Neuroscience research and what it means for Parker

I just returned from two conferences for Heads of independent schools.  It was  great to visit with colleagues, to share what we are doing at our schools, and talk about the joys and challenges of educating children in today’s world.  The speakers were fantastic – and I brought back much to share at Parker.  They also confirmed for me that our practices are well aligned with the best neuroscience research.

Here is a little about some of the most compelling ideas that were presented and the ramifications for us at Parker.

Neuroscience Research Says…

JoAnn Deak described brain research and gave recommendations for what schools should do immediately!  (Our teachers embraced Dr. Deak’s ideas when she was here in February 2013 – so we are a bit ahead of the curve!)

To help make students the best they can be she wants schools to start later in the day, and with exercise; begin foreign language before age 8; reduce multi-tasking; and reduce stress – because it kills brain cells.

Because of Dr. Deak’s advice, we have instituted 2000 Steps (“walk-and-talk” for 15 minutes every morning) and a mid-afternoon run to the woods for middle school.  Everyone is encouraged to bring a water bottle and snack is built into the day for all students.  The amount of time spent on homework and use of phones and social media, major stressors for kids, have age-appropriate limits.  We have embraced Spanish in preschool with a dedicated Spanish-speaking assistant.

Why Mindfulness Is So Important…

Linda Lantieri’s work on mindfulness shows clearly that time for solitude and reflection is crucial for learning.  Practices like calming breaths, contemplation in the quiet of the woods, and morning meetings help Parker children learn to focus and allow space for the mental processing that leads to creativity.  Strong relationships help children feel known and valued, and are essential for building empathy and positive communities.  (We hope to bring Linda Lantieri to Parker this spring!)

The Benefits and Pitfalls of Our Devices

Can we be intentional about when and how to give technology to our children?

We must.  Neuroscience shows that there are deleterious effects of technology on the growing brain.  The pings of emails, texts, social media and games are stimulants that give the brain a shot of dopamine and lead us to crave another.  When children are focused on a device, they are missing out on time interacting with friends and family. Time that is irretrievably lost.  As the brain becomes accustomed to constant stimulation, it loses the ability to be calm, still, and reflective.

Catherine Steiner-Adair in her book The Big Disconnect, Protecting Childhood and Family Relationships in the Digital Age, says, “Do not give children below age five a device – ever.”  She counsels parents to let limits, to take away devices at bedtime (“Put them in the master bedroom closet!”)  She also has advice for parents of adolescents who are in the throes of social media stress.

For me, the biggest take-away from several great speakers is realizing that at Parker we are intentionally developing our students’ skills in empathy, questioning, and knowledge – the kind that leads to wisdom.  These are the true building blocks of leadership.


Meg Taylor, Head