One of the cool things about our work at Kiko Labs is that we get the privilege of working with academic experts like Jenny Thomson, who is a member of our Scientific Advisory Board. For the past 6 years, Jenny has been an Associate Professor at the Harvard Graduate School where she researches and teaches in the field of literacy and literacy difficulties. Her work uses both behavioral and neuroscientific (ERP/tDCS) tools to study the identification and remediation of reading and writing difficulties. We sat down with her recently for a Q&A:
1) As a professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, what excites you most about your job?
I think the thing I love most is being at the edge of knowledge – thinking about things that we don’t know the answer to yet, and working out how we can find those answers, little piece by little piece….
2) Please tell us about your interest in applied cognitive and brain science in the field of learning and literacy. What motivated you to pursue research in this field?
My initial training was as a speech-language pathologist. As I worked hands-on with children, I just had more questions about how to optimize learning than there were available answers for – so I went into research to try and answer as many of those questions as possible! As I studied, I realized that as well as just looking at what children were doing “on the surface”, to really understand what was going on, you had to look “under the hood” too, so to speak, which is where the brain science comes in.
3) What is one important research finding you’d like to share, and where can people learn more about it?
One strand of my research has looked at the links between children’s rhythm skills and their reading development – for many children there seems to be a connection between these two things. This raises the possibility of using music to facilitate early reading skills – something a lot of research groups are now investigating. You can hear more at: http://www.uknow.gse.harvard.edu/browse/faculty/thomson_j.html
4) What are 1-2 key things you’d like every person to understand regarding his/her own brain and mind that you think is commonly misrepresented or not addressed in popular media?
I think it is hard being a parent and knowing which products to choose to help your child’s learning. Some companies (not Kiko Labs I am glad to say!) use claims about how much your child’s brain will change if you use them, however there is typically no hard evidence behind these claims. Lots of things can change your brain if you do them regularly – learning to ride a bike, playing a musical instrument, reading and being at school. I would urge parents to look beyond the surface claims and see if the product can also mention specific skills your child will learn. Ask yourself if these skills are something you care about, and how they will help your child develop to be the best version of themselves they can be.
5) What do you think of the work Kiko Labs is doing, and what would you like to see it accomplish?
I am really excited about the work of Kiko Labs! As a company, they are going directly to the scientific research to generate their games, and have children’s optimal learning and development at the core of their mission.