Category Archives: Kids

Information and useful news about different pathologies, illnesses, and disorders that affect children. Treatment, help diagnosing, forms, prevention, tricks, ideas, etc.

Brain changes in kids learning math

Brain changes in kids learning math

Many kids ask their math teacher why learning a particular mathematical concept or skill is important. When helping kids out with their homework, many parents may wonder the same thing. Now scientists are unraveling the earliest building blocks of math — and what children know about numbers as they begin elementary school seems to play a big role in how well they do everyday calculations later on.

The findings from the National Institutes of Health have specialists considering steps that parents might take to spur math abilities, just like they do to try to raise a good reader. This is not only about trying to improve the nation’s math scores and attract kids to become engineers. It is far more basic, such as how rapidly can you calculate a tip? Do the fractions to double a recipe? Know how many quarters and dimes the cashier should hand back as your change?

About 1 in 5 adults in the U.S. lacks the math competence expected of a middle-schooler, meaning they have trouble with those ordinary tasks and are not qualified for many of today’s jobs. “Experience really does matter,” said Dr. Kathy Mann Koepke of the National Institutes of Health, which funded the research.

Healthy children start making that switch between counting to what is called fact retrieval when they are 8 years old to 9 years old, when they are still working on fundamental addition and subtraction. How well kids make that shift to memory-based problem-solving is known to predict their ultimate math achievement. Those who fall behind “are impairing or slowing down their math learning later on,” Mann Koepke says.

But why do some kids make the transition easier than others? To start finding out, Stanford University researchers first peeked into the brains of 28 children as they solved a series of simple addition problems inside a brain-scanning MRI machine.

Kids from seven to nine years old saw a calculation flash on a screen (e.g. 3+4=7) and pushed a button to say if the answer was right or wrong. Scientists recorded how quickly they responded and what regions of their brain became active as they did.

In a separate session, they also tested the kids face to face, watching if they moved their lips or counted on their fingers, for comparison with the brain data. The children were tested twice, approximately a year apart. As the children grew up, their answers relied more on memory and became faster and more accurate, and it showed in the brain. There was less activity in the prefrontal and parietal brain parts associated with counting and more in the hippocampus.

Next, the team put 20 adolescents and 20 adults into the MRI machines and gave them the same simple addition problems. It turns out that adults do not use their memory-crunching hippocampus in the same way. Instead of using a lot of effort, retrieving six plus four equals 10 from long-term storage was almost automatic, the team said.

In other words, over time the brain became increasingly efficient at retrieving facts. Think of it like a bumpy, grassy field, NIH’s Mann Koepke explains. Walk over the same spot enough and a smooth, grass-free path forms, making it easier to get from start to end.

If your brain does not have to work as hard on simple math, it has more working memory free to process the teacher’s brand-new lesson on more complex math.

While schools tend to focus on math problems around third grade, and math learning disabilities often are diagnosed by fifth grade, the new findings suggest “the need to intervene is much earlier than we ever used to think,” Mann Koepke adds and even offers some tips:

Don’t teach your toddler to count solely by reciting numbers. Attach numbers to a noun — “Here are five crayons: One crayon, two crayons…” or say “I need to buy two yogurts” as you pick them from the store shelf — so they’ll absorb the quantity concept.

Talk about distance: How many steps to your ball? The swing is farther away; it takes more steps.

Describe shapes: The ellipse is round like a circle but flatter.

As they grow, show children how math is part of daily life, as you make change, or measure ingredients, or decide how soon to leave for a destination 10 miles away,

“We should be talking to our children about magnitude, numbers, distance, shapes as soon as they’re born,” she contends. “More than likely, this is a positive influence on their brain function.”

CogniFit offers you an online platform to assess and train the cognitive abilities of children such as their concentration, memory and attention: CogniFit for Families. CogniFit personalized brain training program helps boost reading skills and cognitive functions. The program also includes a specific training for mental arithmetic.

A long childhood feeds the energy-hungry human brain

A long childhood feeds the energy-hungry human brain

Humans are late bloomers when compared with other primates. For example, they spend almost twice as long in childhood and adolescence as chimps, gibbons, or macaques do. Researchers claim to have found out why human children grow slowly and childhood lasts so long in a new study.

The study led by anthropologists at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois and published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) on August 25th 2014, shows that a child’s brain is “an energy monster,” consuming twice as much glucose, the energy that fuels the brain, as that of a full-grown adult.

Horses are up and running soon after birth and thoroughbreds are racing by age two. Chimps are adults at between 12 and 15 years. But human toddlers seem to grow particularly slowly and researchers believe this is because the brain claims most of the calories consumed.

“Our findings suggest that our bodies can’t afford to grow faster during the toddler and childhood years because a huge quantity of resources is required to fuel the developing human brain,” said Prof. Christopher Kuzawa a professor of anthropology at Northwestern University’s Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences. “As humans we have so much to learn, and that learning requires a complex and energy-hungry brain,” he added.

First, the researchers used a 1987 study of PET scans of 36 people between infancy and 30 years of age to estimate age trends in glucose uptake by three major sections of the brain parts. Then, to calculate how uptake varied for the entire brain, they combined that data with the brain volumes and ages of more than 400 individuals between 4.5 years of age and adulthood, gathered from a National Institutes of Health study and others. Finally, to link age and brain glucose uptake to body size, they used an age series of brain and body weights of more than 1000 individuals from birth to adulthood, gathered in 1978.

Kuzawa found that when the brain demands lots of energy, body growth slows. For example, the period of highest brain glucose uptake, between 4.5 and 5 years of age, coincides with the period of lowest weight gain. This strongly suggested that the brain’s high energy needs during childhood are compensated for by slower growth.

However, the costs of the human cognitive development are still unknown. “The mid-childhood peak in brain costs has to do with the fact that synapses, connections in the brain, max out at this age, when we learn so many of the things we need to know to be successful humans,” said Kuzawa.

“To compensate for these heavy energy demands of our big brains, children grow more slowly and are less physically active during this age range,” said co-author William Leonard of the Northwestern University.

“Our findings strongly suggest that humans evolved to grow slowly during this time in order to free up fuel for our expensive, busy childhood brains,” Leonard added.

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Newborn babies’ brains grow one percent a day

Newborn babies’ brains grow one percent a day

Newborn babies’ brains grow one percent a day

A baby’s brain is a mystery whose secrets scientists are beginning to unravel. The first study of its kind shows that newborn babies’ brains are about a third the size of an adult’s at birth, and grow at an average rate of 1% a day to reach just over half the size of an adult’s brain within three months.

The study, carried out by researchers from the University of California, the University of Hawaii and the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, aimed to map newborns’ brains during their first three months of life. This cognitive research was published on August 11th, 2014 in the peer-reviewed medical journal, JAMA Neurology.

For centuries doctors have estimated brain growth using measuring tape to chart a baby’s head circumference over time. Any changes to normal growth patterns are monitored closely as they can suggest problems with development. But as head shapes vary, these tape measurements are not always accurate.

Thus for this study, researchers used a new scanning technique to measure the early development of newborn brains. They set out to map growth trajectories in the brains of newborn babies during the first three months of their life. Using a series of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans, the volume of multiple brain regions and the growth rate of the newborn brain could be calculated. MRI works by executing high-quality images of a range of brain regions, without the use of radiation. One huge advantage of earlier charting of the size and rate of brain growth is that it could help to detect potential signs of developmental disorders in the brain, such as autism. If a developmental disorder is seen to be present, treatment will be more effective than if detected at a later stage.

Researchers scanned the brains of 87 healthy newborns 211 times, starting when the babies were only 2 days old. They found that the newborn brain grows extraordinarily fast right after birth, but slows down to a growth rate of 0.4 percent per day by the end of three months.

Overall, infants’ brains grew by 64 percent in the first 90 days, according to the study. The average brain size was 20 cubic inches (341 cubic centimeters) at birth, and 34 cubic inches (558 cubic cm) at 90 days. In other words, the brains of newborns grew from about 33 percent of the average adult brain size to 55 percent of it in three months.

The researchers noted that the brains of the infants who were born one week earlier than the average in the study (about 38 weeks), were 5 percent smaller than the average. By the end of the three months, the difference between these babies, which the researchers said were preterm, and the full-term babies became smaller, but the preterm babies hadn’t fully caught up, and their brain size was 2 percent smaller than the average, according to the study,

“The brains of premature babies actually grow faster than those of term-born babies, but that’s because they’re effectively younger — and younger means faster growth,” study researcher Dominic Holland, of the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine, said in a statement. The findings suggest that inducing labor early, without a medical reason, may have a negative effect on the baby’s cognitive development, Holland said.

Researchers say using MRI scans will prove to be a much more effective way to track cognitive development. Scans should lead to more exact growth charts, replacing the old method of measuring the skull with measuring tape, and help identify disorders such as autism or brain injury early.

Scientists will now investigate whether alcohol and drug consumption during pregnancy alters brain size at birth.

Structural brain changes of smoking in teens

Structural brain changes of smoking in teens

It’s common knowledge that smoking cigarettes is bad for your health, but young people ages 18 to 25 are still choosing to light up more than any other demographic in the United States. Researchers at UCLA (University of California, Los Angeles) now have evidence that young smokers who have smoked more cigarettes have clear differences in their brains compared to non-smokers.

The study was published on March 3rd in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology and was funded by Philip Morris USA, makers of Marlboro and Virginia Slims.

Prior research has shown brain differences between adult smokers and non-smokers, but few studies focused on the youngest human demographic of smokers whose brains are still undergoing development. In studies of adolescent animals, nicotine damaged and killed brain cells.

The UCLA researchers team mapped the brains of 42 people ages 16 to 21 using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and asked them about their smoking history and cravings. Eighteen of the participants were smokers. They had typically started smoking around age 15 and smoked six to seven cigarettes per day.

There were no clear differences in the brains of smokers versus non-smokers. However, among smokers, those who reported smoking more cigarettes tended to have a thinner insula, a region of the cerebral cortex involved in in shaping our consciousness and emotions. The insula also houses a high concentration of nicotine receptors and plays a critical role in generating the craving to smoke. The effects seemed confined to the right insula.

The study’s lead researcher Edythe London, from the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior at UCLA and the David Geffen School of Medicine in Los Angeles, said they focused on this particular part of the brain because previous studies in adults and mice showed its size and volume were affected by smoking.

The researchers also found a thinner insula in the brains of people who had more cravings and felt more dependent on cigarettes. “Because the brain is still undergoing development, smoking during this critical period may produce neurobiological changes that promote tobacco dependence later in life,” said London. Changing the structure of the insula may affect future smoking dependence and other substance abuse.

London said It is possible that changes in the brain from prolonged exposure help maintain dependence,“ and added “People who start smoking early in life seem to have more trouble quitting and have more serious health consequences than those who start later”.

Although the study illustrated a difference in brain structure of young smokers and nonsmokers, it did not prove that cigarettes changed their brains. It could be that people with differently structured insulas are more likely to take up smoking for an unknown reason. However, the results pave the way for future studies to determine the actual cause and effect.

“Ideally one would start the study in 12-year-olds who haven’t begun to smoke; follow them out after they begin to smoke; and see if in fact the smaller insula thickness was a predictor of a predilection to become a smoker,” London said. “This is practical. It just requires funding.”

On the other hand, if London’s team finds proof that smoking causes thinning of the right insula, it would provide further evidence of the detrimental health effects of picking up the habit at a young age.

Launch of the new CogniFit brain training for children.

Launch of the new CogniFit brain training for children.

We are very excited to announce today the launch of a specific platform for children. Parents can now access a specific tool to help their children train their cognition, improve their cognitive skills and develop their learning capacities.

Parents can access the new platform here. CogniFit has created a unique environment where parents can decide to have their kids play at the different brain games within their own account, avoiding the need for children to have a separate account or unique email address.

Parents can also select and recommend a large number of specific brain training regimens for their children and create a separate account for their child so they can access it by themselves. Parents can easily choose the number of children they have and create different access for each of them.

This new platform also allows parents to get all the cognitive results of their kids and follow their progress and evolution. The platform has been specifically developed to meet the needs of the parents, provide useful insights into the cognition of their children and provide a large number of different personal results.

Good brain fitness is a key element of an active lifestyle. Based on brain plasticity, we know today that brain training can help improve a large number of cognitive abilities over time. This at every age and for most situations. Providing parents a unique and innovative tool to train the cognition of their children is a natural extension of the CogniFit offering.

Today, CogniFit offers its brain training for individuals seeking to maintain and improve their brain health, to professionals who need a scientific tool to assess and train their patients and now for parents who want to improve the cognition of their children.

By regularly training skills such as memory, concentration, motor control and attention, the new CogniFit brain training for children can also help improve their learning capacities which are so important to their personal development. Based on CogniFit’s patented technology, the training regimen is automatically adjusted to the right level of difficulty. The system also chooses the most relevant tasks so the training is optimal for each kid.

Access to this new platform is free and parents can see how their child reacts to the different brain exercises. To then get access to all the different tasks, parents can easily subscribe and unlock all the features of the new platform.

We hope you will enjoy this new platform as we do and enjoy the capacity to provide the benefits of brain training to very important individuals, our children.

Keeping the brain fit for the start of the new school year

Keeping the brain fit for the start of the new school year.

Studies have shown that cognitive factors and the level of cognitive skills can help predict performance at school and for exams such as the SAT and GMAT.

Having strong cognitive abilities can help develop the capacity to learn and retain new text-based information, draw numerical inferences and better use short-term and long-term memory to access prior knowledge.

Education is a key component of success and brain training is essential to assess and train cognition. Find more information here.

Brain structure of infants predicts language skills at one year

Brain structure of infants predicts language skills at one year.

Using a brain-imaging technique that examines the entire infant brain, researchers have found that the anatomy of certain brain areas – the hippocampus and cerebellum – can predict children’s language abilities at 1 year of age.

Children’s language skills soar after they reach their first birthdays, but little is known about how infants’ early brain development seeds that path. Identifying which brain areas are related to early language learning could provide a first glimpse of development going awry, allowing for treatments to begin earlier.

This is your brain on ‘Sesame Street

This is your brain on ‘Sesame Street’.

Scientists can’t really know what a child is thinking, but they are interested in the brain processes that happen in educational settings.

To that end, a new study in PLOS Biology compares the brains of children and adults, using “Sesame Street” as a way to test what happens on a neurological level during a popular TV program aimed at learning.

Researchers found that adultlike brain responses tended to show up in kids who demonstrated higher math and verbal knowledge levels.

A brain region called the interparietal sulcus appeared to be linked to mathematics, as activity in that area tended to increase during math-related “Sesame Street” segments.

This area of the brain has been linked to working memory in previous research, and there has been some debate about its role in mathematics learning.

The first two years of life are what make us smarter than chimps

The first two years of life are what make us smarter than chimps.

Despite sharing 98 percent of our DNA with chimpanzees, humans have much bigger brains and are, as a species, much more intelligent.

Now a new study sheds light on why: Unlike chimps, humans undergo a massive explosion in white matter growth, or the connections between brain cells, in the first two years of life.

Key gene for brain development

Key gene for brain development

About one in ten thousand babies is born with an abnormally small head. The cause for this disorder – which is known as microcephaly – is a defect in the development of the embryonic brain. Children with microcephaly are severely retarded and their life expectancy is low. Certain cases of autism and schizophrenia are also associated with the dysregulation of brain size.

The causes underlying impaired brain and cognitive development can be environmental stress (such as alcohol abuse or radiation) or viral infections (such as rubella) during pregnancy. In many cases, however, a mutant gene causes the problem.

David Keays, a group leader at the IMP, has now found a new gene which is responsible for Microcephaly. Together with his PhD-student Martin Breuss, he was able to identify TUBB5 as the culprit. The gene is responsible for making tubulins, the building blocks of the cell’s internal skeleton. Whenever a cell moves or divides, it relies on guidance from this internal structure, acting like a scaffold.

Scientists discover children’s cells living in mothers’ brains.

Scientists discover children’s cells living in mothers’ brains.

The connection between mother and child is ever deeper than thought. The link between a mother and child is profound, and new brain research suggests a physical connection even deeper than anyone thought. The profound psychological and physical bonds shared by the mother and her child begin during gestation when the mother is everything for the developing fetus, supplying warmth and sustenance, while her heartbeat provides a soothing constant rhythm.

Fetal alcohol exposure affects brain structure in children

Fetal alcohol exposure affects brain structure in children.

Children exposed to alcohol during fetal development exhibit changes in brain structure, brain function and metabolism that are visible using various imaging techniques, according to a new study being presented November 25 at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA).