Monday, March 26, 2012

Something's Gotta Give

We are not great gardeners around here. After trying to make the front flowerbed look nice two Summers in a row we finally came to a realization. We can't keep plants alive. It's too hot outside and we are under water restrictions. We don't have time to hand water, so everything dies. We needed a new plan.

We found a wooden bridge, wooden wheel, and statue of a boy and girl reading a book. Suddenly the front flowerbed looks like we take care of it. The best part is it doesn't require any upkeep. The bushes in the back seem to live no matter what we do to them, which is perfect!

That's when we came up with the idea to take a photo of the kids on the bridge. All we had to do was get them to stand on the bridge, facing the front. This seems so simple, unless you have toddlers who don't stand still.

We ended up with over 30 photos of this process. They all looked right before the click. Our camera isn't incredibly fast, but our kids apparently are.

Rocky also wanted in on the action which didn't help the kids focus. Granted, it didn't increase the level of difficulty by much either. Rocky knows how to sit and pose for a photo when we tell him.

Just stand on the bridge, or near the bridge, and look this direction. It sounds simple, but it's really not. We rarely do posed photos and this is proof of why.

 At some point we just give up. Yes, he's squatting, but look, we can see two faces. They are both on the bridge. They are even almost smiling. So, no flowers, no posed photos, and yet I'm still happy. It's all about priorities.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The importance of exercise

I'm sure you know the importance of exercise for physical health. This is going to be about the importance of exercise for your mental health (with a few physical health tips thrown in).

It has been proven that exercise in kids increases their perception, creativity, concentration, and IQ. That's impressive. How many other things can do all of that at the same time? More importantly, the research shows that early life matters. The earlier in life that exercise happens, the better the health and cognitive benefits. What would take a 40 year old 2 hours of exercise to accomplish can be done in 30 minutes by a toddler. Frustrating as an adult, but this is a clear sign of how to help your child.

Grandma playing with our feet is funny

Disease risks result from an accumulation of experiences according to Dr. Kosik, the co-director of the Neuroscience Research Institute at the University of California, Santa Barbara. When you think about the opposite, it makes sense. If you are exposed to a toxic substance in small amounts throughout life it starts to add up. So, while you might not see a problem at first, you will eventually have to deal with the accumulation of the toxin in your body. Therefore, exercise also helps the accumulation of positive, disease fighting processes in the body. Throughout life your education, diet, exercise, and many other factors can shift your health trajectory to a better (or worse) one.


An increase in aerobic fitness was studied in students in the 3rd - 9th grades. The increase in fitness aligned with an increase in Reading and Math scores. If you want better test scores, don't get rid of P.E. and recess. Teachers have been able to see the difference in their students and knew this instinctively, but now there's neuroscience to back it up.

Hi there!

Since I have a family history of Alzheimer's disease, I've also been following the research on how to prevent or treat this cognitive disorder. The most effective treatment they have found so far? Exercise. It's showing better results than any of the medications. This is not to say that we shouldn't treat with medication, but we can't ignore the importance of treating with exercise as well. They have also been studying the brain scans of people at risk for Alzheimer's and discovered that the disease actually starts 10-30 years before the first symptoms appear outwardly. If you know it's starting before symptoms, you can treat early and slow the progression. Granted, most people don't get brain scans before having neurological symptoms. This is why it is even more important to exercise as an adult to prevent cognitive decline. An absence of cognitive challenges has also been proven to increase the risk of cognitive decline. Most people pick 1-2 ways to challenge themselves cognitively and stick with them throughout life. You might play chess, solve crossword puzzles, or play an instrument. While all of these are great, if you have been doing them for years, you will not be building new brain mapping. Try something you aren't as comfortable with - learn a new language, take a painting class, or study photography. It's always good to start learning something new, but the most important time to learn these things to prevent (or slow) Alzheimer's is in your 40's-60's.

These chairs aren't comfortable.

Random fact that is mostly unrelated to this post: Some savants have no visible differences in their brain scans from the rest of us "normal" people.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Helping your child learn

We all know that children are sponges and learn things quickly and easily. Yet, we all want to help that process along, or at least not hinder it. Neuroscience research has shown the importance of the environment a child learns in.

Reading with Dada

The brain naturally looks for patterns and tries to connect new ideas and concepts to things it already recognizes. Something as simple as having a predictable schedule each day has been shown through brain scans to improve learning and memory. This doesn't mean you need to have each minute scheduled or each day following exactly the same schedule. When I taught young children in a school, I created a picture schedule. Even if the day was an "off day" (picture day, parent picnic, holiday party), the kids could check the schedule to see what comes next. At home we have specific routines we follow each day. After nap time, we take off diapers, have a quick circle time, then snack time, and free play. Not complicated, yet they thrive (and insist) when we follow the schedule.

Rocky is such a good sport when the kids dress him up.

Studies have shown that with two classes (actually it was 20 classes for each side, summarized into 2 sets of data) presented the same information, over the same time, and all other variables equalized, there was one predictor of student performance. If the teacher was predictable, student performance was high. If the teacher was unpredictable, students failed to perform up to even average expectations. If the students knew what subject was going to be taught before beginning, knew the method being used to teach (even when the method varied by class), and how long the lesson would last they were able to better focus and retain more of what they were taught.

Reading the instruction booklets that came with a toy

Kids also pick up on non-verbal signals that teachers and parents are sending. A positive or negative attitude about Math/Science/etc is understood by children as young as 4, even if it is never spoken. If a child has a parent who doesn't like a subject and teachers who don't like the same subject for 2 years in a row, they are likely to not like that subject for the rest of their lives, even if they have a natural aptitude for it. What is a parent to do? First, think of your most hated subject and decide you like it. It's slightly more complicated than that, but not by much. If you hate Math, find a simple Math game that is fun for you. It doesn't have to be challenging or at your level, it can be at your child's level, but let your children see you enjoying Math. Second, find out the least favorite subject of your child's teacher. If your child has multiple teachers who dislike the same subject, you need to really step up your enjoyment and focus on that subject. Most studies show that Math is the least liked subject overall, but especially by women. If your child's teachers are women this will most likely be the subject you need to inspire. Making learning fun for your child, means showing them learning is fun for you as well.

 Drawing with chalk

Monday, March 5, 2012


Climbing on a bridge

We spend a lot of time talking and listening to our children. We work on modeling proper pronunciation and sentences. Here's an example of a conversation we had on the way home from picking my son up at "school." This is the day only he attends and my daughter had spent the day with me. As soon as I pick my son up to put him in the car he sees his sister. 

Son: "Sister! I wuv Sister." (He used her actual name.)
Daughter: "Awwwww"
Me: "You guys are so cute. Did you have a good day at school?"
Son: "Yes. Fun."
Me: "Did you play with Carter?"
Son: "Carker"
Me: "Did you play with Drew?"
Son: "No, Sui"
Me: "Did you play with Sui?"
Son: "Yes Sui moosk"
Me: "You played with Sui in music?"
Son: "Yes happy"
Me: "You are happy that you played with Sui in music?"
Son: "No Sui happy"
Me: "Sui was happy you played with him in music?"
Son: "Yeah buddy!"

That's where I burst out laughing. I have no idea where "yeah buddy" came from but it's one of the funniest things he had said. Even though he was only speaking in broken words, I always used those to build the conversation into sentences.

Spinning is great for developing the vestibular system.

I've mentioned the importance of books so many times I'm sure you are sick of hearing it, but here's a real life example of the things they can learn from books that don't come up in normal conversations. I'm sitting on the couch with the kids talking about animals. My daughter mentions the "wallybean" and I'm confused. I tell her I don't know what animal that is and she looks completely frustrated with me. She goes into the other room and comes back with a book. She opens it, points to a picture and says "wallybean" again. Ah yes, the wallaby, I forgot about that animal and I had to look up what sound a wallaby made.

A girl and her pretty pink pony

She can also tell the difference between a macaw and a parrot apparently. She will correct me if I call one the wrong thing. Unfortunately I've never had time to stop and figure out the difference. She does know that a macaw says "sauk" and a parrot says "helwo". While all of these are things we have read in books, they aren't our favorite books so it's been awhile since we've read them. I'm impressed.

 He lined up the babies and started reading to them. Love it!