Building better brains

Published 9:48 pm Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Do your child’s poor test scores have you down?

Marcia Tate, a professional development consultant and author, presented several strategies to increase brainpower to area parents Tuesday night at King’s Fork Middle School.

“We know more about the brain in 2011 than ever before,” Tate said.

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Nutrition, inactivity, the physical home and learning environment, high and low expectations, staying indoors, attitude, drug and alcohol use, lack of play, lack of cherishing and communication with parents — all these influence a child’s ability to learn and retain information, she said during her presentation, “Preparing Children for Success in School and Life: 20 Ways to Increase Your Child’s Brain Power.”

Tate said that on average, a child’s attention span is equal to his age in minutes. The average adult attention span is 20 minutes unless the task is something they are interested in. Tate was able to keep her audience engaged from 7 to 9 p.m.

At the end of the presentation, she revealed that she used those same strategies to keep parents actively engaged.

Brains develop most between ages 0 and 4, she said. That’s why parents are a child’s best teachers. During these first few years, it is the job of the child’s parents to attune the brain to future learning, she said.

“Healthy adolescents start before birth,” she said.

On average, mothers spend only 11 minutes in conversation per day with their children while fathers spend seven. The most important thing parents can do to develop a child’s brain is to engage them in conversation and to make sure they get enough sleep.

The changing family structure does not bode well for the prospect of brain development. In the past, parents spent more time engaging their children in conversation at the dinner table and making sure they were eating appropriate foods; however, today many families are not eating together and are eating fast food, rather than healthy foods.

She provided parents with tips on how to make their homes less stressful and more conducive to brain development.

Even things like the color of a home’s walls and the beat of the music that a child hears can affect how well that child’s brain develops, she said.

She advised parents to use calming tones like greens, blues, pastels and earth tones in their homes. And she said the most calming music plays at 50 to 70 beats per minute, as that lines up with the rhythm of the heart. Classical, jazz, new age, slow Celtic, Native American music, and nature sounds are good examples of the types of music that will calm children down and work to create a brain-healthy home environment.

Having a positive attitude increases both children’s and adult’s chances to succeed in academics and in life, she said.

Tate also introduced 20 strategies to help children learn more and remember what they’ve learned. Drawing, creating artwork, field trips, humor, mnemonic devices, movement, music or rhythm, reciprocal teaching, role-play, storytelling, visualization, journal writing and more all can help children learn, she said.

Tate will be visiting Mack Benn Jr. Elementary School on Thursday, where she will teach math classes modeling learning strategies for teachers.

To learn more about Tate’s strategies or to purchase one of her six best-selling books, visit her website at