergarten teachers are in high demand these days and I now count myself among their ranks.

Excited about my new job, I eagerly enrolled in an intensive summer course dedicated to the kindergarten learner. I'm currently spending a good portion of my days immersed in child-development charts, analyzing classroom designs and making my way through the readings of a gaggle of Early Childhood theorists.  

So far, the most important message in the course is one that many parents already know oh so well: it’s all about the power of play! Open-ended, discovery-based play in which the children need to make-up and navigate the rules is vital to assist a young child develop self-regulation. Our over-scheduled, too-many-toys, too-many-rules, hyper-protective North American society is threatening our children’s free, joy-filled play times. Our kids need time and space to come up with their own ideas. It’s something I’ve been preaching for a while, only now I have more research to back me up.

And, in the spirit of kindergarten and letting the kids make the rules, I watched my two energetic nephews (ages 10 and 7) and some of their neighbourhood gang develop a game the other day. From my vantage point, I could see this game consisted of stuffing two bodies into some sort of miniature hula-hoop about a foot and a half in diameter and challenging the other team, who had also squeezed their two bodies into the same size hoop.  Then the object was for each partnership to run at the other, sumo-style and, presumably, knock the other team down. However, often all four toppled, so I am unclear on the ins and outs of accurate scoring and penalties.

Did I fear broken bones and chipped teeth and making a transatlantic phone call to interrupt brother’s kid-free vacation with his wife? Sure! But dangers are all around and kids need some freedom to test out their theories. If I had curtailed this fabulous exploration, the world may never now the joys of conjoined hula-hoop wrestling!

Now please don’t fret if you are sending your precious four-year-old my way this September. I promise not to allow the student-led play to go that far in the classroom. Safety will be of utmost priority, but letting the students play, explore, invent, and wonder will also top the to-do list. Want your kids to be more successful? I say, give them more time to play!

Kindergarten, here I come — let the games begin! I've already begun to enjoy the journey!

Do you agree that kids today have too many rules? Want to see how laughter is a powerful educational tool? Looking for some playful activities to do with your kids this summer? Yummymummyclub.ca has got you covered!

Original photo by Woodley Wonder Works on Flickr