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Reading To Kids Does Good to Their Brains Biologically, Research Finds

Reading To Kids Does Good to Their Brains Biologically, Research Finds

In college I learned an important fact that came to be a driving force in my classroom as well as in my parenting. It’s good enough to share. Are you ready? The number of books a child has available in their home is strongly linked to their academic success in school. Specifically, studies show the more books in the home, the better those children do in school. It made a lot of sense to me at the time and seemed rather obvious; if a large amount of quality books were made available to children, they would likely be read to more often. Furthermore, those parents likely placed a heavier emphasis on reading and held a deeper understanding of its early benefits.

The study struck such a chord with me that many years later and at six months pregnant, I created a children’s library for the nursery. I bought a bookshelf and took one hundred dollars with me to a discount book store. I filled up all the shelves before my first child was even on this earth. As my family increased over the years, I made sure all of my kids had their own library. I added books along the way to meet their interests and developmental stages. I placed a heavy emphasis on reading aloud, always reading with them at night and as much as I could during the day. I taught them as many early literacy skills as possible during this time (text goes left to right, using pictures as clues, asking what they thought was going to happen or what the problem in the story was).

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Reading Aloud Has Its Benefits

Reading aloud with children had always come naturally to me but a crash course in college and putting the skills into practice in the classroom allowed me to learn there is a stark difference between reading with kids and reading to kids.  The craft, being able to engage a young reader so they can get the most out of the literature experience can be learned by any adult. But whether you are reading to a child or with a child, one things is clear. Scientists and doctors can now biologically prove that when children hear books read aloud, the chemical makeup of their brain actually changes.

Early Literacy Improves Academic Progress

Numerous studies have been done to show the benefits of early literacy and how its immersion ties into academic progress. But, a new study shows the “why.” It’s been something scientists and doctors have been wanting to prove for a while now. Most compelling is that this study has more than just observation-based data.

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Doctors and scientists now have scientific proof that the developing brain of a 3-5 year-old actually looks different when being read aloud to, dependent upon on how much the child has been read to in the past. “The MRIs revealed that children from more stimulating home reading environments had greater activity in the parts of the brain that help with narrative comprehension and visual imagery. Their brains showed greater activity in those key areas while they listened to stories.”.

From nine months of age, my girls have had a book read to them nearly every night before bed and often had two or three books read aloud to them during the day. My oldest is in the 99th percentile for her vocabulary and my four-year-old is as precocious as they come. I absolutely attribute their speech and language, comprehension, above grade level reading level, oral retelling and contextual understanding to one thing…being read to aloud daily.

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Good Reading Habits Show Up in Early Age

Early on in the school year teachers can often pinpoint which children have had a literacy rich background and which one’s have not (excluding children with suspected disabilities). Children who have not had books read to them often have lower comprehension skills, lower vocabulary skills and present with weaker reading stamina. Of course with anything and anyone, there will always be an exception to that rule but the statistics are telling.

If you want the best chance for your child’s academic (and even social) success, carve out as much time as you can for exposure to literature. Go to the library or bookstore and bring home books, lots of them. Libraries often have a check-out limit that goes well over one hundred books. This means you don’t have to make a weekly trip; every few weeks is plenty and can be worked into a realistic busy schedule. Getting these books into your home and then reading them aloud is the number one key to creating a literature rich environment.

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Look at it as front-loading. I realized veryquickly I would be far more capable of helping my children at the ages of three or five years of age than I would when they were failing high school chemistry or Algebra II. I hope by giving my children the needed tools when they are young, they will be better prepared for the future.

Thank science for its findings later but for now, make a plan to make your home more literature-based. At least once a day, tell your child to put down the iPad and pick up a book. Kids need to remember that reading is not only an option, but a necessity. And remember, there are more benefits to reading aloud with your child than just the academic successes that will come. The time spent one-on-one makes it even better. Adding daily read-alouds to your family’s routine is something you will never regret doing, sadly the regrets only come with the opposite.

Featured photo credit: Albumarium via albumarium.com

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Published on May 7, 2021

20 Energizing Brain Breaks For Kids

20 Energizing Brain Breaks For Kids

From coaching martial arts to children as young as four years old, I very quickly came to the understanding that if I wanted to help kids progress their skills, I needed to find a way to help them focus more consistently in my class.

There are two key ways I found when it came to improving my students’ level of focus:

  1. Make what we’re doing more interesting. Nothing is off the table here—from having ninja clowns on the rampage in a lesson to including popular games with a martial arts theme, tapping into the student’s love of fun to help them focus.
  2. Introduce brain breaks.

Brain breaks are small mental breaks that help the kids stay more focused. Think of the brain as a fuel gauge that shows the information you can consciously hold in your mind at any given moment. When the kids are focused and working hard on their tasks, the meter is usually full. They can easily concentrate and pass experiences into their long-term memory.

But when the needle starts to drop, you may observe that your kids are feeling anxious or looking restless. New information, experiences, and knowledge are not getting processed from the staging area or working memory into the long-term memory.[1]

It’s here that brain breaks make the most difference, as they allow us to “top-up the tank” or reset the gauge so that we can continue to learn and focus and at a higher level.

If you’ve been home tutoring, you’ll appreciate that brain breaks can help kids in many ways. They can reduce stress and frustration. Think of those times when you’re helping your kids solve a difficult problem. It’s taxing for you both and when compounded with the energy loss after a day at school or watching TV. The stress effect can be compounded, and it’s here that brain breaks can be a lifesaver.[2]

The following is a selection of brain break ideas for kids. You’ll see that some are physical activities while others are more relaxing. It’s always great to test them out to see which ones connect the best with your children.

It’s okay to repeat the same brain breaks. Having a clear name and mission to a break can help keep your child excited, knowing that they’ll have the opportunity to take part in a future round of the activity.

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Active Brain Breaks

Here are some active brain breaks for kids that you can try out.

1. Swapsies

Have the participants stand behind a chair. Call out a character trait, like “everyone with brown eyes.” You then swap places with someone else who has the same characteristic. If you have nothing that matches, you stay put!

Examples: “Everyone with trainers on.” “Everyone who is left-handed.” “Everyone who is wearing yellow.”

2. Dance Party

Put five or six different types of songs on Spotify, including a classic like “baby shark or the hamster dance.” Dim the lights if possible and have the kids dance to the tunes. Then, change the tunes and change the dance style. It’s silly and fun.

3. Freeze Dance

Similar to Dance Party except that when the music stops, students have to stay perfectly still until the music restarts. You can make this even more fun by trying to make the students smile. If they smile, they are out and have to sit down.

4. Keep It Up

Students must keep a balloon from touching the floor. You can add multiple balloons. You can make it more competitive by having different balloons of two different colors and split people into teams. Whoever keeps the balloons up the longest or the team with the most balloons in the air with a timer of 60 seconds wins.

5. Simon Says

This brain break for kids is an old favorite. You can also mix it up with martial arts moves, Fortnite dances, superhero moves, etc.

6. Animal Movement

Move like different animals. It’s fun for younger children. We use Flamingo where you stand on one leg, crawl like a bear, stand like a meerkat, run like a cheetah, and walk like a penguin.

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7. Find It Fast

“Find It Fast” is a scavenger hunt variation. Call an item out in the room and kids have to stand by it. For example, find a clock, find something with a face, find something smelly, find some money, find a phone, etc.

8. The Frog

Physical Challenges can be excellent fun. We have one in the martial arts class called “The Frog” where you squat like a frog, then lean forward so your head and feet are off the floor. These are all old yoga poses, so have a look through a booklet or website for some safe ideas. Other examples are grabbing your nose with your left hand and touching your knee with your right elbow.

9. Pizza Delivery Time

Give the students paper plates and tell them to hold the plates above their head on a flat hand. They then run around the room and try to keep the plate in their hand. You can make it more challenging by having other students try to knock others’ plates off. There’s usually a 3-star jump penalty if your plate touches the floor.

10. Limbo

We use martial arts belts and the students take turns going underneath the belts. Fun music creates an awesome atmosphere here.

11. Human Knot

Split the group of people and have everyone link hands under and over. That’s making knots between everyone in the group. Have the other students try to untangle them and return everyone back into a circle.

12. Feather Balance

This brain break for kids works well with gentle music, and you can use a balloon or a straw if you don’t have a feather handy.

13. Stack them high

The students should have plastic cups and paper squares. The goal is to make a tower as high as possible, or it could be to make a triangle or even a pyramid.

Relaxing Brain Breaks

We talked about brain breaks for kids that are being used to energize the students. But they can also be used to calm and relax them. We’re more familiar with the term mindfulness, but it’s the same idea. These are brain breaks for kids that reduce stress and anxiety.

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14. Meditation

Meditation

is a popular way to reduce anxiety. There are lots of great examples already pre-recorded on YouTube that you can follow along with. Below is a useful classroom meditation example.

15. Kaleidoscope

Kaleidoscopes are fun ways to relax. They are mesmerizing and like a peaceful vortex that sucks you into them. Below is a great example of a visual online one you can use.

16. Reading/Listening to a Story

When I surveyed the members of our martial arts club about how their kids employ brain breaks at home, there was a clear winner among the families—listening to a story or reading a story. The feedback was that the process of daydreaming a little helps the kids to recharge. But it goes without saying that the story needs to be engaging.

17. Doodling

My personal favorite way to brain break as a kid was to doodle. Doodling gives your child a few minutes to draw anything they want. It can be calming for them, and it’s a lot more fun if you have different types of pens or crayons available to use. Add some soft music, and you have a simple way to take some time to relax.

18. Coloring Sheets

Coloring sheets are another way to relax the mind. There’s lots of great coloring in pads available, but here are some links to public resources shared on the internet that are great examples.

19. Deep Breathing

Deep breathing

is an epic way to help your child slow down. It is a quick way to relieve anxiety so that they feel more ready for the next task ahead.

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Try this: put your hands on your tummy, breathe in through the nose, and feel your belly expand like a balloon. Hold it here, then slowly breathe out through the mouth while feeling your stomach get smaller. Repeat this 10 times. Use the following counts: breath in for 4 seconds, hold for 4 seconds, and breath out for 4 seconds.

20. Going Outside

Go outside was the second most popular response from our parent’s survey about brain breaks for kids at home. Fresh air always feels nice. You can combine this with a treasure hunt, looking for different colored cars, types of birds, or even types of trees, if you’re familiar with these.

My personal favorite is using a mushroom spotting app on our phones and finding a mushroom or toadstool, then using the app to identify its name. This is surprisingly engaging for children. But a few safety rules about not touching them is important. It gives kids a change of scenery and helps revitalize the senses, providing a welcome break from their homework.

How Often Should You Introduce Brain Breaks?

The key to brain breaks is their timing. If you can introduce them before you notice that your kids are entering deep fatigue or their loss of focus has set in. You’ll find a great balance between breaks and effort.

I’ve observed from my martial arts coaching that younger students have a smaller amount of working memory than older kids. My formula is for five minutes of technical training, we provide five minutes of brain breaks for students under seven years old. Plus, we coach to 15 minutes of training to five minutes of brain breaks for children under 12 years.

Final Thoughts

Implementing calming brain breaks for kids is a really efficient way of introducing brain breaks. You have a quick way to allow your students to learn about regulating themselves. Balancing their mind and energy is a useful skill, and you can take this with you everywhere you go.

Our martial arts center revolutionized our approach to coaching by using brain breaks for kids. We found that although we were teaching less technical skills, there was now consistent progress from the students. Plus, everyone was less anxious, happier, and are having more fun. This is a win overall.

If you’ve been having challenges with your kids focusing at home, maybe try a mixture of the calming and active breaks to see which types work best for your kids.

Featured photo credit: Robert Collins via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] SimplyPsychology: Working Memory Model
[2] BrainFacts.org: Kids Need Brain Breaks — And So Do Adults

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