Lifelong Learning Saves Brain Cells
Neuroplasticity, our ability to make new connections in our brain, exists throughout our lifetime. According to Tracey Shors, adults continue to make new neurons across the lifespan. Learning, especially learning that takes effort, helps to keep these neurons alive. Without the demand of new skill acquisition, the neurons are pruned and die. What type of learning is best? According to their research learning something new is important. Relearning something that had previously been attained doesn’t appear to help with neuron retention. In addition, learning must be successful. Simply exposing yourself to novel experiences isn’t enough. For example, when learning a new language, listening to it without being able to use it, won’t help with keeping those new neurons alive. Lastly, learning the skill has to take effort. Learning the names of your favorite characters on your favorite television show doesn’t count. Learning needs to occur over a period of time and include intention. So pick up a new skill or two. In addition to having that success, your brain will thank you.
Charting a new Course
Minnesota was at the forefront of the Charter school movement that has recently been taking a beating in the press. The first two public charter schools in the US were in Minnesota and my own children were lucky enough to attend the 2nd of these, the first Public Montessori Charter school in the US. Minnesota did some things right with its Charter law by encouraging significant Teacher control and requiring that all Charter schools incorporate as Non-profits. For us, the Charter aspect of the school was nowhere near as important as the Montessori focus, and perhaps the unique community of committed parents and students that are often found outside the regular public system. Montessori schools foster a culture of respect, strong communication between teachers and students, build on individual students’ interests, provide real-world opportunities to make a difference, and use school as a training ground for good citizenship. In many places the term “charter” is almost synonymous with fraud, abuse and corruption. It does not have to be that way. Bluffview Montessori requires a majority of board members to be teachers at the school. That level of control allows teachers to adopt the curriculum and policies that enable them to teach, rather than spend all of their time trying to “document, measure and report” the results that they don’t really have the time to create because they’re too busy trying to document them. This marriage between Montessori pedagogy and Charter governance set us on the right course.
You Are the Inventor of Your Own Mind
Being aware that our brain and synaptic connections in our brain are always changing allows us to use that knowledge to address emotional well being. This awareness includes skills like meditation and mindfulness, both states of mind that prepare for changes. The article Neuroplasticity: Rewiring Your Brain for Optimal Learning, describes the process by which we learn both good and bad habits. Our need for feeling good can be used to help us break old cycles that can lead into a downward spiral. Knowledge of the mind and how neural connections develop helps in making the changes that help us lead a more emotionally stable life. Learning about these connections empowers us to take some control over our thoughts and state of being