Maren Schmidt: Thoughts and actions matter

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Thomas Watson, of IBM fame, posted one-word notices in IBM factories and offices.

"THINK," the signs read. When a book about IBM and Watson appeared, it was no surprise that the title was "Think."

Think. That seems to be a word that we, too, could post in our homes, schools and offices to great benefit.

Thinking ultimately gives us the ability to choose how we will react to a situation. Thinking allows us to plan, organize, analyze, evaluate and prioritize. Thinking keeps us out of a lot of messes.

Thinking takes practice.

What neuroscience is seeing with brain research is that the actions of the body and the thoughts of the mind affect the structure of the brain. In short, our movements and our thoughts build our brains. Repetition of an action or thought creates neural pathways in the brain. Most of the research has been done with rats, but functional magnetic resonance imaging of human brains show similar brain activity.

Our brains are actually three brains in one - the reptilian, the mammalian and the neocortex - referred to as the triune brain.

Sensory information enters the brain through the reptilian brain or the cerebellum at the base of the skull. The reptilian brain is involved with survival, automatic responses such as breathing and heartbeat, as well as movement and balance.

If the reptilian brain perceives danger, the "fight or flight" response occurs. The reptilian brain also connects to the mammalian brain, or limbic system, which is the seat of emotions and memory.

Sensory information then passes from the mammalian brain to the neocortex, or command central. It is in the neocortex area that we can choose how we will react to stimuli.

Do we fight or flee? Do we think or react?

From the neocortex, sensory information is sent to the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain involved in what is referred to as the "executive functions" of problem-solving, reasoning, analyzing, organizing and prioritizing.

When our sensory information gets "hung up" emotionally in the limbic system, our opportunities to think through a situation are diminished.

It is with a quiet mind that we can get our emotions under control, which allows the neocortex time to send information to the frontal cortex, where planning, organizing, deciding, reasoning and problem-solving engage.

For our children to learn to think, we need to make sure their reptilian minds feel safe. A calm mind enhances memory and thus aids learning.

For the child younger than the age of 6, this includes having a predictable environment, consisting of people and objects, quiet, adequate nutrition and sleep.

When the reptilian brain's survival needs are met, the mammalian brain calms, and emotions are more easily controlled.

With a peaceful state of mind, the child can choose to actively and safely engage and learn with the people and objects in his or her environment.

This engagement with the environment leads the child in building attention, focus, concentration and confidence to interact positively in the world.

With engrossing experiences, usually consisting of more failures than successful attempts, the child learns the executive skills developed with the prefrontal cortex.

Think. It begins with feeling safe and loved.

It grows with engaged experiences with people and objects in a child's environment of home and school.

Think. Because our thoughts and actions matter.

Kids Talk TM deals with childhood development issues. Maren Schmidt founded a Montessori school and holds a Masters of Education from Loyola College in Maryland. She has more than 25 years of experience working with children. She holds teaching credentials from the Association Montessori Internationale. She is author of "Understanding Montessori: A Guide for Parents." Contact her at maren@kidstalknews.com, or visit www.MarenSchmidt.com. Copyright 2009.

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