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Child Neuropsychology

A blog by Dr Jonathan Reed

  • I recently wrote that too many educational computer games look too educational and are not fun to play.  I have recently, however, come across a couple of causal games that although they don’t set out to be educational actually are, but are also addictive and fun.   Casual games are simple, cheap games that are easy, yet compelling to play.   The first game Drop 7  by area/code is a game involving numbers but also works a bit like Tetris.  To play you have to drop different balls with numerals inside into rows or columns and try and ensure that the numerals and the number of balls match i.e. every time you line five balls up the ones with the numeral 5 in them disappears.  I think that this game, without intending to, actually reinforces numerosities,  which is the ability to automatically recognise the number of objects in a set.  Understanding Numerosities is associated with the intraparietal sulcus in the brain and is the foundation for the development of mathematical thinking.  Individuals with dyscalculia (maths dyslexia) have difficulties with this concept.   I don’t think the designers knew this and just designed an addictive clever game.   But it would be interesting to research whether this does actually help children and especially those with developmental dyscalculia to develop in terms of maths.   In the meantime at the least it is a good fun way for children to reinforce automatic number understanding.

    The second game by one of my favourite casual gaming companies Popcap is called Bookworm.  In this game you have a grid of letter tiles and have to create words out of them.  You get points for the complexity of the word.  You also have to use up a burning tile before it reaches the bottom of the page (it goes down one step every time).  It is a fun, fast moving, compelling game but improves word knowledge and spelling at the same time.  Popcap are great at developing addictive simple games such as Bejeweled and Peggle.  It is great to see that they can use the same principles to create games that are educational.

    I should note that both games are also just fun for adults and children to play.  Me and my children enjoying playing them as well as other games just to relax.  They are great on the iphone.  I am sure that they are good at producing increased levels of dopamine (the reward neurotransmitter) in my brain!

  • You can now try Neurogames for free with the demos online for the basic maths game Nutty Numbers and the reading game Letter Lilies. The games are specially formulated to help children who find learning difficult including children with dyslexia, dyscalculia, ADHD and Learning difficulties. However, they are based on normal child development and so can be used by anyone learning to read or learning maths. I use them clinically in my practice and I have had great feedback from children of different abilities who have played the games. I believe that using games to help children learn holds great promise for the future. So try the games for free here and let me know what you think.

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  • There is a new study in Nature this month showing that basic inherent numerical understanding predicts later mathematical ability. It is increasingly being shown that children (and primates) are born with an inbuilt understanding of number. This basic number ability comprises of being able to estimate and recognise the number of objects in a set (numerosities). Infants as young as one week old react differently to different groups of up to 4 objects suggesting that they recognise the difference between the numbers of objects. This latest study by Justin Halberda and colleagues from John Hopkins University, Baltimore used a test of non verbal number approximation with a group of 14 year olds. The 14 year olds were shown two groups of coloured dots and had to estimate which group was more numerous. The study showed that firstly that there were wide individual differences between the 14 year olds in terms of their ability to make correct non verbal number approximations and secondly that these differences correlate with differences on standard maths tests dating back to kindergarten. This suggests that this basic inherent understanding of number present from birth predicts how well you do at maths throughout school. One of the leading experts in the neuropsychology of maths in the UK Professor Brian Butterworth at UCL has argued for a long time that this difficulty in estimating numerosities lies at the basis for dyscalculia (specific difficulty with maths). He describes this in more detail in our book on Child Neuropsychology (see link at the side of the page). What is uncertain at the moment is what you can do about this. There is no evidence yet to show how you can improve your understanding of numerosities.

    The study itself can be found at the publications section of the webpage of the Laboratory of Child Development at the John Hopkins University

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