Neuroplasticity Exercises and How They Play a Role in Education
We are a reader-supported education publication. When you buy through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission to help us keep providing content.
Teachers have an enormous impact on their students, more so than most parents or educators probably realize. Aside from imparting knowledge, educators have countless opportunities like neuroplasticity exercises to influence young minds and empower them to learn, grow and succeed.
As students receive new information and experience unfamiliar scenarios and settings, they actively increase their mental capacities by building brain power. This cognitive strength and development is integral to their ability to retain data and practice self-control. However, it’s up to educators to take advantage of concepts like neuroplasticity and use them to encourage and empower students.
What is Neuroplasticity?
Neuroplasticity, also known as neural plasticity or brain plasticity, is a process that involves functional adaptive changes within the brain. As you receive new information and experience new things, your brain will alter and reorganize synaptic connections. From then on, your nervous system will modify its response to intrinsic and extrinsic stimuli by recognizing similar patterns and links, using neuroplasticity exercises.
Essentially, your brain and body get smarter with time, almost like the ever-learning Omnidroids in Disney Pixar’s “The Incredibles.” Except, unlike those robots, humans only have so much brain capacity to hold skills, data, and memories. You can always accumulate new knowledge, but you might lose a few less relevant tidbits in the process. That’s because neuroplastic processes are selective about what kinds of pathways they create and maintain.
Evidence suggests that older adults display less neuroplasticity than younger ones. Meanwhile, children tend to exhibit the most neuroplastic brains of all. Between birth and five years of age, kids’ brains are highly sensitive to stimuli. Scientists call this stage the critical period, wherein many neural pathways grow stronger and become permanent connections or roadmaps for life. Perhaps that’s why it’s easier to learn a new language as a child than it is as an adult.
The 3 Processes of Neuroplasticity
While the concept has been around since the 1800s, scientists have only recently begun to understand how neuroplasticity works. Essentially, there are three processes: proliferation, pruning, and consolidation. Each one plays an important role in stimulating neuroplasticity.
Proliferation is the first step associated with brain building. This process is highly dependent on play, socialization, and childhood experiences, which is why environmental enrichment and neuroplasticity exercises are important. During the early years, the brain maps and organizes people, places and things based on the child’s surroundings. New synaptic connections will form and create the basis for future learning.
The second process involves pruning, wherein the brain eliminates less recent memories, skills, and information to make room for new experiences. Pruning may also reduce new, unused synapses if children don’t recall or use the information often. When this happens, the highways that allow new information to integrate with past knowledge disappear, too.
Consolidation is the third and final process, which occurs during early brain maturation. It allows children to develop automatic responses to external stimuli. This usually entails thousands of repetitions of slightly different experiences that the brain maps for commonalities. Eventually, the brain creates anticipatory responses to better prepare for similar future scenarios.
Neuroplasticity and Education
Despite the fact that neuroplasticity is nothing new, it is one of the most reliable and fundamental discoveries about the brain in human history. Moreover, it can help educators better shape young minds both in and out of the classroom. Neuroplasticity changes throughout your life, so those little brains in your classroom will grow and evolve, too. Every time they learn something new, they’ll adapt and level up, and there are ways to keep that happening.
After the critical period ends, teachers can maximize the neuroplastic process through their teaching style and curriculum by adding neuroplasticity exercises. Learning is, essentially, the formation of new and stronger neural connections, so putting information in context can aid in this process. Help students tap into existing pathways by making lessons relevant and engaging. Nix the rote memorization and look for ways to relate to students to boost brain cell activity and long-term retention.
Educators can also use neuroplasticity to reach students with different conditions like autism spectrum disorder, attention deficit disorder, and dyslexia. These children may have more pathways or experience more pruning than the typical kid. Understanding these differences will help you tailor your lessons to best suit students’ learning styles and synaptic connections.
Teaching Kids About Neuroplasticity
Once students know that their brains can grow and adapt, many will develop a greater level of confidence within the classroom. Contrary to what their friends or parents might have told them, intelligence isn’t predetermined, and their IQ can change. Thus, incorporating neuroplasticity exercises and teaching kids about it can boost their chance of achieving academic success.
It can also encourage them to study harder and actively engage in the classroom. Knowing you can strengthen your brain through practice and review empowers kids to invest in their education and put in the work. Odds are they’ll find more motivation to take notes, read textbooks, and complete assigned homework, too.
Helping and Hindering Neuroplasticity
Encouraging neuroplasticity in children is easier than it sounds, and there are plenty of ways to integrate the concept into your classroom.
- Practice: Repetition is key when creating strong synaptic connections, so study and review are essential.
- Shake up your teaching: Create a sense of novelty to keep students interested and engaged.
- Adopt an instructional approach: Avoid over-prompting and allow students to discover solutions on their own.
Teachers that are unaware of neuroplasticity may unconsciously hinder students by introducing new topics in a singular way, failing to bring the wow factor into the classroom, and prioritizing perfection over practice. Be mindful of your teaching style to ensure you are helping, not hindering, neuroplasticity in your students.
Join the Class Notes Newsletter
Teachers don’t just impart information. They’re the driving force behind neuroplastic change, molding and shaping young minds daily. How, what and when they choose to teach determines just how effective their lectures are. Moreover, it has a direct impact on students’ confidence, motivation and academic success.
Of course, incorporating a neuro-centered approach to classroom instruction takes time. It also requires educators to adopt the heart of a student so, if you want to learn more, join the Class Notes Newsletter. Get the latest updates on learning, teaching, and everything in between when you sign up.