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Wednesday, August 1, 2018

LuxuryTravelDocs' Five-Part Series about the Benefits of Traveling with your Children! Part II: Brain Development

Last time we highlighted why you should spend your money on experiences rather than material things and how taking a family vacation with your young ones can make them happier, and help them form lifetime memories.  

According to experts, family vacations are the gift that keeps on giving and maybe you didn't realize they can advance brain development too!

Brain Development

Dr. Jaak Panksepp, a neuroscientist, psychologist, and psychobiologist, coined the term “affective neuroscience” to refer to the study of the neural mechanisms of emotion.

Key brain systems were discovered by Professor Jaak Panksepp, a world-leading neuroscientist at Washington State University. According to the Panksepp’s research, the PLAY system and the SEEKING system are areas of the brain that are exercised best when kids are exposed to new surroundings. These systems rarely get triggered when kids are at home or left alone with their toys.

Dr. Margot Sunderland  who is  Director of Education and Training at The Centre for Child Mental Health London concludes that vacations can advance brain development by exercising the PLAY and SEEKING systems.

Key brains systems rarely get triggered when kids are at home or left alone with their toys. Credit Pexels.

She explains that “the brain’s PLAY system is exercised every time you bury your child’s feet in the sand, tickle them on the pool lounger, or take them for a ride on your back. The brain’s SEEKING system is exercised each time you go exploring together: the forest, the beach, a hidden gem of a village.

When are these brain systems activated at the same time? Usually on family vacations.
How does it work? Once your family vacations adventures and experiences activate these two systems in your own brain, and in your kids’ brains, and trigger happiness brain chemicals. Panksepp calls them “nature’s gift to us” and goes on to describe how these chemicals reduce stress and activate warm, generous feelings towards each other and a lovely sense that all is well in the world.

Dr Sunderland adds that “really using the brain’s PLAY and SEEKING systems well, as often happens on family [vacations], brings about brain growth and maturation in the frontal lobes, the very part of the brain involved in cognitive functioning, social intelligence and well-focused, goal-directed behaviours that may last a lifetime.”

A key brain system is exercised every time you stick your children's toes in the sand! Credit Pexels

Galey Gravenstein of Gainesville, Florida realized this when raising her four children.  She believed that "it would make them more open and flexible when in new situations. I know "routines" are important but I wanted them to not be afraid of new situations and things they encounter."

As a matter of fact, in most regions of the brain, no new neurons are formed after birth. Instead, brain development consists of an ongoing process of wiring and re-wiring the connections among neurons. New synapses between cells are constantly being formed, broken or pruned away. In early childhood the brain is genetically programmed to produce more synapses. For instance, a child’s brain (from 0 to 3 years of age)—produces 700 new neural connections every second.  "I think young children rarely get as much play as their brains need", according to Dr. Panksepp.

Family vacations can lead to better brain development by stimulating key systems crucial to thinking, social intelligence and goal-directed behavior.  You may think that your child would never engage in obvious educational opportunities, but it may surprise you what is available at institutions to exercise your children's minds.

Next time: LTD looks at finding educational opportunities for you child when you travel.

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Remember, if you have questions related to your health, always consult your doctor or medical professional.  The information presented here is informative only and is not medical advice. 

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