Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Tip 33 - Stop summer Brain Drain! Play card and board games.

Summer is a wonderful time for children. No school, no hassels, right? But, it can be stressful for parents, espeically on rainy days or unscheduled weekends, because children are not used to so much free time. More important, summer can be a brain drain for reading, language arts, and math skills. TV and video games may help stem boredom but they don't help maintain reading or math skills over the summer. So how about investing in a few low cost card games or board games. They keep the mind sharp and help children build social communcation skills as well.
Remember "Go Fish!", "Old Maid" [children 5 - 8]; "Concentration" and "Canasta"[9 to 12 years of age]? These  card games use a standard deck of cards and can keep children busy for hours while exercising memory and number skills.
Education.com recommends Board Games to build math and langauge skills and can be purchased at a store or on-line at very little cost. A few of their recommendations are highlighted below.
Big Top (2-8 players, ages 4+) A nice travel game for the younger set, Big Top gets pre-readers using their noodles to discern what's missing in a stack of circus cards. There are five possible colors and five possible animals that might make an appearance and children need to look and see which color and which animal aren't there, then find the card that combines both... before their opponent! The game helps hone critical thinking and recognition skills that will help with letter recognition and reading, later on. * * * (Gamewright, $9.95)
Grade school
Connect Four (Ages 7 and up, 2 players)
This classic game is much like a cross between checkers and tick-tack-toe, except that it's played on a vertical grid which makes gameplay that much more exciting! Players drop their checkers into the rows to try and “connect four,” whether it's vertically, horizontally, or diagonally. But watch out! Your opponent will try and block your every move, so take the time to think ahead. This game never seems to get old, and though it may look like nothing much on the surface, its simple yet unlimited structure fosters light strategy, sequencing, and calculation skills. **** (Milton Bradley, $12.99)
Guess Who? (Ages 6 and up, 2 players)
In this one-on-one guessing game, players have a crowd of faces before them. Faced with the challenge of guessing which person is the other player's “mystery face,” players must ask a series of “yes”or “no” questions to narrow it down. “Is it a boy?” “Does he wear glasses?” “Is he bald?” As the possibilities are eliminated, kids learn to ask the right questions to make the correct guess. Although the appeal of this game may be lost on adults, kids often find hours of enjoyment out of the fairly simple gameplay. However, the laborious process of assembling the game out of its zillions of small plastic pieces may prove too much for weary parents and the game, though fun for youngsters, has limited educational value. ** (Milton Bradley, $17.99)

Middle school

Taboo (Ages 10 to adult, 4 or more players)
Everyone knows what a birthday party is. But can everyone explain it without using the words “celebration,” “presents,” “balloons,” and “cake”? In Taboo, players must explain something without using the accompanying “taboo” words. Creative thinking, as well as knowing your teammates, go far in this verbal sprint, and players of all ages will take their descriptive skills to new heights.
* * * (Hasbro, $24.99)

Math Dice (Ages 8 to adult, 2 or more players)
In this simple game of mental math, players set their minds racing to creatively calculate a target number. The product of two “target dice” makes the “target number.” Then, after rolling three “scoring dice,” players must add, divide, square, and subtract to come closest to the target number in the end. When billed as a game, kids may balk at taking up the challenge, but when played as a fun break from practice sheets and textbooks, Math Dice does the trick.
* * * (Thinkfun, $5.00)
Nymble (Ages 10 and up, 2-6 players)
This fast-paced game requires both creative vocabulary and critical thinking skills. Players must build as many words as possible out of nine randomly selected letters. They they pair their words with synonyms (words with the same meaning), antonyms (words with opposite meanings) and homonyms (words that sound alike). And all against the clock! Players can then challenge their competitors' word pairs—is poultry really the opposite of beef? This game introduces teens to the art of debate and the joy of finding the perfect word. Thinking quickly under pressure, and mastering antonyms, synonyms and homonyms is also useful SAT practice. Is your teen up for the challenge? * * * * * (Karmel Games, $26.97)

High School

Scattergories (Ages 12 and up, 2-6 players)
The classic game of categories is sure to beef up your teenager's brainstorming abilities. In each round, players must think up a word to fit into the 12 categories given—from common groupings like "vegetables" or "state capitals", to more unusual categories like "things that you hide". The trick is that all items have to start with the same letter (i.e. carrots, Columbus, credit card info). Each round is different, giving this game serious staying power. Scattergories draws on your teen's vocabulary skills and encourages him to use words he may not have used before. It also encourages individuality and creativity by rewarding those who come up with a word no one else wrote down. It's best to keep a dictionary handy, though, for those “loosly based” answers up for debate! * * * * * (Hasbro, $22.99)

All School Ages

Set (Ages 6 and up, for one or more players)
This game of visual perception was created by geneticist Marsha Jean Falco in 1974. Similar to a geneticist connecting the traits of animals and plants to the genes and chromosomes in their cells, players must sequence cards based on similarities and differences. The object of the game is to identify "sets" of three cards from 12 cards laid out on a table. Each card is unique in its four features: number (1,2, or 3); symbol (diamond, squiggle, or oval); shading (solid, striped, or open); and color (red, green, or purple). A "set" consists of three cards where each feature is either the same on all of the cards, or different on all of the cards. Players call out “Set” as soon as they see them, infusing the game with an exciting and challenging time element. The game promotes problem solving and deductive reasoning skills, in addition to bringing home the concept of probability. * * * * (Set Enterprises, $12.00)

Tip 33 - Board games and card games help prevent summer brain drain

Monday, June 20, 2011

Tip 32 - Build stress resiliance—30 minutes of quiet-time a day

"SUMMER TIME, AND THE LIVING IS EASY", the song from Porgy and Bess,  makes us all think of long. luxurious days at the park or the beach. But with summer comes the stress of having your children at home much more. Your job is the same as it is during the year but children are actually thrown off by such a dramtic change in their routine. Add to this that we live in a very stressful world: financial worries, stresses associated with both parents working outside the home, not to mention concern over school performance and the general health and welfare of our children. And parents get so much conflicting advice - To be or not to be a "TIger Mom."  

There is no way we can protect our children from stress but quite a bit  new research suggests that the way we parent can build our children’s’ resilience to stress. Michael Meaney and his colleagues at McGill University, for example, have conducted research with animals showing that babies with more nurturing mothers exhibit lower levels of stress hormones when put into stressful situations are generally less anxious and are in turn more nurturing parents themselves. Moreover, these effects are inherited by the next generation. If humans possess genetic responses to stress similar to that seen in the animal studies, it is important that parents find avenues of relaxation for themselves so that they can be nurturing parents. It is probably also helpful, based on other new research, that both parents and their children schedule some time each day for stress-reducing activities.
How can you as a parent who is trying to juggle so many things yourself possibly find time for relaxation and try to find additional stress free times for your child as well?  I recommend you, your spouse and any other caretakers in the home, schedule “quiet time” into your daily routine. Notice I don’t say” down-time” because some of the situations we might consider as down-time, like watching TV or surfing the internet have been shown to stimulate our brain rather than reduce stress..  Quiet-time on the other hand should down regulate neurochemicals associated with stress. Quiet time activities for you may include reading in a quiet room before bed, listening to your favorite music while cooking, doing yoga, rocking in a rocking chair with your baby, gardening or taking a long walk—anything that puts you into a frame of mind where you can suspend, even for a short period of time, daily events that concern you. 
Your children will also need quiet time and you will probably need to schedule it for them. For your children, although they may argue with you about this, anything entertaining like video games, television, social networking is not relaxing.  Research indicates that children who play video games in the evening, for example, often have more problems with sleep. So try to establish a regular time each day (often a half hour before bedtime works well) when everyone in the house settles into reading, listening to soft music, or just talking one-on-one about the day. If you opt for talking during quiet time, try to avoid topics that might be upsetting like school grades, issues with friends, etc. You might want to focus on an upcoming holiday from school, vacation or something funny that happened at school. Keep the conversation light and positive. 
Tip  32 – build your child’s resistance to stress through 30 minutes of “quiet time” each day.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Tip 31 -The Brain Power of Pretend

The power of pretend

When children pretend they are not just playing make-believe. They are practicing the difference between real and not- real ( an integral scientific concept) . They are learning to put themselves in another's shoes - (psychologists call this Theory of Mind). They are acquiring an adaptive skill that will help them cope with difficult situations. They are learning how to comfort themselves. And, they are building mental flexibility - an essential component of a mature brain.

Imaginary friends - Ages 2 .5 to 3.5 - not all children have imaginary friends, but if your child does, that is a great sign that he is using creativity to build a world that makes sense.
Sometime around three years of age your child may talk about friends that don't exist. My daughter Heather had "Whoiss" and "Heiss". When she was an adult she told me that they looked like Bert and Ernie of Sesame Street. But as a three year old she didn't describe them but played with them. Whoiss would leave for work and leave Heiss home with the babysitter (I worked and left Heather home with a babysitter). But Heather would assure Heiss that everything would be ok. I once overheard her telling Heiss, "You are sad now. But, Whoiss will come home later and you will play!" of course those are the same words I often said to Heather when I left in the morning.

Pretend Play Dates - ages 4 to 7- schedule a play date a few of your child's friends with a theme like "funny hats" or "baseball players".
Funny hats - Gather a group of baseball caps, woolen hats, dressy hats, etc.  that can be picked from a bag. Ask each child to pick a hat without looking in the bag, then act like the person they chose. Throw the hats back in the bag and let each child pick different one. On the third try, ask the children to make a play or story about the characters.
Baseball players - for boys, try putting about fifteen baseball cards in a box and ask each boy to pick one. Once each boy has a card have them go outside and hit, catch or throw balls like the player they picked.

Creative Dramatics - Ages 6 -12 - see if your park district or community house has creative dramatics classes for school-age children. Adults who are trained in creative dramatics help children learn creative ways to express themselves and lose their fear of performing in front of others.

WHY? Many researchers like Rebecca Saxe and Randy Buchner believe that our ability to put ourselves in someone else's shoes is an essential component of social skills. Referred to as "Theory of Mind," it is a right hemisphere capacity that may, over time, allow us to get ourside of ourselves,;  not only thinking about other poeple but planning for the future. .

Pretend is the beginning of taking the perspective of others: Theory of Mind

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Tip 30 - Color and Number Brain Smarts

Did you know that children who master color names and numbers by three years of age do better in school? Color names are a reliable measure of language skills in young children and early number comprehension correlates with success in school later in life.  So knowing how to help your toddler and pre-schooler learn colors and numbers is very useful.
Color Words Second - Ages 2 – 4  - Psychologists at Stanford University have recently demonstrated that children learn their colors better if you say an object name first then tell the color ---- Saying, “The ball is red” teaches ‘red’ better than saying, “the red ball”. Try these color identification games:
·         After reading a page of a favorite book, ask your toddler to point to objects in the pictures by their colors – “Show me the house that’s white.”  “Where is the car that’s blue?”
·         Line up several of your child’s favorite objects that vary by color – cars, blocks, balls, etc. Ask your child to show you each by the color but say the color after the object name – “Can you find the block that is green?”
·         Stacking rings – after your toddler stacks the rings go through the rings from bottom to top by saying the color of each after the word ‘ring’ – “The bottom ring is red, the next ring is blue, the next ring is green, etc.”
Bears! There are Three – Ages 2 ½ to 5 – The same Stanford University Psychologists have shown that numbers are learned better the same way as colors. Rather than teaching children numbers by saying, “There are six flowers,” children in their research learned numbers 30% better when told, “Flowers! There are six.”  When looking children’s books with many of the same objects, cars or trucks for example, or animals, state the number of objects after you name them, just as you did with colors.
WHY?  Michael Ramscar and his colleagues at Stanford have been studying ways parents can help their young children learn language earlier and easier. They recently presented their research on color and number learning at the Cognitive Science Society meeting in Boston this July.  An excellent summary of their research is available in the May 2011 issue of Scientific American Mind,  written by Michael’s colleague, Melody Dye.