What can brain scans tell researchers about how young children learn?

brain-scanOn a recent afternoon, a 10-year-old girl with long, blond, curly hair, gave University of Washington researchers a peek inside her brain.

Lying flat on her back inside a machine that looks like a big doughnut, Shelter Gimbel-Sherr read individual letters presented on a video screen and then wrote the one that would come next in the alphabet on a special pad.

All the while a scanner generated images of her neural tissue.

UW Washington researchers Virginia Berninger, an educational psychologist, and radiologist Todd Richards, watched on a computer screen from a control room.

“There we go,” Richards said. ” She wrote something! That’s a good W.”

They are at the forefront of brain research that’s illuminating what happens inside the brain as young children learn to speak, listen, read and write–and how to help those who struggle with those skills, like Shelter.

That’s because our brains aren’t naturally wired for reading and writing (or multiplying and dividing). Infants aren’t born with the neural pathways needed for those skills.

(Next page: How brain scans offer a whole new world of knowledge)