Monthly Archives: September 2013

10 ways to entertain a Toddler…

…while teaching important skills at the same time!

            A great deal of growth happens between ages one and three. The child has become an observer of their external world and begins interacting with it.  They start to use language as a way of talking about real happenings and begin to sing simple songs and nursery rhymes.  Humor develops and for the first time they understand funny actions and phrases.  They begin asking questions using ‘what?’ and where? in order to gather more information about their world. Fine Motor skills, like holding a crayon, building towers with blocks, or cutting with scissors, develops right along with Large Motor skills, like throwing or kicking a large ball, walking on tiptoe, or jumping with both feet.

Since these are the activities and growth areas that a Toddler’s needs to develop anyway, let’s make growing up fun in just a matter of a few minutes a day!

  1.  Get down on your hands and knees and pretend to be a dog.  Move back and forth and bark.  Have your child follow you.  Give commands to him, like ‘Sit’, ‘Roll over” and ‘Beg’ and show him how you perform those.  Then encourage him to give you commands.  Change the animal to become monkeys, cats or cows.  (Improves Large motor, imitation, and language development)
  2.  Use an empty cottage cheese carton or large yogurt container to create bathtub fun.  Punch tiny holes in the bottom and fill it with water and watch it rain.  Sing ‘Rain, rain go away’ or ‘It’s raining, it’s pouring’ while he gets rained on. (Improves singing, language development and imagination.)
  3. The bathtub is a great place to teach prepositions.  Use toys that can float and some that can sink.  Plastic people can dive from the side of the tub and go ‘under’, climb ‘on’ a floating raft, jump ‘out’ of the water, ‘slide down’ a chute or swim ‘around’ the tub. (Improves language development and imagination.)
  4.  Choose a carpeted room in the house and with masking tape, create roads and a city to drive around.  Use a variety of vehicles and sing silly songs like, “We’re driving slow, slow, slow.  Now we’re going fast, fast, fast.”  You can teach the concepts ‘under the table’, ‘over the bump’, ‘through the tunnel’ and ‘stop at the store’. (Improves Large motor, imitation, and language development)
  5. Toddler’s love dressing up.  Gather together clothing items and put them in a pillowcase.  Say ‘I’ll put something on my head’.  Pull out an item and put whatever it is on your head. Make a funny face when the item is wrong.  Ask your child where that particular item should go.  Take turns picking from the bag and saying, “I’ll put something on my ….”  (Teaches body parts, clothing items, imitation, and language development)
  6. Play an imitation game that teaches counting.  Clap you hands and count along, saying the numbers, ‘one, two, three.’  Ask you child to imitate you.  Then ‘stomp your feet’, one, two, three.  You can continue on substituting body parts while tapping and counting. Counting to five is the goal. (Teaches body parts, counting, imitating a rhythm, following directions.)
  7. Make different size shakers out of used plastic containers. Put buttons, rice or beans inside and tape them securely shut. Give your child directions like, ‘shake the big one over your head.’  ‘Now shake it behind you.’  Alternate between big and little shakers and using different concepts like, ‘low, high, in front, beside, between or fast and slow.’ (Teaches directional concepts, imitating a movement, following directions.)
  8. Pour three or four different shapes of dried pasta into a one bowl. (About thirty pieces) Choose a specific piece and say, “Find another one that’s the same as this.”  Sort them into three containers so that the same pastas are together again.  (Teaches the concept of same and different, sorting and increases small motor ability.)
  9. Teaching colors can be hard but not if you teach them one color at a time.  Pick a color that your child is wearing and say, ‘If you’re wearing blue, jump up and down.’  Continue on with ‘blue’ directions for a while then alternate it with another color like, ‘red’. This will make him listen for the ‘blue’ directions and to ignore the ‘red’ instructions.  (Teaches the concept of colors, following directions, and increases large motor ability.)
  10. Surprise boxes are fun to discover new things.  Decorate a box and tell your child that there is a surprise inside.  Hide it while your child covers his eyes.  Let them remove the lid and discover and talk about things like, felt squares, buttons, pictures, a new toy, a special snack, shakers or any item that will be used in an activity. (Teaches creativity, language development, imagination, increases small motor ability.)

Toddler’s need a stimulating environment and a variety of experiences to help them grow and develop skills they will need in a few short years when they enter school.  Activities which emphasize the senses and include physical activity will appeal the most to your child.  If you have a toddler, you know you have to keep them busy, so why not teach them a new skill while you’re at it?

I’ll take the rose-colored glasses, please!

glassesI’ll take the rose-colored glasses, please.

I got glasses when I was really little, somewhere around 2 years old. No need to wait to see if I could read from the blackboard in school, apparently I couldn’t see five inches in front of my face. I ping-ponged off walls, completely missed some of the steps on the stairs, and stared off to the side of any speaker’s face, blissfully happy in my blurry world.

Then BLAM! I got glasses.

When people are fitted for hearing aids, we tell them to only wear them for a few hours a day, building up to a full day of usage trying to prevent over-stimulation to the auditory cortex.

Well, my new, pink glasses with their embedded silver sparkles were strapped on my tiny noggin and I wore them every waking minute. I had no idea that things had specific shapes, that the dog had individual pieces of hair or that a coloring book had a purpose. The saying, ‘you don’t know what you don’t know’ was so true.

I still have that first pair of glasses, but thank goodness contacts were invented.

Visual processing problems present themselves in the same way. A child who sees the words turn wavy on the line, or the text disappears altogether, doesn’t know that this is not the norm. I tested a girl who threw up almost everyday at school.  She had been to doctor after doctor, including psychologists and psychiatrists, and all that had been decided was that school made her very anxious.  She started taking the medications to reduce stress, so then when she threw up each day, because that didn’t stop, she wasn’t as upset about it.

I diagnosed her with the Irlen Syndrome (previously called Scotopic Sensitivity Syndrome), a condition within the sight regions of the brain that make reading more difficult and causes fatigue. Words can move on the page, and in this girl’s case, her page spun. It becomes hard for a person with the Irlen Syndrome to shift gaze from different surfaces, for example, from a book to a notebook or from blackboard to paper, without losing their place.  It can cause headaches, fatigue and anxiety if not treated.  Many people with it report lower energy levels, decreased motivation or depression.

When this girl was asked why she never said anything about the page spinning, she said, “Because that’s what it always does.  The other kid’s pages look like they are moving, too. I just thought they were tougher than I was.”

The solution was placing Irlen colored overlays over the printed material to make it calm down and stay still.

Helen Irlen, a reading specialist in Long Beach, CA, discovered the Irlen Syndrome while working on her dissertation. Now with over fifty different research studies world-wide, the Irlen Syndrome has been proven to interfere with reading, writing, focused attention and to cause stress and fatigue in visual activities. The research can be viewed at

The symptoms of the Irlen syndrome can look like other problems, in particular ADD or ADHD.  If the words are moving on the page, a child is not going to spend a lot of time reading or trying to read.  Some of the common symptoms of the syndrome are:

A child may skip words or lines, misread words, repeat or reread lines, demonstrate slow, choppy reading, need lots of breaks, rub their eyes, complain of tiredness or eye strain, fall asleep while reading, experience headaches or dizziness from visual activities, have a hard time comprehending or remembering what they’ve just read, become bothered by bright lights or read from the page with it turned at an odd angle.

The Irlen syndrome affects 15% of the general population but in struggling readers, it is 46%.  There is a strong genetic component and we often find that several children in a family can have it but at varying degrees of severity.

The Irlen syndrome has baffled educators and scientists in the past.  It seemed too easy a solution to throw some colored sheets over the page and then a child started reading.  It still remains undetected by standard educational or medical tests.

Understanding that the Irlen syndrome may be a piece of the puzzle in a child’s academic struggles is the first step. Asking the right questions is the second.  The next time your child balks at sitting down to read, instead of asking him why he won’t read, you should ask him, ‘What happens when you look at the page?

I’ll bet if my parent’s had asked me, “Can you take your doll to daddy?’ I would have said, “Which blurry thing is daddy?”

(reprinted with permission from Karla’s blog, The Learning

If dyslexia isn’t real, then what does that make me?

frogMarcus hit my office about six-months ago, full of energy and ideas, a nine-year-old who wanted to become a famous scientist. He knew he was meant to cure cancer, to make a cool flying bicycle and when I asked him to develop a furry frog, a much cuddlier pet, he started throwing out ways that that could happen. He was a really bright kid who three hours later, I diagnosed with severe dyslexia. In their excitement, they nearly floated out of the office, as if he had already invented flying tenny-runners.

Three days later, I got a call from his mom. She and Marcus had shared the exciting news with his school about discovering why he was struggling so hard. Now, she needed the name of a good counselor because Marcus was suddenly very down and saying self-deprecating statements that he was too dumb to do anything.  He’d become a baggy balloon, a deflated rubber shell of a kid, the helium that had made up his imagination drained out in only a matter of days.

Or in his case, after a matter of five words. He’d been told by a teacher, that although he though he had dyslexia, everyone knew that “dyslexia wasn’t a real thing.” She explained that he would just have to accept working extra hard to try to keep up with the other kids.

His thought: If Dyslexia isn’t real, then what does that make me?

My answer is this. If dyslexia isn’t real then neither is deafness. Nearly 10,000,000 people in the US report a hearing loss of some severity with 1,000,000 people being completely deaf. The statistics are the same for dyslexic children. The newest statistics reveal that 10 million children have some form of dyslexia, so why do we accept that deafness is real, but not this prevalent reading disorder.

Obviously, deafness is SO VISIBLE. Deaf speech is loud, cumbersome and there is equipment involved with hearing aids. There’s the special sign language, fingers and hands flying everywhere. This disorder gets loads of research and respect, as they should.

Dyslexic kids don’t have obvious signs of a disorder, yet millions of dollars are spent each year at big-name universities and the National Institute of Health to further our understanding of how to help people who are wired differently.  It is real. These children need to know why they struggle. Their challenges are valid.

You join the fight for your child by being educated. Here are some facts:

ü Dyslexia is the most common cause of reading, writing and spelling difficulties.

ü Of people with poor reading skills, 70-80% are likely dyslexic.

ü One in five students, or 15-20% of the population, have this learning disability. Dyslexia is probably the most common of the language-based processing disabilities.

ü Nearly the same percentage of males and females has dyslexia.

ü As children grow older, they may learn to read but dyslexia may still affect spelling, writing, word-finding and math skills

ü It is neurological in nature, (like many deaf people)

ü It is inherited and can range from mild to severe

Loads of facts can be seen at or

Marcus is fine. He’s happily back to planning his future as a scientist, full of hope and some whacky ideas – A cereal that makes us smarter, a book page that turns into a movie when we touch it. Who knows? Maybe he will be the guy who figures out a cure for dyslexia.

What is my child’s learning style?

detectiveIdentifying how your child learns!

Everyone has their own unique learning style. Some people learn best by seeing or reading, others by listening, and still others by doing something with their hands. You can help your child by identifying his or her primary learning style: Is your child a visual learner, an auditory learner, or a kinesthetic (hands-on) learner?

Visual Learners:   Learn by seeing or reading

  • Do well when material is presented and tested visually, not verbally
  • Benefit from written notes and directions, diagrams, charts, maps, and pictures
  • Often love to draw, read, and write; are good spellers and organizer

Auditory Learners:    Learn by listening

  • Do well in lecture-based learning environments and on oral reports and tests
  • Benefit from classroom discussions, spoken directions, study groups
  • Often love music, languages, and being on stage

Kinesthetic Learners:   Learn by doing and moving

  • Do well when they can move, touch, explore, and create in order to learn
  • Benefit from hands-on activities, lab classes, props, skits, and field trips
  • Often love sports, drama, dance, martial arts, and arts and crafts

What you will find is that although your child may have attributes in each column, there should be a predominant style that has more checks than the others. Once you have a general idea of what kind of learner your child is, share this knowledge with adults who will interact with your child.  But just realize that even though others are aware, it’s still important to utilize additional ideas to enhance the child’s learning time.

Helpful tips for visual learners:

  • Teach them to take detailed notes. Use highlighters and colored pencils to underline different areas or to organize material into categories. For example, red is for verbs, yellow for articles and blue is for adjectives when learning the parts of grammar.
  • Learn to make outlines, diagrams, and lists. Create a pre-typed document that allows for this type of listing skill so your child just needs to fill in the high points he hears.
  • Use drawings and illustrations, preferably in color and the more detailed the better.

Helpful tips for auditory learners:

  • Use a recording device to tape lectures that can be used later to review notes.
  • Teach him to read his notes or to study the materials aloud
  • Memorize by using verbal repetition.
  • Study with other students, talk things through, have him teach a brother or a sister the material to ensure he has learned it
  • Provide oral testing as an option
  • Follow along with Books on Tape

Learning tips for hands-on learners:

  • Teach by doing experiments, looking things up on the internet, doing activities that teach the same material but where the child can interact with it by doing something.
  • Take field trips, collect items, explore similar topics to help show the correlation with the new material
  • Use activity-based study tools, like role-playing or building models, designing
  • Use memory games, computer activities and materials that can be held and manipulated or used in a shared experience
  • Study with music on in the background or allow TV with a familiar program playing as random backdrop noise.

Other considerations

  • Even though your child may struggle in one area of learning, they may excel in another. Pay attention to your child’s interests and passions. Helping them develop their passions and strengths which can help them with their areas of difficulty.
  • Children can be shown their strengths, weaknesses and special talents which will help with their self-confidence in knowing that they are not “dumb” just because they learn a bit differently than others in the classroom. Appearing dumb is a child’s number one fear in school!
  • The ability to set realistic goals is important. Being flexible in adjusting the goals is also important. Help your child identify a few short- or long-term goals and write down steps and a timeline to achieve the goals. Check in periodically to check progress or to mark off an item.
  • And because children do not want to appear different than their peers, they often have a very hard time asking for help. Talk to them about a few successful people, about how they must have asked for help when they needed it and how they used others for support.
  • Completing homework can be a frustrating time no matter what your child’s learning style. Start by showing an interest in your child’s homework. If they know you are interested, they will take more pride in it. Teach/help your child to organize his homework materials before beginning and establish a regular time with your child to do the work
  • Discovering your child’s learning style will open up the discussion for ways to learn ideas faster and better, without the anxiety that something is wrong with them.

Helping Children Succeed—it does take a village!


Success, which is just another word for triumph and victory, can be elusive for many children. Humans are meant to accomplish things, and with that accomplishment comes a healthy self-esteem. But what can we do for the child who has not been successful yet? The child who is shy or sad?

Childhood success has been a hot topic over the last twenty years and researchers and psychologists have learned many things. Just a few of them are:

  1.       The more love, support, and adult contacts a child has, the more likely it is he will grow up with a good image of himself
  2.       Children need to be valued by their community and have opportunities  to help others in that community
  3.       Children need clear, consistent boundaries and high expectations. When you lower the bar for your child, they will reach that goal every time!
  4.       Young people need constructive, enriching opportunities with caring adults
  5.       Behavior (good or bad) comes from the motivation to fulfill a need, like having attention, feeling loved, or gaining praise

In the huge amount of studies, it’s found that the more resources a child has, the lower the incident of problem behaviors, drug and alcohol use, school problems, depression, and social failure. In other words, lots of assets or resources, create successful children.

Ideas for home—

      Remember that children learn by example, so showing love to a spouse is a lesson in itself. How we talk about our relatives or neighbors is being watched, and will be modeled in the future by our children.

      It’s important to be your child’s biggest fan because the outside world might not be cheering them on yet.

      Take the time to spend a few moments alone each day with each of your children so they have someone to talk to about heir private fears or their triumphs. When your children talk, really listen to them and always thank them for sharing their opinions even though you may not agree with them. Foster the idea that very few subjects are off limits to talk about.

      Eat family meals together and plan one family activity each week. The whole family should have a say in ideas for these events. It could be as simple as having a picnic at the park or camping in the backyard.

      Tell you children what you expect from them and ask them about what they expect from themselves. Look for creative ways to stimulate your child to achieve their goals and remember to admire them for more things than just their grades. There is kindness, manners, talents and ability to have empathy that are worth noting.

Ideas for in the neighborhood—

      Welcome neighbors with a plate of cookies or a liter of soda. Have your children go with you so they get to know them.

      Have your children volunteer to help elderly neighbors with yard work or other tasks that are hard. Have your child make a food item and take it to a neighbor or leave it as a secret admirer.

      Teach your children how to speak to adults and how to include other children who seem shy or who play alone to join in.

      Identify neighborhood areas where children seem to get in trouble and start a community discussion to try to improve the area.

      Have your child write notes of appreciation to positive adults in their day. Maybe the bus driver, teachers, mailman, coaches, clergy, babysitters, and your office co-workers.

Self-esteem is earned! It can’t be thrust on a child without having them work for it. You can help them get started now!



15 ideas to enhance early literacy skills

young boy reading a bookEarly Literacy Skills—How important are they?

Joshua is in 4th grade and getting quieter all of the time.  He usually cries everyday after school because he can’t read like his friends or he failed the word problems in math class again.  His mother thinks the quietness means he is accepting his lower reading skills, but she finds out he has just given up. Joshua’s parents work three hours every night on his homework, but they aren’t trained professionals and don’t have specialized programs.  Yet nightly drills are the only way they know how to help.

But is Joshua’s a rare case?

No, he’s actually a part of the majority.  His reading struggles match those of 68% of the children in the United States according to the recent statistics from the US Department of Education. Studies have shown that obtaining reading help by the first grade promises normal reading ability for 90% of these children.  If help is delayed until age nine, 75% will have trouble throughout their school years.

This doesn’t mean if your child is older than this, you might as well give up.  The book, Parenting a Struggling Reader suggests that as a parent you should “exhaust all promising resources when teaching children to read. ”

But by promoting early literacy skills in your home, your child most likely will not need help later on.

Here are 15 fun activities that promote early reading or school readiness in your preschoolers that can be done at home, without expensive programs or that aren’t time consuming.

  • Set up a Reading Hour.  You can go to the library as a family and choose the books for the next reading hour.  This creates a cohesive feeling that “this family believes in reading and enjoys it.”
  • Discuss the books with your child.  “What did the boy say? Or, Why did they do that?”  This promotes language skills, listening ability, and understanding the meaning of the story.
  • Act out a part of the story.  This teaches the love of a good story and creativeness.  Motor movement imbeds the ideas into the brain.
  • Enrich their vocabularies with picture books like, The First Thousand Words or books with pictures arranged by categories.  These books are  colorful or have items hiding on each page to make them fun.
  • Listen to rhyming songs or nursery rhymes since rhyming is important to develop good phonological skills.
  • Practice recognizing the alphabet by matching the ABC’s cut from different materials.  Write out the letters in sand.  Glue beans or beads to letters that are drawn on paper.Use clay to buil the letters.
  • Put puzzles together to teach eye-hand coordination and visual processing skills.
  • Dominoes teach matching.  Whether it’s matching animals, shapes or colors, the concept of what looks the same is important later in reading.
  • Find picture cards with basic sight words.  Cut out or buy individual letters of the alphabet and take turns picking a card and finding the letters to spell that word.
  • Read absurd sentences to your child and have them tell you the word that was wrong in the sentence like, ‘I ate a balloon for lunch’. Then they can fix the word.  This teaches listening for information.
  • Clap along to syllables or count out words in sentences by using a drum.
  • Make up silly stories.  Put picture cards face down on the table and start a story.  For example, ‘Yesterday I was walking down the road when I found a,  (pick up a card),  sock’.  Then have your child make up the next part using a card that they choose.
  • Hide cards with letters on them around the room.  The child goes around and finds the cards, but now he must identify them before putting them in a basket. Older children should tell you a word that starts with that letter.
  • Use pipe cleaners or string to make letters.
  • Draw letters or numbers on each others hands and ask what was drawn.  Younger kids can have a choice of three letters or numbers to choose from that are written out in front of them.

As you see, there are many fun activities to get your young child interested in reading.  The most important thing is to roll up you sleeves and start playing!