Neuroscience tips to help students make the best of delayed start to school year

25 January 2022

Queensland's school students haven't returned to classrooms as scheduled this week' but a CQUniversity brain-based learning expert says parents can help kids start the school year right amidst the extended holidays.

Head of Course for Educational Neuroscience Professor Ken Purnell says effective learning requires information to be processed in "brain-friendly" ways' and family are crucial to supporting the process.

While sympathising with parents who will be juggling work and caring across the fortnight of extra holidays' Prof Purnell advises some simple tactics can help young people stay eager and motivated for learning despite pandemic interruptions.

Stay social: Forget the stereotype of study happening shut away in bedrooms – brains actually learn best in a social environment. Before term starts' dedicate some space at the dining table or in the family room for your child's reading' research and homework' and make an effort to interact as they progress' and show enthusiasm for what they are doing.

Keep connected: Don't assume that your child's Zoom or Facebook chat is distracting them from learning – online connection can extend their networks and improve their understanding' through experience a range of viewpoints and how well (or otherwise) those are expressed. Building resilience goes hand in hand with building belonging – so encourage your child to have a range of friendship groups that they can maintain even away from school.

Balance the brain: We know the brain has two hemispheres – the right brain handles creativity' imagination and strong emotions' and the left hemisphere leads cognitive function such as speech' language and logic. But it's a neuromyth that people are "right-brained" or "left-brained" – both sides of our brains work for every one of us' and young learners need to trigger both sides. Discuss all the ways they can experience and retain information' from watching and creating for TikTok' to theatrics' textbooks and even just talking through ideas.

Move it: The brain and body aren't separate' they're both part of one whole – and physical activity stimulates the entire brain with more oxygen' growing new neurons in the hippocampus (the learning and memory centre) and boosting frontal lobe (problem-solving centre) plasticity. So encourage your child to start a daily habit with a fun physical activity' and take the habit into the term. Whether it's a run' skipping' shooting hoops or an online dance challenge' the habit will be a welcome brain-break when school returns.

Keep growing: A student who believes they only learn one way might develop a 'fixed mindset'. That's the incorrect the idea that human attributes' like intelligence or ability to learn' cannot change. The delay to the school year is the perfect time to develop a 'growth mindset'' so talk to them about resilience' their ability to learn outside the classroom' and how growth along the way is just as important as the end result. Having a 'growth mindset'' that you are capable of learning new things' is backed by science. Neuroplasticity means brains can change' through creating' strengthening' weakening or dismantling connections between its neurons.

Prof Purnell says the tips can help students hit the ground running when school goes back on Monday 7 February.

They are also designed to support year 11 and 12 students who will be learning from home for their first week of term' commencing Monday 31 January.

"Students and their families certainly face big challenges if the 2022 school year continues disrupted' but encouraging neuroscience-informed learning will help students grow their confidence in their abilities' and their resilience'" Prof Purnell said.

"CQUniversity's Neuroscience Education research has found that building resilience' belonging and a sense of community is essential for every education provider' to develop a sense of purpose for students – and parents can support that effort during the delay to school term' and as the year progresses."

Queensland Education Minister Grace Grace has said schools will still open for vulnerable children and the children of essential workers.