This may upset some people…
But our children do not have chicken brains, therefore they shouldn’t be raised free range. Yes, free play is important however it should sit appropriately inside a structured and disciplined daily routine, and here’s why…
In neuroscience, uncertainty or unwanted surprise cause stress requiring a significant brain response as it works to address the perceived threat. (This is, of course, a very basic interpretation.)
There is a concept called the free energy principle in neuroscience which suggests that it is in our nature to resist disorder and unpredictability, regardless of the cost. The brain will consume large amounts of energy to avoid the discomfort of not knowing what’s coming next, and the more significant the uncertainty and perceived threat, the more intense the response. The brain’s efforts to reduce uncertainty require substantial brain energy, and herein lies the key.
Consider for a moment the battery in your mobile phone. The more you demand in processing power, making calls, texting, browsing the internet, and playing mobile games, the quicker it will run out of battery life.
Like with your phone, when the battery runs out, all manor of unwanted things occur. (This metaphor is at the heart of what we call the bambooh Brain Battery, which is visible on our bambooh Pathway (day program) and serves as a reminder to our bambooh Team that brain energy is finite and runs out.)
Now it’s worth mentioning just how greedy this 3 pound of tissue is; in fact, it is often referred to as the ‘selfish brain’. Your brain makes up about 2% of your total body weight but demands over 20% of your daily caloric energy. To put it another way, on a second by second basis, the human brain uses more energy at rest than a human thigh during a marathon!
Recharging brain stores require nutrients, oxygen and sleep, plenty of regular and routined sleep – a topic for a later post – so not a quick process. Therefore, it’s crucial that we start paying closer attention to our family’s brain batteries and how we manage them.
Not enough quality recharging (sleep, breathing and nutrition) and constant uncertainty in one’s environment will lead to ‘allostatic overload’, becoming worn out, which will have adverse effects on emotional control, our hormones and even cardiovascular health. Stress causing uncertainty affects our sleep, and our lack of quality sleep and recharging further wears the brain out, leading to a vicious cycle of altered brain architecture and pathophysiology – brain injury.
Based on everything so far, it should become clear that the higher the uncertainty in our child’s environment, the more battery power is used to cope with survival and the fewer resources there are for learning through play. Young children’s brains are developing at a breathtaking pace, and we must ensure they feel safe and secure by helping them feel reassured that their environment is predictable at a very high level of precision.
This evidence supports our bambooh, daily routine approach. As educators, we have a small window at the start of the day where our children’s battery power is sufficiently charged to allow optimum higher function brain processing, education and development. Structured education in the mornings and free play in the afternoons are separated by a recharge period, or more commonly known as a nap.
This field of neuroscience gets very technical the deeper you look into it and is exceptionally well studied however it comes down to basic fundamentals and math. The more uncertainty your child perceives in her environment, the more energy her brain will demand to predict the outcomes using minimal life experience.
We can all follow a simple rule: Behaviour = Charge / Uncertainty
Lastly, it’s worth mentioning that I’m not saying that all stress should be removed from your child’s experience. Stress builds resilience however, it must be short-lived, moderate and diverse stress in the form of mental and physical challenges such as puzzles, learning, memory recall, exercise, exploration and so on. *You will be amazed how much less stress you and your child will experience when you feel physically fit and strong however, as predicted, this will be another topic for a later post.
In the next post, I will go a little deeper into sleep and why it’s super important for your family’s development and mental health. Sign up to our newsletter to be kept up to date or follow us on Instagram @bamboohandyou
Thank you so for reading this far!
About the author, Petré is currently undertaking his Masters in Science in Applied Neuroscience and King’s College London. If you have more questions or just want to share feedback please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
- “Uncertainty and stress: Why it causes diseases and how it is mastered by the brain” a review by Achim Peters, Bruce S.McEwen and Karl Friston
- “How the brain deals with uncertainty” an article by McGovern Institute for Brain Research