This blog represents most of the newspaper columns (appearing in various Colorado Community Newspapers and Yourhub.com) written by me, James LaRue, during the time in which I was the director of the Douglas County Libraries in Douglas County, Colorado. (Some columns are missing, due to my own filing errors.) This blog covers the time period from April 11, 1990 to January 12, 2012.

Unless I say so, the views expressed here are mine and mine alone. They may be quoted elsewhere, so long as you give attribution. The dates are (at least according my records) the dates of publication in one of the above print newspapers.

The blog archive (web view) is in chronological order. The display of entries, below, seems to be in reverse order, new to old.

All of the mistakes are of course my own responsibility.

Wednesday, May 14, 1997

May 14, 1997 - Brain development and Reading

A lot of people lately have been researching and writing about the human brain.

Much of this research focuses on childhood brain development.

“At birth a baby's brain contains 100 billion neurons, roughly as many nerve cells as there are stars in the Milky Way,” according to an article in the February 3, 1997 issue of Time. And according to an article in the March 10, 1997 issue of U.S. News & World Report, “... the brain reaches 80 percent of its full development by a child's first birthday.”

Yet as reported in Newsweek (April 28, 1997), “25 percent of parents of young children do not know that what they do with a child can affect his intelligence, including increasing curiosity, confidence and problem-solving ability.”

“Just loving” your child isn’t enough. A clear finding of all this research is that parents must talk to their children -- and that too many of them don’t. Children in that first year have minds that literally hunger for language; thousands, perhaps millions, are starved.

But brain development doesn’t end at the age of 1. A February, 1997 issue of a magazine called Neurological Research reported on a study that children aged 3 and 4, after six months of piano lessons, boosted their performance on spatial-temporal reasoning to 34% above average. This is called the “Mozart Effect.”

Here again, early stimulation seems important. Most concert musicians, international chess players, and even accomplished golfers, have to start young, preferably before the age of 8.

Speaking of chess, Richard Nadeau, a math teacher at a French-speaking school in Canada, said this in Maclean’s Magazine (February 10, 1997): “Chess is kind of like Lego for the mind. You're actually building thoughts."

Many things once thought to be true about the human brain turn out not to be. For instance, after adulthood, we do not lose over a million brain cells a day, as was once believed. It just feels like it.

Of course, some people, as they age, do “lose intelligence.” But researchers now believe that mental fitness is much like physical fitness. We have two choices: “Use it or lose it.”

An article in the Saturday Evening Post (November/December, 1996) reported that “Bridge players do very well on mental tests; bingo players don't. Crossword-puzzle workers do better on verbal skills, and jigsaw-puzzle players tend to maintain their spatial skills.”

The article continues: “Seven factors stood out among those people who hung onto their intellectual prowess as they aged:

A high standard of living marked by above-average education and income.

A lack of chronic diseases.

Active engagement in reading, travel, cultural events, education, clubs, and professional associations.

A willingness to change.

Marriage to a smart spouse.

An ability to quickly grasp new ideas.

Satisfaction with accomplishments.”

Biologically, there need be little difference among the brain of a 25 year old man, and that of a 70 year old man. And some kinds of intelligence actually grow with age.
What does all this have to do with libraries? Put simply, libraries are brain development institutes.

For children aged 0-3, we have thousands of brightly colored board books, picture books, and music tapes. For children from the ages of 3-5, we have daily storytimes, rich celebrations of language, rhythm and music. For older children, we have materials to help them learn to play an instrument, to excel at a sport, or to maintain those vital reading skills so important in school, and in the development of a rich inner life.

For adults through seniors, we have newspapers, magazines, books, and computers, all of which keep the mind active, probing, constantly acquiring new skills.

Oh, and at the Parker Library during the month of May, we also have Chess night -- every Tuesday from 6 to 8 p.m. You can stop by to learn how to play, or to pick-up a game.

It’s your move.

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