Sunday, July 31, 2011

Tip 37 - Prevent Summer Math Brain Drain - Fun free online number games for older children

Recent estimates are that school-age children can lose one or more  months of school skills during summer break. Last week I provided number games to help build mathematics skills in young children. This week, I am providing links to online number games for older children that are free and help prevent problems with mathematics and will be useful to keep mathematics skills sharp during summer months. The free computer games have been taken from a list provided courtesy of Stanislas Dehaene in his newly revised and expanded, June 2011, edition of "The Number Sense".

Number Race - Kg through Grade 1  (7 - 9 years for children who are struggling with mathematics) -
Description - (available at the website)

The Number Race software may also be useful for prevention of math problems, or to teach number sense in kindergarten children without specific learning disabilities. The software was developed  by Anna Wilson and Stanislas Dehaene, and is based on current knowledge of the brain circuits underlying numerical cognition. Details of the design of the software are published in Behavioral and Brain Functions:
Wilson, A. J., Dehaene, S., Pinel, P., Revkin, S. K., Cohen, L., & Cohen, D. (2006). Principles underlying the design of “the number race”, an adaptive computer game for remediation of dyscalculia. Behavioral and Brain Functions, 2(19).

Other math games - Ages vary

The Numberbonds game.

The Time game

The Chicks Test game.

The Dots2Track game
Allowances are mathematics too! Keep in mind also, that helping your child count, save and budget using a weekly or monthly allowance is a wonderful way to practice addition and subtracting. Setting up a simple spread-sheet for your school-aged child and keeping balances after purchases is wonderful training for learning to manage money as well as useful practice with numerical calculations. And money management is also a great way to work on self-discipline -- a very important component of executive function skill.
Tip 37 - There are many fun ways to prevent summer mathematics brain drain - from free online games for younger children to simple spread sheets for managing an allowance for older children.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Tip 36 - The Number Sense - Early counting games build number smart brains

As a Speech-Language Pathologist, I have stressed the importance of building language skills in this blog. But equally important to academic success is mathematical ability. Below are suggestions of number games you can play, starting  with babies as young as 4 and 1/2 months old.

THE BIGGER BUNCH- Four and one-half months to one year of age - Did you know your baby can tell the difference between a line of five treats and three?  Once your baby can sit in a high chair and likes finger food, give it a try1 Using a healty snack like a favorite cereal or animal crackers put some of the snack items on two napkins in front of your baby. On one napkin, set out three of the items on the other napkin set out five. First ask a doll or puppet to pick the biggest pile. Show your baby how the puppet gets to pretend "eat" the pile with the most snacks. Then give your baby a chance. Even if you bunch the five items together and spread out the three items your baby will know to pick the napkin with the bigger pile. It's not really that your baby can count each one, but even babies at this age can estimate and figure out which pile has more as long as the piles don't have more than five or six items each and the two piles differ by at least two or more items.

HOME MADE NUMBER PUZZLES - One Year to Three years of age - Number puzzles are fun to make and more fun to play with. Take five to ten shirt cardboard sheets or pieces of thick copy paper. On each piece of cardboard or paper ask your child to use a marker or crayon to draw a circle around  the outlines of a number of quarters - (quarters are large enough that even small hands can usually guide a crayon around the perimeter). Each paper should have a different number of circles - 1, 2, 3, 4 etc. ddrawn on the bottom half of the paper. On the top half write the numeral that goes with the number of circles. Turn the papers over and each take a turn picking a paper and placing the correct number of quarters inside each circle. Count each quarter as you fill in the circles then "read" the numberal at the end.

EARLY ADDITION - Three to four years of age - Did you know your preschooler can add? Put three blocks down on the floor then cover the blocks with a towel. Ask your preschooler to give you one or two extra blocks to add to the pile. Without uncovering the the pile, scoot the blocks in under the towel. Take off the towel, and see if your preschooler thinks all the blocks are there. Then do the game again but this time hide one of the two additional blocks behind your back instead of adding it to the pile under the towel. When you uncover the pile, your preschooler should detect that one of the blocks is missing. If not, show the hidden block and try it again. After a few trials, your preschooler will be able to tell right away whether all the blocks are under the towel or whether one has been hidden -- He can add! You can reverse the game later and take a block or two away from a pile of five - most four year olds can tell if too many blocks have been deducted.

WHY? One of the leading neuroscientists investigating development of math skills is Stanislas DeHaene, who has recently published an updated edition of his book, "The Number Sense: How the Mind Creates Mathematics" that helps us understand the development of mathematical skills, Dehaene contends that we have some concept of number from the moment we are born. Research has shown that  chil

dren with problems with this inborn skill often end up struggling in later life. Dehaene has asserted that, the learning of a domain of arithmetic depends on certain core concepts of number available already during infancy P roblems with math skills, called Dyscalculia, has received much less attention from educators than Dyslexia has for reading— but research has shown that children with dyscalculia grow up to earn less,  and.spend less. They are also more likely to need help in school, be sick more often and run into legal problems.And research suggssts, that as with language, early intervention with math games may help prevent math problems in school.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Tip 35 - Travel Smart

Summer is a time when many families travel to see relatives and take family vacations. Although vacations are supposed to be relaxing and fun for everyone, often parents are dismayed at how stressful the trip can become. Long car trips and airplane trips can be especially stressful for both you and your children. Below are guidelines on ways to make "getting there" stress free and as fun as "being there."

Traveling with infants ( under 11 months of age) -
  1. Schedule travel around your baby's schedule - Infants, of course, have no sense of past or future, and are comforted by regular schedules. When planning a long plane or car trip, try to keep this in mind. Do your best to schedule a trip when your baby is likely to be least fussy (usually the morning) or around nap time. Avoid traveling in the evening or at night, because your baby won't be able to sleep as soundly and disrupting sleep will increase irritability.
  2. Plane time is playtime, not your rest time - A baby's brain is a learning machine responding well to gentle stimulation. There is a temptation to think a long plane ride should offer you a time for rest, but actually your baby is going to need some play to remain comfortable in an airplane or car seat. For young babies, plan to sing, recite nursery rhymes, rock and play movement games like patty-cake and peek-a-boo. For six month olds on, bring favorite books and help your baby  learn new words associate with the trip by looking out the window at "planes" , ""clouds", "wings", "engines."
  3. Stay relaxed - Babies don't have words to understand why their world is so different when you travel. Your baby can sense when you are tense and will respond by crying - that of course will make you even more tense, and there will be more crying. Trying to force a child to eat will not help, because the baby is responding to your tension. If you stay relaxed, smile often at your baby, speak softly, and play quiet games like peek-a-boo, it will calm your baby much faster than jiggling keys or forcing a bottle.
  4. Sucking helps ear pressure on landing - Air pressure decreases when in flight and increases when the plane lands. For a baby, this increase on landing puts external pressure on the ear drum that can be quite painful and only be equalized by jaw opening or sucking. If your baby cries because of the pain it will actually help equalize the pressure, so it is not something to worry about unless your baby has a cold. (If so either delay your travel or check with your pediatrician about whether a decongestant or nose drops might be useful). To avoid crying though, you can let your baby suck on a pacifier or a bottle during landing.
Traveling with Toddlers - 1-2 years

  1. Schedule around your toddler's schedule - A well rested toddler is going to tolerate travel much better than a tired toddler.  Airplane (and often car) travel is too stimulating to hope your toddler will sleep for long periods, so don't be tempted to travel at night hoping your toddler will sleep. Your toddler may doze, so if he is a good napper you can try to schedule trips during the day before and extending into around naptime.
  2. Keep your toddler very busy - Your child does not sit around doing nothing at home, so do not think you can convince her to sit in an airplane or car for extended periods. Bring plenty of things for your toddler to do, books to listen to, toys to play with, and plan interactive games like taking turns making funny faces, songs with actions like eensey-weensy-spider, or Old MacDonald Had a Farm.  If on a plane, once the seat belt sign is off, walk your toddler up and down the isle. If in a car, plan rest stops about every 1/2 hour to 45 minutes unless napping.
  3. Screen time usually won't work -  Don't think that bringing a personal DVD player will entertain your toddler for long. Watch your toddler at home, before your travel. Can he sit and watch a video without getting up and moving around for more than 10 minutes? If not, don't expect that on a plane. Rather, plan interactive activities for the times when your toddler can't leave his seat - look out the window together, read books, sing songs.
  4. Snacks increase energy and irritability - Avoid sugary snacks, cereals, and juices. Stick to water, milk, and real fruit.
Traveling with Preschoolers (three to five years of age)
  1. Crayons, puzzles, and manipulatives (paper dolls, Play Dough, etc.) make time fly - Your preschooler needs to have plenty of things to do on a long plane or car trip. The more he has to "do" the better. Since there is no place to run or climb, he should still have things to do with his hands. Paper dolls and coloring books are great for little girls, boys may respond better to manipulable toys like Transformers. Just be careful that anything you bring isn't big enough or hard enough that it could hurt someone if thrown. And avoid anything so messy (paints or colored pens) that your child could damage property.
  2. Read, Read, Read - You will be surprised at how many times your child will be willing to hear the same story, repeat the same nursery rhyme or sing the same nursery song. One half of your preschooler's brain is entirely devoted to learning language at this age - so even the most active child will usually be willing to sing familiar songs or look at fun books (especially if there is something to move to or open and close.)
  3. Move around when you can - It is not a good idea to let your preschooler run around in the airplane lobby alone (even if you chase after him), but you can play catch with a soft rolling ball, walk around together and explore - looking out the windows at planes, learning about safety on the escalator or moving sidewalk, and learning new words for objects of interest in store windows.
  4. Avoid passive entertainment - As much as you would like to sit back and read a good book or watch a movie while on a long trip, your preschooler will probably not be pacified very long with a video or computer game. Plan  your own relaxation for after you arrive at your destination - during travel you will need to have lots of activities in store that you do with your pre-schooler. If an older child or your spouse can help out, plan that ahead as well.
Trips provide a wonderful opportunity to stimulate your child's brain. Travel smart with plenty of books and games to play to ease the tension of travel while building langauge and cognitive skills.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

FOOD FOR THOUGHT - Part 2 - Build Flexibility in eating and dietary variety

Flexibility in eating and dietary variety are two essential components to building a healthy brain and body.
Food flexibility – Ages six months three years of age Picky eating can make it difficult for parents to assure their child is getting adequate nutrition. So it is important to build food flexibility at an early age. To build your infant’s tolerance for dietary variety, introduce new fruits and vegetables into your child’s diet on a regular basis. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends parents introduce a variety of healthy foods :fruits (avoiding fruit juice and sweet drinks) and vegetables starting at four to six months of age and continue offering if initially refused;. See the APA recommendations at;117/2/544
Coaxing the Picky eater – Ages three to seven years of age – If your child is already a picky eater, there are several things you can try. Cheri Fraker, Laura Walbert   at Koke Mill Medical Center, in Springfield, IL, and Sibyl Cox provide courses and have written a book about how to get picky eaters at older ages to eat new foods through a process they call food chaining.  Although their approach is designed for children with physiological problems that interfere with ability to swallow and chew or children with eating disorders due to  sensory aversions, there are two techniques involved in food chaining that parents may find helpful  with children who do not have eating problems but are reluctant to try new foods:
  • transitional foods and
  • flavor masking
First, to coax a child to transition to new foods, parents may find it helpful to ask children to take a bite of a familiar food, such as bread, followed by a bite of a new food. When your child tastes a food he really likes and then tries a bite of a new food he might be willing to try more new foods..Cheir Fraker stated in an article on Food Chaining in a recent issue of  Advance Magazine for Speech Language Pathologists ,”You can do this with drinks, too’ to get rid of  an unliked food aftertaste.
Flavor masking is when you dip a new food in a flavor the child likes, such as ranch dressing or barbecue sauce.
Trouble Signs – You may be concerned about whether some quirks your child exhibits or some  eating differences you see in your child could be more serious than just that of a typical picky eater. You may feel that compared to other children your child’s age, your child resists more foods or frequently gags, coughs or chokes when trying new foods. Child feeding specialists emphasize that it is important to make sure that a picky eater does not have physical reason for rejecting certain foods.  Speech pathologists who specialize in oral-motor problems in children can be consulted if you are concerned that your child might have an eating disorder or a problem handling certain kinds of foods.
When in doubt, ask your pediatrician whether your concerns are indeed something to worry about or just typical variation in development or personality and whether a referral to a speech-language pathologist who specializes in feeding disorders might be warranted.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Tip 34 Let's Make a Plan! - Self-made plans build self-control

I have discussed before how child researchers like Adele Diamond have shown that self-control, an essential ability for success in school and life,  can be taught. And, you guessed it, there is no better time and place to start than summer at home. Summer provides a wonderful opportunity for parents to help build self control by developing written plans for unstructured playtime or even special events. And you can do this with children as young as four years of age.

This is how it works:

Written plans - 4 to 6 year olds - Before going to the park, a swimming pool,  or a picnic, for example, ask your child what she plans to do there. If you are going to a park for example, your child might say "swing, go down the slide and play in the sandbox." You can write the words as a list and ask your child to draw a picture next to each word. You can make the plan more specific by asking questions like, "what toys will you play with in the sand?"  Questions like that help your child think about what to bring and provide experience with planning ahead. This also helps build memory skills as your child can help you "remember" what you want to bring as you are getting ready to leave.

Camp/vacation  lists - 7 to 10 year olds - Instead of planning a list of camp or vacation supplies this summer, ask your child to write his own list. Often organized camps have supply lists they recommend but you can work on an optional list as well. By helping your child think about things he might need you can make a game out of seeing how well you do at "guessing" what the camp might recommend. Try asking questions to generate the list instead of making suggestions. For example, you can ask, "Do you think the camp will have a swimming pool? What would you need to pack to go swimming?" Or,  you might ask, "What might happen if it rains and you can't get inside before it starts? Is there anything extra you could pack to help stay dry?"

Back-to-school shopping lists - any age - Ask your child to start now making a list of school supplies for next fall. Keep the list in a common area like on the refrigerator door so it will get your child's attention each day. In addition to obvious supplies like pencils, paper, glue etc., encourage your child to think about things she might not need everyday but may need only rarely or would not be essential but might be nice like a special handmade bookmark that could be something she makes this summer or a few fun bandaids to use or give to someone else if an accident happens.

WHY? Dr. Adele Diamond, Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience at University of British Columbia in Vancouver has shown that when preschoolers are provided with planning activities and other games that build self control they score much higher on tests of executive function than children who just do ordinary Pre-school activities like learning color names. And Dr Diamond has also speculated, based on her research, that some of the increase we are seeing in diagnosis of ADHD may be due in part to fewer opportunities for children to take part in planning their own activities because so much of what children do after school or during summer is organized for them by adults.

Let's make a plan! Carefully made plans help build self-control.