Stuff.Co.Nz Interview

Can you think of a TV programme about education that is positive, inspiring and enjoyable? Trevor Agnew found one.

Make Your Child Brilliant is unique. You know it from the very first moment when a woman, looking like a model for l’Oreal, says: “My name is Bernadette Tynan. I’ve spent nearly 20 years researching the secrets of the brain.”

Descended from a famous Irish family, Bernadette Tynan was born in London, gained her Master of Education degree at Cambridge and became Senior Lecturer at the Oxford Research Centre for Able Children.

She has also been principal of a private school in the Middle East, a learning adviser everywhere from Singapore to Shanghai, and the founder of Beautiful Minds, a British charity funding work in developing children’s natural gifts. She has written a range of learning materials and now hosts a popular TV series about applying research findings to boost children’s achievement. It’s called Make Your Child Brilliant.

Her emphasis is always on the child’s potential and how to unlock it. “Can I make them brilliant?” she asks.

Her aim for Make Your Child Brilliant was to create a TV series that was accessible to everyone.

“No-one had done this, and I took up the challenge, because everyone deserves to have this knowledge for their children.”

In the first episode, screened last week, Nicholas, nine, was a Yorkshire lad who learned best through doing.

Could he “sell” his idea for a new game to a toy company? Tynan’s brain-training techniques had him organising his speech, visualising his sales pitch, and even selling bananas in the market. The sequence where Nicholas outlined his plans to the company heads, confidently answering their questions was one of the most amazing and delightful television scenes of the year.

“If every kid had just a little bit of this, think how far they could go,” said his proud father, unconsciously summing up the aim of the six-part series.

Tynan knows what children enjoy doing. A recurring feature is Tynan recording information with coloured chinagraph pens on glass. As a television technique it is striking and effective. The colourful words seem to float around her. Yet, it has educational purpose. She credits United States mathematician John Nash with discovering the technique. “Nash used the china pen on glass because he was trying to figure things out and he made mistakes and often had to rub things out. Do this on a page in pen-and-ink and it looks a mess, because you have all the mistakes. By the time you finish, you can hardly see the answer at the end.”

Children prefer using the glass to paper. “First it is a novel act. It takes a maths problem to a personal and fun space for a child. Then they can play with the numbers. A child can easily wipe out a mistake, and at the end of the process, is left with only the beauty of the result and the equation: no mess. Children like that.”

Tynan’s enthusiasm bubbles as she develops her theme. “If you look at great mathematicians they are not afraid of numbers, and they play with them, wherever they want to, in a way that works for them. They own the numbers. The brain loves things it feels it has ownership of. In the TV series there is an episode where I am working with a little girl who is struggling with maths. Most of the time the reason a child hits a stumbling block with maths is because it suddenly becomes a bit more about abstracts, not tangibles. Make it tangible and suddenly a light goes on. It makes sense.

“Because fractions are abstract and not tangible, suddenly her mind was asking: what is a quarter exactly and why can 25 cents or 25% be a quarter too. But by making it tangible, by showing her that a quarter of a cake looks like this, and that 25 cents out of a 100 cents looks like that, her brain had a new way of understanding the concept fractions and decimals.

“Any child can benefit from this. Afterwards she actually cracked her maths and is now in the top set. For me that is the best reward of all: the children succeeding, going for their dreams and enjoying their lives.

“The brain learns best when it is having fun, so I practise what I preach when I write,” says Tynan. Her book of the series is easily accessible, with diagrams, lists and even certificates. Tynan aimed it at parents. “I wanted the book to reflect how I did things in the series, so everyone can do what I did, at home with their children. I wanted it really colourful, fun, practical and interactive, while at the same time having all the facts and knowledge.”

When Mozart’s music is raised, she cautions, “Too much fuss has been made about Mozart. Music, such as that of Bach and lesser-known composers, such as Albinoni from the Baroque era, has a similar effect because of its musical geometry and its interaction with how the brain works. The research is still going on there.” She pauses.

“But that is another whole new book and TV series.” Clearly she has plans.

Tynan’s book, Make Your Child Brilliant, is published by Quadrille, (Southern Publishers Group). $39.99


Publish date: 01:43, Jan 31 2009


<< back to main page

Scroll Up