The human brain is truly extraordinary. This complex information-processing organ helps transform images, words, and numbers into useful data that guides us through every aspect of life.
Not to mention, it also helps govern most of the biological processes necessary for sustaining life like breathing, temperature regulation, and appetite. But perhaps one of the most incredible tasks the brain manages is learning and processing new information.
Here are the basics of brain biology, how our brains process new information, and how play-based learning strategies can help the development of key cognitive and motor skills in children:
Basic brain biology
Our brain is made up of thousands of neurons (brain cells) and contains many different structures. But the cerebral cortex envelopes all of them.
This ‘cortex’ is the outermost layer of the brain and is responsible for complicated cognitive functions like thinking, reasoning, memory, personality traits, and language.
The deeper parts of the brain take care of the more ‘primitive’ aspects of our lives such as fears, impulses, subconscious, and emotions.
Our brains also have another layer, known as the subcortex, that forms a direct connection to the cortex and plays a vital role in processing and transmitting data.
Human memory and its types
After briefly going over the brain’s biology, it’s time to talk about one of its most important functions: memory. After all, what’s the point of processing new information if you can’t store it?
Memory is an automatic process, which is why we normally pay too much attention to it.
Each event, whether big or small, passes through our brain’s memory centers, whether we realize it or not. However, most of the information passing through isn’t stored permanently.
3 types of memory
When our brains are triggered by an external sensory stimulus, it briefly retains the information after the original stimulus fades away.
For instance, if you’ve watched sparklers being lit or car lights in traffic at night, you must have noticed that the light seems to leave behind a trail before vanishing. This is due to ‘iconic memory’, the visual type of sensory memory.
Even though the stimulus no longer exists at the moment, our brain still stores its impression for a short time. The mind then has the option to either forget this information or process it further through the brain’s ‘memory banks’.
The other two types of sensory memory include echoic (auditory) memory and haptic (tactile) memory.
An important thing to note is that unlike short and long-term memory (more on that later), sensory memory is not consciously controlled. The main role of sensory memory is to create a detailed and complete representation of our sensory experience.
In learning, sensory memory can be triggered by using elements that stimulate the senses such as background music or visual images in presentations.
Short-term memory, also known as working memory, allows for the temporary storage of information when triggered by a stimulus.
According to experts, this type of memory can retain only about seven items at a time. On top of that, it also has a short time limit of about 10-60 seconds.
After going through short-term memory channels, relevant information advances to long-term stores.
At this point, our brains are far less likely to forget important information. But even this type of memory can decline over time if important details aren’t recalled. Go through these seven tips to boost your memory.
How your brain processes new information
Although there are various theories regarding how information is processed in the brain, most experts agree that the process involves 3 important stages:
- Input. In the first stage, the mind is triggered by a stimulus, in response to which it evaluates and analyzes the captured information. It is in this stage that the brain decides whether the information is worth remembering or not.
- Storage. In the storage stage, the brain organizes, encodes, and stores the information for future use. However, the brain may forget the information stored over time if it’s not reinforced.
- Output. During this last stage, the brain determines the best way to use this information and how it should respond to the stimulus. For instance, after reading a set of instructions, your brain allows you to use the newly gained information to complete a task.
The importance of early play-based learning
After learning about the brain in general and how it processes information, it’s important to talk a bit about how you can promote healthy brain development in your children early on. There are different ways in which people learn and one of them is play-based learning.
Numerous studies suggest that early play-based learning contributes to the cognitive, emotional, social, and physical well-being of children.
It’s no secret that kids learn best through play. Real-life or imaginary play challenges a child’s thinking. It encourages, triggers, and supports the development of language acquisition, social skills, concepts, motor skills, and concentration.
During play-based learning, children use all five of their senses, convey emotions and ideas, explore the world around them, and associate new knowledge and skills with what they already know.
In this way, play allows children to develop theories, discover the world around them, and test out new knowledge. Additionally, it encourages the development of symbolic thought.
Play also encourages a child’s drive to discover and explore. And this motivates them to master their environment, boosting their concentration and focus.
It also allows children to engage in high-level thinking processes such as problem-solving, analysis, creativity, evaluation, and application of knowledge. All of which are essential skills for success in today’s world.
Likewise, play promotes positive attitudes such as persistence and enthusiasm towards education and learning.
Ultimately, the variety of skills and learning processes nurtured through play can never be reproduced through conventional rote learning, where the focus is on remembering figures and facts. And this is something to keep in mind when you’re helping your child learn.
Dennis Relojo-Howell is the managing director of Psychreg.