Review: Your Fantastic Elastic Brain

Anyone who has stayed home with a child will tell you that they feel like their brain is shrinking from disuse. There are only so many times that you can play Chutes and Ladders or so many times you can watch an episode of Yo Gabba Gabba before you wonder if your neurons will ever be intellectually satisfied again.

That’s a weird way to start a review of a children’s book, but I just wanted to point out that I appreciate JoAnn Deak’s central message in Your Fantastic Elastic Brain… the more you use your brain, the more you challenge it, the stronger it will be. I know that I could feel my brain being robbed of nutrients when I first started staying home with baby Sasha, with nothing to do during naps but watch the ladies on the View bicker about which of them is more annoying.

Eventually, I learned that being smart about my choice of blogs and podcasts would enrich my life and stimulate my brain. I started hungering for topics on science and I created this blog to channel that energy, and to further stimulate my brain. And the more I learned, the more skills I was able to apply to my parenting. But as Sasha and her little sister Juliet grew up, I realized that I should concentrate less on my own brain and more on their brains, which is what this book is supposed to be about.

Your Fantastic Elastic Brain reminded me of an interview that I had with Ashley Merryman for the podcast. Ashley told us that there was research that indicated children could improve test scores just by telling them that their brains are muscles. After reading Your Fantastic Elastic Brain, which correctly points out that the brain is an organ but metaphorically behaves like a muscle, I went back to look at the study that Ashley mentioned in the interview.

Carol Dweck conducted research on underprivileged 7th grade students at a middle school in East Harlem. Compared to the control group who were only given basic study skills, the test group were given the same study skills but were also asked to read an essay on how the brain is like a muscle and needs to be challenged and exercised to grow.  In the following months, the teachers saw the grades significantly improve in the group that learned about brain elasticity, while the control group continued to languish. *

According to Ashley Merryman, some of the parents of the students in the test group were so shocked by their children suddenly making better grades that a few of them started inquiring what the heck kind of research was making their kids study all of a sudden. Of course, the researchers weren’t allowed to say, but now the secret is out, and it is embodied in Your Fantastic Elastic Brain.

Can we count this as an educational placebo pill? I don’t think it’s that easy, but the jury is out whether the brain does in fact behave like a muscle. There are scientists who are currently studying this claim by examining fMRI images before and after cognitive challenges, but by most accounts, the preliminary evidence seems to show that intelligence can increase by “exercising” the brain.

Whether it’s a placebo or not, JoAnn Deak’s Your Fantastic Elastic Brain may just be the very thing that your child needs to motivate her to study a little harder and make the better grade. I especially liked the section that explained how practicing can build new neurons and make a sport or activity easier the more you do it. I don’t want my kids retreating from ice skating or piano lessons because they find them to be too difficult or challenging. I want them to practice harder so their brain and muscles can strengthen as they improve.

In addition to the lessons on sculpting the brain, there are simple anatomical explanations of the functions of the parts of the brain. My 5 year old daughter didn’t show any signs of boredom as I explained the Cerebrum, Hippocampus, Cerebellum, Prefrontal Cortex, and the Amygdala. I admit that brain anatomy can be a challenging topic to share with young kids, but JoAnn Deak did a fantastic job of providing that information without overdoing it.

The illustrations by Sarah Ackerley are very cute and keep the book from seeming too academic. On the border of each page, a little mouse and owl make comedic quips about what they see. It’s a nice little humorous bonus to the other fun images found in the book.

Incidentally, I was also impressed by Little Pickle Press, the environmentally friendly publishing company. The book is printed on TerraSkin paper, which claims to be made out of stone. That’s pretty cool! You should go to Little Pickle Press and check out their site because they are having a contest that includes Science-Based Parenting readers. They’re also offering a 25% discount for our readers to buy Your Fantastic Elastic Brain at their web store. Just put ‘BBTSCI’ in the coupon area, and you will receive your instant discount.

Also, we will use a random number generator to pick one of the comments here to win a FREE copy of Your Fantastic Elastic Brain by JoAnn Deak. Just leave a comment about any game, toy, activity, or book that you recommend for exercising a child’s brain. We will post the winner NEXT TUESDAY!

*Implicit Theories of Intelligence Predict Achievement Across an Adolescent Transition: A Longitudinal Study and an Intervention. Child Development

22 Responses to Review: Your Fantastic Elastic Brain

  1. Anakat says:

    I am the mother of a very active three-year-old boy and a believer that social activities are so important to the brain. Therefore, I am fond of taking my son to the playground at the mall (especially at peak times when lots of kids are there) so that he can run, talk, play, get in trouble, solve disputes, and all sorts of other brain developing social activities. With the added advantage that he’s totally exhausted by the end of it all.

    Love your message and hope to see around for years and years to come!

    • JoAnn Deak says:

      You have touched on such an important part of growing your child’s brain. There is mounting evidence that unstructured play leads to significant positive changes in thinking and making judgments.
      I would love to see every child having this kind of play experience every day.
      Platinum star to you as a mother!

  2. Heather L. says:

    I work with the birth-3 crowd, and one of our favs is color sorting and counting M&M’s or fruit loops or the like!

    sweetpeasandsassafras at yahoo dot com

    • JoAnn Deak says:

      0-3!! As you know, there probably is not any other time period in life that is more important than this one. It is considered by everyone as a significant window of neurological sensitivity. You do such important work. I hope you will share this book with your parents, as it clearly will let them know how important what a child does during this age range.

  3. Andrew Hall says:

    I’ve talked with my 8 year old about the brain function (frontal lobe, brain stem, etc.) and he “got it”. Kids are capable of absorbing a lot if adults take the time and make the material accessible.

  4. JoAnn Deak says:

    I find in my work with children, as early as age 5 they ‘get’ the idea of how the brain works. I often use rubber bands to signify each area of the brain and then show them how work and time doing something stretches these areas and they stay stretched for a lifetime.
    If you read this book to your 8 year old, I’d really like to hear your feedback.

  5. Meagan says:

    SET, it’s a card game. Not sure what the recommended minimum age is… But it’s great for grownups too!

  6. Dani Greer says:

    Great review! The book is so good, too, and as you point out, full of interesting and fun layers of information. The prevailing message for me this week, straight from the mouse’s mouth: “That pink stuff is busy.” LOL.

  7. Karen says:

    The book looks great.
    We like these math games with my elementary-aged children:

  8. Bob Sanchez says:

    I’m impressed by the descriptions of this book!

  9. Chris says:

    I realized that I should concentrate less on my own brain and more on their brains, which is what this book is supposed to be about.

    Except that they will model their interests on yours. We are always hearing, and saying, that to get your kids to read that they should see their parents read.

    It also works in other ways. One of my hobbies is sewing, which I did often with the “help” of my kids. I even sewed a little coat for MathMan’s teddy bear when he was four with him giving me direction for what he wanted. My daughter now sews cosplay costumes, and told me that she learned more from watching me than the after-school sewing classes she took.

    I did have a family membership for the zoo, the children’s museum and the science museum. I think I enjoyed those places as much as my kids (and I still go to the zoo by myself once in a while).

    Speaking of brains, this might a good time to share this great website: Neuroscience for Kids.

  10. This is just the book for my young, inquisitive grandnephew (and his mom). Thanks for this excellent review.

  11. Rana DiOrio says:

    Thank you for cross-referencing the important work of Carol Dweck (Mindset) and Ashley Merryman (Nurture Shock). Our whole team has read both books, and they informed the editing of JoAnn Deak’s work. What a great review!

  12. JoAnn Deak says:

    I just got an email from a young mother. She said she read the book with her son and he carries it around with him to each room of the house and periodically stops his play to open the book and look at some part of the brain again. She said she has not seen him do this with other books. Is it the velvety pages made of stone, the wonderful illustrations, the little owl and mouse that keep appearing in the corners, or the story about this important thing in the head?
    Please share with me how your child reacts to this book. It would mean a great deal to me!

  13. As a former preschool-Kindergarten teacher, then homeschooling mom, I observed first-hand the difference between those children whose minds were being challenged, and those who weren’t. Often, what manafests as negative behavior is nothing more than boredom. Children are capable of learning countless games, skills, crafts, etc. I wish Your Fantastic Elastic Brain had been available when I was teaching. What a great way to explain brain function to children and parents alike, and inspire them to exercise this “muscle.” One of my favorite tools to use with young children was puzzles where they have to integrate colors, shapes, use eye-hand coordination, and recognize patterns.

  14. Jasmine Saldate says:

    GREAT book!! Fun to read and very informative! The illustrations coincide beautifully with the information and sparks a deeper interest and prolonged attention span in the children.

  15. Regina Moser says:

    I love that the research indicated that just knowing your brain is organ that works like a muscle has a positive impact on young students.

  16. Eric Boyette says:

    Thank you for sharing the review, this book looks very interesting. Children’s minds are so amazing… I am knocked out every day by something my daughter has learned!

  17. devo says:

    We love Set, and Connect Four, and checkers!

  18. idealawg says:

    New book: “Your Fantastic, Elastic Brain: Stretch it, Shape It”…

    If you have attended one of my seminars on neuroscience (e.g., Brains on Purpose, Neuroscience of Conflict Resolution), you may recall that I often, when describing self-directed neuroplasticity, talk about each of us molding our brains and that we are…

  19. Alex says:

    Great review. A must read for all parents who want to increased their children’s internal motivation. I love this book!

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