I use the expression “building bridges in your brain” when explaining early learning to both children and their parents. I learnt a lot about brain development while studying teaching at university, but it wasn’t until I watched Dr Robert Winston’s “The Human Mind” that I properly understood how learning works. Dr Winston filmed himself building a rope bridge across a chasm to explain how the gap between the synapses in the brain is eventually bridged by chemical deposits, making the path easy to cross after a lot of practice.
Then, I found myself using this analogy to explain to a group of five-year-old students why repetition is so important when learning complex tasks. It struck a chord with them immediately, and changed their perception of the “boring bits” of learning to read and write.
The analogy helps children feel positive about their own learning journey, because it prevents the misconception that if they learn to read or count later than their peers, they must have below average intelligence. This is most definitely not the case. All brains complete bridges at different speeds, even within the same brain. There are slow times, where learning seems steady and unremarkable, then sudden “growth spurts” where the child will seem to learn everything you’ve been trying to teach them in a matter of weeks, or sometimes even days!
It also helps parents and carers understand the process of learning as applied to behavioural issues, and helps them empathise with their children when they misbehave, leading to more effective and longer-term solutions for behaviour management.