Educating the Mind, Heart, and Body of Young Children

Where is the Mind, Anyway?

Last week, I heard an interview with Sam Keane, author of a new book called “The Tale of The Dueling Neurosurgeons.” In his book, he explains that for much of history, the mind was considered to be located not within the brain but within the heart. Unfortunately, it seems that we have gone to the other extreme, so that the mind is now locked in the brain. We do not recognize that the rest of the body has anything to do with thinking.

educating hearts and minds of young childrenScientists need to watch young children to see how they think with their whole bodies. As babies learn to reach, their eyes certainly focus on the prize but their hands and arms seem to have their own ideas. Toddlers and preschoolers do not always know what their bodies are doing and are surprised when they get in trouble. As a matter of fact, sometimes as adults we find we’ve walked somewhere totally unexpected and say, “My feet just seemed to have a mind of their own.”

Children often use the learning strategy of imitating. When kids imitate their parents, they copy their actions with their bodies but are unaware of the thoughts. Kids often repeat exactly what another child is saying, as if by copying the words they can figure out what the other child means.

The heart has its own way of thinking, too. Have you ever had your heart tell you one thing and your head tell you the opposite? The expression for that situation is torn in two or being of two minds, one mind in the brain and one in the heart.

When it comes to kids, we need to make sure we honor the ‘mind of the heart’. They need to know the words for emotions, especially happy, sad, angry, and scared. It’s helpful for them to talk about their feelings, like feeling ready to explode or  tummy all twisted up. They may have their own descriptions such as feeling all empty inside, or tight like an elastic band. Their feelings can support or block learning.

For a play-of-the-day, use some words for emotions and feelings. Maybe make faces at each other and guess what the other person is thinking. You can give your child a mirror for making silly faces. In the words of Aristotle, “Educating the mind, without educating the heart, is no education at all.” Or, maybe that should be educate the minds of the brain, heart, and body? What—and where—do you think?

Kindergarten Readiness – Learning/Thinking Strategies #4

Kindergarten readiness is not just learning a package of information; after all, children are not robots. Instead, to help children become powerful learners we need to support them as they discover how to make sense of their world.

It seems like children already have some built-in learning strategies. As I was watching a baby less than a year old she was making a variety of sounds. As the family cat sauntered by, the baby meowed. Sounded just like the cat. Later, she went to visit a family with a small dog. The dog wasn’t sure what to do and growled at the baby that was sitting on the floor. Quite quickly, the baby changed her position from sitting to being on her hands and knees and growled too. She was imitating. No grownups had taught her that strategy. Fortunately, children’s brains seem to come already wired with this ability.
Imitating is a valuable learning skill. What are some ways to encourage kids to practice imitating? Play phones, dress-ups, kitchen sets, airplanes, doctor kits, and other toys promote imitating. Kids will imitate reading a story. Some games are appropriate for different ages such as patty cake, peek-a-boo, and all the way up to Simon Says. Movement activities done with an instructor and small groups of kids require lots of imitating. Sometimes, there are free community programs for parents and tots where kids have time for both free play and some structured see and do games.

learning-imitation2Because April started with April Fool’s Day, I got the idea to write about how kids can help adults learn. As I thought about the strategy of imitating I realized that as adults we dismiss imitating as an easy skill; instead it is very powerful. Did you know that imitating is used in robotics to make programming more efficient? We usually think  that children who are struggling with some activities are having difficulty with attention but it could also be that they are having problems imitating. Can you find some ways for your child today to play and practice imitating?