Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Enriched Language Exposure Builds the Brain

     Last week I was fortunate enough to attend the Illinois Speech-Language-Hearing Association annual convention.  It took place over three days and was filled with valuable information and much discussion in the latest trends in speech/language pathology.  Opportunities were abundant to discuss trends with speech and language pathologists from around the state and presenters from across the country. 

     My favorite lectures were presented by a former professor of mine, Martha S. Burns, Ph.D., from Northwestern University.  She specializes in areas related to the neuroscience of learning, such as language and reading in the brain, the bilingual brain, the language to literacy continuum, and the adolescent brain.    She presented a wealth of information on the latest research on developing brains in infants and young children and the influence parents and teachers have on that development.

     Without going into technical details learned in neuroanatomy (classes that caused many sleepless nights for me both as an undergrad and graduate student); it is fair to say that successful brain mapping requires language, movement, physical play and positive social interactions.  Individuals not exposed to these crucial elements actually have differences in brain formations as evidenced by the latest in F-MRI.  Language changes brains. It forms an abundance of dendritic connections that are absent from individuals who spend more time focused on tablets/smart phones, etc.; than listening and interacting with people.  These individuals often have difficulty with reading, attention, social interactions, problem solving and sensory regulation.  It was amazing to see how different the images of the brain were between these two groups in study after study. Even more astounding was the evidenced that showed the "use or lose it" connectivity in the brain.  We need to keep on talking, reading and challenging our children with language, music, the arts and physical activity to keep those connections working. 

     As teachers we can see the difference in our students after movement breaks.  There is a difference in academic learning in the afternoon when we have outdoor recess vs. indoor recess.  The former always leads to a more productive afternoon of academic learning.  Students are ready to learn and can attend after just twenty minutes of movement outside.  Their sensory regulation is improved and processing and attention is heightened.  Play teaches children to communicate, problem solve and develops social skills. 

     Children need to be talked to from birth. Parents, teachers and caretakers need to  narrate the child's day; talk with them as you are feeding, changing, bathing and dressing young children.  Let them explore outside and talk about what they are doing.  Let them make mistakes and problem solve with their friends. The language used during the early years will form the necessary connections in the brain for both social and academic success.  Language indeed changes BRAINS! 

Linda Costigan
Speech/Language Pathologist

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