It’s obvious when my six-year-old daughter is impressed by someone – she quotes them a lot.

Usually it’s some pearl of wisdom from one of her nannas about why she should eat more, bathe more and sleep more.

Last year, when Jasmine started school, the nanna lessons were suddenly accompanied by Donna quotes.

“Donna said it’s not good to eat biscuits before you go to bed because it makes your brain jumpy, Jasmine informed my partner Belinda and me.

“Donna said not to go to bed too late because it’s not good for your brain.”

At first I thought “who’s this Donna?” and then I realised Jasmine was quoting the neuroscience co-ordinator at her school, Donna Nitschke.

Curious to know what else Donna taught the kids at school, I took advantage of my profession and interviewed her.

Neuroscience research and its use in educating children can get as technical as you want but thankfully Donna simplified it for me.

“Neuroscience is the study of how we learn and develop, she said.

“When I talk to the kids about neuroscience, I tell them it’s a study of the mind, the brain and the body working together.

“It’s about training the brain to be the best learner you can be.”

While neuroscience research really took off about 10 to 20 years ago with researchers discovering ways to study the brain without removing it, its use in Australian schools is relatively new.

Donna is the first neuroscience coordinator in South Australia and she works in several schools around Adelaide.

In schools, neuroscience is focused on how children make memories to learn.

“It’s not just putting them in a classroom and telling them to learn,” Donna said.

“There’s been an incredible push to improve literacy and numeracy but we have to train students how to learn these things – they don’t just happen.

“If they haven’t learnt how to direct and sustain their attention, they won’t learn as well as they could.”

Donna’s students learn that there are different kinds of attention. They learn how to store information in their brain and retrieve it.

“We also talk about the range of emotions and how they can control those emotions. The thinking part of the brain doesn’t function when the emotions are too high. I teach them about how to get a balance between thinking and emotions.”

It seems topics in neuroscience lessons are quite broad. And I don’t remember learning any of this at school.

“I teach that when emotions are very strong they might need to get help from someone else, Donna said. “I teach them that not all things are worth worrying about.

“I teach them to be the boss of their brains and that mistakes are not important but what is important is what they do after that mistake.”

I tell Donna that these lessons could come in handy with adolescents and adults.

She agrees but adds that it’s much harder to retrain the brain in to new thinking patterns than getting the patterns right in the first place.

Donna’s classes are proving popular with the children because many of the lessons are learnt by playing games.

Child development

Parents of young children can help their development by:

– Limiting screen time (TV and computer).

– Talking with children, not at them.

– Setting limits and stick to them, children need routine, including predictable consequences when they do wrong.

– Understanding that just because you are looking at the same thing as your child they might not understand what’s happening. You might have to repeat things several times, before they understand. They don’t have the memories of that experience that the parent has.

– Providing time for adequate sleep and exercise.


By Natalie Robertson

Source: Messenger News –