Preschoolers: Simple activities to develop their brain at school & at home
Did you know there are specific exercises you can do at home and at school to help your students and children develop healthy brains and healthy brain patterns?
These exercises are simple, easy, and something teachers and parents can do with kids to reinforce healthy brain development.
Why is healthy brain development important?
Knowing how your student’s or child’s brain accepts new information helps you teach them better and parent them better—you’ll stop pushing them to do tasks beyond their development level and give them something just right for how they learn.
Sometimes when children are pushed too far, they’ll show signs like tantrums, stress, and resistance. When children’s brains are developing in healthy ways, academic learning is easier and behavior is easier to anticipate. That means kids will have better at-home behavior, too!
In this post we’ll cover important brain development needs for 3-4 year olds, and two activities teachers and parents can do in the classroom and at home to help preschool brain development.
The science behind preschool brain development
Typically, the right side of a child’s brain develops first. So children ages 3-4 are not thinking, they’re feeling—and what they’re feeling, they’re remembering. The two brain areas that manage this are the amygdala and the hippocampus. Since the prefrontal cortex or high level thinking part of the brain is not yet fully developed and engaged at this age, memories at ages 3 & 4 are built more on feeling than anything else.
If there is a traumatic event in a child’s life at this age, or any sort of fear, this will activate the oldest part of the brain—the amygdala. The amygdala says, “Danger, Will Robinson, Danger!” and the child reacts in fear.
Here’s an example: A child I worked with was very young and had already gone through several foster homes. Her mother was a drug user and this little girl had been exposed to drug culture at an early age. When I met her, she was already in her forever home, but was having lots of tantrums. For example, any time the train rolled by that house the child would go into hysteria. Some feeling-type of memory was getting activated in her brain and she reacted in fear.
To develop positive, happy neural connections and create new, calm memories, the child’s adopted parents started signing songs like “the choo-choo’s coming”.
Activities like singing a song leaves an imprint in the child’s brain development to replace the feeling-based memories that left her feeling alone and scared. There are so many different, simple activities you can do to stimulate positive neural development in children. Here are a few for the school and classroom.
Use storytelling at ages 3 & 4 to develop healthy brains
Storytelling and language-based activities help 3 & 4-year-olds feel supported and prepare them for more advanced learning at other ages.
Why? Developing a child’s vocabulary helps them interact with and understand the world around them.
When I was a teacher, I would have kids come to my class with limited vocabulary and they thought any animal in the water was a fish. When it came time to talk about turtles or sharks or starfish, or when we started reading these words aloud, these kids didn’t even have a concept for what a shark was, and I saw them struggle to engage fully with lessons, like reading out the letters w-h-a-l-e.
If there’s no memory concept or mental picture, of the word whale, learning to read it won’t “click”.
For Educators: Using storytelling & music in the classroom
As an educator, you may or may not already be doing some of these things, and you also may not know how important these activities are. Activities like listening to songs and storytelling helps children connect their thinking brain with their feeling brain. Their thinking brain is just developing; their feeling brain is there.
To help spark positive memories, sing songs or play music like:
To help connect the thinking and feeling brain, ask questions like these when reading stories or listening to music:
How did you feel about that story? How did you feel about that music? (Remember, everything is feeling based at ages 3 & 4)
Can you act it out? Let’s improvise what we just heard!
How high can you jump? How fast can you twirl? Can you skip to this music? (When improvising or listening to music)
For Parents: Using storytelling at home
It’s really important for parents to mimic at home what’s done in the classroom. That means, asking lots of questions, telling stories to your children, and helping them engage and understand the world they live in.
Children feel supported and nurtured if parents and adults are talking to them, and it also helps build a language base for academics in the future.
To help them engage with the world, ask your kids:
What do you see outside? (when driving in the car)
Is that a dog? What do dogs say? Is that a kitty? What do kitties say?
Tell me what that is because I don’t know what that is.
What color is that sign? What color is that car? (point out different colors as you see them)
To help them understand differences, ask your kids specific questions:
(at the grocery store) Can you find the cheese for me? Can you pick out the white cheese? That’s mozzarella.
Can you find the bread? I need two loaves of bread. Do we have two?
(at home while doing laundry) Can you hand me the green socks? Can you find the red shirt?
To help them process feelings and build a language base, read & tell stories together:
Sit a child on your lap and read out loud to them
Ask them how they felt about a story
Ask them to act it out
Ask them to make up a story for you
By talking in specifics you’re building a language base for your child. All of these are pre-reading skills, so that when a child starts sounding out the word g-r-e-e-n they have a mental memory to what that means—a color! Because you’ve built a language base through storytelling, there’s now a mental picture in the child’s brain to connect to.
More Exercises Teachers & Parents Can Do to Stimulate Brain Development
Whether the children you work with or parent had nurturing early experiences doesn’t matter. Resiliency, the ability to take on new challenges, is something that can be taught because the brain can grow and create new neurons.
Are you looking for more exercises to do at home and at school to build your child’s neuron retention?
The Creative & Connected curriculum is an innovative prevention program designed specifically for at-risk pre-school children, with 50+ exercises based in music, movement, improvisation, and discussion to help children develop healthy brains.
Especially relevant for children who’ve experienced trauma or have any repressed emotions, the exercises in the Creative & Connected curriculum allow children to explore a release emotions through movement and see they’re not that scary.