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Why Kids Learn Some Skills Better Than Adults

Like, learning a language or sport

Photo by kazuend on Unsplash

Children are curious by nature. They are more open-minded than the majority of adults because they don’t even know what “open-minded” is. If they feel something, they show it in the crudest way possible. That’s why they cry almost every day when they don’t get what they want.

They express dissent in the best way, i.e., through emotions. They show it in every colour. They ask so many questions that sometimes we are tired. We want to give them a candy prize and get away with it. Kids are also better at learning new skills. Such skills, which adults struggle at, or spent extended time. The best example is learning a language.

Learning doesn’t stop in adults, but it does slow down

The more time passes, the more experience you gain. We are constantly feeding ourselves with lots of information. It becomes challenging to make sense of what is essential to us because our short term memory can only store so many things at a time.

When learning a new skill, as we master it, we accumulate new information and develop new neural pathways, which in turn increases the density of the brain. Once we reach saturation, it is harder to keep expanding.

Our brain continuously builds and breaks neurons based on the habits we develop and give up — unlearning and re-learning. If you want to become expert at any task, for example speaking a new language, there is a simple method you already know. The more you practice, the more your mind thinks of it as essential, and the more creative and proficient you get at it.

Critical period

Different parts of the brain are responsible for performing various functions. For example, the language centre of the brain, where we organise our thoughts and ideas in words, it also has a growing stage. In the book “The Brain That Changes Itself”:

“The discovery of the critical period became one of the most famous in biology in the second half of the twentieth century. Scientists soon showed that other brain systems required environmental stimuli to develop. It also seemed that each neural system had a different critical period, or window of time, during which it was especially plastic and sensitive to the environment, and during which it had rapid, formative growth.”

For example, language development has a critical period that begins in infancy and ends between eight years and puberty. After this period closes, a person’s ability to learn a second language is limited. I experienced this in my case. Statistically, the majority of the population is bilingual. One language is the mother tongue. The second one is English because it is international and always beneficial to master.

I tried to learn Spanish on Duolingo but failed. The reason was I was learning for fun. It wasn’t compulsory. Now I know there was another reason. It wasn’t easy too. I was practising for two years when the language centre has passed the critical period. It is not as responsive as it used to be when I was learning English in school.

The critical period can also help people improve skills they are poor at by practising them in the early stage of infancy. When our brain is most responsive to the environment, this is the best time to train it because it will learn and absorb the most.

The brain as a muscle

The idea that the brain is like a muscle is not just a saying. It is indeed, true. Though you cannot see it as clearly as ultrasounds give you the body scan, education is the exercise of the brain. Sounds very specific and to-the-point, isn’t it?

From the book “The Brain That Changes Itself”:

“Education increase the number of branches among neurons.”

When the number of branches increases, the neurons surface area increases. They drift apart and take up more space in the body. The volume and thickness both increase as the number of neurons increases, making you sharper and intelligent. Sounds like the muscle-building process, doesn’t it?

The critical period is the right time to learn anything

Barbara Arrowsmith-Young suffered from a mental health issue where she couldn’t understand the relationship between multiple things. Like she didn’t know the difference between “daughter’s mother” and “mother’s daughter”.

She tried to get every medical help she could. But when she suggested the idea that her ailment is fixable with the help of brain exercise, she did not get a positive response from the community.

She took it as a challenge and opened Arrowsmith School. The school has an Arrowsmith Program where they improve the cognitive capacities of students with the help of brain exercises. This school is active since the last 40 years, and Barbara is still alive and running it.

This blog belongs to a series of posts I am publishing on a daily streak. Today is day 138 of 150. Here is the first blog that started the streak.

Thank you for reading! See you tomorrow!

~ Sanjeev



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