Turns out, we can actually teach in a way that’s compatible with our brain. And when we do, interest level increases, retention improves, and confidence builds all leading to more complex learning. That’s the conclusion of decades of research about how our brain works.
The good news is, brain-compatible teaching is not that difficult to do. It all begins with designing an effective learning environment. Here are 5 easy steps you can take to create an environment conducive to optimal learning:
1. Make Connections. In ed speak, we call this using prior knowledge and it simply means that we relate new information to old, familiar information. The content becomes more meaningful this way and allows for deeper learning to take place.
The Money Connection: Tie in an earlier money event with a real-time similar situation. Prior experience: “Remember when you accidentally lost the birthday money Grannie gave you?” New knowledge: ”If you put this Christmas money into an account at the credit union, your money will be a lot safer.”
If you don’t have any prior experiences to use, books are a great way to jump-start these conversations. For example, in the book Alexander Who Used to be Rich Last Sunday, you can help your child make the connection between Alexander spending all his money and not being able to buy the walkie-talkies he wants and the fact that, “Just like Alexander, if you keep spending your money on those little items, you won’t have enough to buy that game you really want. What are some things you and Alexander could do to make it easier for you to save money?”
2. Tap into their Interests. We learn best when we’re engaged in interesting and meaningful activities that are connected to our every day lives. That’s because the activities are real-world and personally relevant. And when it’s all about us, we’re much more engaged and motivated to learn.
The Money Connection: Set up an allowance with your child and have her be responsible for all her discretionary spending. Make sure the expectations and responsibilities are clear. Now step back and allow her to make the decisions about what happens to that money. It’s about real experiences with real money. She’ll learn about saving, spending wisely, borrowing, sharing, earning, and investing.
3. Ask Questions. Ask lots and lots of questions. The human brain was designed to think and problem solve. So let it do its thing. Not only does asking questions encourage critical thinking skills, but by asking your child to share her thoughts with you, you’re showing her that you value her thinking and believe in her ability to solve problems.
The Money Connection: Why did you choose to spend your money on that? How could you get the money you need to buy that? What are some ways to keep our money safe? What would you like to be when you grow up? What effect does advertising have on our needs and wants? Is that item worth the money you spent on it? Is ‘friendship’ a need? Why do you think budgets are important? It’s endless really.
4. Provide a Safe Climate for Learning. We don’t learn when we’re anxious, upset, or feel threatened. These negative emotions actually block information flow to the brain. For real learning to take place, we need an environment free from the fear of embarrassment, judgement, or failure… a place where we feel loved and accepted.
The Money Connection: Money is a new experience for kids. Because of that, they’re curious and are going to ask questions. As openly, honestly, and developmentally appropriately as you can, answer their questions. Aren’t sure? Learn new things together. Respect their desire to make their own money choices. When they make mistakes, be there without judgement to guide them. All of these build trust. And trust builds confidence…something our kids will need to manage money effectively as adults.
5. Live a healthy lifestyle. Drink water. Get regular exercise. Sleep. Eat your veggies. This may seem like a no-brainer (!), but sometimes we forget how important these are to healthy brain development. Teach these to your kids.
The Money Connection: Studies have actually shown that those who are physically healthy tend to be healthier in their finances, as well. Now, simply eating broccoli isn’t going to make us great money managers, but making sure eating healthy is a part of your regular regime ties into self-discipline. And self-discipline is a key ingredient when it comes to effectively managing money.
If you think about it, it’s pretty amazing that we can actually influence our environment in a way that allows for deeper learning to take place. And now that we are equipped with this information, (thanks brain!), just think of the power we have to make a difference in how our children grow and develop.