Thursday, March 31, 2011

Tip 22 - Prediction Games build Faster Brains

Looking for a way to keep your children occupied during long waits in amusement park lines, at the doctor’s office, or at restaurants? One aspect of human thinking that makes us so good at everything from reading to solving new math problems is prediction – and prediction games are a great way to build the left hemisphere.
What comes next? Ages 7-11 Make up a series of numbers or letters that repeat themselves in a sequence – like:  A B A C A D A _? You knew the next letter was going to be an E because you could predict the answer from the series pattern.  Try to come up with as many letter or number patterns like that yourself when you and your child (and their friends)  are driving in the car or sitting waiting for food at restaurant. Puzzle books are full of series like these that get progressively more difficult and some ideas are below but it is more fun if you and your child try to develop them yourselves. And don’t feel you have to limit them to letters and numbers, words and familiar phrases can be just as much fun.
                Letter series: A B C X Y Z D E ___  ; A Z B Y C ____
                Number series: 1 3 5 7 ____;  2 5 8 11 ___                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             Opposites: Top – bottom, over—under, high -- _____
                Word associations: Red – apple; green – bean; yellow ______
                Made up rhymes: I like dogs and dogs like __; that is something you can _____
What comes next? Ages 3-6 With younger children favorite nursery rhymes and songs can be make great  prediction games. You child might enjoy taking turns thinking of favorite poems also, one she get’s the hang of it.
Twinkle, twinkle, little star. How I wonder what you ____
Little Miss Muffett sat on a ________
Peas porridge hot, peas porridge cold, peas porridge in the pot_______
Hickory, DIckory, Dock, the mouse ran up the clock______
What comes next? Teens and Pre-teens The nice thing about prediction games is that there is no limit to how complex you can make them, so they can make good mealtime or car trip activities for older children as well. Series will be more difficult if the pattern does not emerge until five or six items, or if multiplication or division is involved. Some examples are below, but as always, encouraging your teen to come up with their own keeps the interest high.
Longer series – 1,9, 5, 2, 10, ___
Series involving mathematical computations – 10, 2, 5, 12, 2, _____
Series of prime numbers – 1,3, 5, 7, 11, ____
WHY?  One thing the left hemisphere gets very good at is predicting new information based on the past.  At a conference last weekend Dr. Paula Tallal, a neuroscientist who is an expert in how the left side of the brain builds its capacity to process information quickly and easily, discussed research that indicates that one way the left hemisphere builds its capacity for many symbol systems like grammar and math is through prediction.  In early years grammar helps prediction by its structure and consistency. Once we know grammar well we can often predict the end of a sentence just by knowing the beginning as in , “The boy was late to school so instead of walking slowly he decided to run very _____”. Crossword puzzles are examples of prediction games adults like to play with words. Even the speed with which we read a book depends on how well we can predict what might happen next. One of the reasons you read the last few chapters of a good book so much faster than the first is because of your ability to predict what to expect next.
Building prediction skills builds problem solving skills and left hemisphere processing speed

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Tip 21 - Sound Ideas - Building Early Listening Skills

80% of school involves listening, so one of the most important skills a child can develop to do well in school and beyond is the ability to listen carefully and effectively.  Try these activities to get listening skills off to a good start in your infant or young child. My thanks to Carol Lau for the fun title of this blog.
Baby Talk Rocks – infants I hope no one ever told you not to talk “baby-talk” to your young child because infants do not have the ability to “listen” to adult-like sentences very well and most parents naturally modify their talk to children in appropriate ways.  Hold your little baby in your lap about 12 inches away from your face (young babies do not have very good distance vision and are naturally attracted to faces.) Touch your baby’s nose, then mouth, then ears and each time you touch say something like, “You are so cute, you have mommy’s nose. Here is your nose (then touch your own nose and say) this is mommy’s nose.” Do the same thing for each part of the baby’s face you touch and use any kind of speech that comes natural to you – whatever you feel like saying will be just fine. You can then do the same thing while you gently touch your baby’s arm or leg or tummy.
WHY? Babies are naturally very interested in their mother or father and their own body. And, more important, an infant is naturally interested in learning from you – brain researchers call that the Mirror Neuron System. Babies also love to be held, to be talked to and paid attention to, so your infant will hang on every word you say as long as the infant can see you and hear your voice. You cannot spend too much time talking and playing with your infant, and we know from research by Dr. Catherine Snow, that baby-talk is a universal way that parent s get their baby’s attention and build important listening networks in the brain. Baby-talk away!
Sing Sing Sing - Nursery Songs build listening skills – Toddlers “Old MacDonald had a Farm” may be one of the best nursery songs for building listening skills in young children because often their brain is a little better at processing long sounds like those in the environment (the honk of a car, for example) or animal sounds than speech sounds. The “moo-moo” of the cow, the “Meow” of the cat, the “oink-oink” of the pig, the “neigh-neigh” of the horse, the “quack-quack” of the duck and the “woof-woof” of the dog actually help introduce your young child to some easy-to-hear speech sounds like “m”, “k”, and “f” through melody.  Another great early ‘sound’ song with environmental sounds is “The Wheels on the Bus go Round and Round.”
WHY? Research by Gaab and Tallal shows that building your child’s interest in sounds and melody actually prepares the brain well for building important listening skills for later learning. Humans are the only animals (aside from birds) who love music. And the music pathways in the brain are shared with many aspects of language and social skills, so building an interest in melody as well as sounds prepares your child for all aspects of listening. And a bonus is that many people who are good at both music and language end up being very good public speakers. So – sing away.
Sound Ideas – building an interest in speech sounds and music early builds the brain pathways essential for social skills, listening in school, and public speaking.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Tip 20 - Food for Thought

Are you confused about the best diet for your child? Have you heard about gluten-free diets or considered limiting milk products? Neuroscience research suggests one simple meal you can make each day that will help the brain learn and function better, and it doesn’t involve major dietary changes.

Breakfast of Brainiacs  - All ages - A fantastic way to get the brain started each day and perhaps prevent depression, is a breakfast that almost all children love; hot oatmeal  (made with milk or soy milk instead of water) with raisins (or any dried fruit), little or no sugar, and after cooking, add  1/2 tbsp ground flax seed on top. With fresh orange slices on the side this breakfast can't be beat! Oatmeal is gluten free and a great source of fiber while the dried fruit provides important antioxidants and is sweet enough that no sugar is needed.   But the real brain-builder is the uncooked ground flax seed. It has a nice very mild nutty flavor and is packed with Omega 3’s (cooking it depletes the Omega 3's so add it after the oatmeal is fully cooked). By limiting sugar you are also helping to decrease the insulin response to the breakfast so it is filling and satisfying. By making the oatmeal with skim milk or soy milk instead of water, it tastes better, has extra protein and adds calcium. And the orange slices on the side provide vitamin C, more Omega 3 and fiber.
WHY?  Fats (lipids) make up the basic building blocks of the human nervous system.  Probably the most important brain food studied to date for its effect on brain development and mood is a kind of fat, Omega 3. These polyunsaturated fats are called essential fatty acids because you have to get them from your diet, your body cannot make them.  Researchers have known since 1998 that countries with low fish consumption have higher rates of depression and research on obesity suggests that a primary problem with a high saturated fat diet is an Omega 3 deficiency. 

A new study just published last week in Nature Neuroscience by Mathieu Lafourcade and his colleagues in France indicates that animals with low levels of Omega 3 (technical term is n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids) had chemical reactions in the brain that led to behavioral alterations which would be associated with depression in humans. Since Omega 3 deficiency is often observed in western diets, a simple solution is to add foods rich in Omega 3’s to your diet and also your child’s. Cold water fish are often good sources of Omega 3’s but many young children do not like fish. And by the way, it is preferable to get the Omega 3’s from real food sources rather than taking supplement pills.

Flaxseed is hard to digest if it is not ground and when ground it needs to be kept cold (refrigerated). So, if you want to add Omega 3’s at other meals or in other ways, good sources beside ground flaxseed are: 
  • oils (like flaxseed oil, linseed oil, canola oil, walnut oil, wheat germ oil and soybean oil) - but they will need to be kept refrigerated as well
  • green leafy vegetables (like lettuce, broccoli, kale,  and spinach)
  • legumes (like kidney, navy, pinto, lima beans, peas and split peas)
  • citrus fruits, melons, cherries

Friday, March 4, 2011

Tip 19 - Smart Toys - Build Brains

Did you know that floor play with blocks, cars and dolls improves language and attention skills in young children? What better way to build critical brain skills that will help your child learn to play with others as well as improve listening and speaking ability.
Car “talk”  Ages one through three years – Most toddlers, boys and girls, love to move cars along imaginary streets.  You can draw a pretend city with chalk outside on the sidewalk for this game, or design a pretend city with roads outlined with string for inside. Ask your tot to choose a few cars and trucks from the toy box and tape a piece of paper with a different alphabet letter to the top of each car. (If there is a speech sound your child has trouble making like an ‘s’or a ‘k’ it is fine to include that as one of the letters). As you move the cars along the make-believe streets use the letters to guide the sounds the cars and trucks make – "ka ka ka ka", for the car with a letter ‘K’ on top, "er er er" as the siren of a fire-engine with an ‘R’ on top. Your child can of course choose a sound he likes to make for one of the cars as well.
Keep the letters on the top of each car when you put them away so that another day you can see if your child can remember which car made what sound. This game introduces your tot to letters, helps build good speech, and lets the two of you enjoy playing together.
Building Brains through Blocks --Ages one and one-half to four years – Set up two sets of large building blocks on the floor. Sit next to one set of blocks and start to build something – perhaps you could pretend you are building a large city office building, a street with a few houses, or your own apartment building, Ask your child to help you decide:
·         how tall to make the building – concept of size
·         how many rooms the building should have –concept of number
·         where to put the doors and windows—concept of location
·         how to make a roof – creative solutions to a problem( a newspaper might suffice for a roof or an old magazine)
After one building is constructed with the first set of blocks ask your child to build something herself, perhaps a store, church, or gas station nearby. Decide together:
·         what the new building will be – concept of types of buildings
·         where it will be located in your new town or city –concept of location
·         how it will look – will it be similar to the house or different -  concept of same and different from the first house
As your child builds with you try to describe the actions your child is taking.  For example, “Look you made a room on top of the first room, is that a bedroom?” or “My you are making this building so tall!” Don’t feel you have to show your child how to make buildings, enjoy your child’s creativity and go with her ideas.  Just use your words to help the child hear the language that describes his actions.
The research team of Dr. Dimitri Christaki and his colleagues in the department of pediatrics and health services at University of Washington in Seattle published some interesting research in the journal Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine in 2007 showing the power of block play.  Among a group of parents who agreed to keep a diary of play with their children,  the children whose parents reported playing with building blocks had better language and attention skills than those who did not.