McNelis and Mathew, 2, work on brain-building activities
McNelis has designed for braininsights, an interactive program
for children birth to age 5.
Sheís not out
to create miniature Einsteins or Mozarts, but Deborah McNelis of New
Berlin wants parents to understand the crucial role they play in the
brain development of their children.
percent of the brain develops in the childís first five years,"
says McNelis, a former early childhood education teacher and early
childhood degree instructor, and creator of braininsights, a series of
materials designed to make it easy for a parent to provide learning
experiences and have brain-building interactions with their kids.
McNelis says the
latest scientific research demonstrates that a childís brain is
physically "wired" by genetic factors as well as the
experiences they have early in life. One critical aspect of the brainís
emotional wiring, for example, is how adults respond to the child.
just responding to their cries and their physical needs, but also when
a baby is expressing, ĎI want you to interact with me,í" she
says. When a baby is smiling, waving his arms and kicking his legs, heís
saying, "Arenít I cute? Donít you want to play with me?"
frequent presentations on brain development for parents, educators,
medical professionals, social workers and policy makers, McNelis
points out that the brain adapts itself to repeated experiences,
whether they are negative or positive.
development "isnít all that complicated," McNelis says.
"Itís positive interaction with the adults in the childís
life and with real objects, using all of the senses. Thatís the way
the brain is going to develop best."
McNelis says she
came up with her braininsights series to translate early childhood
brain research into practical methods for parents to help their
children grow. Working with graphic designer Nate Van Dyke, she
created 40-card packets with ideas and activities. There is a specific
packet for each of the childís first five years.
The cards, which
are easily tucked into a purse or diaper bag, are written from the
childís perspective. Each card includes a brief, easy-to-read
description of the scientific basis for the activity, such as this one
from the "Love Your Baby" packet for children aged birth to
in the Box. Push a stuffed animal into a plastic container or oatmeal
box. Put the cover on. Sing a short song and open the lid when the
song is over. Make a fun expression. Do it again. I will learn to
expect the animal to pop out when the song is over.
of interactions with you, by the time I am 6 months, I may have
already developed one-thousand-trillion new connections in my brain.
The cards also
suggest simple interactions between parent and child that can be done
without any supplies. A Spanish version will be introduced soon.
"You can do
these activities while doing the laundry, driving the car or waiting
for an appointment," McNelis says.
something of a crusader in educating parents and other adults who have
frequent contact with children on the importance of early brain
development. She regularly posts brain facts on her website,
braininsights.blogspot.com, and visitors to the site can sign up for
her free e-newsletter featuring brain facts and tips.
DVDs aimed at speeding the development of young children tempt parents
to raise "superkids," McNelis says what children really need
is hands-on, interactive learning and time to discover the world
around them. Her next braininsights series will focus on playing
outside "and how beneficial that is to the brain."