Research in Brain Function and Learning
The importance of matching instruction to a child's maturity level

Introduction

Margaret Semrud-Clikeman, PhD, Michigan State University

Our brains begin to mature even before we are born. Although they continue to mature throughout most of our lives, brains do not mature at the same rate in each individual.

This should not be surprising. After all, our bodies grow at different rates — we reach puberty at different ages and our emotional maturity at different times as well. Why should our brains be any different?

Just because you have a classroom full of students who are about the same age doesn’t mean they are equally ready to learn a particular topic, concept, skill or idea. It is important for teachers and parents to understand that maturation of the brain influences learning readiness. For teachers, this is especially important when designing lessons and selecting which strategies to use.

All children need to be challenged and nurtured in order to profit from your instruction. Instruction that is above or below the maturity level of a child’s brain is not only inappropriate; it can lead to behavior problems in your classroom. Inappropriate behaviors — avoidance, challenging authority and aggression towards other students — can be explained by a failure to match instruction to the brain maturity of your students.

You should also know that all brain functions do not mature at the same rate. A young child with highly advanced verbal skills may develop gross and fine motor control more slowly and have trouble learning to write clearly. Another child may be advanced physically but not know how to manage his/her social skills. Others may be cognitively advanced but show emotional immaturity.

For all of these reasons it is important to understand how our brains mature and the differences that may be present at each stage of “normal” development.

Development of the brain from 25 days to 9 months:

Brain growth