BrainGames…Do They Make Your Child Smarter?
There is a show on The National Geographic Channel called Brain Games, where host Jason Silva guides participants through mental gymnastics. The tasks are mind-blowing, and people often perform in surprising ways…what we think would be easy for them is hard. To make it even more interesting, Silva often pits the teenagers against their parents, or the men against women. (Interesting tidbit—some of these tasks are similar to tasks on IQ tests!) The show makes neuroscience interesting and entertaining. It even busts some myths and explains optical illusions. Check out some highlights – and Jason’s cute mug – HERE
Similarly, there are several online programs – such as Lumosity and CogMed – which aim to boost brainpower. These programs use mental exercises designed to strengthen cognitive abilities such as memory, attention and reasoning skills. These products stop short of claiming to make us “smarter”, but look to use technology to customize learning.
But do they work?
The jury (researchers) is still out. But here’s another way to think about these tools and their claims…
Our educational system is built around teaching children…that is, exposing them to information. When it comes down to an individual’s ability to learn, we tend to view that as fairly fixed, the result of genetics and environment.
But what if these abilities are malleable? What if certain mental exercises can improve the cognitive functions upon which learning spelling words, historical events and algebra formulas all depend? Wouldn’t this be worth checking out?
As parents, one of our goals is to pave the way for our children to grow into healthy, well-adapted people. In keeping with that wish, we try to anticipate potential struggles so that our little peanuts don’t hit a brick wall on the road to development, learning and well-being. Even kids who get good grades and achieve at school have hiccups in their learning. We all have our strengths and challenges. Each of us could use a boost for our weaker abilities. Working on specific strategies can help even “typical” children who want to maximize their abilities in reading, math and general problem-solving.
That being said, trying products like Lumosity can’t hurt, and may likely help. The biggest potential perk: activities that focus on building attention, processing speed, memory, reasoning and mental flexibility may lead the child to create strategies that can boost their performance. Examples of strategies that children may develop include:
- Self-talk/subvocal rehearsal – you know this one…it’s where you chant a phone number in order to remember it. Turns out that is a somewhat sophisticated strategy for boosting memory!
- Chunking – mentally separating information into smaller pieces in order to remember it
- Visualization -“seeing” something in your “mind’s eye” in order to remember it
- Scanning – visually skimming a larger image in search of a particular symbol (hello, Candy Crush!)
The tasks involved in brain game technology put children through exercises that inspire many kids to think up some strategy to help themselves and make the task easier. When a child comes up with a “trick” to remember something, mission accomplished! They have gotten “smarter”.
Like anything, we need to be with our children while they use these applications or websites. Plunking them down in front of a screen – then being hands-off – can limit how well they use the activities. We need to teach and model for our children how to be actively engaged in these activities.
While the researchers are undecided over the merits of brain game technology, I’m undecided over the merits of research. If a particular approach, activity or online training program works for you or your child, then who cares what happened with the other hundreds of kids involved in a study?!
So, why not try it? Check out free resources, such as trial periods and webinars, to see if these products seem like a fit for you and your child. If nothing else, it may be a nice change-up from Angry Birds.