Thursday, September 6, 2018

Read to Your Child!

This video clip of a Grandma reading to her grandson is hilarious. Just try to watch it without laughing.

While we are in a good mood, let’s think about what is happening as this baby hears this story:

  • He feels his grandma’s joy and his mirror neurons are showing him how to feel positive emotions. 
  • He is learning how to regulate his emotions as he listens to his Grandma calm herself to continue reading.
  •  He is learning that books hold much promise for entertainment and learning.
  •  He is learning that words can be said with emotion and expression.
  •  He is learning that words communicate an idea.
  •  He is learning that words and pictures tell a story and it is worth the time to decode those words.
  •  He is developing his sense of phonemic awareness as he hears the rhyming words over and over, again.
  •  His brain is taking statistics on the necessary sounds of language.
  •  His brain is identifying a pattern by hearing it repeated.
  •  He is learning that you turn the pages of a book to hear what comes next.
  •  He is developing executive function skills by redirecting his attention to the book that Grandma is enjoying.

Who knew so much learning could happen from a 4-minute story? Forget the fancy apps that “teach” phonics or sight words while ignoring the fact that children learn to read within the context of family and language learning.
Read to your child!  

  • Picture books until they are too old to sit in your lap. And then continue picture books while they sit beside you.
  • Start the chapter books as soon as they can listen for the length of the chapter and don’t stop when they learn to read. 
  • Read 20-30 minutes a day. Every. Day
  • Mute your phone and put it in a different room. (Then your child will know that this is important)
  • Start reading Bible stories as soon as possible and later discuss those stories after your child reads them to you.

Read to your child!

Wonky Donkey by Craig Smith and illustrated by Katz Cowley

Saturday, August 25, 2018

Beginning of the School Year Joy

The beginning of the school year has many joys and challenges. As parents it is easy for us to want to solve problems for our children. However, with each new school year comes new levels of maturity and it is good for us to allow children to struggle and learn for themselves. If we stay available they will come to us if and when they need our help.

One thing that parents can do to help is to foster positive emotions. There is good reason to believe that positive emotions support social skill development and academic success. It is not hard to see the connection between a good attitude and making friends, or learning new skills.

When we promote positive emotion it does not mean that we ignore negative emotions. Children need to be able to talk with their parents about frustrations and solutions. When we promote positive emotions we are keeping children from dwelling on troubles and reminding them of the ways that God is at work in their life.

One way to do this is to encourage your child to pay attention to the good things that happen each day. When you see your child after school, make the list of happy things the first priority. Help your child to reflect on what benefit they received and to consider if someone should be thanked. Gratitude is a powerful characteristic of resilience.

After the listing of good things there can be time to talk about frustrations. You will likely note that your children will develop in their skills of problem solving as they combine their gratitude with brainstorming solutions.

Beginning of the School Year Blues

The beginning of a new school year is an exciting time. It involved new clothes, new school supplies, and possibly new friends. The very things that make this time exciting can also make it challenging. 

A change of classrooms, teachers, or schools can bring on anxiety. Even for older children a new situation can mean changes in long-time friendships, or the emergence of a previously coped with learning issue like staying organized. With all of the excitement of the new school year it can be difficult to sort through what challenges are temporary and what needs to be addressed. However, there are good things parents can do in the meantime.

1. Be open to interaction. This means that the screens (phones, tablets, computers, televisions) should be set aside. This is the time for many short, but important, conversations that help your child to think through anxiety and challenge. They need to be comforted, to brainstorm ideas, and to get feedback. Be available!

2. Identify emotions. This is not the time to assume that your child is correctly identifying emotions. For example, worry can easily morph into fear, and jealously can be mistaken for anger. You will help your child to regulate emotions if you help them to understand the appropriate emotion for the situation. Be attentive!

3. Encourage resolution. Ask your child to think about possible solutions before you start making suggestions. Give feedback, but sometimes it is best to let them try their solution first. Be supportive!

Children do not gain confidence from winning at a stress-free life or from having their problems solved for them. They gain confidence when they struggle and cope with challenges. Children develop resilience when the learn that God has given them people who are there to help.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Astronauts and Failure

Children often see astronauts as heroes and we adults see them as people born with the right stuff. 

But, even astronauts fail.

This clip is a compilation of astronauts trying to move around on the moon. It is one giant fall after another as they work to move in those huge suits and do it with some semblance of coordination in a gravity environment that is very different from earth.They are learning to walk all over again.

It is easy for children to see a failure as being an indication of whether or not they will ever be successful in a skill. As parents we need to watch for this attitude and gently remind our children that failure is not the end of accomplishment; it is the beginning of learning.

The astronauts in the clip learned from their missteps and gradually became more adept at walking on the moon. When we make a mistake, we can learn and move on to do better. This is especially true when it comes to our sin failures. We cannot make ourselves failure-free in order to get to heaven, but God wants us to live a healthy, happy, loving, obedient life. When we sin, we can repent and our loving God forgives us.  Then He helps us to get back up, brush off that moon dust, and learn from that failure.

Here is a beautiful song prayer for parents. Let it remind you of God’s grace and His willingness to bring good out of your parental missteps.

Monday, April 9, 2018

Playing for Brain Power

Credit: Gareth Wild via

The clip above is of a toddler methodically disposing of important family items by shoving them through the pet door. While I am sure the family is happy to have solved the mystery of the disappearing TV remotes, this toddler’s fascination with the pet doors is its own mystery.

This lovely young scientist is conducting a series of experiments that not only inform her brain about three dimensional shapes fitting through holes, but also help to develop her thinking skills for future learning.

This is what play is all about. Play not only helps a child to understand the world, it also develops executive function skills that are necessary for problem solving. In this clip the toddler is practicing focused attention, she is remembering which sizes fit and which do not, called divided attention, and she is working on something called cognitive flexibility.

The PBS show NOVA: Bird Brains reported that scientists in one experiment found birds left to play with shapes and containers developed flexible thinking that allowed them to solve complex puzzles for peanuts. The birds that had not been allowed to play typically gave up on the puzzles and abandon the peanut reward. Here is a clip from that show:

PBS NOVA Bird Brain

The lesson for us as parents is to remember that God designed the brains of children to grow and learn while they are moving, playing and experiencing their world. We want to be careful to not stop this process. Children need to be up and about, inside or outside, playing, exploring, and practicing trial and error. If we stop them because we want to “teach” them a skill, keep them quiet with a screen, keep the house perfectly clean, or keep them a bit too safe, we will interrupt that process.

Children need to play. It is the single best thing for brain development, language development, and emotional development. It is also the best way to prepare your child for school or any other kind of learning.

So put away those screens. Send your children outside. Let them entertain themselves. They are developing brain skills.