By Patty Backes, Preschool and Drama Teacher
The amazing capacity of our brains has long been the subject of much speculation and theory. With recent technological advances (PET scans, MRI’s, among others) many of those speculations have given way to proof or been dispelled through the science that now exists that can actually study the living, growing brain.
While recently reading the book Mind in the Making by Ellen Galinsky, I discovered some truths about some of my own suspicions about brain function. That is that the brain needs as much nutrition and exercise as the rest of a growing child’s body. Galinsky quotes Adele Diamond, Univ. of British Columbia researcher:
“Think about a two-year-old’s legs. Your legs at age two are not at their full adult length; it may take ten or fifteen years to reach their full adult length-–they’re very immature. But even with those immature legs, a two-year-old can walk; a two-year-old can even run. So the legs, even in their immature state, are capable of serving a lot of the functions that legs are supposed to serve.”
Her conclusion is that even an immature prefrontal cortex “is capable of supporting a lot of the functions it’s supposed to support.”
So why not exercise that prefrontal cortex by adding in some Drama games that are designed to support some of those “life skills” at an early age? I have long taught our young students that our imaginations are like muscles in our bodies. “What happens when we don’t exercise our muscles?’’ I ask. “They get squishy”; “You get weak and sick”; “You don’t grow strong”; they reply. It makes sense to even our youngest that if we don’t exercise our imaginations they will get “weak and squishy” too.
In the context of Drama games students from Kindergarten through 8th grade practice the skills of: focus and self control, perspective taking, communicating, making connections, critical thinking, taking on challenges, and learning to become self-directed and engaged. These seven “essential life skills” according to Galinsky are not instincts that children are born with. They are skills that need to be fostered if our children are to enter into adulthood equipped with the tools to handle our modern world.