Monday, January 31, 2011

Guest Post! Boosting Your Child's Brain.

I met Tracy on Twitter and we became fast friends and bonded over our love of chocolate, wine and Rachel Zoe! Tracy is the genius mama behind Sweet Harper, the super fabulous hair clips for little girls. If you haven't checked out her site go there after you read her post below about boosting your little ones brain!

Thanks Alana for letting me get all teacherish today. Put on your thinking caps, sit up straight, and no talking with your neighbor...we're getting serious about brain boosting activities for your toddler and preschooler today. Just a note, I am a certified S.M.A.R.T. instructor, and a licensed pre-primary elementary I'm not just any old looney toon. Please keep in mind while you are reading that not every activity may be appropriate for your child depending on their age and/or ability. Small children should never be left unattended with small objects.

First, let's start with the basics...crawling! Every now and then I hear a proud parent sharing that their child "just skipped the crawling stage" and I cringe just a little bit. Crawling is one of our very first experiences with basic coordination, and if a child skips this stage, they are missing vital brain experiences. I always tell those parents that although it's super that their child is walking, be sure they get plenty of time crawling too. You can do this by playing chase games around the house-crawling instead of walking. Put flat objects or cards on the floor and have them crawl like a dinosaur and slap them with their hands (modeling this yourself will help). Buy an expandable tunnel for them to crawl through, and play peek-a-boo on the other side. The moral of the story, even if your child skips the crawling stage, be sure they still have lots of experience crawling.

Cross Pattern Movement-This is all about integrating both sides of the brain and can help strength academic skills such as reading readiness through eye teaming, and hand eye coordination. Pretend that there is an imaginary line down the center of the body, the goal is to get kids crossing the midline with their hands and feet.

Cross Pattern Ideas:

  • Place food and dip on opposite sides of the plate so they have to cross over their body to reach it. See the example pictured, the ketchup and fries are on opposite sides of the plate. (Not the healthiest example, I know!)
  • Put on a fast song and have them mimic your movements, right hand taps left knee, left hand taps right toes, etc.
  • When sorting or cleaning up, try to place the basket so that the child has to reach across their body to reach it.

Fine Motor Skills-This is the most asked question I get from parents, especially parents of kids on the spectrum. Fine motor is important for so many aspects of school-cutting, writing, typing, etc. However, so many students seems to be missing it. Surprisingly, studies have linked the fact that infants are placed on their backs for sleeping (unlike in the "old" days) and they are not doing simple and basic movements of pushing themselves up as often which helps develop fine motor skills. Babies should still always sleep on their backs, but it's just even more important to help our kids develop their fine motor skills.

Fine Motor Ideas:
  • Making muffins-have your child use tongs to place objects into the cups of a muffin pan. Start with firm, easy to grip objects such as Legos, and build up to trickier items like cotton balls.
  • Tweezers-use tweezers to pick up items and place them into a bowl (for preschoolers only). You can use rice, popcorn kernels, dried beans or lentils, etc.
  • Bead stringing-using a thicker string with a large knot tied on one end, have the child slide large beads onto the string. Add an additional element and have them make patterns when they're ready.
  • Clothespin Clipping-have your child use one hand to clip clothespins onto the bottom hem of their shirt. Start with their dominant hand, and have them progress to using their other hand.
Vestibular System- read more here as to why the vestibular system is SO important for proper brain readiness. It's just the tip of the iceberg, and SO important!!! Should I mention it again, did you read the link?

Vestibular Ideas:

  • Helicopter spins-arms out, spinning in place, looking at feet for 15 second intervals. Then break, and stand still for 15 seconds. Repeat ten times in the same direction. (You can do the other directions the next day.) Add music to make it fun! You control the music and they spin while it's on (15 seconds) and are still when it's off.
  • Log Roll-remember the days when you could roll down a hill? Kids just don't do this as often these days. Make a point to do it, because it's not just fun, it's good for their brains!
  • Inversion-ADULT SUPERVISION ONLY! At the playground, have your child hang upside down by their knees for as long as they are comfortable. Have them say ready when they want you to help them up. You must stay within an arms reach of your child at all times during this activity-obviously!
Ok, that is just a small part of brain boosting activities for your preschooler (and some for your toddler)...are you feeling overwhelmed yet? Try doing one activity a day with your child and build up to more. Although these are fun activities, they also need to be done correctly and purposefully in order to best help your child. These are only suggestions; you know your child better than anyone so only do what you feel is appropriate. Most of all, have fun!

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