18 Simple Ways to Infuse Each Day With Learning

Teaching your child to love learning offers them a lifetime of discovery, far outside the classroom.

Teaching your child about World War II or how to do double digit addition is important. But those are limited facts and skills. Teaching your child to love learning offers them a lifetime of discovery, far outside the classroom.
Here are 18 easy ways to foster a love of learning in the midst of everyday life.

Read to them

Reading not only has physical and emotional benefits. There is concrete evidence that it helps brain development and academic growth as well. With so much possibility, reading is the perfect way to help kids fall in love with learning.

Let them see you read

While reading to your children has many benefits, letting them see you read shows kids that reading is forever. It’s not just for babies. It’s not just for school. Read in front of them (and Facebook doesn’t count).

Be outdoors

Time outside provides opportunities for fine and gross motor development, risk-taking, and exploring, all of which prove beneficial to learning. There is also a direct correlation between time outside and reduction of stress, confidence building, and exposure to different stimuli.

Sing, play, and listen to music

The brain benefits of music are numerous. Plus, music has the ability to bring joy, relaxation, and express ideas.

Relax

True learning goes far beyond grades in a classroom. Show them you believe that by spending time with your kids doing nothing much in particular except enjoying each other’s company.

Embrace what they love

Give kids the opportunity to explore the things they love. If your child is into trains right now, find books about trains, build a train, draw a train, watch trains at the train station. Allow your child to guide their learning through their passions.

Talk about learning

Let them know when you discover something new. “Wow, I never knew that popcorn could burn so quickly. I wonder why?” Kids need to see that we are always learning, even in the ordinary.

Ask questions

I know it feels like all we do is answer questions. So start asking. “How did that bird know I just put birdseed out?” or “Why are there police officers guarding the construction workers?” Questions are the foundation of learning.

Give them money

I know it can be painfully slow, but letting them pay at the store and count change is real life learning. If you use plastic for all your payments, talk about how that works, too.

Wonder

Encourage your children to think freely about things, without boundaries. Some of the best ideas started with wild wondering!

Play

School keeps kids busy learning good things. But there is not a lot of room for play in a regular day. Giving kids the opportunity to play with no agenda allows them to be better thinkers.

Ask random math questions

Math facts are foundational for good mental math, but kids don’t always want more schoolwork. Make math facts fun by asking them when you’re doing something else, like driving, hiking, or making dinner. Make it easy, fun, and short.

Keep reading picture books

Even as kids get older, picture books can provide unique opportunities for learning. Increased connection with the text, vocabulary, and a more sensory approach to reading keeps the experience enjoyable and beneficial.

Go places

Visit the sea or a mountain. Spend time at the free art museum or check out the historical house in town. Experiences make learning part of life and create schema, a personal framework for learning.

Create

Giving kids the chance to create through art, music, science, or any imaginative play helps them develop better thinking skills that translate far outside the classroom.

Enlist help

Helping with adult tasks gives kids new skills and shows them the need to learn throughout life. Cooking, taking pictures, changing the oil, and doing laundry all show kids that there is always something new they can do.

Fail

Often. Let them see that failure is part of learning. Recognizing failure as part of the learning process rather than an end to learning shows kids to keep going. Demonstrate that it’s okay, even good, to fail because it’s all part of the process.

Did I mention read?

It’s one of the simplest things you can do with endless possibilities. Read to learn, for fun, and for life.

Why Your Response to Your Baby's Cries Are Hardwired

A new study found that infant cries activate certain brain regions connected with movement and speech in mothers.

Few things tear up my nerves as much as hearing my baby cry in the car. It doesn’t seem to matter if my infant is fed, freshly diapered, and otherwise content – the second I strap him into his car seat, he falls apart, and sometimes I do, too, because what’s worse than hearing your baby wail but not being able to stop it? After failed attempts to soothe him from the front seat, I end up white-knuckling the steering wheel, with my heart racing fast and my mind made up that I’m never leaving the house again. It goes against every instinct I have not to pick up my poor baby, but of course I can’t hold him in the car (which is why he’s crying in the first place).
Turns out there’s a valid reason for my car-ride stress. In a new study from NIH’s Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), researchers found that infant cries activate certain brain regions connected with movement and speech in mothers. The study team used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to conduct behavioral and brain-imaging studies on a group of 684 new mothers in the following 11 countries: Argentina, Belgium, Brazil, Cameroon, France, Israel, Italy, Japan, Kenya, South Korea, and the United States. In the study:

“…Researchers observed and recorded one hour of interaction between the mothers and their 5-month-old babies at home. The team analyzed whether mothers responded to their baby’s cries by showing affection, distracting, nurturing (like feeding or diapering), picking up and holding, or talking. Regardless of which country they came from, mothers were likely to pick up and hold or talk to their crying infant.”

Moreover, the team discovered through fMRI studies of other groups of women that hearing infant cries activated similar brain regions in both new and experienced mothers. The crying stimulated their supplementary motor area, linked to the intention to move and speak; the inferior frontal regions, related to the production of speech; and the superior temporal regions, associated with sound processing.
According to these findings, my urgent impulse to jump in the backseat of the car, scoop up my baby, and calm him with kisses is a hard-wired response (but also, obviously, a terrible idea). When we’re not in the car, however, this need to console my baby, driven by parts of my brain related to movement and speech, is beneficial, since babies need attentive caregivers for healthy development. This study could thus help professionals better understand, identify, and help people at risk of being inattentive or harmful caregivers to young children.
The consistency of behavior and underlying brain activity in the study sample made up of women from all over the world suggests that mothers have an intrinsic response to their babies’ crying. So I guess I can’t blame the anxiety it causes me (solely) on my high-strung nature, or the intense child-centric society in which I live. I suppose I also can’t blame my husband for putting headphones on in the car when the crying gets to be too much, because what this study has also done is expand upon previous research showing how the brains of males and females respond differently to infant crying.
While I’ll continue to avoid any nonessential car rides with my little man until he grows out of this phase (which he will, right?!), it helps to have a better sense of why it’s so distressing and to comprehend on a cognitive level what’s happening when I listen to him cry.
Now, if only I could find a study that reveals the trick to making babies love (or at least tolerate) the dreaded car seat.

Read These Favorite New Books After Your Kids Go to Sleep

If you’re looking for something to read, here are some favorite new books to put on your radar:

We may have lives that are chaotic and exhausting. The morning routine. Chasing kids. Working. Errands. Afterschool activities. The bedtime routine. Parenting never comes to an end.
Don’t let that stop you from sneaking in a little me-time. After the kids go to bed is the perfect time to crack open a book. If you’re looking for something to read, here are some favorite new books to put on your radar:

TheGypsy

The Gypsy Moth Summer

by Julia Fierro

In the long, sweltering summer of 1992, a gypsy moth invasion blankets Avalon, an islet off the coast of Long Island. Despite being an inescapable burden, the insects are hardly the topic of discussion. Leslie Day Marshall, the only daughter of Avalon’s most prominent family, returns with her black husband and bi-racial children to live in “The Castle,” the island’s grandest estate.
Hidden truths, scandals, and racial prejudices soon emerge in this many-faceted story about love, family, escape, and revenge. “The writing is lovely, and the story is compelling. It’s set in the 90s so it’s fun nostalgia, too,” says Jen from New Jersey.


LittleFiresEverywhere

Little Fires Everywhere

by Celeste Ng

After reading “Little Fires Everywhere”, Jessica from New York says, “The characters are so real. And I love the way that [Celeste Ng] explores issues of race, class, and privilege in a deep and meaningful way, without being heavy-handed or preachy.”
Picture-perfect Shaker Heights runs like a well-oiled machine. Elena Richardson embodies this progressive suburb’s image, playing by the rules and striving for the best. Things begin to unravel when she rents a house in the idyllic little bubble to single mother, Mia Warren, and her teenage daughter Pearl.
All four of Elena’s children are drawn to the rebellious mother-daughter pair, who ignore the status quo and threaten to upend the community. This instant New York Times bestseller explores motherhood, secrets, and the naivety of thinking that following the rules will keep you safe.


ATangledMercy

A Tangled Mercy

by Joy Jordan-Lake

“A Tangled Mercy” is an interweaving of two distinct, yet connected, narratives: the story of Harvard grad student Kate Drayton’s journey to Charleston, South Carolina, to find answers about her deceased mother’s troubled past, and the lost story of the Charleston slave uprising of 1822 – the subject of Kate’s mother’s research.
Inspired by true events, the book examines the depth of human suffering and brutality and our everlasting hope of forgiveness and redemption. “Joy Jordan-Lake’s ‘A Tangled Mercy’ is an incredibly compelling and meticulously researched historical novel that will have you thinking about it long after you turn the last page,” says Jane Healey, author of “The Saturday Evening Girls Club.”


TheGoldenHouse

The Golden House

by Salman Rushdie

The mysterious and eccentric newcomer, Nero Golden, and his three adult sons, each odd in their own way, take up residence at the Gardens, a cloistered community in New York’s Greenwich Village, on the day of Barack Obama’s inauguration. Soon after moving to the neighborhood, Nero is charmed by Vasilisa, a sleek Russian expat, while their young neighbor, René, is captivated by their mystique and quietly intertwines with their lives.
“The Golden House” is set against the backdrop of current American politics and culture, while beaming with the realism of a timely story of love, loss, and deceit. “It’s really delicious reading. It’s like [Salman Rushdie] has the English language on his leash and can will it to do what he wants. It’s incredible,” says Olga of Zuid-Holland from the Netherlands.


TheDesigner

The Designer

by Marius Gabriel

While Paris celebrates its liberation in 1944, Cooper Reilly’s life is falling apart. She’s stuck in an unhappy marriage riddled with infidelity. Unable to endure it any longer, she asks for a separation.
Suddenly alone, she finds a friend in a middle-aged clothing designer named Christian Dior. Hiding in a lackluster, decrepit fashion house seems counterproductive to the brilliance of his designs, so Copper urges him to take a risk while she takes one of her own – tipping her toes into the world of journalism.
“I was swept away by Marius Gabriel’s vivid descriptions of the Parisian fashion world – I could practically hear the rustle of silks. ‘The Designer’s’ evocation of Paris in the dying days of the war and the admirable spirit of the French people as they find their way again after years of occupation was simply enthralling,” says Sammia Hamer, Editor.


TurtlesAllTheWayDown

Turtles All the Way Down

by John Green

Azra is trying to be a good daughter. And a good friend. And a good student. She’s trying to make good decisions, even as her thoughts spiral out of control. She never meant to become tangled in the mystery of fugitive billionaire Russell Pickett.
With a hefty reward at stake, and her friends eager to crack the case, she has nothing to lose. Or does she? “It’s one of the most realistic depictions of living with mental illness that I’ve ever encountered without being super depressing about it,” says Stephanie from Maryland.
What new books would you add to this list? Please share!

5 Things You Can Start Doing Today to Calm Your Kid’s Anxiety

You can teach your anxious child to better manage his or her feelings. Here are a few strategies.

Did you know that anxiety worsens with time if nothing is done to help kids learn to manage anxious feelings appropriately? Although some children are born with a more anxious disposition, cases of chronic anxiety in kids are rare.
In other words, you can teach your anxious child to better manage his or her feelings. Here are a few strategies to help your anxious child:

1 | It is okay to be anxious

Children are rarely able to define their big emotions, especially if they have not yet learned to differentiate between emotions. A child experiencing anxiety is therefore likely to struggle to communicate this anxiety. Parents can have a particularly difficult time identifying children’s anxiety, because different kids will show their anxiety in different ways.
It can be easy to identify feelings of anxiety when your child cries each and every time he has to go to school, or just before his swimming lessons, or when he acts clingy and never wants you out of sight. But anxiety can transform into pain and physical symptoms (headaches, tummy aches, vomiting spells), into bad moods and tantrums, or into inappropriate behavior such as violence and aggressiveness.
The first step to help your child manage anxiety is to teach him to identify and manage his emotions using age-appropriate techniques. Let your child know that it is okay to be anxious. Talking about anxiety and anxiety-provoking situations can be therapeutic for your child.

2 | Create an anxiety toolkit

Children who have learned to identify their anxiety and what triggers it are better able to apply appropriate strategies to deal with it. An anxiety toolkit is a container in which your child can find objects to calm her anxiety. Keep in mind that some objects are more effective than others.
For instance, sensory activities, visually calming activities, and activities that help your child release tension (trampoline) or focus his attention elsewhere (mandala) are all effective in helping your child calm down. The key takeaway is your child understanding that anxiety is a normal and manageable emotion.

3 | Neither over-protect nor under-protect

Just like pushing your child to get over his anxiety does not help him overcome it, protecting him from anxiety provoking situations does him little good. Overprotection may make things worse. Rather than shield your child from anxiety, take very small incremental steps to help him face what triggers it.
You can gently nudge your child out of his comfort zone by talking about anxiety-provoking situations, going over worst-case scenarios, and brainstorming appropriate reactions to these scenarios: “What’s the worst thing that can happen?” “What do you think would happen if…?” “What can you do if…?”
Tread carefully when nudging your child out of her comfort zone. You do not help an anxious child who needs you present by leaving her alone at a party. However, you reassure her by gradually reducing the time you spend with her during her social events.

4 | Manage your own anxiety

Evidence suggests that anxiety-prone parents are more likely to raise children with anxiety-related disorders. The biggest problem parents with an anxious disposition face is the employment of ineffective strategies in an attempt to shield their child from anxiety. Addressing your childhood trauma, dealing with your fears, and knowing when to walk away will make it easier to help.
Remember, how your child interprets situations largely depends on how she sees you interpret those situations. Choosing to be more optimistic about how you perceive everyday life events and not presenting situations as dangerous or irresolvable will help lessin your child’s anxiety.

5 | Get help

Child anxiety, unfortunately, can point to more serious issues. It is time to seek professional help if:

  • Your child’s anxiety causes him or her considerable distress
  • Your child is withdrawn and difficult to be around
  • Your child’s anxiety prevents him or her from participating in school-related or social events
  • Your child also displays many behavioral problems
  • Your child avoids eye contact, even with family members
  • You are overwhelmed and feel unable to help your child

Multiple resources have been designed for parents to help children deal with anxiety-related issues. In most cases, children can respond to their anxiety in appropriate ways, but only if they are taught how using effective, age-appropriate strategies.

How to Encourage Failure With a Cheap At-Home Science Lab

Your kids don’t have to have their own Menlo Park to practice in. You can set up their first scientific failures with just one trip to a big box store.

You thought it would be a parenting moment worthy of Instagram Stories. But after you and your kids bought all the ingredients and mixed them together … nothing.
You didn’t do anything wrong. You’re just not done with your experiment yet.
One of the problems of Pinnable science project “recipes” is that parents and kids have all forgotten that experiments take time and careful repetition. Although there’s no formal record of how many attempts Edison needed to perfect a commercially-viable light bulb, there are plenty of false quotes attributed to him, nearly all of which emphasize the following: every new attempt of an experiment shouldn’t be viewed as a failure, but as one step in the long process of discovery.
Your kids don’t have to have their own Menlo Park to practice in. You can help set up their first scientific failures with just one trip to your preferred big box store. A well-stocked workbench will give you sufficiently large amounts of supplies so that you can test variants of each activity – what explodes, what flops, and what truly surprises you.

Equipping your lab

All conscientious scientists need a clean and organized workspace, so you’ll want to stock up on paper towels and bleach wipes. If you prefer an easier post-experiment clean-up, you may also want to buy disposable plastic cups and plates to use as your lab’s “glassware.”
The baking aisle offers lots of cheap ingredients for experiments, including the classic baking soda and vinegar. But there’s plenty to find in the produce, cleaning, and pharmacy sections, too. Scroll to the bottom for a good starter list.
Many science projects are masquerading as “experiments”: they tell you how much of each ingredient to use and then walk you through how to use them. But to have a true experiment, you need variables. That’s why you’ll only find rough proportions below. It’s your job to experiment and find which amount works best.

1 | Sandwich bombs

Requires:

  • baking soda
  • white vinegar
  • plastic snack bag
  • plastic sandwich bag

Forget volcanos. These sandwich bombs will give your kids a little more agency in designing and testing their own experiments. Pour baking soda into the sandwich bag and leave open. Pour vinegar into the snack bag and seal to close. Place the sealed snack bag inside the sandwich bag and close the sandwich bag. Then hit the snack bag to pop it open. As the baking soda and vinegar mix, the sandwich bag will begin to expand.

Variables

Change the amount of baking soda and/or vinegar to develop your best sandwich bomb recipe. You can also experiment with the size of the bags, using gallon and sandwich bags to make bigger sandwich bombs.

2 | Elephant toothpaste

Requires:

  • an empty plastic bottle
  • hydrogen peroxide
  • liquid dish soap
  • a small paper cup
  • warm water
  • yeast

In the empty plastic bottle, mix the hydrogen peroxide and liquid dish soap. In the small paper cup, mix the warm water and yeast. The next part is a bit easier to do if you have a funnel, but if not you can always pinch your small paper cup to form a spout. Add the yeast solution to the plastic bottle and stand back!

Variables

Change the amount of yeast, soap, and hydrogen peroxide to see what combination will give you the foamiest results. The hydrogen peroxide you can buy at big box stores is likely to be 3 percent, but if you stop at a beauty store you may be able to find 6 percent. Check out Science Bob to see what happens if you get the lab-quality stuff.

3 | Expanding soap

Requires:

  • bars of soap
  • paper or plastic plates

This is the simplest experiment on the list. Unwrap a bar of soap, put it on a plate, put the plate in the microwave, turn on the microwave, and see what happens!

Variables

Although the experiment is simple, it offers a valuable lesson about trusting what you read on the internet. If you google around for this one, you’ll see that Ivory soap is the only acceptable bar for this experiment. A budding young scientist might buy every other brand and publish a thorough review debunking those claims.

4 | Bouncy egg

Requires:

  • egg
  • vinegar
  • mason jar

This experiment is a great lesson in patience, because it takes seconds to set up but days to complete. Add the egg to a mason jar and pour in enough vinegar to cover it. Seal the jar and leave it on the counter. Check in every day to see what happens. After a few days, you’ll note that the egg has increased in size and “lost” its shell (which has been dissolved by the vinegar).

Variables

Make multiple eggs and leave some to sit longer than others. Which bouncy eggs are the hardest to explode? Also add food colorings to the vinegar to change the color of the bouncy eggs. If you’re buying eggs in bulk-store volume, consider hard boiling some and doing this egg-in-a-bottle experiment. Unlike the bouncy eggs, these will still be safe to eat … if you can get them out of the bottle.

5 | Crystals

Requires:

  • pipe cleaner
  • string
  • chopstick
  • mason jar
  • boiling water
  • borax

Kitchen-grown crystals are all over Pinterest, and for good reason: they’re awesome. But they’re also a frequent subject of science fails, because they require even more patience than vinegar eggs. Use your pipe cleaners to create a nest shape. Tie one end of the string around your pipe cleaner nest and the other end around a chopstick. Pour boiling hot water into a heat-safe container. Mix in borax until you can’t dissolve any more without leftover borax sitting at the bottom of the container. Place the chopstick over the container and leave to sit for a while. Some crystals may grow overnight. Others may take over a week. And sometimes no crystals will grow, because your solution isn’t saturated enough.

Variables

Many crystal recipes make it seem as though you need a particular ingredient, but all you need is any household product with a crystalline structure. Your science lab is equipped with crystals already. Many salts (epsom salts, plain old table salt, baking soda, even driveway salt) all have crystalline structures, as does sugar. Experiment by dissolving different salts and sugars in water and trying to grow crystals. Just make sure they’re carefully labeled so you know which ones you can eat (rock candy!). You can also experiment with what to grow the crystals on. Different materials (a hair tie, a piece of yarn, a metal washer, eggshells) will grow crystals at different rates.

6 | Lava lamp

Requires:

  • bottle or vase
  • oil
  • water
  • Alka-Seltzer

The best reason to equip your workbench using a big box membership is that you’ll need large quantities of oil. For this experiment, get a empty bottle or vase and fill it three-quarters of the way full with whatever oil you’ve bought in bulk. Top off the bottle with water. Add Alka-Seltzer and see your lava lamp in action.

Variables

Play around with the proportions of oil, water, and Alka-Seltzer to see which yields the most mesmerizing lava lamp. If you’re not sure what else to do with all that bulk oil, check out these citrus candles.

7 | Invisible Ink

Requires:

  • water
  • baking soda
  • paint brush or cotton swab
  • grape juice

Mix baking soda and water. Use a paintbrush or cotton-swab to write a message and allow to dry. Paint the paper with the grape juice to reveal the message.

Variables

Try painting your invisible message with lemon juice instead of baking soda and see how the grape juice interacts with it. Why is the lemon juice message a different color from the baking soda message? To answer that, check out one last experiment.

8 | pH Tester

Requires:

  • all of your science lab supplies
  • purple cabbage

If you can find a purple cabbage at your favorite big box store, you’re in luck! The cabbage can work as a pH tester. Mix a few cabbage leaves and water in a blender. Strain out the cabbage pulp so that you have a purple liquid. Pour the liquid into small clear cups. Try adding lemon juice to one cup and baking soda to another. Then test the various supplies in your home science lab to see what happens.

Shopping list

The following list will allow you to complete all of the above experiments:

  • Lemons
  • Eggs
  • Purple cabbage
  • White vinegar
  • Canola oil
  • Active dry yeast
  • Baking soda
  • Grape juice
  • Liquid dish soap
  • Borax
  • Sealable plastic bags
  • snack size sealable plastic bags
  • sandwich size paper cups
  • bathroom size plastic drinking cups
  • Plastic plates
  • Bars of soap
  • Hydrogen peroxide
  • Alka-seltzer

Food coloring is often added to experiments to make it easier to see. Some big box stores don’t sell food coloring, but don’t let that stop you! Many sell products that can act as stains, such as onions, saffron, turmeric, as well as berries and juices that you can use to create your own dyes.

How Babies Uncovered the Mystery About Our Common Fear of Spiders

A fear of spiders is something we are all born with, according to a new study.

Ghosts, skeletons, and vampires may give us the creeps this Halloween, but a fear of spiders is something we are all born with, according to a new study.
This fear, technically called arachnophobia (as the 1990 movie by the same name made famous), can cause crippling anxiety for some people and impact their daily life. For years, scientists have been trying to figure out why so many people are afraid of spiders, even in places where they hardly ever come in contact with them. While some experts assumed that we learn this fear from our surroundings as children, others believed it was innate.
Now scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences discovered that the fear is quite real and, in fact, hereditary. During their research, the scientists showed pictures of spiders along with more typically pleasing images, like flowers and fish, to a group of six-month-old infants. The scientists noticed that the children’s pupils dilated significantly when they looked at the spiders. Dilated pupils are a typical measure of the fight-or-flight stress response. The average pupil dilations were 0.14 mm when viewing the spiders, but only 0.03 mm for the flowers – a considerable reaction.
Remarkably, past studies found that babies did not have this same reaction when shown pictures of rhinos, bears, or other typically dangerous animals. This latest research, therefore, proves that babies as young as six months felt stressed out from looking at spiders long before they could have been taught to have this reaction from their parents or through experience.
The research team went on to conclude that arachnophobia has evolutionary origins. There is a part of our brain that causes us to identify certain objects as dangerous so we can react quickly in order to survive. This inherited stress reaction ultimately led to humans associate spiders with fear and unpleasantness, and that we must avoid them at all costs.
According to evolutionary biologist Gordon H. Orians in his book “Snakes, Sunrises, and Shakespeare”, many responses to our environment throughout history have been rooted in our survival mode. These experiences led to some of the ingrained, instinctual fears that are genetically programmed in us today.
Other common fears include snakes, microbes, pointed objects, leopard spots, rugged terrain, and eyes. Maybe it’s time to stop singing the “itsy bitsy spider” song to your littles, and definitely don’t dress up like a tarantula for Halloween.
In all seriousness, though, it’s crucial to understand where certain fears stem from so that we can address them properly with our children. Talk to your kids about their worries; if they bottle them up, it will only get worse. Let them know their concerns are common and that others experience them, too. Show that you understand what they’re going through by sharing your own personal anxiety stories, and reassure them that you’re there to support them whenever they become frightened.
It may take some simple distraction techniques to help kids overcome their fear instincts. If it becomes so bad that their fears interfere with their daily life, you may want to talk to your pediatrician.

How to Guide Your Kid's Inventive Spelling

Encouraging your child to use invented spelling will help her become a successful student, even if the immediate results look disastrous.

Invented spelling – young children’s attempts to write words by recording the letter sounds they hear – has long been common in early childhood classrooms, but new research has brought it into the spotlight this year. A recent study suggests that engaging regularly in this analytical process is more effective at preparing children to read than focusing on word memorization.
What does this mean for parents? Well, for one thing, you can stop worrying that a note from your five-year-old that says, “U R A GRT MOM” means she’ll forever be reliant on spell check. Encouraging your child to use invented spelling will help her become a successful student, even if the immediate results look disastrous.
It also means you might struggle with how to best help your beginning writer. The following tips come from my experience as a kindergarten teacher and have passed the true test: I have a five-year-old inventive speller at home.

Take yourself back to kindergarten

As a proficient reader and writer, your brain works differently than a young child’s. You have a massive mental bank of words you read and write automatically. So it’s understandable if you’re out of practice at relying heavily on letter sounds.
It will be easier for you to help your early speller (and read what she writes) if you temporarily suspend your knowledge that the ending “shun” is often written as -tion or that care written without the “e” would technically be pronounced as the word meaning automobile.
Go back to the ABCs. Consistency between home and school is always helpful, so find out how your child’s teacher introduces letter sounds. Many teachers use a keyword carefully chosen to teach each one, as in this common phonics program. Instead of “E is for Elephant,” it’s Ed, to make the “short e” sound crystal clear. No xylophones or x-rays, either. The keyword for X is fox to teach the ending /ks/ sound.
For extra credit, watch this video clip to confirm you’re pronouncing each sound correctly when helping your child.

Set up for success

You can avoid some common pitfalls by being ready with supplies and ideas when your child wants to practice writing. It’s hard for new writers to plan use of space, so squeezing words into small areas will likely be frustrating. My son always chooses the tiniest scrap of paper, so I try to quickly swap it out for something with plenty of room.
Consider ditching the standard no. 2 pencil, also. Pencils break at the wrong moment and erasing can easily become a messy obsession. These nifty crayon rocks are a fun alternative. They come in a velvet bag, which makes them feel treasure-like, and have the added bonus of a shape that encourages a correct pincer grip. Many teachers also favor these felt tip pens, which slide easily across the paper.
It can be frustrating for everyone when adults can’t read what a child laboriously wrote. If you encourage a new writer to label an item in a picture or an actual object, you have a giant clue as to her intended message. Give your child a stack of large sticky notes and have her label things around your home. “Dangerous!” by Tim Warnes is a hilarious picture book about labeling that inspired my son to whip through an economy-sized pack of Post-Its.
There are many authentic contexts for writing lists, which are a logical next step after labeling. Suggest grocery lists, real or pretend menus, to-do lists, top 10 lists, and so on. You’ll have the list’s context to help you decipher each word. My son spent all summer getting ahead of the game and writing wish lists for Santa. A tad consumer-driven for my taste, but he was highly motivated to include as many sounds as possible so his message was legible.
Finally, if you encourage your child to attempt writing short sentences within a functional framework, the task feels worthy enough for him to see it through, and you’ll have something to go on when you try to read it. Encourage him to write thank you notes, signs, birthday cards or a caption to accompany a picture he drew.

Help, but not too much

So much of parenting is about striking the balance between giving help and leaving enough space for independence. Once your child gets the idea of saying words slowly and writing down letters for sounds she hears, let her go for it.
Constant correction or giving into to “How do you spell…?” requests quickly creates dependence. I find it useful to suddenly become very busy in another room when my son is trying to write something. When I’m out of sight, he trusts himself more.
At the same time, new writers need to maintain momentum. If your child is stuck on a sound, especially if it’s one you’re sure he doesn’t know yet, just supply it so he can move on. It’s okay to provide tips like how to spell the ending “ing” or “it takes s and h together to start shell” without lengthy explanations. My son often gets hung up on people’s names, which can be phonetic minefields anyways, so I just write them on a piece of scrap paper for him if he asks.
Like potty training, training wheels, and Velcro shoes, invented spelling spans just a short phase in your child’s development. I keep reminding myself to appreciate (rather, APRESHEAT) the window it offers into my child’s thinking. I know that, soon enough, the only notes I’ll get from him will be texts that he won’t be home for dinner.

Alexa, What Does It Take to Be Human?

Could a tiny smart computer fill in all my gaps in parenting? The better question is, should it?

Mattel pulled a much-anticipated and hotly-debated toy recently.
Aristotle, a device geared for children anywhere from infancy to adolescence, was set up to be the kid’s version of Alexa. It boasted features such as the ability to soothe a crying baby, teach ABCs, reinforce good manners, play interactive games, and help kids with homework. Marketed as an “all-in-one nursery necessity” on Mattel’s website, it also offered e-commerce functionality that would enable Aristotle to automatically reorder baby products based on user feedback.
This little gadget would be the next big thing, engineered to “comfort, entertain, teach, and assist during each development state – evolving with a child as their needs change.”
You see where this is heading.
How much do we let artificial intelligence narrate our children’s lives? How can we put something like this in charge of soothing our kids to sleep, teaching the alphabet, and eventually helping with homework?
Could a tiny smart computer fill in all my gaps in parenting? The better question is, should it? I know what being saddled with my phone and Wi-Fi all hours of the waking day does to my psyche. What could it possibly do to a toddler or an 11-year-old?
The director of the M.I.T. Initiative on Technology and Self, Sherry Turke, said something in her approval of Mattel’s decision to nix Aristotle that made me pause: “The ground rules of human beinghood are laid down very early” and these machines have “changed the ground rules of how people think about personhood.”
Is this true? By creating Siri and Alexa and all manner of innumerable smart devices, have we changed what it means to be human?
Do you remember the little origami fortune tellers you could make out of a paper? You’d ask it a question – say, “who will I marry?” or “will I have a pool when I grow up?” – and then you’d pick a number, count it out, and open the flap to reveal your future.
I never got the pool. But I also never forgot that it was just a game. I didn’t really think I would marry David or Nick. But maybe if I carried it around all the time and asked it every question from age eight and onward, I would forget it was not, in fact, in charge of my fate.
Turke went on to say that “we can’t put children in this position of pretend empathy and then expect that children will know what empathy is. Or give them pretend as-if relationships, and then think that we’ll have children who know what relationships are.”
Have the things that used to define us as highly evolved creatures – our rationality and morality and curiosity – changed so much? Do we still care to defend right and wrong and ask why of the universe or are we content to ask Siri? Do we, the grown-ups, still know what empathy is? When I watch the news, I wonder.
Do we know what it means to develop and nurture and uphold sustainable relationships? I hope so.
Aristotle was a free-thinking scientist and philosopher. He was a man who believed in things acting according to their function. I do not believe he would have entrusted the development of our children’s minds to a computer. I’m not even sure where he’d put artificial intelligence in the hierarchical system. Is it animal, vegetable, mineral, or none of the above?
The ground rules of “beinghood” are constantly evolving, but the core of what makes us human stands. We still care enough to write great literature, fight injustice, love and lose and love again, and cancel a toy before it begins to raise our children. We still hold a tiny bit of prescience over the rightness and wrongness of where our curiosity is leading us.
As long as we are able to look up from our toys and ask of each other and the world, “What does it all mean?”, our humanity remains intact. Technology is a marvel and a necessary in the modern world, but it cannot define us. This is a new game we are playing, and we must play it wisely.

New Research Says Gamers Learn Better Than Non-Gamers

Your kids may be right: playing video games may not be a waste of time but may help learning and memory function.

Your kids may be right: playing video games may not be a waste of time but may help learning and memory function.

A new study out of Germany says that gaming helps cognitive learning and problem solving. In order to investigate memory formation and sensory processing, researchers at Ruhr University Bochum’s Institute for Cognitive Neuroscience pitted video gamers against non-gamers in a learning competition. “The video gamers performed significantly better and showed an increased brain activity in the brain areas that are relevant for learning,” according to the study.  Sabrina Schenk and Dr. Boris Suchan led the team, who used 3T Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) to examine 34 subjects’ brains as they performed a weather predication task using cue cards.

Schenk and Suchan explained, “The participants were shown a combination of three cue cards with different symbols. They should estimate whether the card combination predicted sun or rain and got a feedback if their choice was right or wrong right away. The volunteers gradually learned, on the basis of the feedback, which card combination stands for which weather prediction. The combinations were thereby linked to higher or lower probabilities for sun and rain. After completing the task, the study participants filled out a questionnaire to sample their acquired knowledge about the cue card combinations.”

The MRI imaging showed brain activation in the hippocampus (the area connected to memory and learning), the occipital visual areas, and in areas related to attentional processes. “Our study shows that gamers are better in analyzing a situation quickly, to generate new knowledge and to categorize facts – especially in situations with high uncertainties,” said Schenk. (And the researchers questioned if video game playing couldn’t help older adults who need memory improvement.)

Before you and your kids celebrate the benefits of video games too much, you should take note of another study, published in August in Nature and Molecular Psychiatry, that states that action video game players may actually reduce grey matter in the hippocampus (which would negatively affect memory). Gregory West, of the University of Montreal and lead researcher on this study, said in an interview with Parent.co, “There are many different types of video games that we now know can have a differential impact on the brain. Our research specifically examined only two types of video games: first person shooting/action RPG shooting games and 3D-platform games….We showed a causal relationship between playing these games and changes in grey matter within the hippocampal memory system.”

West and his colleagues have studied video games for a number of years. He said originally he was interested in the positive cognitive affects of action video games, particularly on visual attention, motor control, and the brain’s reward system. Then, starting in 2015, they found evidence that linked action video game consumption to negative effects on memory (because of hippocampus grey matter reduction), so they started analyzing what types of video games caused what types of effects.

“3D-platform games, such as Super Mario 64, promote the hippocampal memory system,” West said. Logic and puzzle games do, too. West recommends parents limit young children’s game playing to these types of games because he says there is no research examining how action video games impact developing hippocampus. (The University of California, San Diego Cognitive Science Department says the hippocampus continues its physical development into the first two and a half years of life.)

One of the questions West has about the German study and its results is that the researchers seem to “lump together games that ask players to perform very different tasks into one category of ‘action video games’.” he said, “For example, StarCraft is highlighted as an example of a type of video game their participants often played. However, StarCraft is, in fact, a real-time strategy game that has very different content compared to a first person shooting game. Because of this, it is difficult to determine what type of gameplay experience is responsible for their observed results.” (Dr. Suchan did not respond to our inquiry about this.)

One thing that all researchers and gamers can agree on is that playing video games affects our lives, our abilities, and our brains in a variety of ways. Therefore, with some parental oversight, let the games begin.

5 Sensory Experiences That Can Enhance Learning and Benefit Any Kid

Sensory experiences can help increase focus and concentration and calm anxiety and hyperactivity in all kids- not just those with special needs.

Sensory experiences can help calm kid’s anxiety, increase focus and concentration, and reduce misbehavior. Although focusing on sensory experiences is highly beneficial for kids, kids will not all react to these experiences in the same way. While sensory experiences have often been associated with children with special needs, they can help increase focus and concentration and calm anxiety and hyperactivity in all kids.
The available research suggests that incorporating sensory experiences to children’s everyday experiences can make it easier to meet the needs of even the most challenging among them. Below are five practical tips to help you incorporate sensory experiences to help your child find calm.

1 | Create a “sensory space”

A “sensory space” is a space filled with varied sensory resources where your kid can find calm. Creating a specific space has been found to help kids struggling with anxiety and anger. In one study, researchers created a “sensory room” filled with a variety of resources such as a mood lamp, a projector, aromatherapy, music, and bubble tubes. The researchers observed and recorded how often each child visited the sensory room. The results showed that the kids who visited the sensory room most had greater self-esteem and also improved emotional well-being.
A “sensory space” does not necessarily have to be a “physical space.” An alternative can be a “sensory box” where you put a variety of sensory items that your child can pick and use whenever he feels the need to. Varying the objects – smooth surfaces, rough surfaces, different smells – makes the sensory experience more fulfilling.

2 | Turn to aromatherapy

The sense of smell is a powerful sense connected to the brain. This explains why essential oils impact behavior. Research suggests that aromatherapy can have a healing and calming effect. There are different ways that aromatherapy can be used to make the sensory experience even more powerful. For instance, combining smell and touch by using essential oils to massage your child’s feet or toes can have an immediate calming effect.
The possibilities are endless when it comes to using aromatherapy but not all essential oils are appropriate to use with children. Before using essential oils with your child, inform yourself about the precautions to take and the oils best adapted to calm kids’ anxiety and hyperactivity.

3 | Provide multisensory experiences

In one study that sought to determine whether multisensory experiences helped children learn better, researchers associated different colors with music, scents, art, poetry, literature, and colored lights. They found that children who were taught colors using multisensory experiences were better able to learn different colors.
Multisensory experiences are those that enable kids to use their different senses. For example, aromatherapy play dough helps kids engage their sense of smell and touch. Remember, however, that all essential oils used with kids should be safe for them and should be diluted first if they are to come into contact with your child’s skin. Another multisensory experience could be playing soft music as your child is playing with her blocks or with sand.

4 | Incorporate sensory experiences throughout the day

Any activity that encourages children to use their senses is a sensory activity. Playing with water or grains, smelling the roses, jogging, running, playing with sand, listening to music, and dancing are all sensory activities.
Different activities respond to different sensory needs. Activities such as swinging, jumping on the trampoline, and doing aerobic exercises release endorphins that help decrease anxiety. Chewing chewy foods, sucking or blowing are different sensory experiences that may also have a calming impact on your child. Finger painting is a great sensory activity. Incorporating different activities throughout the day is a great way to help your kid find focus and calm.

5 | Use deep pressure and movement sensory activities

The pressure exerted by weights has been found to help calm kids’ anxiety and hyperactivity. For instance, weighted blankets have been found to create a natural calming effect.
Although they are frequently used with children with special needs (for example autism), they are also effective with high-energy kids. Many parents have reported benefits with their children, including better sleep, waking up more rested, and happier and more focused kids.
By exerting pressure on the body, weighted blankets release neurotransmitters that have been proven to have a calming effect on the body. Wrists and ankle weights may also have the same effect.
Activities that involve heavy work – raking leaves, pushing against a wall, pushing a heavy cart – have also been found to be effective in focusing kids’ attention and reducing anxiety.
While the information provided here can help calm anxiety and hyperactivity in all kids, it is provided for informational purposes only. If your child has a sensory processing disorder, please contact your therapist before trying the activities proposed above.