The brain is of supreme importance in the eleven plus journey. There are parts of the brain that influence the ability to learn. It is, however, the development of the cortex we need to worry about.
The sub cortical parts of the brain look at basic needs like food and water. You’re your eleven plus child asks for a drink just before starting work – he or she may be trying to put off the evil hour – or there could even be a genuine basic need. Parents, as you well know, know everything and one thing that parents do know is that their child has to be happy and well fed. Clearly your child’s level of awareness must contribute to learning.
A different part of the brain deals with emotions. This is called the limbic system. If your child gets very upset at the idea of work then the limbic system can swamp the cortex – and thus prevent learning. In other words – if your child is upset, angry and tearful then attacking an eleven plus paper may not be as satisfactory as attacking a concerned mother or father.
Method 1: “Calm down dear, we can talk this through.”
Method 2: “I am fed up with your outbursts – go to your room until you can calm down.”
I have always enjoyed reading about the hypothalamus – this is the part of the brain that has the ability to help us to adapt to our environment. We could, for example, eat and eat and not stop eating if the hypothalamus was not engaged.
We know that a child’s brain is around 90% of its adult size by the time he or she is 6 years old. How much is the brain developed by the time of the eleven plus? (This may, at times, be debateable.) Occasionally you may think the cortex needs to be more fully engaged. Some times you may pray for greater involvement with more of the sub cortical elements. You just hope that on the day the cortex, the sub cortex, the limbic system and the hypothalamus all work together.
What then is the cortex? It is the grey matter. Your eleven plus child needs grey matter. Papers, food, love, attention, internet tests, bribery and care may all help but the one important factor is the grey matter.