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Inside the first grader's brain

What insights can neuroscience offer parents about the mind of a first grader?

By Hank Pellissier

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Inside your first grader's brain

"That's not fair!"

If your six-year-old's pleas for justice are driving you nuts, take note: Your child’s fixation on fairness is developmentally positive. The first-grader's swiftly developing brain is leaping from magical thinking to logical, rational mental processing; she’s eager to understand the principles behind rules and regulations.

First graders are incongruously attracted to both the penal code (laws, police, ethics, traffic signs, crime, jail) and to competitive winning — at all costs! They'll panic if you jaywalk because they fear prison. But they'll also lie, cheat, and argue to win.

What's happening neurologically inside the first-grader's conflicted skull? The buzzing three-and-a-half foot child in front of you is experiencing major brain blasts as his cognitive circuits are getting programmed — for life! First-graders have trillions of pathways that connect their neurons in the cerebral cortex. This tangle of wiring is getting pruned in a six-year-old at an alarmingly intense rate. The rarest-used pathways are eliminated to streamline each individual's thought process. Here's some help to optimize your first-grader's quickly developing mind:

Photo credit: Heidi & Matt

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Hank Pellissier is a freelance writer whose fiction and essays have been been widely published and anthologized. A former columnist for Salon and SF Gate, he is a regular contributor to h+ Magazine.

Comments from readers

"I really love all the information you send me about my 1st grader, she got kindergarten of the year last year and reading and doing awesome, i give you guys alot of the credit for all your info. you send me, please keep it coming. Thanks again. "
"Just hit print above the article and it will show up on one page for you to read or print "
"I am very interested in reading your articles on the Preschooler's and the 1st Grader's brains: would it be possible to send it in 1 document? I can't stand the ads on your website that increase the wait-times every single time I hit "next" to advance to the next page. I don't have time to wait AND read the article. Since I don't have time to wait, I'm just planning on giving up the reading part... but it seems like some good info might be included in this article... Do you have a pdf or some other file that I can read the whole thing uninterrupted? Thank you! "