Friday, May 27, 2011

Tip 29 - Can-Do Categories - Vocabulary and IQ Builders

Did you know that vocabulary size is one of the most reliable predictors of reading skill? New brain research indicates that vocabulary size is correlated with the size and strength of a very important part of the left hemisphere used for symbolic skills-- not just reading but for all subjects that use symbols like math, music, science, even geography.

Try these categorization activities to build vocabulary skills.

CATEGORY BOOKS - ages 2 to 4- Books that feature one category like 'trucks', 'planes' 'colors' etc. are a great way to start your child thinking about categories. Below are some suggestions on how to use the books to teach commonalities, vocabulary and similarities or differences.

TRUCKS - Ask your child to point to all the dump trucks, then moving vans, then six-wheelers etc. As he does this comment on similarities and differences - "Wow, I see three dump trucks but one is red and these are both blue" "Do you see another red truck?" "Let's count the wheels!" Do you see another truck with a tire on the back?"

TOUCH BOOKS - these books stress words of touch like soft and smooth, but you can add a second component like color or class (animals, clothing) to build vocabulary. "A soft bunny...your Teddy bear is soft too." "A furry slipper and fuzzy pajamas....your winter boots are fuzzy inside too."

NAME THAT ______ -ages 5 -10 A fun car game is to take turns naming categories like fruits and vegetables for younger children, kitchen utensils or car names for older children. Take turns picking the category and being the namer. Keep score and see who comes up with the most interesting categories. Add a challenge by having two or more criteria - green vegetables, vintage cars, fruits that grow in Florida. You can also combine categories like fruits and furniture that start with each letter if the alphabet (arm chair and apple, banana and bed, etc.)[Note to grandparents- this last activity is sometimes used as a test of aging -- so this game will keep your brain young!]

WHY? A component of many IQ tests are questions like, "How are an apple and orange alike? How are they different?" the reason is that this is a measure of both vocabulary and mental flexibility. Category games help build both.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Tip 28: Kum on - You can do better!

"Fast-Tracking to Kindergarten?" This was the headline of a New York Times article on Sunday, May 15 about pushing structured reading and math curriculum in preschools such as Kumon Junior. Many of you may feel pressure to give your child an edge by enrolling her in reading and math memorization classes before kindergarten.  But wait! Child development researchers have found there are better ways to prepare your child for academic and life success; play activities that are more fun, less pressured, and free. The "games" below are based on child development research on the best ways to build math and science readiness skills for school.   You can start by playing these with your child at home then let just let him go -- to experiment through unstructured  play alone or with other children.

MIXING BOWL MATH [Based on Research by Alison Gopnik at UC Berkeley]: Ages 9 - 14 months - Open a low cupboard in your kitchen, or any safe play area, that has unbreakable pots and pans, mixing bowls, and/or measuring cups.  Let your child experiment with the different sizes of bowls, stacking them on top of each other, or nesting one inside the other. As your child plays with the different sized items provide words to describe their sizes, "little, bigger, big, biggest."  Help your child count the bowls as she piles one on top of the other or fits one inside the next. 

12 months to 2 years - When you go to the park, take a few pans, mixing bowls, or measuring cups with you to the sand box and help your child learn how to measure sand by pouring it from one sized bowl to the next. As your child experiments with the amount of sand each container holds, help him to describe how one bowl holds "more" or "less" than the other. Make a pile of sand in a corner of the sandbox by pouring one, after another cup or bowl of sand on the other. Count the number of cups or bowls it takes to make the pile as high as your child's knee or even her waist.

2.5 to 4 years  Next time you make cookies or any other recipe that calls for cups/tablespoons or teaspoons of ingredients, let your child pour the flour or sugar from the measuring cups or spoons into the mixing bowl. Have your child count the number of cups the recipe requires of each ingredient. After combining the ingredients, ask your child to count how many times she stirs the mixture, or let her set a timer for the number of minutes the mixture will cook.

While the food is cooking, ask your child to draw a picture story about mixing the foods. She may just draw circles for each bowl or cup, but that is a perfect opportunity to talk about the numbers of cups or spoons of ingredients that were used. If your child is interested in what the numerals looks like, help her write the number next to his circles. If your child is three or older and interested in writing,  you can write your child's name on the picture with pencil and have your child trace the letters.

BUILDING BLOCK PHYSICS (Based on "Einstein Never Used Flash Cards" by Kathy Hirsh-Pasek):  Ages 18 months to 2 years -Using large wooden building blocks help your toddler to build towers and count how many blocks can be stacked before they fall. Make a game of counting the blocks each time a new tower is built to see if your child can better balance the blocks on each new tower to build a higher tower. Take turns counting the number of blocks then naming the colors as the towers are built.

Ages 2.5 to four years - Using small wooden blocks of different sizes and shapes (no Legos for this game because the goal is to understand the physics of balance)  build towers, walls of buildings, door and window frames in the walls, and bridges over roads, while talking about "balancing the blocks"  for the towers, bridges and walls.. Encourage your child to experiment with methods to construct doorways and windows in the walls by laying blocks half-way on top of a standing block leaving an open space below then "lining up" another block to form the other side of the window or doorway .  As you play, help your child compare sizes of blocks and learn shape words like "square," "rectangle, “and" triangle" as  blocks are piled on each other or leaned against each other.

After building ask your child to draw a picture story about the "city" or "town" that he built. It is fine if your child just draws circles but talk about each one and ask your child what he just drew. Then count the number of "buildings" or "towers' your child drew and practice writing the numeral on the paper. If your child is three or older and interested in writing, he can practice writing his name on the picture as well.

WHY?  I have nothing against structured preschools like Kumon Junior, especially if the alternative is spending time in front of a television. But, both Alison Gopnik at UC Berkeley and Kathy Hirsch-Pasek at Temple University feel this type of approach to pre-school is not necessary. They refer to research that indicates that children who spend time playing games where they can experiment with size, number, nesting, pouring and balancing are not only building skills that will help them with math and science in early grades, they are also developing problem solving skills and discovering the joy of creative innovation.  And when children have ample opportunities with this kind of play at home, on the playground, or at a more conventional preschool or daycare center, they will also be developing tools that can help them engage with other children socially, which helps build teamwork and leadership skills.


Saturday, May 14, 2011

Tip 27: IT TAKES ALL SORTS! - To Be Smart

Did you know sorting acitivities, just like puns we discussed in the previous blog, can build mental flexibility? You can help your child's brain mature at any age by practicing the creativity and problem solving skills that come with flexibility of thought. By building tolerance for change at early ages and playing sorting games, or games that use sorting strategies as children get older, you increase a form of intelligence that is critical to success in life.

Toddler Choices – Ages 2 – 3 Toddlers are not known for their flexibility of course. The “terrible twos” is all about asserting control. But, letting your toddler make a color choice for a shirt for example, “do you want the red shirt or white shirt today?” helps to teach colors as well as build flexibility.
With two-year-olds it is best to provide two-choice options, try some of the choices below and teach new qualitative concepts as well as building flexibility:
Size- “Should we play with the big or small blocks?”
Shape  - “Will your doll sit in the round or square chair?”
Length of time - “ Do you want me to read a long or short book?”
Categories- “ Should we read the book about trucks or animals?”
Object type - “Who will you take to bed, Teddy Bear or Rabbit?”
Texture - “Which blanket do you want, soft or fluffy?,”  
By two and a half to three years, children can handle three choices and you can vary the choices within a category to build even more flexibility; you can also add higher level concepts:
                Height – short, medium and tall or high, medium, low
                Quantity – few, many, a lot
                Volume – empty, more, full
                Flavor –  chocolate, vanilla, strawberry
                Design – stripes, solids, dots

Card Sorting Game – Ages  3 ½ – 6 In an earlier post I talked about how to help children sort their toys, cars or stuffed animals by different categories (color, size, shape) during clean-up time. But sorting games are also fun. “Old Maid” cards can be sorted into piles by the color of hair or clothes, by boy vs. girl characters; playing cards can be sorted by color, number or shape. By changing the sorting “rules” children learn that the world can be organized in many ways, with no “right or wrong” way;“we just played the color game, now let’s play the shape game.” Take turns choosing the way to sort.

Sorting Strategy GamesAges 5 – 12 You probably have not thought about this, but many childhood board games involve sorting. “Guess Who?” is a great way to teach sorting options to young children because the questions allow eliminating categories – boy or girl, brown or blue eyes, blond, brown or red hair. Other games that help expand on the use of sorting as a strategy for solving problems are:
            Twenty questions
            “Set Games”

Why?  Psychologists actually use card sorting tasks as one measure of executive function: the capacity to be organized, purposeful and flexible. Young children may have trouble with changes in routines or might be rigid about clothing choices because the pre-frontal lobe, which is essential for flexible thinking, is just starting to mature. As I have mentioned before, the pre-frontal lobe is part of the human brain that will mature into adulthood. Dr. Adele Diamond, an expert on pre-frontal lobe maturation,  has been using sorting tasks as a way to measure cognitive maturity for many years. Building mental flexibility will help your child to get along with others, solve new problems in creative ways, and welcome new life challenges. In addition, flexibility of thought is associated with Fluid Intelligence, a capacity that psychologists view as very important to success in adult life.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Tip 26: That's Punny - Frontal Lobe Flexibility builders

As we mature we develop the capacity to solve problems we have never seen before, plan for the future, and adapt to change. These skills depend on a mature frontal lobe and flexibility of thinking is a key omponent of these capacities. Puns (word play) are one of the most fun examples of this flexibility. At about four or five, children start to appreciate puns. My daughter Heather's first puny joke, at about four and a half years was,

"Why did the turtle cross the road?" - to get to the Shell station."

Below are some punny jokes (adapted from the website -clean one-liner puns) you can share with your youngsters at different ages  - see if once inspired your child(ren) come up with some of their own.

Simple puns, easy vocabulary -Ages 4-7 years - no reading required
1. Why didn't the turkey cross the road? Because he wasn't chicken.
2. Where do you find chili beans? At the North Pole.
3. When a clock is still hungry, it goes back four seconds.
4. Why can't a bicycle stand on its own? Because it's two tired.
5. What do you call a train loaded with gum? A chew chew

More sophisticated, higher level vocabulary -Ages 8-11-reading ability helps understanding
1. What do you call a country where everyone drives a red car?  A red carnation.
2. Energizer Bunny arrested - charged with battery.
3. Sea captains don't like crew cuts.
4. What do you get from pampered cows? Spoiled milk.
5. A gossip is someone with a great sense of rumor.
6. Dijon vu - the same mustard as before
7 a boiled egg in the morning is hard to beat

Mature puntentions - Ages Pre-teen on up
1. A chicken crossing the road is poultry in motion.
2.With her marriage, she got a new name and a dress.
3. The man who fell into an upholstery machine is fully recovered.
4. He had a photographic memory that was never developed.
5. Once you've seen one shopping center, you've seen a mall.
6. When an actress saw her first strands of gray hair, she thought she'd dye.
7. Bakers trade bread recipes on a knead-to-know basis.
8. Santa's helpers are subordinate clauses.
9.Time flies like an arrow. Fruit flies like a banana.
10. Without geometry, life is pointless.

A pun is a "play on words", because it is fun (although a little silly), but a great way to build a sense of how words are arbitrary symbols ( translation-can have double meanings)