With calculators, spell-checkers and predictive text now being a common feature on computers and mobile phones, will today’s children still need strong mental skills to get by?
Using technological software may be quick and easy, but there are real disadvantages that come when a child is so dependent on online assistance; namely, they will lack mental agility, fluency and accuracy, and they probably won’t be using their brain to its full capacity.
Everyday tasks as simple as checking they’ve received the right change, or working out ratios of ingredients when preparing meals, require mental calculations which a child reliant on technology could struggle with.
A student who looks to spell-checker to ensure the accuracy of their work will struggle when completing it offline; they’ll be marked down for inaccuracy during handwritten exams, or perhaps they know an answer but their poor spelling lets them down because the examiner is unable to understand their intention.
Looking to the future, strong mental arithmetic and literacy skills are important in whatever career a child chooses to pursue, and are still noticed and sought after by most employers. A child who has these abilities will feel more confident and at ease in the workplace.
In addition to all of the above, reading and writing, and solving mathematical calculations exercises the brain and keeps it healthy. The brain is a muscle, and like the other muscles in the body, it needs to be exercised and stimulated regularly to stay healthy and keep functioning at its optimum.
Dr Ryuta Kawashima is a professor at Tohoku University in Japan and he is a leader in the field of Brain Imaging in Japan. He has conducted numerous experiments and research to discover what activities activate and stimulate the brain and what activities don’t.
One activity that Dr Kawashima discovered that is excellent for stimulating the brain is performing mathematical calculations regularly, even simple ones. He conducted research to find out which activity exercised the brain more: playing very complex video games, or solving mathematical calculations of adding one digit numbers to each other e.g. 1 + 2 + 5 + 3 + 6 etc. Although at the outset he was sure that the video games would activate the brain more, when he measured activity using MRI scans, he saw that video games actually stimulated the brain very little, but that the arithmetical calculations had the brain firing on all cylinders.
This surprising finding urged Dr Kawashima into further research and he has shown that mathematical calculations stimulate the brain, help to lay down neural pathways and keep the brain from degenerating. Dr Kawashima has this to say, “The prefrontal cortex, the area for thinking and learning, of both hemispheres [of the brain] is active during simple calculation. Dealing with numbers is an important and sophisticated activity for human beings. … From primary school to college, simple calculation triggers brain activity. … Calculation is extremely helpful in training and developing your brain.” (p.34).
Another activity that is vital for the brain is reading, especially reading out loud. Through his research, Dr Kawashima has found that when reading, many parts of both sides of the brain, as well as the prefrontal cortex (the most important place in the brain for thinking and learning) are activated. (p.26). Reading out loud activates the brain even more than reading silently. This can be a useful tip when it comes to studying. Reading work out loud can help a learner to remember it better.
Mental agility skills do take time to develop and improve but through practice they will make all the difference!
How can you encourage the development of these skills in your child?
- Turn everyday experiences into learning opportunities – when shopping, ask your child to work out how much your bill will cost before you get to the checkout, and have them look at the receipt afterwards to check it’s correct.
- Have a weekly spelling bee at home or a times tables challenge – competitions and rewards are good incentives to encourage children to learn and make learning fun.
- When reading with your child, ensure they are familiar with all the words on the page and get them to write and spell out new words.
- Encourage your child to write regularly as this offers opportunities to spell. Through this, you’ll be able to see spellings they struggle with, and employ tracing, mnemonics and/or other strategies to help them improve.
At Kumon, we aim to foster independent learners through our maths and English programmes. Our students do not rely on calculators, dictionaries or coping strategies to advance through their study; instead they are encouraged to become self-learners who develop in academic ability and skill with each worksheet they complete. Through daily practice our students develop in understanding, fluency and pace, allowing them to advance to more complexed work.
If you’re interested in enrolling your child to Kumon, visit our website www.kumon.co.za to find your nearest study centre and contact your local Instructor for more information.
Sources for this article:
- Kawashima, R. 2003. Train Your Brain. Kumon Publishing Co, Ltd. Tokyo, Japan
- Kawashima, R. and Koizumi, H. ed. 2003. Learning Therapy. Tohoku University Press. Sendai, Japan