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How Children Learn Best

My two teenage daughters started going to school again after the second lockdown.

On the first day, both returned from school exhausted and having headaches. They wore masks for about ten hours with JUST a couple of breaks in between, all according to the school’s protocol.

In this post, I discuss how children learn best and how wearing masks at school can influence their learning abilities from the point of view of biology and neuroscience.

Brain Energy

Learning is obviously the function of the brain. And the brain is the second most energy-consuming organ in the body after the liver, followed by the heart muscle.

How is energy produced in the human body? It is released by burning or the oxidation reaction. 

The body has a choice of burning carbs (sugars), fats, or in the worst case proteins. In any of these reactions, it needs … exactly, OXYGEN!


Pupils in the school of my daughters are supposed to stay in their classrooms in order not to mix up with other classes. In the classroom, they are supposed to keep a 1.5m distance from everyone else.

These rules are inevitably leading to movement restriction. And the less movement is allowed the more time children will spend sitting. 

What effect does it have on the brain and learning?

The total lung capacity of an adult makes up 4l for women and 6l liters for men. Sounds like a lot, right?

But normal breathing at rest (tidal breathing) uses only 0.5l of the total volume.

oxygen for energy | how children learn best | wellbeing blog
movement and balance | how children learn best | wellbeing blog


The breathing volume increases immediately when you move or speak loudly and shout.

Children usually do that when they have time and space for playing. So, typically, children breathe deeper and get more oxygen into their bodies and blood.

This is very important for general health, the brain, and the ability to focus and learn.

That means that a child’s breathing hindered by masks is further restricted by the inability to move freely.

Studies on oxygen deprivation have shown the link between breathing and cognitive function by proving to cause a range of severe cognitive deficits and impaired task learning.


You can learn because of your brain’s ability to change. This ability is called neuroplasticity.

The brain (nervous system) changes mainly in two ways:

  1. Disconnection of the existing connections between the cells of the nervous system (synapses between neurons)
  2. Formation of new connections.

Cognitive function is mostly related to neural plasticity in the prefrontal cortex.

Vestibular system and learning

Children naturally challenge their bodies. They try out unusual moves and activate their vestibular system much more than adults usually do.

Studies have shown that physical exercise and balance training (which children practice naturally) induce neural plasticity and improve learning abilities.

The Raviv method even uses exercises challenging the vestibular system to overcome learning difficulties like ADHD, ADD, dyslexia, or dysgraphia with great success.

That also means that if children are not able to move freely their learning abilities may weaken. This will add up to the effect of the restricted breathing capacity.

vestibular training | how children learn best | hypnotherapy | wellbeing blog
Teenage girls are prone to iron deficiency | how children learn best | wellbeing blog


As already mentioned above, women and girls have lower lung capacity compared to men or boys. 

Besides that, teenage girls will start losing iron due to menstruation and iron plays a vital role as the oxygen carrier in the blood.

Women generally have less iron in their blood than men and boys. But this can be exacerbated by a poor diet which is quite common and often leads to iron deficiency.

So, girls will be impacted the most by restrained breathing.


According to the school rules, a child is allowed to take off the mask and take a break if he or she does not feel well, for example, gets a headache.

But if the child does not feel well this means that complicated processes, the most complicated biochemical reactions got disturbed and went wrong already!

And a short break is not proper mitigation to the interruption of the natural processes in the body and brain. Such interruptions should be simply prevented by appropriate measures.

Rauchalarm | smoke vent | how children learn best | wellbeing blog


  • For best learning, children (and adults) need to have a high supply of oxygen to their brains.
  • Deep breathing promoted by unrestricted movement and play throughout the day is very beneficial for the oxygen supply in the body and brain.
  • Additionally, challenging the vestibular system boosts neural plasticity and learning abilities.

If you want to learn more

I cannot recommend highly enough the brilliant podcast “How to learn faster” by Dr. Andrew Huberman, a Neurobiology and Ophthalmology Professor at Stanford University.

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  1. Добрый день, спасибо за интересную статью.В России дети находятся в школе без масок. Родителям рекомендуется положить ребенку в портфель маску для использования им в случае чихания, кашля. Учителя по школе передвигаются в масках, урок разрешено проводить без средств индивидуальной защиты. Дети в начальных классах выходят на перемены, учащиеся среднего и старшего звена занимаются в одном кабинете, не перемещаясь по школе.

    1. Спасибо, Марина, условия в разных странах , действительно, разные. Даже в Нидерландах условия в различных школах отличаются. В большинстве голландских школ детям разрешается снимать маки во время уроков, а в некоторых как, например, в нашей запрещено.

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