Friday, February 25, 2011

Tip 18 -More Teen Talk & Right Brain Games

There was a great response to the last Teen Talk post so here are a few more ideas from those of you who read this blog to get your teens talking to you while buillding their language and social skills.

The lyric game --ages 10 to 16 - Here is another song game you can play on long car rides suggested by Dan Roeder.  Pick a common word (girl, boy, happy, green, etc) then take turns saying or singing lyrics of songs with the target word in one of the lines. To get credit for a song, a game player has to give at least a few lines in the song. This is a great way to work on rapid recall of words and sentences. It is also a fun way for teens to share their song preferences. You can of course make ground rules, like no 'swear' or 'cuss' words or no lyrics that are derogatory toward a gender or ethnicity.

The Translator Game - ages 10 - 14 - This is a party game suggested by Rebecca Floyd for pre-teens that builds the ability of one player to communicate without words and the other player to speak in clear, well organized sentences  One person volunteers to be the "translator", the other is a visitor from outer space.  The visitor from outer space tries to communicate something without understandable words. He or she speaks in complete gibberish with gestures, facial expressions and tone of voice. After a few "sentences", the visitor stops and the "translator" has to tell everyone what was said. You can suggest a location or a goal, for example, "the visitor from outer space meets you in a shopping mall and appears to want information on something to buy".  In addition to building nonverbal communication skills, this game helps the translator read non-verbal communication cues as well as interpret them using well organized words and sentences. Rebecca states that she has actually had some children who are acting as the "translator" speak to the "foreigner" in gibberish to "ask" for clarification. You can join in the fun with your teens by volunteering to be either the translator or visitor from time to time.

The Freeze Game - ages 14 - 18 - Also suggested by Rebecca Floyd pick a setting ( for example a birthday party for the high school principal;  the carpool to school after a late night party the night before, etc.) and select two teens to start improvising the scene. The adult in the group is the "director" and either says "freeze" or changes the setting or situation to take the scene in a different direction ( for example, the principal leaves suddenly but a teen from a rival school shows up, or the the car pool decides to go to a parade instead of school) . At any time the director can say "freeze" and the actors must freeze in the pose at that moment.  The director can then tap either one of the frozen players who must continue the scene, usually taking it into a different direction - with that variation, the other partner has to infer where the other person is going with their change.

Why?  Did you know that the teenage years are an exceptionally important time of brain growth -- a second critical period? During critical periods the brain is changing rapidly to prepare the teen for the adult world they will enter soon. Although critical periods offer a time of opportunity to channel brain development along productive avenues, it also means the teen is very vulnerable to environmental pitfalls as well -- drugs, alchohol, and negative peer influences. That means it is essential parents keep connected with their teens as much as possible.
All of these teen games help parents keep communication channels open with teens while at the same time building important language and communication skills. Games like these encourage teens to abandon their video games for awhile and enjoy the company of their friends in an interactive way. Building the ability to communicate both verbally and non-verbally develops important communication skills that will be beneficial as teens enter adulthood.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Tip 17 - Smart Games for Right Brains-- Acting Out! -- builds social skills

Try these group games suggested by Rebecca Floyd  for rainy days  or during play dates to help your children develop the ability to think about how others think or feel . Thinking about others is a right hemisphere skill that is essential for development of  leadership and social skills
Animal Acts –toddlers Pretending is a great way to get young children to start to think about how others think and feel.  A way to get pretending started with toddlers is to play animal pretend games.  The games can be a guessing game – mom pretends she is an animal and her child has to guess the animal, then your tot can take his turn or a follow the leader game where your child or you can start marching around the room like an animal (monkey or elephant) and take turns being the leader.
Playing House - 3 to 4 years  -Pretending to be a “grown-up” is a way preschoolers can model adult behavior and begin to understand why  parents act the way they do. Preschools often have mock kitchens and play houses, but at home there is no need for expensive toy ovens or cars. A few of your old clothes get children started with “dress-up” games and if you add a couple of large empty cardboard boxes they can become play stoves, or play houses, even garages for a pretend car.
Blindfold ’ Hide and Seek ‘ Game (this builds left brain language skills also) – 5 – 10  years: In a room where you can push most furniture to the side , ask one child in group to be “the seeker”.   Blindfold that child using a sleep mask like the type you wear on an airplane or just by tying a soft cloth over her eyes.  Ask another to volunteer to be the “hider” and help him hide a bell in a place that would be in plain sight if the seeker could see. The “hider” then has to direct the child with the mask to find the bell without peeking. To do this,  the “hider” will have to take the perspective of the child with the blindfold and give very specific directions.  After the bell is found the hider and seeker can switch. If you use a timer you can see which child is best at helping the seeker find the bell the fastest.  The “hider” is not only practicing the right brain skill of “thinking about what the other child needs to know” but also building language processing skills like  selecting the best directional word and correcting direction mistakes. The “seeker” is practicing following commands as well.  

If the children are young, Rebecca suggests you can show the children how to do it first by acting as the “seeker” while the group tries to help you find the bell.  She says she encourages asking clarifying questions, such as "should I take large steps or small steps?", etc.  She also suggests you can help the “seeker”   to visualize the room and use out-stretched hand to feel for clues.

WHY?  The most popular children in school and on the playground are those with good social skills. Brain Researchers, like Rebecca Saxe and her colleagues at MIT, have learned that a key to developing social skills is taking the perspective of others. Taking perspective of others (often called Theory of Mind or Mentalizing) develops an area of the right hemisphere called the right temporal-parietal junction.   Ágnes Melinda Kovács recently published a research article in the journal Science showing that even young babies seem interested in other’s beliefs. By encouraging your children to play games where they practice putting themselves into other people’s shoes, you help them build this uniquely human social skill. My friend Rebecca Floyd also sent me social-skill acting games for teens which I will share in a future post.

ACTING OUT and pretending are great ways to build right hemisphere social skills

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Tip 16 - Plan aHEAD! - Getting things under control builds the brain

Does your child say or do naughty things without thinking? Most children do; but, did you know self-control can be taught?  Try these games and activities to help your child along the process of learning self control – and watch how self-confidence and success in school follow.
PLAY BOOKS - The waiting game – toddlers – Pick a fun floor or table activity that you and your toddler enjoy. It could be playing with cars and trucks, building blocks, dolls, or playing dress-up. Make a three page book with a picture on each page for the three steps in the play activity. Show the pages to the child before play and then again before each new step (or just lay them in order on the floor so your toddler can pick each page up when that step is over)
Page 1 - The game (perhaps a drawing of a car, or a block).
Page 2 – Clean up (perhaps a picture of a hand holding the toy or a box with the toys inside)
Page 3  - The reward for finishing the game and cleaning up
a picture of a snack (like a glass of milk, or an apple), or
a picture of a new activity (like  a book for story time)
The goal is that your child begins to understand there are stages and steps to getting things done and to getting a reward - psychologists refer to this a delayed gratification
ORDER IN THE HOUSE – 3 years to 7 years – All of us feel better when we know the rules. Children are no exception. Establish simple but clear household routines that your child can take control of himself.  You can remind if necessary but encourage your child to do them herself without reminders. Some examples of good situations for routines are:
1.       Bedtime routines
·         When undressing at night, put shoes against the wall (left shoe on the left and right shoe on the right)
·         Toss dirty clothes in the hamper or basket
·         Pick out a book to read together
2.       Clean-up routines
·         Clean up one group of toys before starting a new game or activity
·         Have a routine and regular spot to hang coats, leave boots, umbrellas, dirty shoes
·         After-school healthy snacks are a great reward for everything in its place
3.       Meal-time routines
·         Table-setting
·         Table clearing
·         Turn taking in conversations
·         Dessert is a wonderful reward for a meal where everyone pitches in

CLEAR RULES – pre-teens and teens – Limits are essential as your younster begins to assert himself and strives for more independence. It is important to respect and acknowledge your teen's appropriate choices but also to have clear rules so it is harder for her to make mistakes that hurt herself or others. Every house should have rules that require:
1.       Homework is completed before there is any screen time – TV and computer games are entertainment – the reward for a job well done
2.       Lists of safe places your teen may go without you and lists of places that require adult supervision
3.       Keeping obligations – a promise made is a promise kept
WHY?  Self –control is not something we are born with. It is an important part of the development of the pre-frontal lobe, the part of the brain that is very important for many skills we see in successful adults, like the the ability to set goals or the ability to focus and ignore distractions.  So it is not surprising that a newly published 32 year study by Terrie Moffitt at Duke University in collaboration with colleagues in Britain and New Zealand found that self-control in children predicts success 30 years later.  The team followed 1000 children from birth to 32 years of age.  They report that regardless of intelligence or social class, children who had good self-control when they were young, had better health and made more money as adults than children with poor self control. And in 500 families, where they followed two children in the family, sisters or brothers, the child with the better self-control was more successful as an adult, even though raised by the same parents in the same home.  

And the good news!, Mary Alvord, a clinical psychologist in Maryland has written a book that will help you teach children self-control strategies. In her book, Resilience Builder Program for Children and Adolescents, she provides practical self-control strategies for your home like delaying gratification (used in my play book suggestion above)  or having clear rules for teens.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Tip 15 - Teen Talk - Smart Car-Radio Games

Having trouble getting conversations started with your teen or pre-teen? Try these suggestions offered by my friends Leslie Eicher and Seldon Short with your pre-teen or teen next time you are diving somewhere together.

Smart Talk Radio Ages 12 – 18 --While riding in the car (only if your teen is a passenger, not if your teen is driving,) turn on your car radio to a talk radio station you trust. It could be sports talk radio, a religious station, National Public Radio, or a political station. Your teen might balk at first and want to go to his own iPod but after a minute or so, before he can get his earphones hooked up, just ask – “What do you think about that?”  Most likely your teen probably was not listening, so you can rephrase the question, “That man just said that Jerry Sloan, the coach of the Utah Jazz, is one of the best coaches ever in the NBA and now he is retiring. What do you think?”  Don’t worry if you teen does not want to play along at first. My friend Leslie Eicher, who recommended this to me, said it takes a little while before your child warms up to the idea of a conversation like this and really believes that you are interested in their opinion. But keep trying. After awhile you will be amazed at how much your teen will volunteer opinions about topics – even topics that seem unimportant to them like the rebellion in Egypt, or a possible NBA walkout.
You can of course take turns selecting the radio station – which is a good way to learn what your teen likes to discuss. But do stick to talk radio for this activity, that allows you to engage in a conversation and provides a forum for your teen to express opinions. 

WHY? Brain researchers now know that adolescence is a time when the brain goes through a second burst of development (the first burst in brain development occurs during the first few years of life). One part of the brain that is blooming during this time is the very tip of the frontal lobe. That part of the brain is essential for setting goals, thinking about the future, and thinking about other people. Expressing opinions on topics of interest builds that part of the brain and gives a teen a sense of the value of his own opinions. Laurence Steinberg and his colleagues at Temple University have found that teens who are encouraged to think for themselves are better able to resist peer influence and make independent choices.

“Name that Tune” Ages 8-adultIf you have a car with Satellite radio, this is a game I learned from my friend Seldon Short that everyone in the car can play.  Choose a radio station that has the kind of songs everyone in the car might know. If could be songs from movies, popular teen idols, folk music, rock music, oldies, rap, show-tunes, songs from a specific decade, etc. When a new song comes on cover up the display and make a contest about who can name the song, the performing artist and (if you get really good at this) the year it came out. The check the display to check the answers if necessary. You can make the game even more challenging by trying to think of other facts about the song like the name of the album, names of other members of the band, or other songs by the same person or group.

WHY? Rapid naming is a skill associated with speaking easily and effortlessly. There are many naming games that can be fun on long car rides.  I have suggested others in previous posts. But, when you play a naming game, especially one in which your child or teen may be better than you, it builds their confidence, trust and enjoyment.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Tip 14 - Potter Puzzles - Build the brain’s flexibiltiy, sequencing, alphabetic and chronology skills

Build mental flexibility, sequencing, alphabetic and chronology skills through Potter Puzzles
Potter Puzzles – Build mental flexibility, sequencing, alphabetic and chronology skills

There are many ways to build lists. Listing by age, by letters of the alphabet, even alphabetizing first names of family members, is a great way to build alphabetic and sequencing skills. Making it into a game with characters every child loves turns it into a fun game to play at dinner.

Harry Potter Dinner or Birthday Party Game  Ages 5- teenage  If your child loves the  Harry Potter, books, here is a suggestion given to me by Dana Truby, editor of a school administrator newsletter, that provides a great opportunity to play dinner or party games that actually build sequencing and categorization skills. Dana says she asks her children to list characters by different categories based on their ages. Alternate ways to list the characters would be:
·         Ages 8-10 - Alphabetize characters under a specific category (like members of a family,  Muggle characters, Wizards, or students at Hogwarts during one of Harry’s years there.)
·         Ages 10 – teens - List characters from a specific book in the order that they appear in the book.
·         Teenagers – Make up your own wizard names. Keep a list of the newly created names as on your refrigerator and have the family vote or give a prize in honor of the best name as a birthday or holiday present.

Other options? Any T.V. show or book your child enjoys can be your choice - some parents told me thier children love "The Simpsons" for example. There is no perfect choice - adapt it to your child's interests
Remembering names builds working memory skills and creating the lists builds alphabetic, sequencing, and chronology skills. Even better, each time a child categorizes or lists items in a new way, he is building mental flexibility – one of the hallmarks of a maturing frontal lobe – the part of the brain that allows for novel problem solving. Children love these games because they are often better at the games than their parents and because they enjoy the books so much and are so good a learning new names. (Parents:  note that as you age, remembering names often gets more difficult). Older children can build their creativity by thinking of new names.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Tip 13 - Listen UP! - Build listening and reading skills

Listening to stories helps build your child’s ability pay attention in school, discriminate speech, understand spoken language, and develop skills essential for learning to read.

Bed-time storiesages one  to eight years – Does your child have trouble winding down to go to sleep? A simple and wonderful way to quiet your child down and prepare for sleep is to read stories before bed.   It doesn’t matter what the stories are. Many very young children love to hear the same storybook over and over, that is just fine.   Try to make a habit of 15 or more minutes a day of “quiet time” before bed in which your child selects a book and you read it together.
·         Start by reading a favorite bed-time book to your child each night for about 15 minutes as you sit together on the bed. You can read and your child listen
·         Ages 1 – 2 years – many books will be picture books – just enjoy naming the cars or animals on each page with your child. Cloth books are especially nice for toddlers.
·         At about 18 months to 2 years ask your child to point to pictures themselves, if you read a story, point to key written words as you read
·         Ages 2 – 3 years  - Move to story books and begin telling the story together – as your child starts to memorize the book let your child alternate by telling part of the story
·         Ages 3 – 4 years  - Point to important words from the story that are written on the page as you read – see if your child can find that word later
·         Ages 5 – 6 years – Alternate pages to be read aloud with your child. You can use books from school or favorite bed-time story books but let your child read with you.
·         Ages 7 – 8 – Let your child read the book all by herself, or make it a family bed-time activity in which an older child reads a bed-time story to a younger child
Audio Booksall ages – Rather than bringing a DVD player along on a trip, try audio-books. The advantage of an audio book over a DVD is that it builds listening skills which are critical for doing well in school and allows your child to follow along with the written pages as they listen to the book, so it builds reading skills as well. AND, audio books are available from your public library and some websites for free!
·         If you choose an audio book from the library for a school-age child, ask the librarian for an unabridged version of the book as well (that means the audio version of the book is exactly the same as the written version) so your child can work on reading as well as listening.
·         I found a website that offers audio book downloads for free:

Over three-quarters of classroom instruction is presented through talking. As children get farther in school most of the rest of instruction is through reading. New research published in 2011 by Bart Boets and his colleagues in Belgium, indicates that children who have trouble discriminating speech (audiologists term this Auditory Processing Disorder [APD]), often seen as “poor listening skills” in school, become struggling readers as they get older. Another 2011 study by Cassandra R. Billiet and Teri James Bellis in South Dakota, indicates that auditory training helps remediate auditory processing problems associated with reading problems. Listening to clear auditory speech signals in a quiet room (the bedroom is one of the quietest rooms in the house) or through good quality headphones, provide wonderful auditory training opportunities for your child.

Reading aloud before bed and listening to audio books through ear phones trains the brain’s auditory processing skills: easy ways to improve listening and reading skills  for success in school.