You wake up already sure that you are late for something. You cook while you are answering your email. You take your child to the park, but your mind is nibbling away on that annoying email at work . You make a dash for the door in a tearing hurry- only to realize you have forgotten something important. You eat a ‘healthy’ diet but your brain drones on a dull buzz with a zillion things popping in and out of your head every minute. You want to read this interesting book but your brain is only picking out bits of yesterday’s heated debate with a colleague. You make a to-do list only to realize that your day is overtaken by ‘fix-right-now’ situations.
You see some(increasingly rare) people blissfully calm and collected, amazingly sure of themselves, working out every single thing like clockwork. At a time when you have apprehensions about your aged years, you come across that agile 85-year-old, who can put your Sudoku skills to shame and beat you at chess…and even overtake your pace at walking! And you wonder how they do it. Do they have supernatural powers? Do they have better and bigger brains?
The answer is, YES, they do! The good news, is, SO CAN YOU!
The better news is – Bangalore is now home to the first Brain fitness-training center in India. Yes, that’s true!
Welcome to Better Brains!
Meet this exceptional duo, Dr. Nick Ratterman and Dr. Krithika Kumar. They rocked the science world with path-breaking research in Congnitive Sciences from Cornell University. They were going strong in academia and soaking up the stimulating world of finding out answers for themselves.
And then the entrepreneurial bug bit them.
That’s when they decided to collaborated with other scientists and experts in the field of Brain Research and developed scientific, research-based programs for brain development. They have customized brain-training modules starting from ages 5 all the way till 100 and beyond( if you live so long!)
In their own words, ” As academics, we value criticism and peer reviews, and this is why we include activities that have been scientifically shown to increase cognitive performance. We performed a systematic review of the scientific literature and collaborated with Dr Elkhonon Goldberg www.elkhonongoldberg.com/) from The Luria Neuroscience Institute (www.lninstitute.org/), as well as other neuropsychologists, psychologists, and education specialists from the United States and abroad.”
I got curious about the ‘Create-a-Brain’ workshop they ran last week in acknowledgement of the Brain Awareness Week. Of course, the kids and I went there not knowing what to expect. Within a few minutes of settling down, I could see that the kids(my own and others) were totally engrossed. The workshop talked a great deal about the structure of the brain but not in the classroom drone style . The kids made their own brain models, role-played parts of the brain and ate some yummy brain-healthy food! It was heartening to see that Dr. Nick and Dr. Krithinka became children themselves in the process as well. To sum it up, it was stimulation and relaxation at the same time. My kids are already asking me when they can go next( I have to add here that my kids were reluctant to even go in the first place because they had to miss a Doraemon Carnival in school- but I promised them this will be even more enjoyable- all the while hoping I am not wrong! I am glad I wasn’t!).
Kidskintha did an exclusive interview with the Better Brains founders. Read on…
Please tell us about your lives as research scholars in Cornell University before Better Brains.
We were both postdoctoral research associates at Cornell University and it was a great place to conduct advanced and exciting scientific studies. Like most scientists, our days (and many nights) were spent in the lab working on a specific project that required critical analysis, creative thinking, thorough background research, and a tremendous amount of patience. Similarly, we found conducting science to be extremely fulfilling, no matter how small the discoveries.
What was the inspiration behind your start-up?
We love science! And we had an urge to be entrepreneurs, so we expressed our desire to combine science and entrepreneurship to our family and friends. My (Krithika) father, Mr. R.T. Kumar, mentioned that he’d been thinking about setting up a space in which older people could exercise their bodies and their brain, and we jumped on the “brain” aspect of it immediately. Since then, our idea has evolved to what it is today.
Was there an incident/event/anything that finally cemented your decision?
No, there was no one incident/event. There were many discussions, many fears, a tremendous amount of deliberation, and lots of excitement once we made the final decision. We discussed the pros and cons of leaving academia and making the move from the United States to India. In the end, we decided that there was only one way to know if this would work, which was to give it a sincere try.
This is the world’ s first Brain Fitness institute in brick and mortar. Why did you choose India over any other place in the world?
There were a few reasons (in no order of significance).
Better Brains targets all age groups. Since Kidskintha focuses on kids, could you tell us more about your approach towards training kids? How early do you recommend kids starting on brain training?
Our kids program is for children of ages 5 and above. Our program focuses on overall cognitive development. We do not use curricular material. Rather we focus on enhancing core brain functions, which have been shown to improve interest, understanding, and retention of curricular material, as well as increase academic performance and overall wellbeing. Our approach is to exercise the brain through multiple activities that focus on many cognitive functions and emotional intelligence. We crafted these exercises to be fun because the brain learns best when it is having fun. Additionally, we provide lifestyle counseling and parental guidance to educate parents about fostering an environment at home that facilitates cognitive enrichment. For parents and children to see tangible results, every child is evaluated using a scientific brain fitness test when they first join the program. The test is repeated at regular intervals to measure improvement.
In the course of your research, have you come across anything that suggests that parenting and schooling methodologies have an impact on cognitive abilities for children?
Absolutely! There is a lot of evidence to show that parenting methodologies as well as school-adopted methods have a significant impact on children’s cognitive abilities. It would not be within the scope of this questionnaire to get into the details but our goal is to educate parents about this when they come to our fitness center. In short, children’s cognitive abilities depend largely on the environment in which they are raised, which includes their interaction with their parents and the school that they attend. For a long time people believed that characteristics like intelligence—which can be thought of as an outcome of many cognitive abilities—were based entirely on genes. However, recent studies in behavioral genetics have shown that intelligence is actually more strongly influenced by the environment than by genes. Therefore, parenting and schooling have a larger impact on a child’s intelligence than most people think, which is very empowering because we can improve our intelligence through choices we make. Exercising the brain using a program like Better Brains is an excellent way to achieve this.
Have you also taken inspiration from ancient learning techniques of different cultures to put together this unique program?
Not in a strict sense. However, many learning techniques have evolved from older learning techniques and to that extent, I am sure parallels can be drawn. If you think about it, everything that is in place now is due to the past, but the nature of science shows us why it is important to be dynamic and progressive in our thinking. For example, as I mentioned above, for a long time people thought that intelligence was set-in-stone and determined entirely by genetics. If people held on to this old view and didn’t adopt new scientific findings, it would prohibit growth. People, and children in particular, would never be inspired to improve themselves. It would foster complacency. Because our program is entirely based on solid science, and because science is always changing, we are also dynamic.
What advantage would students gain by enrolling for your packages as against doing online practice?
Online practice by itself does not maximize cognitive development. Our approach includes online practice for older children but is holistic in that it includes various other components that have been scientifically shown to increase cognitive performance. The advantage that students would gain is a more balanced and complete brain workout. There are many ways to exercise your brain and these methods are often complimentary. One important factor is what is known as emotional self-regulation, which has been shown to be extremely important in academic performance, happiness, and overall wellbeing. Our program exercises emotional self-regulation, which is developed in a social setting. A child who spends all their time sitting at a computer is not interacting with other children. Strawberries are good for you, but you would never eat a diet of just strawberries. The same applies to online brain training.
How long do your programs run? What is the duration of each session?
Exercising your brain is like exercising your body. When you stop exercising your body, over a period of time, you will stop experiencing the benefits of exercise. Similarly, the brain should be exercised and challenged for as long as you want to experience the benefits. Hence, our program is for an indefinite period of time. People can come for a month or people can come for years.
The duration of each session varies based on whether you choose a weekend package or a weekday package.
Do you have follow up courses for the students to practice at home?
Like I said earlier, we do offer lifestyle counseling and parental counseling to inculcate the concepts of our programs in the home environment. However, because the program is “indefinite”, we don’t offer follow-up courses.
Do you focus on specific mnemonic techniques?
We encourage the use of multiple different senses as a way to retain information. Perhaps, some of these techniques could be called “mnemonics”.
Since parents are very closely associated with children’s development, do you also have something that will help parents corroborate their experiences here?
Parental counseling and parental feedback is certainly an important part of our approach as well as our assessment for tracking a child’s progress.
Do you have special summer modules coming up?
Yes, we do! We have a 2-month summer camp that begins in the first week of April. For those who can’t sign up for 2 months, we offer 1-month sessions for April and May.
You also mention that your café provides brain-healthy food. Can you tell us more about this?
Each item on our menu incorporates at least one (often times more) ingredient that has been shown to improve brain health. In addition, we do our best to use only high quality ingredients when they are available. Presently, our café is for members only.
Do you also plan to roll out online modules in the future?
Yes, definitely. This is certainly something we are considering as a way to provide services to clients who do not live in Bangalore.
A few lines on what you liked about Kidskintha.
Your website: We love your website. It is clean, easy on the eyes, and easy to navigate. The content is accessible, which is extremely important. (The worst thing is to know that a site has good information but have to fight to get it.)
Content: We were amazed by the sheer breadth of topics covered by Kidskintha. From parenting tips, kids quips, nostalgic blogs, and inspirational stories for parents and children, there is much to read. We particularly like that Kidskintha, much like Better Brains, uses research to address modern parenting challenges.
Devishobha is the founder of Kidskintha- an online parenting resource repository dedicated to jumpstarting conversations around millennial parenting, encouraging parents to bring their attention to words, thoughts and actions that will enable them to raise a well-rounded, empathic and motivated generation. You can also find her on the Huffington Post, Parent.co, Entrepreneur, Lifehack, TinyBuddha and many other publications.