The water crisis in Flint, Michigan has put lead back in the news. By now, anyone who’s paying attention must know that lead is a potent neurotoxin that can permanently affect a child’s ability to learn. But I suspect very few understand what it is exactly that lead does to a child’s brain. How else could politicians like New Jersey Governor Chris Christie claim that the situation is “overdramatized?”
My reporting and writing on science, health, learning, parenting and other subjects has appeared in many publications including Newsweek, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Scientific American Mind, Parents, and Redbook. Here are some selected articles ranging from my latest work to a few old favorites.
Having regular conversations is the most significant thing you can do for your children’s development. This is the message of Dr. Dana Suskind’s important and clear-eyed new book, Thirty Million Words: Building a Child’s Brain.
“No matter the language, the culture, the nuances of vocabulary, or the socioeconomic status, language is the element that helps develop the brain to its optimum potential,” writes Suskind, who is the founder and director of the Thirty Million Words Initiative at the University of Chicago.
Since I have also written a book about the importance of language for children’s brains, it’s not surprising that I would champion this one. But this is a particularly opportune moment to be talking about the power of talk.
My children were given math homework this summer in hopes of avoiding the infamous “brain drain.” That’s the tendency, between June and September, to lose a surprising amount of what they learned the previous school year. The other day, I finally sat down with the boys and made them start the assignments. And sure enough, after just a few weeks of vacation, they already seemed to have forgotten a lot of what they learned last year.
Fortunately for them, instead of freaking out, I was intrigued.
At the age of fourteen, Roger Pontz was diagnosed with a degenerative condition called retinitis pigmentosa. For the next forty years, his eyesight grew progressively worse until he was completely blind in his early forties.
But he’s not anymore.
Last week, a team of researchers from the Allen Institute for Brain Science published the first comprehensive map showing how the 75 million neurons in the brain of a mouse are wired together. It was a major advance for neuroscience, but I felt the significance closer to home and immediately thought of my three sons.
My children’s brains have always been mysterious, like postcards from a far off land that I know exists but can never visit. Since one of my sons is deaf, however, and I am a science writer to boot, I have learned a lot more lately about what goes on in the brains of children. Perhaps nothing stands out so much as the importance of connectivity—how interrelated sound is to language and language to learning.