Exercise Your Brain

English: Fitness training for kids: jumping ex...
English: Fitness training for kids: jumping exercise of 2-year boy http://www.youtube.com/user/vshustov#p/a/u/0/-Ig8o4OK-xo. Courtesy of Alyona Loik Español: Los ejercicios físicos para niños: saltar ejercicio de niño de 2 años, consulte Vídeo Français : Exercice physique par un garçon de 2 ans: cliquez sur Video Русский: Физкультура для малышей: двухлетний мальчик репетирует прыжки с двух ног, cм. Video (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My boys need to move.  They need to move all the time and preferably outside.  I love that they don’t want to be absorbed into the television all day and that they want to be active.  I do wonder, though, if they’ll ever get to the point where they prefer less physical activities and need prompting to move and exercise.  After reading an article in the August 17th Issaquah Reporter, I’m convinced that I need to help my children find physical activities that they enjoy and will want to continue into adulthood.  The article was an interview with author Dr. John Ratey who wrote Spark:  The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain.  Dr. Ratey said, “What the exercise does is that it makes learners better at learning.  It improves the attention system, it improves the motivation to stick with it.  It lowers impulsivity.  You’re less jumpy in a cognitive situation.  It reduces anxiety, and all those things make for a better learner.  For the brain, for 100 billion nerve cells, [exercise] optimizes it to grow, and that’s the only way to learn things.  That’s the way we encode information.  The brain becomes better conditioned.  Synapses get pushier, make more neurotransmitters and make more receptors.  We get our brain cells ready to learn.  If our brain cells don’t grow, we don’t learn.” I do see that Parker and Brandon’s focus and behavior is better after they have played hard.  We get them outside to run, play in the sandbox, kick the soccer ball, and climb the playground equipment as weather permits.  In poor weather, we find indoor spaces to play.  Children’s museums, bouncy house places, and mall play areas have provided many great opportunities for physical play.  We’re also starting to include more indoor equipment for our boys.  They will be playing on a trampoline, Sit ‘n Spin, and Bilibos this winter.

I also notice an increase in attention, learning and retention in my students after they have had some exercise.  Sometimes, just incorporating some kind of physical activity into a lesson is all they need to be able to fully participate. When my students are too lethargic and can’t pay attention or process information, I have them get up and move.  Some days we do jumping jacks, other days it’s a walk around the track.  Some days just moving from group to group in the classroom is enough.   Too many teachers expect students to sit still for long periods of time, listen to the lesson and complete an assignment.  If the work is not completed, teachers hold these students out of recess to take the time to finish the assignment.  I believe this is the worst thing to do for children.  Don’t take recess, PE, or other physical activities away from our children as punishment.  They need to run, swing, and play in various ways to optimize their brain’s potential and be able to learn at their optimal level.

Momma’s Bacon Reviews The Fascinating World of Mammals

Jeanna with Momma’s Bacon reviewed The Fascinating World of Mammals.  We’re thrilled that she and her daughter enjoyed it!

“This Innovative Series Builds Confidence in Science through Fun and Interesting Content

The Fascinating World of…..Series has just begun to produce high quality science DVDs that children will relate to such as insects, birds and mammals.  I was more interested in reviewing the mammals DVD since Brooke is all about animals like bears, kangaroos, elephants – well, pretty much any mammal you can find at our local zoo.  I knew she would love to hear and see more about the mammal’s natural habitat and see the various continents in which these animals originate (Africa and Asia to name a few).

The Fascinating World of Mammals DVD is a useful and interesting guide for children and adults alike and is the perfect video for home education or home schooling.  Many items are said over many times for repetitive learning and similarities are talked about between the different mammals.  Interesting facts are injected throughout the video including how a beaver builds a dam and which mammal is the only flying mammal.  The website talks about this being a perfect review before your family checks out a zoo or wildlife park. It is a very useful guide and one that you will want to watch again and again which has been Brooke’s request.  Oh, one thing I love and had to mention is that it isn’t a mind-numbing hours long DVD.  It’s a great length for young children and enough time to get a special dinner ready without little ones stepping underfoot.  Highly recommended!”

Baby Sign Language

It’s so important to teach our children how to communicate with us even before they use real words.  We taught both of our boys sign language.  Giving them a means to meet their needs without crying and frustration made a world of difference in our children’s development.  As a special education teacher, I have used sign language in my classroom, therefore already knew several signs that would be appropriate.  I taught my husband and many basic and most used signs because kids need consistent repetitive modeling in order to learn the signs quickly.  We use the signs more, all done, sleep, bath, milk, eat, drink, play, music, stop, go, help, mommy and daddy the most.  It is so rewarding as a parent to see the smile on my baby’s face when he signs more and gets more of what he wants.

There are several resources (books, video, websites) available to teach yourself and your child baby sign language.  We have the DVD Baby Einstein:  My First Signs and would watch it with our boys to aid in their instruction.  There is also a website called Baby Sign Language that provides online learning as well as free reproducibles for home use.  They also provide some research information explaining the benefits of teaching our children sign language at an early age.  In fact, the site states that in an NIH study

Sign language L
Sign language L (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

, children’s IQ scores at age 8 were 12 points higher if they received sign language instruction in comparison to children who did not receive sign language instruction.

We are thankful we taught our boys how to use sign language to “speak” with us while their expressive language was developing. It allowed them to tell us what they wanted without us having to guess and it created much less frustration for our children and for us.

Math Can Be Fun

Mathematics (Photo credit: Terriko)

“Show kids that puzzling through problems can be as cozy as reading Goodnight Moon … they may never decide that math is no fun.” This sentence in an NPR report about a website called Bedtime Math that was started by a mom who gave her kids math problems to solve at bedtime strongly caught my attention.  I thought that this was a fantastic way of describing how my husband and I feel about teaching our kids math and when it is appropriate to start.  How many of us grew up thinking we’re “no good at math?”  We don’t want our boys to ever think that about themselves.  We feel that, starting from a very young age, exposing our kids to math concepts only gives them an advantage.  We count stairs as we walk up or down, decide how many avocados to buy at the grocery store, talk about money, and discuss whether we want more or less ice cream.  So many people, including numerous teachers, believe various age groups should be taught only certain math skills because they are deemed developmentally appropriate for that group.  Peg Tyre wrote in The Good School, “But now research suggests that children often don’t know math at an early age not because they are not developmentally ready for it but because they haven’t been exposed to it.  What children are “ready for” is largely contingent on prior opportunities to learn.  In general, early experience with numbers and quantity at home builds into early math learning, which sets the stage for more math.”  What it comes down to is background knowledge.  Children need a solid background knowledge to be successful in not just reading, but in math as well.  We hope to provide that for our own boys in order to allow as many doors of opportunity to open for them as possible.

Music Education

Kindermusik International

I love taking my kids to  Kindermusik classes. They have so much fun participating in the activities and singing the songs.  Not only do they love it, but their development benefits from the music education. They don’t even know they are working on reading, math, social/emotional, motor, and listening skills.  According to the Kindermusik website,

“Psychologists, neuroscientists, and experts in early childhood development have demonstrated that music does more for children than bring them joy; it helps their brain cells make the connections needed for virtually every kind of intelligence. Kindermusik’s curriculum is built on this research.

When young children are consistently engaged by music in an age-appropriate, socially accepting environment, they benefit at many levels:

  • They gain the phonological processing, spoken language, and comprehension skills that are the foundation of reading.
  • They build the spatial-temporal and reasoning skills required for math, science, and engineering.
  • They develop social and emotional skills that are essential for school readiness—like the ability to regulate their responses and relate to others in complex ways.

By moving and dancing to music and playing simple instruments, children improve their gross and fine motor skills. Activities that encourage freedom within a fun and friendly structure spark their creativity.”

I’ve watched my kids grow to love a variety of music, dance, and instrument play that has carried over from class to home.  We play different types of music and dance around the house.  We play instruments, make our own music, and make up our own songs.  Parker has become quite the singer and Brandon is learning to get his groove on.  Music and music education has become an important part of our lives.


Parker saw a ladybug today and quickly identified its elytra.  How many three year olds know what elytra is?  They would if they watched The Fascinating World of Insects!  He watched the video with us while it was in production and learned several interesting facts and details about the insects.  Now, he is able to interact with the insects he sees and talk about them at a higher level than other kids his age.  Just by watching The Fascinating World of Insects, he’s been given an opportunity to increase his vocabulary now that should enable him to achieve at a greater level later.

“The Zoo is Fun!”

Logo used until 2011
Logo used until 2011 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What a fantastic day at the zoo!  I packed up the kids, the wagon, a picnic lunch, and headed out for Woodland Park Zoo.  Before we even got past the first exhibit, Parker exclaimed, “The zoo is fun!”  Most of the animals were out in view, which allowed for many questions about why the animals look a certain way or do what they do.  We were able to observe feeding time for several animals, as well.  It was fun to talk with Parker about the animals and their habitats and to answer the several hundred questions he asked.  I loved watching Brandon’s reaction to the different animals, too.  He seemed indifferent to many, but smiled at the meerkat exhibit, squealed when he saw the elephants, and roared at the lions.

I felt this was such a valuable experience for both of my boys.  Parker is at a point in his development where he is able to ask specific questions regarding the animals’ food, actions, and habitats.  He’s very curious and this was an opportunity for me to turn our day trip into a daylong science lesson. Brandon, on the other hand, is learning to identify animals and what sounds they make.  He was able to see, firsthand, the animals that we see pictures of and talk about at home.  I believe it made a difference seeing the animals in person and helped him improve his vocabulary and language. By going to the zoo, my boys can learn about the world around them. We’ll definitely return in the coming months.

For the Love of Reading

It’s exciting to witness Parker’s reading development!  He’s not quite three years old and reading!  He calls out words like bank, zoo, east, and west while in the car.  He reads sections of his books to us and his younger brother.  He identifies words in the books that my husband and I read.  Although he surprises us every day with what he can read, I think we gave him, and continue to give him, an environment that has facilitated his skill development.

The U.S. Department of Education lists various activities to do with your children to encourage literacy development and I was pleased to see that we already do quite a bit of what they suggest. We have read to Parker from day one and surround him with a literate rich environment.  Children’s books, adult fiction and nonfiction, magazines, letter magnets, and foam letters in the bath fill our home.  We point out and talk about signs in the community.  Parker loves to be read to from both his books and ours.  Frequently, he asks us to read out loud from the books we are reading.  We read to him while he’s in the bath. In fact, he’s chosen to listen to the first two Harry Potter books and

The Chronicles of Narnia
The Chronicles of Narnia (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

the Narnia series.  Looking through magazines with Parker from an early age has been fun because we use them for vocabulary building.  We’d either point to a picture or ask him to name it, or we’d ask him to point to a particular picture.  It was so fun and rewarding to see that adorable smile on his face when he knew he was correct. Parker loves to sing the Alphabet Song and we play with how fast or slow we sing it.  He thinks it so funny to hear Mommy sing the ABC’s as fast as she can.  One game he likes to play is where one of us chooses a letter and then we take turns naming words that start with that letter.  The list goes on and on.

The idea is to continuously play with words and sounds and encourage our children to play along.  Show them how important reading is.  Not just from books, but in all elements of our lives.  Help instill the love of reading and get them hooked at an early age, and there’s no telling where their skills will lead them.

Beginning to Write

Writing (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As a middle school teacher, I still see kids with immature pencil grips. I wonder how they got to this point in their school career with this grip and the messy handwriting that seems to go along with it. I then wonder how I can teach my sons how to write while holding their pencil correctly and without stress and frustration. In my quest for answers, I found a useful book called The Write Start: A Guide to Nurturing Writing at Every Stage, from Scribbling to Forming Letters and Writing Stories by Jennifer Hallissy. The author is an occupational therapist who offers thorough explanations of the stages of writing and activities to promote the use of a correct grip. She even provides step-by-step directions of a correct grip.  I can now encourage my preschooler to move his little fingers a certain way, much to his chagrin.   I’ve also tried some of these activities with him and have seen a difference in his ability to complete the task without the frustration that he sometimes feels.  He doesn’t even know that playing with Play-Doh, finger painting, and using sidewalk chalk are getting his hands ready for handwriting.   It’s been exciting to watch his writing develop from nondescript scribbles to defined circles and lines.

Talk, Talk, Talk

Talk, talk, talk.  Sometimes I feel as though I’m talking to myself.  I remind myself that talking to my young children really is to their benefit, even though Brandon (age 13 months) may not respond much with his own words.  My husband and I use everyday language and vocabulary without watering it down, and we expose them to different perspectives and ideas.  It’s important to let the kids hear my husband and I have conversations, too, to learn the social aspect of conversation.  Betty Hart and Todd Risley conducted a longitudinal study looking at how much kids were talked to in the very early years and their vocabulary development and future academic success.  The results were impressive.  From their website, http://www.lenababy.com/Study.aspx:

“With few exceptions, the more parents talked to their children, the faster the children’s vocabularies were growing and the higher the children’s IQ test scores at age three and later.”

“The data revealed that the most important aspect of children’s language experience is its amount.”

“Differences in the amount of cumulative experience children had … were strongly linked to differences at age three in children’s rates of vocabulary growth, vocabulary use, and general accomplishments and strongly linked to differences in school performance at age nine.”

The gist is this, as Peg Tyre wrote in The Good School: How Smart Parents Get Their Kids the Education They Deserve, “The more children are spoken to, the more they themselves speak.  And the more they speak, the greater their vocabularies.  The greater their vocabularies, the better their reading fluency and reading comprehension is likely to be.”  I see this abundance of vocabulary and impressive reading skill in my almost three year old, Parker.  He speaks in complex sentences, uses advanced vocabulary, and shares amazing, imaginative ideas.  I attribute this to the constant conversation he has with the people around him and being read to from not only the children’s books that he enjoys, but also from our higher level texts that we read aloud.

So talk to your children.  Talk a lot. Talk out loud while you’re at the grocery store, post office, or in the car.  Point out what you see and describe it.  Ask your children questions.  Help them develop answers, if necessary.  Engage your children in conversation on a regular basis.  Your child’s increased intelligence and later success may depend on it.