Beginning in the 1940s, numerous studies have linked intelligence quotient and childhood environment. More stimulating, engaging environments have been proven to increase the number of synapses and neurons in the brain; increase dendrite complexity; increase synapse activity and increase cortex volume. The effect is especially pronounced during childhood, when the brain is still developing, but it can continue into adulthood. For example, stimulating environments have been shown to assist in the recovery of those with Alzheimer’s disease and other symptoms of age-related cognitive decline.
Charles Darwin, in 1874, was one of the first to hypothesize on how environment shaped brain size. In 1947, a psychologist named Donald Hebb found that rats raised as pets performed better on problem solving tests than rats raised in cages. A follow-up study by Mark Rosenzweig in 1960 found that rats in an “enriched environment”, a cage with all sorts of ladders, wheels, tunnels, and other toys, developed increased cerebral cortex volume. You can read more about the studies here and here.
Maria Montessori, who was four years old at the time Darwin was speculating about the effect of environment on the brain size of wild rabbits, ultimately came to similar conclusions. “The environment must be rich in motives which lend interest to activity and invite the child to conduct his own experiences … To assist a child we must provide him with an environment which will enable him to develop freely … Only through freedom and environmental experience is it practically possible for human development to occur … The child should live in an environment of beauty.”
Montessori classrooms are designed to be inviting, welcoming, and above all, stimulating. The materials are created to incite curiosity and fascination. Everything is colorful, tactile, and at the child’s eye level. The mood is safe, serene and home-like. The child is able to engage in self-directed learning, encouraging independence, a love of learning, and self-confidence.
But school is only one facet of a child’s life. Parents can create an environment that is conducive to creativity and critical thinking in the home, as well. Arts and crafts, weekend trips, outdoor activities, interactive games, books, and imaginative play all help the young child’s brain to grow and make new connections.
For more ideas, check out this Pinterest board, “DIY Montessori Activities.” There are also tons of books on Montessori activities to do at home, which you can check out on Amazon. We hope you find some new ideas and enjoy exercising your brain!