Thursday, December 30, 2010

Due to the many myths that exist on the topic of early brain development, I am dedicating this week to sharing the realities of what children need. Each day throughout the week, one myth will be clarified. It is my hope that we can quickly make truth common knowledge.  

Myth #4: Infants and Toddlers should be given skim milk to avoid obesity.

Truth: Nature provides all that the brain needs through breast milk. A mother's milk includes DHA which is essential to optimal cognitive and visual function. It is important when using infant formula to ensure it is fortified with DHA.  

When a toddler is transitioned to cow's milk, whole milk is best. Toddlers need fat for nerve development. Myelin is the protective coating that covers communicating neurons. Myelin is very important for brain health. It helps the impulses between nerves travel faster. This insulating sheath is composed of 30% protein and 70% fat. 

Zero to Three states the following: 

"Because of the rapid pace of myelination in early life, children need a high level of fat in their diets--some 50 percent of their total calories--until about two years of age. Babies should receive most of this fat from breast milk or formula in the first year of life, and breastmilk remains an excellent source of liquid nutrition into the toddler years. However, whole cow's milk can be introduced after the first birthday, and provides an excellent source of both fat and protein for toddlers in the second year."

The bottom line: For the first 12 months a baby needs breast milk or infant formula with DHA. When a child is transitioned to cows milk the brain benefits most from the fat that whole milk provides.

This article provides guidelines for using, Cows Milk for Infants and Toddlers

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Due to the many myths that exist on the topic of early brain development, I am dedicating this week to sharing the realities of what children need. Each day throughout the week, one myth will be clarified. It is my hope that we can quickly make truth common knowledge.

Myth #3: A Child is "spoiled" by responding to their cries and meeting their needs.

Truth:  Meeting a child's needs is the opposite of spoiling. Through repeatedly and consistently meeting a baby's physical and emotional needs, the baby is calmed and feels safe. Over time the baby begins to learn what to expect due to these repeated positive experiences. Having an attuned caregiver who predictably meets a baby's emotional needs leads to the ability to process emotions, to delay gratification, to have empathy for others, and to form healthy relationships.

The bottom line: Healthy emotional development and the basis for relationships later in life begins through having the cycle of needs expressed and met. 

Dr. Bruce Perry explains how responding to a babies needs leads to self regulation and healthy emotional development:   

"The capacity for self-regulation matures as we grow. The first time your baby felt hunger, he felt discomfort, then distress, and then he cried. You responded. And after many cycles of hunger, discomfort, distress, response, and satisfaction, your baby learned that this feeling of discomfort, even distress, will soon pass. You helped him build the capacity to put a moment between the impulse and the action. With this ability, he will eventually learn to take time to think, plan, and come up with an appropriate response to a challenge.
As young children learn to read and respond appropriately to these inner cues, they become much more capable of tolerating early signs of discomfort and distress. When your child learns to tolerate some anxiety, she will be much less reactive and impulsive. This allows her to feel more comfortable and act more mature when faced with the inevitable emotional, social, and cognitive challenges of development."

You can read a full article on this topic by Dr. Perry here .


Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Due to the many myths that exist on the topic of early brain development, I am dedicating this week to sharing the realities of what children need. Each day throughout the week, one myth will be clarified. It is my hope that we can quickly make truth common knowledge.

Myth #2: Taking a child to many classes and scheduled activities will make a child smarter.

Truth: While the brain does like to be stimulated and does not like boredom a child does not need or benefit from too many classes. The brain needs unstructured time to explore, to try new things, imagine, build, run freely, and just play. The higher "thinking areas" of the brain are enhanced through self directed activities. In fact creativity comes from a relaxed state not through a structured environment. When children are over scheduled, they miss the chance to use their imagination and learn skills through discovery. 

The bottom line: For optimal brain development a child needs unstructured time to play. 

For further information read the article, Free Unstructured Play Is Essential For Children. The article includes a link to a study from the AAP, The Importance of Play in Promoting Healthy Child Development and Maintaining Strong Parent-Child Bonds (PDF)


Monday, December 27, 2010

Due to the many myths that exist on the topic of early brain development, I am dedicating this week to sharing the realities of what children need. Each day throughout the week, one myth will be clarified. It is my hope that we can quickly make truth common knowledge.
Myth #1: Early brain research has shown that children will be smarter through the use of flash cards, workbooks, language tapes, and "educational" electronic toys.

Truth:  Brain development is simply the physical growth of the brain. Science has created greater awareness of how this brain growth occurs. As a result we now understand more than ever before about how experience impacts brain growth. However, it seems that the term "early brain development" has become synonymous with meaning we need to push young children to learn more at earlier ages. 

It is critical that it is understood that academic focused pre-schools, using flash cards or computerized types of toys and DVD's are not the optimal way of supporting this growth. Hands-on interaction with real objects and people provides the brain with much more real information and ideal learning experiences. When children are directed to simply find a "right" answer this removes the wonderful benefits of discovery.  

The bottom line: Pushing learning on children does not lead to optimal cognitive, or social/emotional growth. In reality, too much activity may result in over-stimulation, which can impair brain development. Positive loving interactions and opportunities to play and explore with many senses in a relaxed environment are the ideal way to support healthy brain growth. 


Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The brain needs nutrition to function well. Good nutrition is not only good for the body, it is also essential for the brain. When the brain does not get the nutrients it needs, this results in decreased ability to pay attention and may result in hyperactive behavior.
However when children eat healthy foods the “feel good chemical” serotonin is released. As a result attention span is increased and children will feel less agitated.

I just became aware something that can help children make healthy food choices. I am thrilled to let you know about it. It is called, Today I Ate A Rainbow. This complete and wonderful kit was developed by Kia Robertson. 

The I Ate A Rainbow kit includes:
1 chart
4 sets of colored magnets
4 achievement magnets
2 fridge magnets
1 shopping list
1 The Rainbow Bunch!™ book

A forward in the book, written by Dr. Erika Holenski ND, states,  “I feel one of the best lessons we can teach our children is a healthy relationship with food. The lessons learned early in life are the ones that are imprinted on the brain and become the default behavior in adulthood. By eating a wide variety of fruits and vegetables you are ensuring that your child is consuming the entire spectrum of vitamins and minerals, from beta carotene to iron and everything in between. The rainbow of colors also ensures high levels of antioxidants and phytonutrients which help the entire body fight off illness and repair DNA, as well as boost brain power. “

It would be wonderful if one day every child had this kit and was eating a rainbow everyday!!!
For more information go to: www.todayiatearainbow.com


Monday, December 20, 2010

Holiday Shopping From a Child’s Point of View
My brain doesn’t like to be bored and it also doesn’t like to be over stimulated. I need interesting things to keep me entertained, but if I get too much stimulation I will need you to help me to relax. My brain is not good at this on my own yet.
               (3 -6 year olds)
  • Have me help you find the items you need by giving me simple directions. For example: Ask me to get the red box or pick the smallest size can, or the item on the bottom shelf.
               (1 – 4 year olds)
  •   While waiting in line, name an item for me to find and point to. Or point to a picture on magazine and have me name it.
               (3 – 5 year olds)
  • As we turn down a new isle name a color. Have me point out items of that color as we  go through the row. Or to add variety, name a shape to look for.

My brain also likes physical activity and using all of my senses. Exploring is how my brain learns. So, I will like touching and trying out things I see.  If you guide me to or provide things that are safe to touch this will be best.  Much of this is all new to me, and  I do not realize what might happen if I touch, push, or pull on something without your guidance.

                (0-3 year olds)
  •  While we shop give items to try out. Let me feel different textures or hear the sounds items make.  Since my brain learns through repetition I may want to do it again and again. Use descriptive words for the textures and sounds I am experiencing too. My brain likes to hear lots of language from you about objects in my world.
                 (3 – 6 year olds)
  • Have me close my eyes and listen to all the sounds. Have me tell you all that I hear.
  • Have me help you put items on the counter as you get ready to checkout. We could count together as we do this.
I really like it when you give me positive attention. When we are having fun together I will feel good.  My brain will then not react in negative ways to get you to pay attention to me.
                 (2 – 6 year olds)
  • Let me tell you about all that I see and am interested in as we shop. I get excited about all of the new things I am learning and want to share it with you!
                 (All ages)
  • Sing holiday songs with me while we wait in line.  


Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The brain develops best when a child has a variety of optimal emotional, physical, cognitive, and social experiences at appropriate times. Brain development is not enhanced through pushing children to learn more at earlier ages.

The term, “developmentally appropriate” is used in the field of education by professionals that understand that we need to provide learning in the way a child will benefit most.  When adults decide children should learn something at an earlier age, this is not in best interest of children.
It seems that for some, the term “early brain development” has come to mean, “push young children to learn more at earlier ages”.  It is not advantageous for anyone when we push children. Due to scientific research, we now have the advantage of understanding more than we ever have about how the brain develops.  We need to take advantage of this knowledge. 
We do not feed a newborn solid foods, we don’t expect a 4 month old to give himself a bath, we don’t expect an 8 month old to tie her shoes, we don’t expect a one year old to jump rope. We do not have these expectations because we know children are not physically ready for those tasks at these ages.  It is critical to use all we know when it comes to emotional and cognitive development also.We can not afford to ignore this information any longer.

This article, Picture Books Still Do Work for Kids, gives a perfect example. It states that children are being pushed to read chapter books too early. In the article Dr. Deborah Pope, executive director of the Ezra Jack Keats Foundation states;
"If a parent pushes a child through their developmental stages too quickly, the child often ends up frustrated and behind later on," she said. "What's sadder is that they miss out on something they can never get back -- their childhood."

Together we  can help everyone learn how to provide optimal experiences for children’s brains  to develop in healthy ways.  Let’s ensure every child has the love, safety, nutrition, play, sleep, understanding, and appropriate learning experiences they need!


Monday, December 13, 2010

Research demonstrates time in nature greatly benefits the brain and overall healthy development in many ways. Studies show contact with nature and playing outdoors can reduce symptoms of attention deficit disorder, alleviate stress, enhance creativity, and increase self discipline.

In this valuable article, Grow Outside! A call to pediatricians and others to prescribe nature:Helping children (and their families) become healthier and happier, the numerous benefits of time outdoors are shared. 

This article is focused on the role pediatricians can play in promoting the benefits to early bran development.

Nature GREATLY Benefits Brains- Insights on how!"Dr. Brown points out, for many pediatricians, the strategic pediatric priorities have changed from infectious disease, immunizations and car seats and helmets to mental health, obesity and early brain development, "all of which could be changed by re-connecting our kids to the wonder of nature."

Here is a sample of what the research suggests, and what pediatrics professionals can do:
•Contact with the natural world appears to significantly reduce symptoms of  attention deficit disorder in children as young as five.
•Nearby nature, and even a view of nature from a bedroom window, can reduce stress in children
•Older children who spent more time outside were generally more physically active and had a lower prevalence of overweight than children who spent less time outside. (Less is known about the impact on very young children.)
•Children in greener neighborhoods appear to have lower body weight changes.
•Spending time outdoors may help prevent myopia.
•Play in natural environments is associated with young children's improved motor abilities and increased creativity.
•Access to nature nurtures self-dicipline and self-confidence among children, including children with disabilities.
•Natural environments, such as parks, foster recovery from mental fatigue and may help children learn.
•Green exercise may offer added benefits when compared to equal exertion in indoor gyms.
•In hospitals, clinics and medical offices, incorporate nature into the design to help children, and their families, reduce stress and heal.
•The concept of "play," including play in nature, is more compelling and inviting to most adult caregivers,  parents and guardians than "exercise."

All of this research is what has lead to the development of nature pre-schools. Schlitz Nature Audobon Center is an outstanding model. I have been honored to partner with this center to develop the newest brain development packet...... Naturally Developing Brains!

Easy Ideas for Naturally Developing Young Brains right in your pocket!


Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The brain needs nourishment to function well. Stress hormones are released if the brain does not have the food it needs.

Making sure your child (and you) have the nourishment the brain needs will help keep everyone in good mood throughout the holidays. Eating a well balanced breakfast that includes protein provides the brain with the nutrients to function well. Healthy eating results in the release of "feel good" chemicals. The brain is also less likely to crave carbohydrates when it gets the nourishment it needs. Research shows children who eat breakfast have a more stable mood throughout the day.
However, eating sugary cereal, doughnuts, or sweetened juices will result in the brain needing food again only 30 minutes later. The brain then feels stress and releases stress chemicals. As a result a child may experience feelings of agitation, aggression, and anxiety. Young developing brains do not yet know how to control all of these feelings.This is why it it is called, "out of control" behavior. Children need the adults in their lives to understand and provide all that their brains need.

During the holidays is not always easy to eat in healthy ways. Here are some simple tips to help keep brain systems in balance. Hopefully these will contribute to happier holidays!
  • Keep water and healthy snacks with you when you are away from home to keep the brain from getting hungry and turning to fast food for meals.
  • Provide meals that include adequate amounts of protein.
  • Eat healthy foods before eating sweets. This will reduce the chance for mood swings. 
  • Put a place mat in the refrigerator with healthy foods on it. Let your child know these are foods they "get to" choose from when needing a snack.

 This article from keepkidshealthy.com provides impressive research information on the benefits of breakfast, as well as helpful tips.


Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The brain likes the right amount of stimulation.The brain doesn't like to be bored and it also doesn't like to be over stimulated.  

Keeping children's brains in mind while holiday shopping makes the time together enjoyable. Each post this week will focus on how to make shopping a fun family time. 

The brain loves having fun, likes using all of the senses, and physical activity. There also is a psychological need that makes a child seek attention. When a child is given positive attention and fun interaction, it is less likely that negative behaviors will result.
When a child is hungry, tired and not getting stimulated in a way that is fun and interesting it is more likely you will have to deal acting out behaviors. Your child isn't trying to be "bad", his or her brain is just reacting to what it needs. Young children's brains are not developed to the point of being able to control all of this yet.
Children need the adults in their life to understand and offer support. Involving your child and interacting in fun ways while shopping will help keep your child's brain stimulated.

Sample activities from the Brain Development Activity Packets:

  • Involve your child in choosing gifts so they can experience the benefits to the brain as a result of giving or donating to others.
  • Name a color. Have your child look for and point out items with that color as you shop..
  • Have your child look for the first letter in their name printed on items or signs as you shop.  
  • Give your child a suggestion for a way to move differently in each aisle. For example you could say: "In this aisle walk on your tip toes." or "This time take 3 steps then hop."
  • Encourage your child to describe how various items feel.
  • Bring a coupon or photo from a flyer for items you plan to purchase. Make a searching game. Have your child look for the pictured item as you go through the aisles.
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