Monday, January 31, 2011

Tip 12 - Play on Words

Try this word play game to build your child's vocabulary as well as the symbol centers of the left hemisphere and left temporal lobe structures that underlie good writing skills:

Double Meanings – ages 4-14 – Next car ride, make a game out of thinking of words that have more than one meaning like nurse (an RN ("she is a nurse") and drinking very slowly ("he nursed his drink") or think of as many meanings or expressions as you can using common everyday words – for example, chain (daisy chain, chain gang, chain link fence, silver chain, chain of command), call (house call, bird call, calling card, roll call),tree (e.g. tree house, shoe tree, family tree, money tree, tree of life), house (e.g. houseboat, household, housewife, house of cards, full house, birdhouse), foot (hot foot, foot loose, foot long), bird (bird brain, eat like a bird, bird song), horse (horse around, Charlie horse) , monkey (grease monkey, monkey see monkey do, monkey around) ,dish (soap dish, dish soap, dish it out, dish it up, she’s a dish), seat (hot seat, Congressional seat), soap (soap opera, soap suds).

Younger children (under six years) may find it easiest to try thinking of two meanings of any common word. But older children (seven to ten) can try to think of expressions or idioms using common words, like book (book end, bookish, book a trip, Good Book, bookkeeper). By middle school children can make up “punny” jokes.


Wordplay creates a sense of the magic of words. It helps children understand that words are symbols, and since symbols are flexible, word play builds brains that are creative and open to new ways of thinking.  Most parents are well aware of how words we used when we were young have very different meanings today, because as the world changes so does the meaning of common words. Think how different the meaning of word ‘web’ is today from when you were young, or how about“tweet” and “network”.

Understanding that words can have more than one meaning and meanings change over time, fosters good speaking, writing and composition skills. When words are used in unique, clever ways we call that a “play on words.”  Learning new meanings of words builds vocabulary skills, strengthens the advanced symbol networks of the brain in the left hemisphere and enables children to be creative wordsmiths. With more and more emphasis on essays in college entrance examinations, starting early to build your child’s comfort with and enjoyment of words will provide an advantage at every grade.

Step 12 – Play on words builds the vocabulary skills that improve writing and composition

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Tip 11 - Mind Games

Try these great rainy-day and birthday party activities to cultivate your child’s ability to take the perspective of others.
Play pretend2 to four years –. Realizing that with imagination one object can substitute for another,  a block can be a  house,  a box a garage, a piece of string a road, help your child build a city on the floor with objects from around the house. Explain that this is a made-up city and see if your child can come up with ideas of his own:  bridges made out of wooden spoons, doll beds made out of shoe boxes, etc. , To help build your child’s interest in sounds, cars in the made-up city can make  different sounds, like the roar of a train, the putt….putt….putt of a an old car, the “errrrr” of a police siren. As children get a little older they will love to dress up in your clothes and pretend they are grown-ups. Pretending is the beginning of moving out of the ‘here and now’ and a focus on ‘me’ to start to take the perspective of others.  Researchers call this “theory of mind” – a skill that is the center of “people skills” and essential for getting along with others and ultimately managing others in a profession or in business
Sock Puppets 3  to five years – one of the best rainy day activities for preschool aged children is to make puppets out of old socks with some left over buttons, string, markers and a little glue. Children love to create their own puppets and then think of stories for them to act out. When children use puppets they are automatically trying to figure out how someone else thinks—taking the perspective of another person. Whenever a child pretends to be someone else, they have to think like that other person.  That skill becomes an asset as a child gets older and wants to make new friends, join new clubs, or adapt to a new school, for example.
Charades6 years to adult – Another rainy-day or birthday party game that keeps school-aged children busy for hours is Charades. The classic way to play is to make a list of movie titles, TV shows, common phases, popular books, and the like. Write one each on index cards, put them in a box  and have children pick them from a hat and try to act them out  for their friends without using any words. You can form teams that compete by taking turns with the charades and either keeping time or keeping tabs at how many guesses it took before the team guesses the phrase. Learning to communicate without words and to “read’ the faces and gestures of others is a critical skill for success in most careers; Charades is one way to builds those skills.
Researchers have found that taking the perspective of others, often called “Theory of Mind” is a skill that distinguishes a mature brain from a childish brain and differentiates adolescents who are achievement oriented leaders and from those who have problems resisting peer influence.  The ability to take the perspective of others is not only essential for development of social skills but also important for most high level professions from medicine, teaching, and coaching, to business management and sales. It appears that this skill is acquired over a long period of time so  enjoy creating opportunities for your child to develop the ability to “take perspective” with activities that inspire pretending to be someone else.
Step 11 -  Mind Games - build your child's mind through games that involve pretending to cultivate the ability to take the perspective of others

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Tip 10 - Play It Smart

Try these games to help build your child's ability to develop problem solving skills.

1. Making mobiles move: ages 3 months to 8 months - infants are learning all about how to make things happen in the world. At around three or four months you may notice you child will experiment with different kinds of crying to see how to get your attention. This is actually the beginning of problem solving. To encourage your child to experiment with making the world interesting, hang mobiles over the crib or stroller that will move if your baby bounces, waves her hands, or kicks with his feet.  You don't need expensive toys, but do make sure nothing can break off and be swallowed. You can try hanging small paper airplanes made with different colors of construction paper, or small bells that make noise when they move. All of these kinds of objects will fascinate your baby and help her to learn that she can make the world more interesting all by herself, just by moving

2. Stacking and building games: ages 9 months to 3 years - Young children love to figure out how to build things. That is why blocks and stacking toys have been around for so many centuries. But, there are many things your child would love to experiment with: stacking plastic cups, empty food cans and jars, empty boxes -- the list is endless. Help your child discover how small boxes can fit into bigger ones, how pots and pans of various sizes can be nested, how empty vitamin jars can hold fun things like marbles and pennies. Letting your child stack and build from empty containers teaches flexibility, creativity and ingenuity. And it won't cost you a dime.

3. "How much is in here?" Ages 3 - 4 years - Remember how you once thought that a small glass that was full had more in it than a big glass half empty?  A famous developmental expert Jean Piaget called that 'conservation' and it is a great game to play to build intelligence. Put a few drops of food coloring into a small glass of water. Then put out two or three clear glasses (so your child can see how full they are) that might be taller but thinner or shorter and wider. Let your child pour the colored water from glass to glass to see how the same amount seems different in each glass. You can do the same thing by coloring salt with the food coloring also and pouring it from cup to cup or glass to glass. Watch how your child experiments with pouring to try to figure out why the amount seems to change. Ask your child if he can think of an experiment to try on his own.

4. The sorting gameAges 4-7 years - If you have toy box or a closet with lots of toys (blocks, cars, pull toys, dolls, puzzles, etc.) make a game out of sorting the toys. To build self confidence and problem-solving skills, let your child decide how he would like to sort the toys. (You might want to sort them by type - dolls in one pile, trucks in another). Your child might want to sort by color or size. That is just fine. If the toys are sorted one way today, see if your child can think of another way they could be sorted another day. Make a chart of the ways the toys have been sorted and ask your child (or your entire family) to vote on the way they liked best. Sorting things different ways builds flexibility of thinking.

5. Unstructured play with friends: Ages 8-12 - Try to make sure your school-age child has at least a day or two a week when they get to play with friends outside without an adult telling them what to do. (It can be inside of course if you keep TV and video games out of the mix.) You can suggest projects, like figuring out how to build an igloo after a winter snow storm or looking for interesting bugs in a grassy field. Experts on problem-solving skills like Adele Diamond emphasize that when children invent new games and create their own adventures without adult supervision they are building the kind of problem-solving skills that foster creativity and leadership.


Did you know that one of the most reliable measures of success in adult life is ability to solve new problems you have never faced before? That skill builds a late maturing part of the brain called the dorsolateral pre-frontal lobe and develops as children have problems to solve and use flexible thinking to come up with alternative solutions. When you play games with your child that emphasize change, flexibility and experimenting with how problems can be solved in different ways - you are teaching your child to be a creative problem solver. Those are the very skills that brain scientists attribute to adults who reach success in their careers.
STEP 10 – PLAY IT SMART  with games that give your child an opportunity to solve problems themselves

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Tip 9 - About Face: Building Emotional Intelligence

Try these games to build your child’s interest in faces as a gateway to understanding others.
Peek-a-boo – ages 8 months to two years – You know this game. Take a book or just a piece of paper and cover your face.  Move the paper away from your face a different direction, each time making a different facial expression:  frown, smile, show your teeth, stick out your tongue, etc.  This is a great game to settle down your fussy infant during a plane ride and can occupy a youngster for long periods of time. In fact, you will probably find that your child will stick with the game long after you have reached your saturation point.
Animal faces – ages two and a half to five -- fish pucker their lips, beavers have buck teeth, snakes stick out their tongues, cows chew their cud, and bunnies wiggle their noses. Although animals don’t have facial expressions, we can imitate how their faces look, and children love that.  Imitate an animal and see if your child can guess what animal it is. Or, ask your child to imitate an animal and you guess. Or, look at close-up photos of animals in animal picture books and try to imitate their faces
The barrier game – age four to ten – (Charades for young children) Sit at a table with a screen or other partition between you and your child. Each of you picks an object out of a toy box without the other knowing what you chose. You are not allowed to use words or sounds or show the object; you only use gestures and facial expression to try to get the other person to know what is hidden from view. For example, if you choose a truck you can gesture holding a car steering wheel with two hands while you intently look to left and right to scan for traffic. Or, if you choose a doll baby you can imitate rocking or feeding the baby. If you choose blocks you can gesture building with the blocks and smile at your imaginary construction. The object is to be creative about  communicating without words, a good exercise for the right side of the brain.
I know you have read and heard about social intelligence.  Neuroscience research has shown that the human infant is very tuned in to emotion conveyed by voices and faces.  At four months of age the infant relies on voice inflection and facial expression combined, but by seven months the child starts to be able to deduce emotion from facial expression alone. This skill is being honed long before a child begins to talk, suggesting that we are very social animals.  So, as far as the brain is concerned, reading faces is just as important as listening to speech.
Step 9 – build social intelligence through games that involve reading facial expression

Monday, January 10, 2011

Tip 8 -- Play Attention!

Did you know that many games we play with childiren are actually the same type of activities used by psychologists to train attention skills? 

Two good games for developing impulse control (one kind of attentional skill) are:
“Simon Says”  – ages 4-9 – great game for building an attentional skill researchers call inhibition. Most parents remember Simon Says from when they were young.  The person in-charge, the caller,  calls out relatively simple commands like “stand up” or “raise your hand”. If the command is preceded by “Simon Says”  the child should do it, if not the child should not follow the command. As the caller calls out the commands they can become faster so that the child has to inhibit the response to act more quickly. “Mother-may-I” is an older playground version of Simon Says in reverse, where a child has to ask “Mother may i?” before following the command.
“Clap when I say ____” ages 5 – 12 – is sometimes called a continuous performance test.  In this case the caller provides a specific target letter, number or word that a child needs to listen for; for example, the letter “m”. Then the caller reads a list where the target word, letter or number will occur randomly. Every time that target is heard the child should clap, but resist the impulse to clap when similar sounding targets occur. For older children, the target can be two words occurring together like the letter “a” only when it is preceded by the letter “c”, for example.  In the more difficult case, the child will have to resist the impulse to clap at the letter “a” when it occurs by itself in the list.

THese games that improve your child’s ability to focus attention and reduce impulsiveness can be played in the car on long trips or at parties where children compete to keep from being eliminated by making an impulsive mistake.
We tend to think that attentional skills are inherent and unchangeable, but actually Courtney Stevens at University of Oregon has shown that attention can be trained. One kind of attentional skill that seems to be influenced by training is the ability to resist an impulse.  Called response inhibition, this attentional skill improves as we mature.  Impulsivity is common when anyone has a behavior that is highly conditioned. How often have you started out to run an errand in the car, for example, and found yourself absentmindedly driving a route you might take to work instead of the errand you had in mind. 
Brain researchers like Adele Diamond  in Vancouver refer to the ability to resist falling back on a habit or a knee-jerk reaction as inhibiting a pre-potent response. Learning to inhibit those responses requires us to stay alert and purposeful and it is a skill all of us must master to reduce impulsivity; so that we stop and think before we act. Impulsivity gradually decreases as we age but is a particular problem for children diagnosed with ADHD. An example of impulsivity in a classroom might be yelling out questions , comments or answers in a  instead of raising one’s hand, or popping up from a desk at inappropriate times, or even looking a someone else’s paper during a test.  Impulsivity on the playground might include chasing a ball into the street without checking for cars or hitting someone who accidently bumps into you. Impulsivity can get a child in trouble or annoy classmates but it is also a sign of maturity to be able to control impulses. Teaching inhibition through games when your child is young helps your child master self-control and build confidence in the ability to “think before acting.”
To build good attentional skills start with games that require focus and concentration --- PLAY ATTENTION!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Tip 7 - Memory Magic

Games you can play with your child to help build memory skills are:

Concentration - ages 5 - adult -- builds visual working memory -- With a common deck of cards turn them face down on a table. Each person gets a chance to turn over two cards at a time when it is their turn. If the cards match, the player gets to keep that pair and gets another opportunity to turn over two more cards.

Going on a trip -- ages 6 - 12 --builds auditory working memory -- With a few players start on a trip where the first person chooses to take something that starts with the letter A, the next person has to remember the item that started with the letter A and think of an object to take that starts with a letter B. The next player has to recall both the A and B objects and add something that starts with a letter C and so on. Keep going as far through the alphabet as possible. (This game is fun to play on long car rides).

Modified scavenger hunt - ages 7--16 --builds visual and spatial memory - Draw a map with clues placed under objects around a room. Show the map to players who will have to remember all the objects they have to turn over in the correct order. For example, the first clue might be under a chair cushion, the second clue under a flower pot, the third clue behind the TV and so on. One or more children look at the map and try to hold all the clue locations in their mind as they pick up the clues. All the clues will be needed to find the prize - for example the clues might read 1. "a hard floor", 2."lots of white", 3. " no curtains nearby", 4 "metal", 5." in a drawer", 6. "at the bottom".  In this case the prize was in a bottom, pots and pan drawer in the kitchen -- all the clues were helpful to solve the puzzle but remembering the map where the clues were hidden was essential.

All ages -- If you go shopping with your children along you can make a memory game out of that as well by asking each person to remember a few things to purchase at the store. See if each family member can remember more than the time before each time they go shopping and post the name of the "champion shopping list master" on the refrigerator each week.

Why play memory games?

Children who do well in school, especially in the early grades, are often children with good short term memory. They can easily remember and follow directions, they can remember newly learned words easily, they can remember things they hear and read. The type of short term memory we use for activities like reading a book and holding on to items on a shopping list until we can get to the store is called working memory. Working memory is a term first proposed by the English Psychologist Alan Baddeley a few decades ago and has been of interest to brain scientists ever since The reason that working memory seems so important is that it may underlie many school achievement problems but, when exercised, may increase our capacity to solve problems and plan for the future. Suzanne Jaeggi and her colleagues at University of Michigan have shown that when typical adults exercise their working memory for just a few minutes a day, their problem solving skills improve significantly.

Children who do not have particularly good working memory skills are at a disadvantage in school because so much early learning depends on holding information for short periods of time. For example, if I am reading a book, I need to remember what happened in the chapters leading up to where I am now or I will have to go back and scan the pages to refresh my memory about the characters or other details of the story. A child who has trouble with working memory may have to re-read sections of a book over and over until it sinks in.  This will be especially problematic around the fourth or fifth grade when students are reading to learn.

Children with working memory difficulties also often struggle with other aspects of school as well like test taking and even paying attention in class. When a student takes a multiple choice test, he has to remember the question as he reads all the answer choices below it. Children who have trouble with working memory often re-read test questions and possible answers over and over, which slows down their ability to finish the test even though they might know all the answers. There is quite a bit of evidence that working memory and attention skills are related as well. When children with attention problems do working memory exercises daily for several weeks their attentional skills improve along with their working memory skills.

And by the way, each time you try to remember a shopping list yourself without resorting to writing it down, or try to remember new names at a party, you are exercising your own working memory. What builds your child's brain builds your brain too -- give it a try!

Parent Smart Step 7 - Use Memory Magic to build attention, memory and problem solving skills.