Book review: How your child learns best by Judy Willis

Posted on March 8, 2010 
Filed Under Anita, Book Review, The Star

By Anita Matthews
Published in  ParenThots, The Star, March 8, 2010

HOW YOUR CHILD LEARNS BEST
By Judy Willis, MD, MEd
Publisher: Sourcebooks

Parents and teachers who struggle to motivate and inspire their children to learn will certainly benefit from Dr Judy Willis’ book that offers “brain-friendly strategies to ignite the learning process”.

Her combined qualifications as a neurologist and school teacher, who had the opportunity to experiment brain-friendly techniques on her own children, further underscores the value of the strategies shared in this book.

Having read brain scientist Jill Bolte Taylor’s book My Stroke of Insight that documented her full recovery after suffering a massive stroke, Willis’ book had a ready reviewer at hand. Taylor had written extensively of the plasticity and capacity of a brain to relearn the old or learn new things. Imagine what a parent can do with a regular kid by adopting Willis’ methods.

For the uninitiated, Willis journeys the rationale for the book in a compelling introduction and provides a guide on how to use the book effectively. The first chapter, aimed at those interested in how the brain and its limbic system work, clearly states that a stressed child will never learn simply because the information is directed to the reactive or non-thinking brain. On the other hand, an interested and relaxed child’s brain, would be reflective and thinking. Common sense, huh?

Well, I confess all common sense fled when I tried to teach my kids when they were younger. My son clearly had his reactive brain on each time we looked at textbooks. It seemed that kids of the Noughties came wired with the sign: “no textbooks please”. As I delved deeper and deeper into Willis’ book, I wished a thousand times and over that I had read it 13 years ago. (Willis’ book was published in 2008.)

My boy did learn the basics and it was through unconventional methods, some of which bear a mild resemblance to what Willis lists in the book. These were the instances where we played word games such as naming all the four-letter animals or counting the number of red vehicles on the road.

Back to the review, this book is invaluable and should be made compulsory reading for kindergarten and primary school teachers as the techniques listed are proven and successful. The strategies listed can be easily deployed in any classroom as much of the work can be done by the students with teachers acting as facilitators.

Willis points out that parents would benefit a great deal if they discover the multiple intelligences of a child. As each child would have a combination of different intelligences, parents need to figure out the strongest combination of intelligences to leverage upon.

For instance, a child might possess visual and kinesthetic intelligences and is mentally visual and yet sensitive (or perceptive) to his or her surroundings. Other children respond better to logic, order and sequence or some have the capacity to grasp the big picture before going into the details. Discovering the combination of intelligences is fairly straightforward and Willis goes on to state the challenges faced by such learners and how parents can overcome them.

In the second, third and fourth parts of the book, Willis details the strategies to teach children from three to 12 years how to read, comprehend and count as well as the art of discovery through science and social studies. The methods are divided into the different age groups as teaching a three year old how to read would involve recognising words through sounds or pictures whereas a seven year old needs to understand or comprehend the material. Willis employs similar strategies with math, science and social studies.

However, all her strategies are tied to an underlying mantra of providing a nurturing environment for the learning to happen. Children must be motivated, encouraged and supported through the learning process. Their diets must be healthy and their brains are further “fed with dendrite food” to cultivate long-term memory.

To top it off, Willis recommends that children should cultivate a daily habit of putting to paper what they have learnt for the day. This, she adds, allows children to personalise and manipulate new information that strengthens ownership and memory of a particular piece of data.

Willis also connects the parts of the brain that are involved for each learning strategy. The information is fascinating because over time, a child becomes aware of how best he or she can consume and process information for their own benefit. The awareness increases their confidence to embrace, organise, prioritise, judge and analyse new information that would make them better learners.

This is an amazing book that is backed by solid science and proven methods. Not the easiest read as it does get dry and technical in some parts but it is humbling to discover how you can empower your child with a powerful brain.

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