Kids jump on trampoline for reading class

Kids jump on trampoline for reading class

Music to enhance learning ability. Art lessons to stretch the brain. Not to forget tuition.

But have such classes lost their allure?

In a country where parents spend more than $1 billion a year on tuition, a new craze is getting them to use their credit cards even more.

Parents are spending on programmes that claim to train their children's brain and enhance cognitive and social skills.

The past few years have seen the establishment of various centres claiming to build up brain power to help kids focus and memorise things over time.

Some use specially developed card and board games and toys to make the brain learn faster and more easily. Others turn to computer programmes and physical activities to improve children's attention span, motor coordination, image-processing and emotional skills.

Ms Cheryl Chia, founder and director of BrainFit Studio, 43, says that Singapore is grade-motivated and "more and more parents are realising the need to teach the brain to focus".

The qualified paediatric physiotherapist who worked at the neonatal intensive care unit of KK Women's and Children's Hospital, says she noticed that young patients with motor coordination problems frequently had language difficulties as well.

"That was how I set this up to focus on their cognitive development," she adds.

Housewife Henny Lee, 40, did not buy into the science at first. Her daughter had problems reading and she was said to have dyslexia.

She recounts: "My sister told me about BrainFit Studio, so I signed her up. But when I found out that she was learning to read by jumping on a trampoline, I almost pulled her out.

"Then, I saw a marked improvement in her schoolwork, especially comprehension, and I started believing in the method."

A customised programme at BrainFit costs between $1,000 and $10,000, lasting two months to two years. The average sign-up is for one semester, which is four months.

Brainy Moves, started by Mr James Tang, 41, a former physical education and maths teacher, has classes comprising exercises such as sensory training, games and complex body movements.

"At Brainy Moves, we strengthen the brain and keep it sharp for learning. Where there are conditions, we treat the conditions at the root of the issue. Without an optimal brain, learning would be a slower process," Mr Tang says.

General manger of Genius Mind Academy, Mr John Choo, 47, says: "A child who enrols in blindfold-reading techniques will be taught techniques such as the correct method of breathing, listening stimulation, eyeball exercises, exercises to stay healthy, colour stimulation, imagination training and photographic training."

He likens it to the heightened senses of a visually handicapped person.

These methods do have their detractors, who say that they are either short-term improvement or memory work because of repetition.

Yet medical practitioners such as Dr John J. Ratey, a clinical associate professor of psychiatry at the Harvard Medical School, believes in brain training.

EVOLVE

Dr Ratey tells The New Paper on Sunday: "The aims and processes that I observed (at Brainy Moves) are based on science and they will continue to evolve and help the science to evolve as well.

"It is a well thought-out and powerful programme that incorporates activities that improve balance, flexibility, coordination, rhythm and leads to a better behaved, better organised, and better performing child. The staff is well trained and very committed to children of all brain types."

Associate Professor Noel Chia, who is from the Early Childhood and Special Needs Education Academic Group at the National Institute of Education, says that after decades of research, findings suggest that early childhood is a multi-faceted phase marked by critical periods.

"Those are the times when the brain is intensely adaptable to new senses such as sights, sounds, tastes and touches. There is no singular critical period, for example, limited to between the ages of 18 months and six years, but instead a symphony of... bursts in various regions of the brain at different times during development," he explains.

Young children are inquisitive, he says.

"When they are constantly bombarded with sensory information, their developing brain works hard and efficiently to sort relevant from irrelevant details, making sense of their surrounding world. That is why we often say learning is 'caught' at a young age, but has to be 'taught' once these children are older."

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