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 stress is seen as uncertainty or unexpected surprise, usually an unwanted surprise and the brain’s response to manage the perceived threat. (This is of course a very basic interpretation of the definition but more must be done make scientific research and literature more digestible for the general public. I will place links to the papers I referred to in this piece so please feel free to dive a little deeper should this tickle your curiosity.)
There is a concept called the ‘free energy principle’ in neuroscience which suggests that it is in our nature to resist disorder, unpredictability, regardless of the cost. The brain will commit large amounts of energy to avoid the discomfort of not knowing what’s coming next and the larger the uncertainty and perceived threat the more intense the response inside the brain and nervous system. The efforts the brain makes to reduce the uncertainty requires a significant amount of physical cerebral or brain energy, and herein lies the key.
Consider for a moment the battery in your mobile phone, the more you demand of it in processing power, making calls, texting, browsing the internet, playing mobile games, the quicker it will run out and the higher the wear and tear. (This metaphor is a 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.) Just like with your phone, when the battery runs out all manner of unwanted things occur.
Now it’s worth mentioning just how greedy this 3 pounds of body matter is, in fact it’s referred to as the ‘selfish brain’. Your brain makes up about 2% of your total body weight but easily demands 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 then a human thigh during a marathon!
To recharge brain stores requires rest, and sleep, plenty of regular and routined sleep but this a topic for a later post, however it’s not a quick process and therefore it’s crucial that we start paying closer attention to our family’s brain batteries and how we manage it.
Not enough quality recharging (sleep and nutrition) and constant uncertainty in ones environment will lead to ‘allostatic overload’, simply put the system will become worn out which will have adverse effects of emotional control, our hormones and even cardiovascular health. Uncertainty, causing stress 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, or simply put, brain injury.
Consider that a way for the brain to deal with this uncertainty is by learning and updating its filters through which it will process future events and develop strategies to deal, or not deal with unexpected threats. It’s important to keep in mind that the longer uncertainty persists the less updating occurs and the more ingrained the learning will become. It’s worth asking, what type of adult will a child raised in an uncertain, unpredictable environment, lead to?
Based on everything so far it should become clear that the higher the amount of uncertainty in our child’s environment the more battery power is used up to cope with survival and the less resources there are for learning and playing. Young children’s brains are developing at a breathtaking pace and it’s imperative that we ensure they feel safe and secure by helping them feel reassured that their environment is predictable at a very high level of precision.
This is where, at bambooh, daily routine plays a major and foundational role in our approach to early years education. There is a small window at the start of the day where the battery power is sufficient enough to allow optimum higher function brain processing, education and development and that is why we have structured education on the mornings and free play in the afternoons separated by a recharge period in between, traditionally referred to as a nap.
This field of study in neuroscience gets very technical the deeper you look into it and is extremely well studied however it comes down to pretty 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 very limited life experience. Considering how greedy the brain is and the fact that her brain battery will quickly run out of charge the constant question we should be asking ourselves is how much energy is left right now for her to learn and develop into a cognitively healthy adult?
A simple rule we can all follow is : 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, expiration 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 the development and mental health of your family. Sign up to our newsletter to be kept up to date or follow us on Instagram @bamboohandyou
Thank you so much for reading!
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 email@example.com
- “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