Pick any fellow parent from your child’s playschool and chances are they’d give you an impressive list of all the extra classes their child goes for each day of the week. In an increasingly competitive age, with the myriad of different enrichment activities in the market, parents have to be picky about how they divide time between learning and play.
WORDS Christel Geralyn Gomes
Picking an enrichment class can be a major headache as we know the importance of those initial, impressionable years where we must capitalise as much as possible on early brain development. You want the best for your child’s academic future but must also ensure that your feisty little one has a good chunk of time for running about and enjoying the exhilarating bliss of playtime. After all, childhood only happens once.
Given limited time and an endless list of options, which to choose – piano, ballet, swimming or Kumon?
The question, really, is this: What type of education would help develop my child’s brain in such a way that the groundwork will carry him to success in school and life?
Research has shown that from birth to six years of age, a child’s brain is developing a foundation that will last a lifetime. Motherhood speaks to schools which focus on early childhood brain development.
The Heguru Method
Heguru, originating in Japan, focuses on right brain development. It is said that when developed, the right brain complements the analytical left; the 'big picture' approach of the right brain allows an overview to be formed quickly, resulting in greater brainpower. Developing memory could be a worthwhile investment as naturally, it serves the child’s academic future.
Up to the age of six years, the environment of a child plays an important role in influencing the development of the brain. It is during this time that by receiving various stimuli, the brain capacity can be made bigger. This means that these abilities can be made into inherent ones and the child will be able to use them freely when they grow up.
So exactly how does Heguru work? By further developing the right brain, mental images from information received are created and this skill will allow children to evaluate and remember massive amount of information at high speed. Two main characteristics of Heguru are speed and loud sound to effectively stimulate the brain. The aim of Heguru is to equip children with the skills to draw on their innate potential to excel in various fields.
In a class, Super Flash Cards are used to train their right brain of both mother and child. Participants will also learn about numbers, rhythm as well as train their memory skills amongst other things. Parents are encouraged to participate with their children to activate their potential abilities and this will also enable them to grow together in a happy environment.
Heguru children have good memory, heightened alertness, concentration, cognitive thinking, math and spatial understanding, creativity, speed-reading skills and high-speed processing skills. But Heguru education is not just focused on academic achievements. Graduates from the programme have also excelled in sports, art and others fields.
The Shichida Method
At Shichida Singapore, Mrs Jocelyn Khoo, executive director and brain education specialist explains that the focus is also on right brain development. The right brain, she says, is the “fast brain”. It processes large quantities of information in split seconds and is the seat of creativity, visualisation and memory.
“The right brain uses images to recall things. We all think in terms of images, but in adulthood, we use language to express the picture in our minds. When image ability is built up in the right brain early, imagination is strong,” and this means children are creative, using more of their brains than average, and have a better capacity to excel in academics and life.
From birth to four years, learning mostly occurs in the subconscious. The child is more interested in visual pictures than in words or logic. The dendrites connecting brain cells are growing. It is during this critical period that the right brain can be stimulated to its highest potential. The aim is, with exposure to the right stimulus, children become fast learners with “photographic memory, computer-like calculation abilities, perfect pitch and multiple language ability”.
How is this done? A typical class begins with a 5-minute relaxation exercise for calm, stress-free learning. Stories with picture cards are introduced, keeping novelty in mind as anything new captures attention naturally and helps concentration. Even before they are fluent with language, children listen to complex expressions of words, which they are not typically exposed to at home where colloquial language and simple sentence structures are usual in casual conversation. The best time to start your child on the program is between six months and two years.
Mrs Khoo explains that each child goes through a vocabulary spurt between 18 and 24 months. But it is before this period that language must be exposed to them in a repetitive way, as “repetition is the essence of memory building”. The child is then later able to become very creative in their use of language overall.
Nutrients for the Brain
To complement enrichment programs, parents might want to ensure their little ones are getting the right nutrients for healthy brain and memory function. Ms Christina G. Rubi-Cruz, senior nutritionist at VitaKids Pte Ltd and member of Singapore Nutrition and Dietetics Association tells us that “deficiency in nutrients, specifically in B-vitamins and Omega 3 fatty acids, is the common culprit behind poor memory and focus.”
“We do not just want kids to feel full at the end of a meal, but more importantly, to feed them food packed with correct nutrients that can reach the brain and sustain their energy. A sugary, coloured breakfast cereal, for example, may have an enticing look and taste, but as soon as energy from sugar spikes goes down, children easily become irritated and stressed, finding it difficult to listen and cooperate at school,” says Ms Rubi-Cruz. She also specifically recommends basic multivitamins and Omega 3 supplements which are important for learning and remembering.
Lecithin powders, Ms Rubi-Cruz says, “may help improve brain cell communication and subsequently support memory function”. For parents who prefer more natural alternatives, herbal concoctions are an alternative. Chamomile and lemon balm is helpful in calming and aiding focus.