npj Science of Learning Community presents the inside story from specialists focussed on the mind, brain, and education space.  

In December 2021, scientists discovered young children are capable of moral reasoning; and revealed how children’s literacy skills benefit from learning to read with their parents at home. 

Moral reasoning has long been regarded as only possible from late childhood onwards. But a research study discovered children are capable of thinking and acting morally at an early age. 47 children from 3 preschools and their parents, participated in a study where researchers collected data about the children’s neural response to norm violations, and behavioural reaction to wrong doings, while parents completed a questionnaire. Analysis of the data showed a parent’s moral values and empathy toward others play a significant role in their child’s moral development. Minkang Kim, a Senior Lecturer at The University of Sydney, Australia, discussed the findings in The moral brain in early childhood and the role parents play in moral development.

Learning to read and write are important skills children need to master early in life to succeed academically and to safeguard their personal and professional growth. However, few studies have identified how parents might contribute to the development of their child’s literacy skills through activities at home. Cléa Girard, PhD, and Jérôme Prado, Principal Investigator, Lyon Neuroscience Research Center, Lyon University, France, explored the relationship between brain activity and the literacy skills and practises of 44 children aged approximately 8 years. The researchers used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to measure the children’s response to words, while the parents completed a survey about home literacy practises. Learn more about the research results in How does learning to read at home affect the developing brain?

In January 2022, researchers compared the semantic memory network structure of Montessori students to traditional school counterparts; reported remembering a person’s name might depend on undisturbed sleep; and highlighted how a child’s brain activity changes when learning to read. 

Understanding the world is essential to learning and the concepts acquired are stored in the brain’s semantic memory networks, for example, knowledge, meaning, and facts. At school, students learn approximately 800 – 900 new concepts each year from 6 to 12 years of age. How these concepts are taught and learnt, shapes semantic memory. An international team of researchers investigated whether education experiences in Montessori pedagogy practises were more conducive to student’s learning and creative application of new knowledge and skills compared with traditional school environments. Solange Denervaud (University of Lausanne, Switzerland), Alexander Christensen (University of Pennsylvania, USA), Yoed Kenett (Technion – Israel Institute of Technology, Haifa, Israel) and Roger Beaty (Pennsylvania State University, USA) described the investigation further in How school systems shape children’s knowledge and creative abilities.

Recalling a person’s name after a brief social encounter is something many people struggle with. A research team from Northwestern University, the United States of America, have previously found playing sounds linked to a specific memory during sleep, improves the connections that encode these memories in a procedure known as Targeted Memory Reactivation. In a new study, the team’s objective was to help people associate a name to a face. Participants in the experiment learnt the names of 80 individuals, simultaneously looking at their photos and listening to their names spoken out loud, while a ­­music track played in the background. Nathan Whitmore, a PhD. Candidate, reported the results of this fascinating experiment and the implications for future research studies in Putting a name to a face? It’s as easy as going to sleep.

The development of the human brain reflects the many stimuli children engage with in their surrounding environment, including the acquisition of language by linking visual symbols to spoken words. To find out how brain activity changes when children are learning to read, a research team based at Maastricht University, The Netherlands, analysed the whole brain activity of 18 children aged 8 – 11 years (without dyslexia). The children completed tasks that tested reading skills, letter speech sound recognition, and their perception of ambiguous sounds, while being scanned using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), once a year for three years. Linda Romanovska, Roef Janssen and Milene Bonte explained their research findings further in Connecting sounds to words when learning to read.

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