Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Too Many Toys...A Fun Solution!

Image result for lots of toys

Presents from parents, grandparents, birthdays, holidays.....sometimes the number of toys can overwhelm the most organized of homes.  What to do? 

I'll share with you an idea from my daughter that not only worked, but was fun, taught some excellent lessons and was done without too much time, work and money.

Step 1.  In a kind and gentle way talk with your family.  Point out that we have many things we have outgrown, no longer use or just don't like.  Suggest that everyone go through their belongings (including toys) and choose anything that is no longer wanted or needed.  Have everyone bring the items together in one place. This is a great time for parents to choose some of their own belongings they no longer need or want. 

Step 2.  Choose a charity to donate the items, explaining that another family will be able to use these, then pack them up and take to the donation site.  Make it a fun trip and talk about how happy this will make someone. Make sure your child goes along and helps carry the items.  This will make them feel a part of the gift to others.

Step 3.  Purchase a large cabinet to be kept in an out of the way place.  The garage is great, or an unused closet will work.  

Step 4.  Tell the child "This going to be your toy store."  Then let the child choose from their toys (with your help) to go into the cabinet.  Make sure the remaining toys are neatly arranged on shelves or in boxes in their room or where ever they keep their toys. A sign on the cabinet door "Tom's Toy Store", using your child's name of course, is a great touch. 

Step 5.  Arrange the chosen toys in the cabinet by category (puzzles, games, dolls, trucks, etc.) 

Step 6.  Tell the child that the store is open once a week (or two weeks) and they can visit then and purchase a toy by returning one of the toys they have kept out. 

This is fun, keeps the number of toys manageable, and teaches the child to make good choices.  Another benefit is that the toys are used more and are cared for more carefully.  

A little planning and effort can make a big difference!  Enjoy!

Friday, April 6, 2018

The Brain Changing Power of Conversation

The Brain-Changing Power of Conversation

Interplay between parents and children ignites the brain and boosts its response to language, spurring lasting literacy skills

Young girl smiles up at her mother
For parents, childcare providers, and early educators, new research describes a simple and powerful way to build children’s brains: talk with them, early and often.
A study in Psychological Science shows how conversation — the interplay between a parent or caregiver and a child — ignites the language centers in a child’s brain. It’s the first study to show a relationship between the words children hear at home and the growth of their neural processing capacities — showing, in effect, that how parents talk to their children changes children’s brains.
Don't just talk to your child; talk with your child. The interaction, more than the number of words a child hears, creates measurable changes in the brain and sets the stage for strong literacy skills in school.
This new work — led by Harvard and MIT Ph.D. student Rachel Romeo, with coauthors at both of those institutions and the University of Pennsylvania — builds on what researchers have long known about the connections between “home language environment” and children’s cognitive development, literacy and language growth, and verbal ability.
In the wake of a 1995 study that found a dramatic gap in the number of words heard by high- and low-income children — the so-called 30 million word gap — much attention has been given to efforts to enrich kids’ language exposure. But recent work has added nuance, showing that it’s not so much the quantity of words children hear as the quality that matters.
The new findings replicate that behavioral research on quality over quantity and extend it by showing the effects in the brain. “Specifically, after we equate for socioeconomic status, we find that the sheer number of words spoken by an adult was not related to children's neural processing of language, but that the number of conversational turns was,” says Romeo. “And that neural response, in turn, predicted children's language skills. It really is the quality of language exposure that matters, over and above the quantity of words dumped onto a child.” 
What Parents and Early Educators Should Know
  • From infancy, parents should look for chances to have conversations with their child — even if it's just responding to coos or gurgles. 
  • Conversational interplay between caregiver and child is enough to transform the biology of kids' brains. The quality of these exchanges is more important than the quantity of words children hear.
  • Conversation drives literacy skills and cognitive development across all socioeconomic levels, regardless parents' income or education. It's a powerful, actionable, and simple tool for all parents to use.

The Science

Researchers used highly faithful audio recorders — a system called Language Environment Analysis (known as LENA) — to capture every word spoken or heard by 36 4–6 year olds from various socioeconomic backgrounds over two full days. The recordings were analyzed to measure the number of words spoken by each child, the number of words spoken to each child, and the number of conversational turns — back-and-forth exchanges initiated by either adult or child.
Comparing those measurements with brain scans of the individual children, the analysis found that differences in the number of conversational turns accounted for differences in brain physiology, as well as for differences in language skills including vocabulary, grammar, and verbal reasoning.
Read the MIT News story for a fuller summary of the research. (Authors on the paper include Meredith Rowe of the Harvard Graduate School of Education, whose behavioral work has shown the importance of parent-child interplay; Martin West of HGSE, and senior author John Gabrieli of MIT.)

The Takeaways

The “conversational turns” are key here, the researchers say. Conversational interplay — a verbal version of the serve-and-return caregiving that helps kids thrive — “involves not only a linguistic exchange, but also a social interaction that we know is crucial to cognitive development as well,” Romeo says.
This work suggests how important it is that caregivers “not just talk to your child, but talk with them,” says Romeo. “Even from infancy, we can consider children to be conversational partners. Obviously, a ‘conversation’ looks very different with much younger children: with infants, it might be taking turns exchanging giggles or coos; with toddlers, it might be repeating and expanding their sentences; and with older children, it might be asking ‘who, what, where, and how’ questions.
“Either way, it seems to be the interaction that best supports children's language skills and the underlying neural development.”
"Obviously, a ‘conversation’ looks very different with much younger children: with infants, it might be taking turns exchanging giggles or coos; with toddlers, it might be repeating and expanding their sentences; and with older children, it might be asking ‘who, what, where, and how’ questions. Either way, it seems to be the interaction that best supports children's language skills and the underlying neural development."
Importantly, this research finds effects across all socioeconomic levels. “We found that the brains of children from lower-income families benefitted from conversational interplay just as much as the brains of children from higher income families,” says Gabrieli, the Grover Hermann Professor of Health Sciences and Technology at MIT and an investigator at the McGovern Institute for Brain Research. Conversing often with one’s children is “strikingly helpful” regardless of income and educational background, he says. As Gabrieli told the MIT News Office, “It’s almost magical how parental conversation appears to influence the biological growth of the brain.”
Gabrieli, Rowe, and other researchers are exploring ways to make these findings — and the actionable takeaways about the importance of conversation — accessible to all families. “Part of this is public health communication, but I expect that more direct forms of support will be needed to promote this and help parents change conversational habits,” Gabrieli says. “It is hard for all of us to change any habit."

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Gardening with Children: food for the body, mind and soul.

 Gardening with Kids: How It Affects Your Child's Brain, Body and SoulPin ItFor parents struggling to find ways to encourage their kids to eat a healthy and balanced diet, gardening can be an important tool. Don’t let the idea overwhelm you. Gardening doesn’t require a perfectly level, large or sunny backyard. Try planting in a small raised bed or growing a few edibles in existing landscaping. Lean a trellis against an outside wall to grow beans or other edible vines. If you don’t have a lot of outdoor space, a few containers and soil in a sunny spot can be an easy way to grow herbs or some sweet cherry tomatoes that kids won’t be able to resist. Plants like zucchini, radishes and herbs are fairly easy to grow without a lot of fuss, making them a great return on your investment. The much bigger return is how planting a garden can affect not only your child’s body but also their brain and soul.
How gardening can affect the BRAIN:
There is a myriad of scientific concepts you can discuss with your kids when planting and tending to a garden. One study showed that children who participated in gardening projects scored higher in science achievement than those who did not. The wonder of seeing a garden grow may spark your kids to ask questions like: Why do the plants need sun? How does the plant “drink” water? Why are worms good for the plants? Soon you will be talking about soil composition, photosynthesis and more! Add a little math while gardening by measuring how much plants are growing from week to week or counting the flowers on each plant. Supplement the experience of gardening with books about plants, trips to a botanical garden, or a photo journal of the plants that you are growing.
Once you harvest your produce, think of all the brain-building vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients your kids will be eating and how that will continue to boost brain development. Foods like spinach, garlic and beets (which are all easy to grow) have been show to help with cognitive function and can give your kids an advantage in their growth and development. Even if kids may not love the foods they grow at first, teach them to keep tasting and trying and to train their taste buds to enjoy the bounty of their garden.
How gardening can affect the BODY:
When children participate in gardening, the fruits and vegetables that they are inspired to eat will no doubt have a positive effect on their body. But the act of gardening itself can also promote a healthy body. Kids LOVE to get their hands and feet in the dirt, which can run counter to the modern parenting style of compulsively keeping hands and surfaces cleaned and sanitized. However, consider the “hygiene hypothesis,” a theory that a lack of childhood exposure to germs actually increases a child’s susceptibility to diseases like asthma, allergies and autoimmune conditions by suppressing the development of the immune system. So getting dirty while gardening may actually strengthen a child’s immunity and overall health.
These days all kids could benefit from a little more physical activity and sunshine they’ll get while gardening. Activities like moving soil, carrying a heavy watering can, digging in the dirt and pushing a wheelbarrow can promote gross motor skills and overall strength for a more fit body. Plus, these activities, known as “heavy work,” have been shown to help kids stay calm and focused.
How gardening can affect the SOUL:
In this electronic age, kids need time for meaningful family connection. Time in the garden allows for team building and promotes communication skills. Planning a garden, planting the seeds and watching them grow give kids a sense of purpose and responsibility. Making sure that the plants get enough fertilizer, water and sun fosters mindfulness. The concepts learned while gardening, like composting food scraps for fertilizer or using gathered rainwater, can show kids a deep respect and responsibility for taking care of our planet.
Furthermore, studies show that when children have contact with soil during activities like digging and planting, they have improved moods, better learning experiences and decreased anxiety. Most important, the self-esteem a child gets from eating a perfect cucumber that he grew himself is priceless.
Get out there and grow!

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Montessori and Public Education: How is it working?

Dr. Maria Montessori and one of her first students.
While the Montessori Method has been  popular in early education, more and more public charter schools from preschool through high school are adopting Maria Montessori’s philosophies as well. In fact, there are more than 300 public schools in the United States that currently utilize the Montessori Method, and specifically, there are 150 Montessori charter schools.  In an age of standardized tests and intense academic pressure, it seems that a growing group of parents and children are turning towards the Montessori Method. 
What is the Montessori Method?  
In contrast to our traditional education model, the Montessori philosophy is a more holistic, individualized approach that places an emphasis on “following the child.” One-age classrooms are replaced by multi-age environments, and the prevalence of paper and textbooks is largely  traded for multi-sensory educational tools. Instead of adhering to strict lesson plans, children are allowed to select their curriculum, spending as much time as needed in mastering the subject matter.  As public schools certain requirements such as standardized testing and use of some text books are required, but are incorporated into the Montessori curriculum and do not replace it. 
In addition, unlike traditional schools, Montessori schools do not issue report cards with numbers or grades. Progress is not measured through quantified numbers, but rather through a reporting and record keeping system that details observations made throughout the quarter. Rather than seeing an “A” grade for math or a “B” for science, parents of Montessori students will have individualized conferences which, in addition to academic skills, will also address attitude, sense of order, curiosity, concentration, persistence, decision-making skills, and self-discipline. 
While the average private Montessori school will charge anywhere from $5,000 to $20,000 annually for tuition, public Montessori Charter schools  give students the same educational philosophy for free. Like their private counterparts, AMCS  supplements the academic curriculum with music and art classes, Spanish classes and gardening.      
How are Montessori Charter Public Schools Performing?
While every Montessori charter public school is measured by its own state’s standardized tests, research on Montessori student performance is very promising. 
According to the Association Montessori International (AMI), children who learn under the Montessori Method perform  well academically and on standardized tests. In an AMI research study evaluating the progress of 201 Milwaukee public school students who had been educated in Montessori schools from preschool through 5th grade, the results were  positive. In fact, according to the report’s findings, “…attending a Montessori program from the approximate ages of three to eleven predicts significantly higher mathematics and science standardized test schools in high school.” 
In addition, the research finds that the benefits of a Montessori education extend beyond better science and math scores. In a study that compared inner-city Montessori students with inner-city traditional students, those who attended Montessori schools developed “better social and academic skills” and “superior outcomes” as reported in the academic journal Science. At the kindergarten level, Montessori students obtained better scores in reading and match, displayed more developmentally advanced control and social understanding, as well as played more positively with their peers. At the elementary school level, the Montessori students had a stronger grasp of complex sentence structures and a better understanding of social dilemmas.    
In a study sponsored by the North American Montessori Teachers’ Association (NAMTA), the impact of a Montessori education at the middle school level was substantial in improving the “quality of experience” for the students. Dr. Rathunde compared the perceptions between Montessori middle school students and those enrolled in traditional middle schools, and the Montessori students reported “a significantly better quality of experience in their academic work than did traditional students.” The Montessori students also felt their schools were more positive learning environments that cultivated active learning, rather than passive or rote learning.  
Other research has found that Montessori students enjoy social, emotional, and academic benefits from their education. From demonstrating greater responsibility to a deep enthusiasm for learning, as well as increased abilities to adjust to new situations and utilize life skills, Montessori children appear to be more well-rounded than their traditional school counterparts. 
 The future may certainly see more Montessori-inspired public charter schools  it is no wonder that more and more parents are subscribing to the “follow the child” philosophy.

We at AMCS are dedicated and delighted to provide a true Montessori experience guided by Montessori trained teachers and led by an Association Montessori Internationale trained administration.  Your child's school experience and preparation for their education and life in the future is our mission and our passion.  We welcome your questions and invite you to observe in your child's classroom and see this beautiful work in progress.  Please contact your child's teacher if you would like to share this amazing experience for an hour or an entire day.