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Brains and Learning

July 29, 2009

young brain at work

I recently attended the Gurian Institute’s summer conference in Colorado Springs – a spectacular setting with engaging and enlightening content and participants.  It was a real gift to work with these teachers and researchers all week as the presented on brain development and gender and spoke to the implications for both parents and teachers. Early in the week, speakers acknowledged that most of us are aware of how males and females operate differently, but the difference with these presentations is the data which provides the “why” we operate differently (from birth to adult) and how to play to the strengths of each gender.  Really fascinating stuff.

Our brains come hard-wired for certain behaviors and strengths.  What the presenters sought to demonstrate is ways in which we can help children further develop individual strengths as well as help the practice skills which are more challenging for them.  To better understand child deveolopemtn and leanring, we need to have a basic understanding of the neurology of the brain and gender.  Like many conferences and research on child development, it was also abundantly clear that child development is a process– something that requires time, practice and patience to hone despite societal and parental pressures and desires to expedite things.

One blog post cannot do justice to the expertise and research shared over the course of a week. If you are intrigued by child development, perplexed by behavior in your child (or spouse), or want to know more about what makes your child tick, consider the bullets I’ve culled below.  If you still want to know more, head to  and/or for specifics on the research and practical strategies.

Until then, consider these facts:

  • By  4 days after birth, infant girls hold eye contact while boys track movement. Boys spatial sense is activated early in life and their propensity to move helps them activate right brain. Girls seek to connect emotionally.
  • Girls hear better out of both ears while boys have one dominate ear.
  • Boys on average have fewer nerve centers which helps explain propensity for throwing, hitting, rough play; males don’t feel as much pain as girls do.
  • From birth to 20 years, boys put themselves through more experiences of pain on average than girls; while girls may have more longevity, may have fewer injuries.
  • Hormones work at play – oxytocin is a bonding chemical more prevalent in girls’ brains and testosterone is aggression chemical produced more prevalent in boys’ brains. Boys tend to engage in more aggression-type behaviors pushing  at their environment  to control or test and girls try to connect and work to bond (still effort to control, but more subtle).
  • In stressful situations, females’ oxytocin levels come up (as they try to bond) and males’ testosterone rise (act aggressively, interrupt).
  • 37.2% children in US are overweight or at risk; the more obese, less  successful they do in school.  We used to think this was related to bullying or self esteem but now know it’s related also to brain development and learning. Exercise and fitness produces an increase BDNF (brain growth factor, which acts like a fertilizer) and increases number of neurons and improve learning.
  • CDC study from June 2009 found that 1 in 5 child under age of 4 is obese which means we lowered IQ in these kids by what goes into their bodies.
  • Brains are physically mature at age 25 in females; closer to age 30 in males.  Physical development in the frontal cortex is still going on through late teens which will allow young adults to make better decisions, sort out consequences and work more efficiently.
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