Brain research is fascinating.  And the fact that more research has been done on the physical brain in the last 30 years than in all the years before is a wonder. Early educator books on brain research and its relation to the growing, maturing brain were insightful reads.  Dr. Jane Healey’s books, Endangered Minds and Your Child’s Growing Mind cautioned against too much television and video games. It begged the question, what can parents and educators do to stimulate and foster lively, developing brains in children and students?

In those books, we grew to appreciate Albert Einstein donating his physical brain for research, and the dense study that ensued.  In a book I recently read, I discovered he wasn’t the last to do so.  Aging with Grace; What the Nun Study Teaches Us About Leading Longer, Healthier, and More Meaningful Lives follows a controlled study of 678 Catholic Nuns, ages 75 to 106. Since 1986, they have undergone yearly physical and mental testing, with over 65% donating their physical brains to research upon their death.  These findings coupled with detailed medical records and early adult writing samples provide insight into the aging brain and the mystery surrounding the onset of Alzheimer’s.

One of the many findings from the Nun study is that high linguistic ability in early life seems to protect the brain against Alzheimer’s. The ability to formulate dense ideas depends on at least two important learned skills, that of vocabulary and reading comprehension.  When asked what this means for our children, Dr. Susan Kemper, participating psycholinguist stated “the most important thing a parent can do with their child is read to them.  It is the best way to increase vocabulary and reading comprehension from a young age.”  Studies seem to indicate that young children introduced to diverse literature with rich poetic language incorporate the language and ideas into their own speaking, thinking and writing.

 Ah, music to the ears! Let’s continue reading aloud to our children, our students and because the human brain continues to change and develop throughout life, to ourselves! Read often, read richly, and read broadly.

Robi Marshall, Principal

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