During the middle school years, your child’s brain undergoes a growth spurt unlike any other since his first few months of life. The adolescent brain experiences a unique and powerful makeover, pruning away of all the unneeded bits of memory it has collected but not used since infancy. This house cleaning simultaneously makes room for the dynamic growth of fast, efficient memory circuits. These become the most important systems to direct thinking, reasoning, emotional self-management, decision making, problem solving, and creativity.
Adolescence is the start of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity during which the brain is most responsive to turning information into learned memory at maximum speed. The enhanced rate at which new memory forms in response to input during these years results in its dynamic reorganization. Help your children make the most of these years of their most efficient learning potential by providing opportunities to increase their motivation.
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The keys to unlocking their unique adolescent brainpowers lie in motivation and opportunity. Middle school often presents new and more challenging subjects and classes. At the same time, those classes can seem irrelevant, boring, or frustrating, especially when compared to friends, social media, and technology which can seem far more interesting and readily available.
This where you, the parents, come in. You have the power to engage their interest in the topics and subjects they study in school and promote their perseverance through boredom and frustration.
Before the brain learns powerfully, it needs to care
In their early school years children are engaged in learning because the information is personally relevant. School is about the shapes and colors in their world, how to count real things, reading books they choose, the story of their own history, and the secrets held in a seed, a cell, or a cocoon.
Although they might enter middle school with that natural curiosity and desire to learn and explore, the quantity of things now required to memorize and understand can be overwhelming and disconnect them from that love of learning. But parents have the opportunity to enrich their middle schooler’s education and raise their potential. You can make the difference and keep their brains caring, and therefore learning, if you use their own interests and skills, community resources, and your own experiences and associations to connect with the things they are studying at school.
Relate learning to their lives and the world around them from community to global
Get involved in their classes by either requesting upcoming topics from your child’s teachers, following the sequence of their textbooks, checking class assignment webpages, or asking your middle schooler about the current topics in her classes. Try to help her connect with, understand, care about, and ultimately retain what she learns.
The goal is to link school learning with your child’s interests, talents, passions, and experiences in the real world. The brain responds by increasing attentive focus to information taught at school and connecting to learning with more understanding and memory. Here’s why:
Activating interest and boosting memory circuits
By exposing your children to a variety of people and experiences, you will stimulate their curiosity to go beyond the classroom. They will see the value of academic effort and the opportunities available connecting through the doors of learning.
Have friends over who use the knowledge your child is learning in their everyday lives, careers, or hobbies. For example consider their use of math skills for robotics, foreign language skills for travel to other countries or creative artistic talents. Invite these friends to join you and your middle schooler on museum trips or technology expos. Visit them at their places of work.
Opportunities to use and enjoy the things taught at school - from home projects to on-the-go math
When you know the topic your middle schooler is studying, ask yourself, “What is something she loves that might connect to the knowledge or skills she is acquiring?” It might be a subtle connection, but if you find a way to link to something she likes physically, musically, socially, or recreationally you are hooking into her brain’s own most powerful motivational “reward” system.
What you’ll ignite
It is so critical for children in middle school to retain or reboot their sense of wonder and experience learning as something they want for themselves. When you ignite their interests to align with what they are learning and provide opportunities to make that learning relevant, you achieve that end. You will help them develop positive engagement with school and grow to teens and then adults who thrive from their natural enthusiasm, curiosity, wealth of knowledge, and confidence. You will spur them to investigate, interact with, and improve the world around them. And you’ll be helping them not just survive, but thrive during the challenges of middle school.