Bal­anc­ing act

The key to de­vel­op­ing a well-rounded in­tel­lect in your child is start­ing early

The Kids Post - - Learning - By Caro­line Ak­sich

Most of us have been there, fall­ing on one side or the other of the di­vide: arts or science. Artsy types knit their brows when it comes to cal­cu­lat­ing restau­rant tips, whereas their science-minded coun­ter­parts dread writ­ing speeches. And to those lucky few who find al­ge­bra as ef­fort­less as an­a­lyz­ing Whit­man, we salute you, while qui­etly stew­ing in our jeal­ousy.

Al­though a predilec­tion for words and an aver­sion to num­bers isn’t hered­i­tary, it can be passed on to your son or daugh­ter un­be­knownst to par­ents. Kate Mur­ray, owner of the For­est Hill Math­na­sium, says that many par­ents come to her be­liev­ing that it’s no won­der their kid is bad at math since they’re bad at math, too. These aver­sions are not passed down through genes, but through so­cial­iza­tion. Ac­cord­ing to Mur­ray, even if your child is veer­ing to­ward one end of the arts-and-science spec­trum, there are strate­gies that you can em­ploy to help de­velop both left and right hemi­spheres equally.

So how do you get whip­per­snap­pers who are pri­mar­ily good at one sub­ject area to ex­er­cise the other side of their brain? The short an­swer is start as early as pos­si­ble.

As we age, the abil­ity for our brain to make new con­nec­tions de­creases as neu­ral path­ways be­come es­tab­lished. Ac­cord­ing North York psy­chother­a­pist Ka­trin Mizrahi these path­ways can be changed.

“The more we use cer­tain neu­ral path­ways in the brain, to learn a new skill, for ex­am­ple, the more de­vel­oped that path­way be­comes and the eas­ier and more au­to­matic the new skill [will be­come],” says Mizrahi.

Mur­ray rec­om­mends start­ing to de­velop both math and lan­guage to­gether from a young age.

“Many par­ents read to their kids be­fore bed­time, but few sit and do math with their [preschool-aged] kids,” says Mur­ray, who sug­gests start­ing with ana­log clocks at home (be­cause clocks deal with both frac­tions and whole num­bers).

Ac­cord­ing to Mur­ray, “Ev­ery­one teaches ABCs and 123s, but af­ter the 123s, ev­ery­one stops, but as soon as you start do­ing ad­di­tion and sub­trac­tion with can­dies and toys, they all want to do it.”

The For­est Hill Math­na­sium sees a lot of kids who say that they hate math (es­pe­cially the older kids, 10 and up). “We all hate things that we don’t do well in,” says Mur­ray.

“At the cen­tre, we get kids to see the ques­tions dif­fer­ently by break­ing them down, so they can see that, ‘ Yes, it is easy.’ ”

It is at this crit­i­cal point, when kids start to get the right an­swers, that they be­gin to learn to love the sub­ject they had pre­vi­ously loathed so adamantly. Mur­ray notes that break­ing things down works for all sub­jects, not just math.

Mizrahi con­curs with Mur­ray that it is best to “break the work into much smaller steps and shorter amounts of time, which will be eas­ier for him to ac­com­plish and feel good about.”

Re­wards, such as praise from a par­ent, are im­por­tant, but in­ter­nal mo­ti­va­tion de­rived from suc­cess is much more ef­fec­tive.

“With each small suc­cess, your child will gain in­trin­sic mo­ti­va­tion, which can be much stronger than ex­ter­nal re­wards,” says Mizrahi.

Al­though start­ing from a young age is crit­i­cal, some­times this isn’t pos­si­ble, and teens can be dif­fi­cult to deal with. Of­ten­times neg­a­tive re­in­force­ment from poor per­for­mance can have a snow­ball effect.

“A lack of con­fi­dence spills over into other sub­jects. You’re not good at one sub­ject and then all of a sud­den you aren’t good at school,” says Mur­ray.

Deal­ing with a teen who be­lieves he or she is bad at some­thing can be tricky as it is much harder to co­erce a teen into spend­ing time on a sub­ject that the teen hates, but it’s cer­tainly not im­pos­si­ble.

Mizrahi points out that prac­tice and con­sis­tency are im­por­tant if one hopes to see long-term im­prove­ment. She ad­vises par­ents to reg­u­larly ask their chil­dren for feed­back and sug­ges­tions.

“Not only will this en­cour­age par­tic­i­pa­tion and per­for­mance, it will also help to de­velop self-trust, con­fi­dence and per­sonal re­spon­si­bil­ity,” says Mizrahi.

Still, teens can be dif­fi­cult to wran­gle, as they of­ten do not want to en­gage in a task un­less they un­der­stand how it ben­e­fits them di­rectly. You may know that do­ing well in school will be a boon when it comes to col­lege ap­pli­ca­tion time, but teens aren’t nec­es­sar­ily think­ing that far into the fu­ture.

Ease up on the pres­sure be­cause the more you push, the more likely they are to pull away. In­stead, of­fer them so­lu­tions (such as tu­tors), rather than forc­ing so­lu­tions upon them be­cause, if it is their de­ci­sion to try and bet­ter them­selves, they are much more likely to suc­ceed.

The brain’s abil­ity to make new con­nec­tions is stronger in young chil­dren

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