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Inside the fifth grader's brain

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

By Hank Pellissier

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Mental shift

By fifth grade, the brain is slowing its previously furious development of new axons and dendrites – thus reducing its openness to new connections. However, the brain is also accelerating the myelination process that builds sheaths around axons, speeding up the neural pathways that are already well established. The consequence of this shift is that abstract thinking (like algebra) becomes easier, thanks to increased quickness, efficiency, and capacity of information processing, plus integration of brain regions. But the wind-down in new connections can reduce an ability to learn a new language. If your fifth grader wants to forge ahead in math at this time, don’t hold your child back. Conversely, don’t be frustrated if your child is slower memorizing those Spanish conjugations.

Photo credit: oukego

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.