Thursday, November 24, 2016

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Wishing everyone a peaceful and happy holiday with friends and family. 

Make a thankful basket and have everyone put in a note with things they are thankful for. 

Read the notes (without names if you wish) either today or at a later date. 

We all have reason to be thankful. 
 I am thankful for each of you who care so deeply for the well being of your children and all children.
Let us keep those who have less in our hearts today. 

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

The Great Outdoors...and Why It Builds Brain Power

The sun is shining, the summer heat is gone and this is the perfect time to be outdoors with our families.  

Many children today spend very little time in nature.  We lead busy lives and our free time is often spent watching television, playing video games, catching up with friends on our smart phones or otherwise plugged into electronic devices.
Our children want, most of all, to be like us.  When they see the adults in their world absorbed in the cyber world they naturally want to do the same.  The child's body and mind are growing and forming the basis for the rest of their lives. More and more scientific information tells us that screen time changes the way the brain develops.  The child can become distracted, easily bored, uninterested in other activities and doesn't develop the critical social skills necessary to have healthy relationships with friends, family and teachers.

So what are concerned parents to do?  How to help our children to move away from hours spent in front of a screen, a screen which is not reality, but an escape from the real world? If we just tell our children that screen time will be limited we are almost sure to get resistance and anger.  However, if there is an appealing activity or interest to take the place of television and video games the transition will go much smoother.

Making this change will take effort and but the rewards will be great:  better social skills, improved concentration, more interest in the real world, better health and a stronger attachment to parents, friends and teachers.

Time spent outdoors is very important for everyone.  Plan to take a walk everyday.  Even a few blocks is beneficial.  Plant a small garden or pots of herbs and flowers.  Have a picnic at a local park and play ball, ride a bike,  Have the whole family care for the yard and car.  Many of us have others do these jobs for us, but they can be a bonding activity for children and parents.  Involve everyone when deciding what to do on the weekend.  Instead of the grocery store, a trip to a local farmer's market is great fun.  There is an amazing one open on Saturday morning.  Check out this link:
For the best selections arrive early, stroll around, try samples of produce, cheeses and breads, listen to live music, talk with the farmers, bakers and chefs, have a delicious and healthy breakfast and enjoy the fresh air and friendly people.

For more information about this important issue read:  Last Child in the Woods  by Richard Louv.  Here is a quote from his book: “Why do so many Americans say they want their children to watch less TV, yet continue to expand the opportunities for them to watch it? More important, why do so many people no longer consider the physical world worth watching?” 

Making an investment of time at this critical point in the life of your child will give benefits that extend throughout their life.  Healthy bodies, healthy minds, healthy relationships:  isn't this what we want for our children and ourselves?  Pull the plug on screen time and enjoy the real world!

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Building a Family Library and a Love of Reading

Having books and magazines available at home for the family to read is very important to the success of your children as they work toward becoming fluent readers.

The family library does not have to be fancy or expensive to provide rich reading experiences.
Here are some questions you may ask as you plan this meaningful addition to your home.

  • Where should we set up our library?
 The library should be in a room of the house where all of the family gathers.  This might be the living room or the kitchen.  Space for a small bookshelf, comfortable places to sit and good lighting are all that are necessary.
  • How large should our library be? 
It is variety and interest that count, not the number of books.  Think about what interests your children and the adults in the house and add books based on those topics.  Be sure to get the children’s input!   A small collection of books carefully gathered over time is better than many books that go unread.
  • How should we display our books?
Open bookshelves are ideal.  These do not have to be expensive and can even be made from painted concrete blocks and boards.
If you are handy you can build some shelves that allow the books to be displayed face out.  Children’s books need to be on the lower shelves and grouped according to topic (animals, transportation, stories, etc.).  Magazine storage boxes are inexpensive and an attractive way to display periodicals
  • What kinds of reading materials should we include?
Paperback and hardcover books, magazines, a dictionary,
An atlas, song books, newspapers and even catalogues all have a place in the family library.  Make sure there is something for everyone at every reading level.   Children under age six need books about real places, people and animals instead of fantasy.  Children over six can benefit from small amounts of fantasy such as folk tales and some fairy tales.
  • Where can I find these materials?
Of course there are many book stores around the city which offer great variety.  Some more economical sources of good reading materials are garage sales, exchanging o utgrown books with friends, second hand book stores, library book sales, and resale shops.  Consider making it a tradition to give books and magazines for gifts.  Visit the library regularly and display those books along with yours. 

Should I choose my children’s books?
It is best to let them choose, at least part of the time.  You can offer two or three choices when the children are young and gradually allow them more freedom.  For babies and young toddlers choose books that are sturdy such as board books.

Some other thoughts:                  
  • If your family is fortunate enough to speak more than one language, be sure to include books in each language.
  • Show your children the proper care of books:  hold with two hands, turn pages properly, use a bookmark, don’t write in the books.
  • Have a supply of bookmarks in an attractive container easily available and the children will love to pick one out.  Libraries and bookstores often give them out for free.  Also, consider interesting bookmarks as small gifts.  Children love to make their own from beautiful scraps of cardboard, ribbon, dried flowers, stickers, etc.
  • Design and use family bookplates which can be made on the computer.
  • Add dusting the bookshelves to the list of family chores.  A beautiful feather duster makes this a joy for the youngest child.
  • Children may want to make their own books and add those to the family library.
  • A nice addition is a family vacation or holiday book with drawings, photos and journal entries.  Each person is encouraged to add their own thoughts and memories.
  • Any damage such as small tears or marks should be repaired at once.  If a book is badly damaged or worn, remove it from the library.
  • Give your children the message that books are treasures and they will learn to love them.
  • Be sure your children see the adults in the family reading and enjoying books, magazines and newspapers.
  • Set aside some time each day for reading together.  Talk about what you have read.  Use the tools from the page called Reading with Your Child to make the experience more meaningful and enriching.

Most of all have fun!

Thursday, May 5, 2016


Games for Family Game Nights

Games that do not require a board, equipment or reading ability;
The host shows everyone a little object in the room. All the players are to leave while the host hides it. When they return, everyone is to look for the item until they spot it. When they spot it they whisper the location to the host and then sit down. The last one to find it becomes the host for the next round. 

You're Never Fully Dressed without a Smile
One person is selected to be "it." That person is the only one in the group who is allowed to smile. He or she can do anything they want to try and get someone to smile. If the person smiles, he or she becomes it. The person who never smiles is declared the winner.

One person is chosen to leave the room. All the other guests must "forfeit" a small special item that belongs to them. All of these items are placed in the center of the room and then the "auctioneer" is brought back in. He/she picks up an item and tries to describe it as one would an item about to be sold. In order not to forfeit the item, the owner must "fess-up" and do something amusing to win back the item (sing, dance, do an imitation, recitation, tell a joke, etc.

Games for Older Children and Adults
Road Trip
Everyone should know the alphabet. 
Sit in a circle or around a table.  One person begins by saying:
A – I am going to Alabama (or any other location that begins with A) and I am taking an apple.
The next person says: B – I am going to Boston and I am taking a beachball.
Continue around the entire alphabet.
A more difficult version can be played with each person saying all of the previous letters:

I am going to Alabama and I am taking an apple, I am going to Boston and I am taking a beachball, then adding the next:  I am going to Colorado and I am taking a cat.  When someone misses, the others can help them to remember.  The goal is to go through the entire alphabet…not an easy task!

Alphabet Minute
Have everyone write a general topic of conversation down on a slip of paper, along with a letter of the alphabet. Pick two or three people at a time to play the game. Have them pick a topic out of a hat or basket. They then must start a conversation with one another regarding the topic. The catch is that they have to begin each sentence with a letter of the alphabet, beginning with the letter written in the slip of paper. They must follow the conversation through the alphabet, ending back with letter in which they started.
Topic: Shopping
Letter: H
Player 1 - "Hey, I have to go shopping, want to come?"
Player 2 - "I'd love to, but I don't have much money"
Player 3 - "Just come anyway; it'll be fun!"
Player 1 - "Kim said she would meet us at the food court."
Player 2 - "Last time she was twenty minutes late!"
Player 3 - "Maybe she'll make it on time today."
And so on until they arrive back at H to finish. You can either time them or cut them off at 60 seconds. The go on to another group and see who gets the farthest in 60 seconds, or you can let them finish the alphabet and see which group finishes their topic and alphabet in the fastest amount of time.
The Name Game
Provide each guest with 10 small pieces of paper, and a pen or pencil. Ask them to write down the names of 10 famous people, leaders, movie stars, authors, sports figures, politicians, artists, inventors, scientists, etc. Encourage them not to make it too easy! Fold the papers, and put them into a hat, bowl, or basket. Seat guests in a large circle. Each round is limited to 30 seconds, so have a watch with a second hand available. Player One pulls out a name, and tries to get the person beside him/her to guess the name by giving clues, but never actually saying the name or what it starts with. Gestures are also no allowed. After the name is guessed, the clue giver can continue pulling names out of the hat until their time is up. The guesser gets to keep their pieces of paper, and the clue giver gets credit also. The bowl is the passed to the next person and the clue giver now becomes the guesser and there is a new clue giver. The bowl proceeds around the circle until everyone has guessed and everyone has given clues. The one with the most guesses correct wins.
Example: Name - Abraham Lincoln Clues: He lived in a log cabin. He was president during the Civil War. His wife's name was Mary Todd. He wore a stove pipe hat and had a beard. He was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth.

Board Games for the Whole Family

There is a wonderful organization called “Family Pastimes”.  They have created dozens of fun games which are creative and cooperative in nature.  Here is some information from their catalogue which is available on line at:  Some of the game are also available on
Play as friends, not as enemies! Our games foster the spirit of co-operation. Players help each other climb a mountain, make a community, bring in the harvest, complete a space exploration... They are never against each other.
After all, the initial impulse to play a game is social; that is, we bring out a game because we want to do something together. How ironic then that in most games, we spend all our efforts trying to bankrupt someone, destroy their armies — in other words, to get rid of one another! We soon learn how to pick on the other person's weaknesses in order to win the game.
Let's take an example. A simple, common party game for socializing youngsters illustrates our point. Musical Chairs fosters aggression and elimination. Played co-operatively (see our Games Manual), you will see how hugging replaces pushing, how ability and strength are used to help rather than push out of the way.
People of different ages and abilities should be able to play side by side, each making their best contribution. In a co-operative game, someone young and little can play with others older and bigger and not worry about being wiped out. We are all there at the end of it.
Some cautions. We don't protect children from not making it to the summit or completing the space voyage. Our games are designed to offer realistic challenges. But the cultural habit of competing and confronting adversaries runs deep. Some players end up fighting the game itself. We suggest that you'll get better results learning how to get along with Time, Winter, Gravity, and Mountains rather than fighting them.
Aside from all these serious considerations, some people just want to share an enjoyable and challenging time with friends. We feel that co-operative games will prove to be that friendly form of fun.
The challenge. In sum, games are used in various settings and for various reasons, Socialization, entertainment, academic learning, character growth, etc. Whatever your objective, we invite you to realize them by co-operative means. Parents and teachers trying to teach children to share, be kind to living things, and help others out often are troubled by games and recreation programs which undermine these values. Our games provide the opportunity to experience sharing and caring behavior. We simply don't have enough of such experiences.

Some traditional board games

Apples to Apples

Connect Four

Some good resources for games are garage sales and resale shops.  Check to make sure all the pieces are intact.
Also, set up a swap meet with friends.  Everyone brings games and puzzles and you trade one for one. 
Card games
Younger children enjoy Go Fish, War, and other simple games.  Older kids like Uno, Rummy and concentration games. 
Remember the goal is fun!  Don’t worry too much about knowing all the rules, in fact, go ahead and make up your own, as long as everyone agrees. 
Another fun thing to do is make slips of paper with the names of all the possible games and activities.  Fold the slips and put in a bowl.  One person gets to choose each game night. 
A good rule to have:  No arguing with the choice. 

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

A Few Books to Get You Started

Here are some books to get your family started on a summer of reading fun!
Your public library will have most of these books.  1/2 Price Books is a great place to purchase children's books at a very reasonable price.  Garage sales and Amazon both have bargains with a bit of searching.

Some Book Suggestions for Children  birth-6

First Words    Snapshot Books          A series of books with simple, clear pictures of every day objects in the child’s world.   These are wonderful books for learning new words.  Titles:  First Words Clothes, First Words Food, First Words Kitchen, First Words Garden, also shapes, fruits, and many more.   Some titles are available in Spanish.

The Carrot Seed  Ruth Krauss   The story of a boy who plants a carrot seed and cares for it even though others tell him it won’t grow.  Of course, it does, to everyone’s amazement.

Goodnight Moon Margaret Wise Brown Perhaps the perfect children's bedtime book, Goodnight Moon is a short poem of goodnight wishes from a young rabbit preparing for--or attempting to postpone--his own slumber. He says goodnight to every object in sight and within earshot, including the "quiet old lady whispering hush."

Eye-Openers  DK Books  A series of books with great pictures and information.  Titles include: Farm Animals, Zoo Animals, Trucks, Pets, Dinosaurs, Cars, Ships and Boats, Planes, Insects and Crawly Creatures and many more.

Caps for Sale Esphyr Slobodkina  An old folk tale about a peddler with a huge stack of caps for sale.  One day he stops under a tree to take a nap.  A tree full of monkeys creates a very funny situation.

McDuff Books  Rosemary Wells  A series of delightful stories about McDuff, a West Highland Terrier puppy, who finds a wonderful home, has an adventure chasing a rabbit, adjusts to a new baby in the house, and helps rescue Santa. 

Books by Eric Carle All of this author’s books are great childhood favorites:  Pancakes, Pancakes, The Very Hungry Caterpillar, The Very Lonely Firefly, The Very Quiet Cricket, The Grouchy Ladybug, and many more.  Most titles are available in Spanish.

Gray Squirrel at Pacific Avenue Geri Harrington.  Published by the Smithsonian Institution, this book, and others in the Smithsonian’s Backyard series, are exciting tales of realistic animals and their adventures. 

You Are Just What I Need  Ruth Krauss  "One morning a mother saw a strange bundle under the blankets in her bed." So begins this charming story of a treasured moment between mother and child. In a familiar game, the woman tries to guess what this child-shaped object may be. A pile of laundry? A bunch of carrots? She is sure she doesn't need any of these things, and each time the squirming lump says, "No." Finally, a face pops out of the blanket and yells, "It's ME," and the two share a hug. In a perfect ending, the mother affirms, "It's you. And you're just what I need."

Rookie Biographies:  Dozens of titles available about real heroes and famous people

Eyewitness Books  Many topics from DK books
Read and Find Out Books  many in series on nature and science

Lights of Winter Winter Celebrations around the World

True Books:  continents, countries, every topic

Rookie Read about Geography series

Where do Frogs Come From     Eric Vern

Animal Hospital  Judith Walker Hodge

Books to Remember Series (highly recommended

Some Book Suggestions for Children 6-11

Children in this age group are curious about the world, history and people.  There are many biographies available to introduce your children to real heroes.  In addition to many of the books above, which can now be read by the child independently, these are more advanced reading for the 6-11 year old. 

Books on science, plants, weather and long ago times will fire your child’s imagination and spark creativity.

Rookie Biographies  Dozens of titles are available in this series of stories about real heroes and famous people.  Introduce your child to Paul Revere, Martin Luther King, Neil Armstrong, Jackie Robinson, Marie Curie, Oprah Winfrey, Johnny Appleseed, YoYo Ma, Harriet Tubman, Amelia Earhart, Cesar Chavez and many more writers, scientists, athletes, musicians and human rights pioneers.

Eyewitness Books DK Books  A series of books covering nearly every topic of interest to this age child.  Castles, dogs, dinosaurs, oceans, pirates, the human body, weather, cowboys and hundreds of others are explored in depth with good pictures and readable text. 

 This is also the time for reading the classic stories:  Heidi, Charlotte’s Web, Toad Hall, Little House books, The Velveteen Rabbit, Jungle Book, Alice in Wonderland and all the other treasures we grew up with.  These books are often best read with the child, perhaps with the parent reading for a bit, then the child taking a turn. 
These are just a few ideas to get you started.  Visit your local library in person or on-line for thousands of other great books to help your child become an eager reader!

Summer Fun: Help your child be an eager reader!

Summer Fun:  Help your child be an eager reader!

“The single most important activity for building the knowledge required for eventual success in reading is reading aloud to children.”
(The National Academy of Education Commission on Reading)

Reading aloud cannot be overemphasized. 
Older children should be encouraged to read aloud. They must never be forced to read aloud (other than school assignments) but should know that is a possibility when they choose to do so.

Reading aloud can be a very short activity.  A poem can be read in a few minutes, a short book in five minutes. 

Why read aloud?
  • Children enjoy it.  They develop a love of books and reading from this activity
  • They learn that words can make them feel and learn. 
  • Children develop a sense of story which will enable them to make their own stories later on
  • Oral language is promoted
  • Literary language is anchored in their ears:  “Once upon a time”  “Then, suddenly….”
  • New vocabulary is introduced and learned.
  • Children see how an accomplished reader holds a book, turns the pages, reacts to text and pictures
  • The reader demonstrates fluency and fluidity of oral reading, including speed, timbre, loudness, pacing, etc.
  • Children’s experiences are expanded
  • Children hear the distinctions of the language:  plurals, pronouns, etc.
  • Children learn to visualize the text
  • Listening comprehension is developed
  • It is a social interaction between the reader and listener
  • Complex ideas are made available and absorbed
  • Rhyme, rhythm and literary devices can be explored:  “He was a tornado” “Boom, Boom, Boom”  “Her face was as red as a rose.”
What to read?

  • Choose something you and your child like
  • Read real stores:  no talking animals, animals with clothes, fantasy creatures for the under six child and only some for the elementary child.  Children love biographies of famous people, books about how things work and nature books. 
  • Let the child choose from the home library
  • With older children, decide on a favorite author and do author studies
  • Vary the genre:  picture books, books without words, poetry, non-fiction, fiction, chapter books (for older children)
  • Write a story and read it to the children
  • Reread most books at least once, and repeat when your child asks. 

When to read?

  • At least once a day
  • When a child needs comforting or settling down
  • When a child asks
  • At bedtime

How to read?

  • Be dramatic:  use your eyes, gestures and voice to convey emotions
  • Use pauses for effect, raise and lower your voice
  • Use props (real apples for a book on apples)
  • Preview the book and prepare yourself
  • Use post it notes to remind yourself of questions you may want to ask
  • Instead of reading straight through, pause for discussion, questions or comments
  • Questions are not a “test” of comprehension, but a springboard for greater understanding and exploration.
  • Delete passages that are too long, too complex or inappropriate for your child
  • Encourage the children’s comments: “I have a dog, too”  “I like apples.”  These are not interruptions, but communication!

What to do after reading?

  • Have a conversation using your own life experiences: “I remember when I was a girl about your age and I lived on a farm……”
  • Refer back to the text and even re-read a passage to make connections:
“Oh, that part about the fox reminded me about the fox in the book we read last week about Hattie and the Fox.  Do you remember that?”
  • Encourage the child to make those connections: “What were you reminded of?”
  • Let the child act out or retell the story with other children
  • Let the child write or draw about their favorite part, write a continuation, or a new chapter (older children).
  • Find other books by the same author
  • Start a research project (older children)
  • Create a story basket with props for the child to use to act out the story
  • Sometimes the best thing to do is NOTHING.  Close the book, smile and pause for just a moment to allow the pleasure to melt into memories

7 Keys to Unlock Meaning

1.    Create mental images and become emotionally involved with what you read
2.    Use background knowledge before, during and after reading
3.    Ask questions before, during and after reading to clarify meaning, make predictions, and focus on what is important
4.    Make inferences.  Draw conclusions, and create interpretations from the text.
5.    Determine the most important ideas and themes.  Identify the theme or main idea of a book to help your child distinguish between important and unimportant information
6.    Synthesize information.  Track thinking as it evolves during reading.  “Oh, I thought the dog was going to run away, but he didn’t.”
7.    Use problem solving.  Demonstrate how to find out when something is not understood.  Use a dictionary, re-read a section, ask questions.

If you speak a language other than English at home, please read to your child in the language you prefer.  Having a second or third language is a real asset in life and should be encouraged!

Look for ideas for summer fun and a some book ideas in the next posts!  Thank you for visiting!

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Family Chores and How to Get Them Done

We all would like our children to help out with the daily work and responsibilities at home.  We know that this encourages responsibility, cooperation, self worth and a feeling of belonging.  But how to get the bed made, the toys picked up, the spilled water mopped and all the other daily jobs done?

A good beginning is to redefine the terms "chores" or "jobs".
If we call these tasks "family contributions" they become important parts of the life of everyone in the home.  When our children realize that everyone must contribute to the care of the home it becomes a shared activity.  Of course, as parents we do many contributions so we must define what the tasks are and who will be making that particular contribution. 

Each family member should have a set of contributions that they are responsible for every day.  The care of our home is important to every family member so these contributions are for the comfort and well being of everyone.  

Children are capable of doing much more than we realize.  At the same time it is important to understand that we cannot expect perfection as the children master the skills needed to do a good job.  Here is a list of contributions that children can make a various ages. 

Of course you can add to these to suit your family.  The first step is to demonstrate how to do the activity.  Using words is the least effective way for children to learn.  Show them where to get the supplies they will need and then demonstrate how to do the job slowly and carefully.  Then let the child do the job.  At this point we need to minimize corrections and criticisms, as these are not helpful.  If after several attempts the contribution is not improving we may need to demonstrate again.  Remember that it takes time to master a new skill.  It is important to show approval and appreciation of the effort, not just the result.  For example: "You are really working hard at making your bed.  I notice the pillows are at the top of the bed and the sheets are nice and smooth."  Find something concrete to praise and try to avoid comments such as "good job", as these are not as effective as specific comments.
Some families have had good success with a job jar containing slips of paper with various extra contributions the child can make.  Each person (including parents) draws one or two from the jar each week.  These are in addition to the regular contributions.  Included in the job jar are surprises such as "the whole family goes to the park" or "enjoy an ice cream cone".  
As the children see parents tackling their contributions with enthusiasm and joy and appreciating each other's efforts the pleasure of taking care of their home and themselves will be a reward for work well done.  
This can take quite a while, but with the example of dedicated parents and careful demonstrations of how to complete the tasks a new era of family unity can emerge. 
Remember:  Have fun!  Show love and joy for your work!

Friday, February 5, 2016

Spring Family Fun!

Pioneer Day at Jesse Jones Park

It's fun, it's educational, t's history, music and activities for all ages.  And it is free!
Pioneer day is Saturday, February 13 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Jesse Jones Park.

Jesse Jones is a nearby wonderland for families.  There are picnic tables, playgrounds, hiking and bike trails, a nature center, boat rides and fishing on Cypress Creek available every day.

The best day of all is Pioneer Day.  The park is home to two authentic areas; a pioneer homestead and farm and an Akokisa Native American village.  The Akokisa lived in the Galveston-Houston area.

Many of the activities are hands on for the children including pumping water, shelling corn, crafts and many more.  There is always music and demonstrations of campfire cooking, butter making, children's games, farming, making bows and arrows, spinning, weaving and wagon rides.

Here is a link to the park web site

Pack a picnic and enjoy a day as a true pioneer.

Here a few more great ideas for family fun in our beautiful spring weather:

Galveston Island State Park
Just a short trip down I45 and a day of beach, sun, sand and picnicking waits your family.  For a small fee the day is yours.  Grills and covered picnic tables are just steps from the beach and on the bay side of the park miles of trails and lots of beautiful birds will entertain you for hours. 

On the east end of Galveston Island there are miles of beaches, great fishing and the Galveston/Bolivar ferry.  This free ferry ride goes to Bolivar Peninsula.  You can park your car and walk onto the ferry for a round trip ride, or take your car aboard and explore the peninsula.  Dolphins play alongside the ferries and gulls swoop down to catch bits of bread from the passengers.  Great fun!

Brazos Bend State Park
Screened in shelters and campsites are available if you would like to spend a few days with nature at its best.  The George Observatory located in the park gives a stunning view of the night sky.  More information is on the above web site.  Hiking, fishing and alligator watching provide thrills and picnic areas and grills are ready when you are hungry. 

Free concerts by local students take place near the Houston Zoo on the lake.  Here is more information:

Family fun brings us all together.  Don't forget to let the children help plan and prepare for your activities!

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Building Concentration and Managing Distraction

Image result for Television
We all want our children to be able to concentrate, to pay attention in school and at home and to have the ability to stay with a task, read a book or listen carefully. 

As parents what can we do to help them grow in these important skills?  

First we must look at any barriers that hold back strength in these areas.  In our present society there are many distractions, both for adults and children.  Some adults have learned to filter out those things that interfere with thinking, with work and with making good choices.  It may take years to develop these skills. 

Children, by their very nature, are open to all experience, to learning from their environment and to take in all of the information that comes from their senses.  In Montessori we utilize this ability by using multi-sensory approaches to learning.  Lessons often have components of multiple senses such as touch, hearing, seeing and at times, tasting and smelling and  are presented in a quiet, orderly environment which encourages focus and concentration. 

Unfortunately, this quality which allows them to learn quickly and well, also results in an openess to distraction.  Think about the average home.  There may be music playing, a television on, someone on a phone, another on a computer or tablet, electronic games with bells, music and voices and perhaps even more than one of these devices being used at a time.  

Visual clutter is another barrier which often goes unnoticed.  We fill our homes, workplaces and classrooms with pictures, furniture, clothes, toys, appliances and all the other items we use on a daily basis.  Of course we need and want most of these in our daily lives. 

One other problem area is the adult habit of interrupting concentration.  As supportive adults it is important to recognize when a child is focused on a task:  reading, playing, talking, doing chores and so forth.  We must try not to interrupt this concentration by asking too many questions:
"How is that book?"  "Are you having fun?"   "Look, your blanket is crooked."   Of course, we mean well and it is good to have conversations with children.  Learn to observe and only begin a conversation when the child is ready. 

So how do we go about reducing  auditory and visual clutter to help our children develop these essential skills?

Electronic devices have become a normal part of our every day lives.  I was in line at the grocery store today ( a very long line) and realized how chaotic it was.  Electronic cash registers, beeping and blinking on the screen.  A separate screen playing music, running ads for products and for the store, customers on cell phones, children playing games on their tablets, voices over the intercom with messages for cashiers and sales people, and loud voices struggling to be heard over the din of all this noise.  Not surprisingly, quite a few children were distressed; crying, whining, asking for candy, while their equally distressed parents were trying to settle them down, pay for their purchases and negotiate the electronic card reader, all at the same time.  

In our Montessori classrooms we maintain an organized environment with all materials ready to use and in the same place every day.  There is a coat rack the children can reach, water and snacks readily available and, other than 1 computer in the elementary, no electronics.  Voices are kept at a conversational level and concentration is respected and encouraged by having the students work as long as they wish on lessons and projects.  Of course, their responsibility is to work diligently and not disturb their classmates.  The result is a much higher level of peaceful concentration.  

Our homes must meet the needs of both adults and children so it is a bit more challenging.  Try beginning with limiting the use of electronic devices.  The American Pediatric Association recommends no screen time at all for children up to two years of age.  That's right, no television, tablets, movies, etc.  The brain of this age child is developing rapidly.  Social skills are being formed and language is being learned at an amazing rate.  Screen activities teach the brain not to concentrate as they break focus about every 30 seconds.  Children who are in front of a screen are not listening to others, watching for social clues and most importantly, not forming social relationships with others.  Between the ages of 2 until 9 or 10 only 1 hour of total screen time is recommended, increasing to 1 1/2 hours after the age of 10.  

Provide other activities such as board games, singing, dancing, art and outside play time.  Every child needs at least 1 hour of active outside activity to remain healthy.  An excellent book about the necessity of outside play in "Last Child in the Woods" by Richard Louv.  

Turn off the television if no one is watching it and remember that even if the children do not seem to be watching, the negative effects still take place if they are in the room.  Try to keep phone use to a minimum when children are present.  Let them see that face to face conversations are more fun.  Children learn to read facial expressions and understand much better when they can both see and hear.  Read to your child everyday.  Let them see you reading for pleasure.  Tell them stories from your childhood!  These activities build connection, trust and joy, all of which will help your child to be more connected, concentrated and content. 

In the car instead of a movie or tablet game, sing, talk and play verbal games.  In the next post there will be ideas for replacing some of the electronic clutter with activities that will help your child to concentrate, understand and stay with a task.  

In the meantime, try organizing your child's environment, respect their concentration and encourage activities with others rather than screen time.  
Every little step helps and the rewards will be great for your whole family!