Fight winter with warm words of encouragement

hot chocolate

Your daughter runs into the room to show you her new project.  It’s lop-sided, made from pipe cleaners, construction paper and something that looks like dryer lint.  You smile and say, “Thanks nice, Honey.”  She looks hurt for a second before whining, “That’s what you always say to us, Mommy.  I thought this castle was better than ‘nice’ this time.”   

Do you ever find yourself lost for words when it comes to congratulating your children?   Are you searching for good, appropriate phrases to use that don’t mislead them on their ability, yet it doesn’t leave them feeling like their effort wasn’t worth it?  

We all bloom when we hear words of praise or affirmation.  Having a variety of these warm words at your fingertips (or on the tip of your tongue) as you’re washing dishes, calling out spelling words or chasing the dog away from the trash might be asking too much.  This list gives you a mug full of kind words you can sprinkle on your children to keep their self-esteem toasty all year round!

Wow   Way to Go   You’re Special   Outstanding   Excellent   Great   Grand   Humungous Effort  Great Job  Good Going  Well Done   Remarkable   Super   Brilliant Thought   Super Cool   Super Duper  You Make a Difference   I Knew You Could Do It   Fantastic   Incredible  Out-Of-This-World   You’re Super   Nice Work   Looking Good   You’re On Top of It    Now You’re Flying   You’re Catching On   Now You Got It    You’re Incredible   You Can Do It    Bravo   Hurrah   You Have A Shining Personality   Congratulations   You’re Fantastic   You’re Improving   Hurray For You   You’re a Joy   You make me feel Happy   Sizzling Good Work   Let’s Try Again   Great Attempt   Dynamite Effort   You’re a Winner   Good For You   You’re Wonderful   I Respect You   You’ll Make It Happen   You’ll Make It   You’re Precious   Great Discovery   You’re Making Progress   Hip, Hip, Hooray    Bingo    Superb   You’re Responsible   Great Work   Spectacular   Marvelous   Terrific   You Really Tried    Astounding Thought   I Like You   Thanks For Caring    Super Job   You’re Sensational   I Like Your Work    Great Idea   A Job Well Done   You Are Fun   You Did It   You Tried Hard   I Trust You   What An Imagination   You’re Important   You’re a Great Friend   I Know You Can Handle It   You’ve Got a Friend   You Did It   You Make Me Laugh   You Brighten My Day   Awesome   Look How Far You’ve Come   You’re Terrific   That’s Correct   You’re a Treasure   That’s the Best   Golden Behavior You’re Growing Up   I Love You    I Respect Your Judgment   You’re On Your Way   Outstanding Performance   Cool Dude    Hurray For You   Super Job   I Knew You Could Do It   Thanks For Caring   Sensational  

         Although children love praise, some are more touchy-feely and like you to put your words into action.   Below are many different, yet simple ways that this can be accomplished.

Hugs    Smiles    Kisses    Special Treats    Rewards    A Gift Hidden in a Backpack   Pat on the Back    Thumbs Up    Brownie Points    Applause    High Five    Cheer    Wink   A Secret Sign   Approving Nod   Wave of the Hand    Blow a Kiss    Pat on the Head    Ruffle Hair    Jumping for Joy    Special Time With Mom    Special Time With Dad   A Note Hidden Under The Pillow   An I.O.U. for an Ice Cream    A Surprise Stop on the Way Home    A Certificate of Accomplishment    Balloons  A Message Taped to a Toothbrush   A Special Bookmark   Draw a Smiling Face on the Mirror   Make Happy–Faced Pancakes  

         You’ll find that your children, once complimented for a short period of time, will start complimenting family members and friends, using some of these same words.  Whichever way you choose to show appreciation to your children, they will love it and will bloom into healthier, happier individuals right before your eyes. 


Is Working Memory more important than IQ?


boy remembering

Yes, Yes, Yes, according to the leaders in working memory research! I just attended a conference where I had the privilege of hearing several of the world’s leading experts on working memory present their perspective on the link between Working Memory and ADHD (Dr.s Rapport, Tannock and Fassbender/Schweitzer), the state of Working Memory and increasing cognitive skills (Dr. Klingberg), and Working Memory in the classroom and an increase in academic scores (Dr. Gathercole).

Basically the new research points to this:

  • A child’s suc­cess in all aspects of learn­ing comes down to how good their work­ing mem­ory is regard­less of their IQ score. This means that having a good work­ing mem­ory at the start of for­mal edu­ca­tion is a more pow­er­ful pre­dic­tor of aca­d­e­mic suc­cess than knowing the child’s IQ score in the early years.
  • The studies also found that, as opposed to IQ, work­ing mem­ory is not linked to the par­ents’ level of edu­ca­tion or socio-economic back­ground. This means all chil­dren regard­less of back­ground or envi­ron­men­tal influ­ence can have the same oppor­tu­ni­ties to ful­fill poten­tial if work­ing mem­ory is assessed and prob­lems addressed where necessary.
  • As many as 10% of school age children may suffer from poor working memory, British researchers found, yet the problem remains rarely identified. “You can think of working memory as a pure measure of your child’s potential,” Dr. Tracey Alloway of Britain’s Durham University studies said of their results. “Some psychologists consider working memory to be the new IQ because we find that working memory is the single most important predictor of learning,” Alloway added.
  • Many children that had been thought to be lazy or underachievers really were found to have poor working memory ability.
  • Another finding was that with early identification and formalized memory training, these poor memory skills can improve and problems in ADHD, math, reading comprehension and overall learning speed also improved!What is working memory?

Working memory is described as “the ability to hold several facts or thoughts in short term memory while solving a problem or performing a task.” We use our working memory all day long without thinking about the process. People with working memory problems can’t “hang onto” the information long enough to do that.

For example, here is a working memory task.  An adult would listen to this sequence of numbers and letters, “4-B-1-D-5” and then repeat them by first putting the numbers in order from low to high and the letters in order at the end from A-Z. The answer is “1-4-5-B-D. After 12 to 15 trials of this, the mind starts to fatigue. You are in trouble because you can’t just guess at the answer to get it right; you actually have to be actively engaged with the material! Other working memory tasks might be that you are shown a series of 6-8 pictures, then the cards are shuffled and you need to put them back in the correct order or you hear words like, “cat-green-bowl-jump-boat” and then you are asked, “What was the second word? What is the fourth word?”

This “being engaged” with the material and mental fatigue is why new studies on ADHD point to working memory deficits as being one of the main causes of that disorder. Once the mind fatigues, the person stops listening or performing the task because it’s too hard. With less to attend to, the child becomes focused on other things that don’t require diligent brain work.

We know that besides having a huge impact on attention and focus, working memory deficits also impact:

  • Reading comprehension because it’s too hard to remember the characters in the story, the sequence of the plot and the order of the syntax.
  • Understanding spoken language because the listener needs to track the meaning in the speaker’s words long enough so that there is meaning and not just a bunch of little phrases being processed.
  • Writing because a person needs to recall perhaps one or two thoughts or main ideas as he is putting them on paper. To write a paragraph or a story, a person needs to remember the overall story, the order in which he needs to tell it and the characters, events, the rules of writing, the grammar, etc.  It’s too much to remember!
  • Problem solving because it requires that you cling to clues in your head while deducing or inferring from a small amount of information at hand.
  • Math because so much of arithmetic is a two or three step operation. Any part of a problem that should be rehearsed while doing the next step has a very good chance of being forgotten in a person with poor working memory skills. (Like in real life. If you have forty dollars and you’re shopping and you are keeping track of what you have spent so far, that’s working memory.

The question many researchers are struggling with is how to help people with this problem. In the past, children have been taught compensation techniques like rehearsing everything they hear and see in order to keep it active in the mind, but this isn’t very efficient and the carry-over to performance is slow or non-existent.

Dr. Mel Levine, co-founder of All Kinds of Minds, in Durham, North Carolina says, “In children with learning difficulties, working memory becomes a huge issue, especially around middle school where the demands on working memory grow dramatically.” Short term memory can become overloaded if everything circulating there is not moved on to long term memory areas. By making the working memory process more efficient or fluid, this frees up the ability to take in more information faster.

Recent research out of Sweden and other big universities in the United States demonstrated that children with ADHD, academic problems and adults with symptoms of stroke all greatly benefited from working memory practice from a program called CogMed. (

Poor working memory has been proven to influence a person’s ability to learn or to pay attention to a task for a longer period of time. Poor memory can come about because of Dyslexia, ADHD, a brain injury, people recovering from chemotherapy, or persons with generalized specific learning disorders. Whatever the cause, we now know that greater focus needs to be paid to the working memory ability of an individual instead of the person’s IQ or intellectual function.

Working memory is the new IQ.

 photo © Can Stock Photo Inc. / kennykiernan

Dysgraphia – when a pencil becomes an enemy

broken pencil

Kyle is in first grade and sitting in his Friday morning spelling test; a test he knows he is about to fail.  It’s not that he hasn’t studied the words for this week because he can spell them forward, and if his teacher asked, backward as well.  His pencil sweats in his hand because he’s trying to make it spell out the word ‘circle’ and his hand won’t cooperate.  Of course, he doesn’t know that other children around him aren’t having the same problem—their pencils are scratching along on their papers while his sits paralyzed.  Now he’s just feeling stupid again.  When the test ends, Kyle has only a few letters on the page but no whole words.  This isn’t a spelling problem; it’s dysgraphia.

Dysgraphia means a dysfunction in the ability to write or recognize graphemes, which translates to mean, any written material.   Dysgraphia is a lesser form of the more serious disorder called Agraphia, where the person is totally unable to write, hold a pencil or copy even a simple line.

Although the cause of Dysgraphia is still not know, just by correctly identifying it and then introducing therapeutic measures and accommodations, a child can function very well in the class.   Studies show that there is a slight decrease in this problem around puberty.  One interesting fact is that more than 75% of children with dysgraphia are male. (A percentage that stays fairly constant when studying ADD, speech and language problems and stuttering.)

Many students with or without this disorder struggle with producing neat writing that concisely expresses thought.  So why is there such an emphasis on writing?  There are very good reasons why writing is such an important part of any academic program: It helps with memory, thought and concept organization, and visual processing as well as fine motor coordination.  The act of writing engages a part of the brain that helps absorb and solidify the material being written.  Writing takes the child from being a passive listening to an active learner.   Unfortunately, the child who struggles with dysgraphia may laboriously complete the assignments but not have learned anything about the content of what he wrote.

Some of the signs of Dysgraphia are:

  • Overall illegible writing, even when the child gave it his best effort
  • Inconsistent mixtures of upper and lower case letters, printing and cursive, irregular size and shape of letters and the slant may change within the same line
  • Unfinished words or letters or whole words are left out of a sentence
  • Inconsistent spacing between words and letters
  • Unusual position of the writing on the page.  They may not use the lines or the margins correctly
  • Using a cramped or unusual grip on the pencil, such as, holding it too close to the paper or using odd finger holds that make him write from the wrist
  • Strange paper, body or wrist positioning
  • Talking to himself while writing
  • Watches his hand while he writes, almost like he has no feedback as to what it’s producing unless he can see it
  • Slow or labored copying or writing
  • The content in the finished project is not equal to the higher ability of the child’s language

What should you do if your child has dysgraphia?

            School Accommodations:

  • Allow more time for written tasks which includes note-taking, copying and tests.  Allow a classmate to be a ‘note-taker’ or allow a tape recorder.  Give large projects to the child earlier than the rest of the class to allow time to complete them.
  • Encourage good keyboarding skills to increase speed and legibility.
  • Teach your child to prepare his assignment papers ahead of time with his name and numbering already in place so that he won’t be stuck concentrating on writing his name when the teachers is ahead of him dictating words.
  • Have the teacher provide an outline for your child on which he can take notes or a math paper with the problems already written down.  This reduces the need to take down the full set of information first.
  • Allow oral testing or allow your child to dictate to a ‘scribe’ what he wanted to write.
  • Remove neatness or spelling as a part of your child’s grading criteria.
  • Allow abbreviations or shorthand in you child’s work and have your child develop a list of these that he can keep in his notebook and refer to during writing assignments.
  • Have the teacher provide a ‘model’ of the finished product that your child may keep in a binder.  This allows him to have a working template so he’s not re-inventing each assignment from scratch.
  • Allow the child to use cursive or manuscript skills, whichever one is easier.  (Cursive is often easier to manage because once the motor flow starts, it can trigger the rest of the word.)
  • Allow colored paper or colored ink if it helps your child see the paper easier.   Try using different pencils, pens and pencil grips.
  • Word processing is a solution for many children. Teach the use of ‘spell-check’ as early as possible.

Remember, Dysgraphia, doesn’t put an end to your child’s ability to learn, to achieve great things or to believe in himself.  With the correct identification, treatment and accommodations, your child can also have the ‘write’ stuff!

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Is too much praise ruining your child’s success?

girl with a trophy

Let’s lay out a scenario. You decide as a parent that you will build your child’s self-esteem, no matter what, because they will need great self-esteem to stand up for themselves and to succeed in this oft-times challenging world.

From the moment your child starts walking and talking, you let them know they are winners! “You were the best today in karate” even though they may be the child that is behind on all of the moves. “I don’t know what the dance teacher was talking about; you danced better than the other girls.”  Your child’s confidence grows and they believe you…they are the best in the activities they get involved in. They are the smartest in preschool and then in elementary school. Life is good!

Then a strange thing happens. As soon as new activities get hard, your child won’t step up to the challenge. They bulk and choose the simple road, choosing an easy activity or a sport they have always played over a harder one or something new. They read simple books instead of trying a story that is at their grade level. They don’t “like” games or activities that are hard or challenging, calling these things “boring.” They seem to be playing it safe.

What in the world happened to the winning spirit you have infused in this child?

In the book Mindset, (2008 by Carol S. Dweck, Ph.D.), she explains in simple terms what has happened.

She talks about two mindsets that we can have. The first is called a Fixed Mindset. In this one, we believe (even as young children) that our talents or our traits are set. That our talents don’t change. We are successful because people have told us we are successful and we seem to have a few talents we just were born with.  We become caught up in success and failure situations to validate ourselves. Working harder wouldn’t matter to us since we believe that our talents are not developed. We are just lucky enough to have them.

The second mindset is called Growth Mindset. In this mindset the individual is focused on stretching him or herself to learn something new, to improve. Effort is a good thing. There is no judgment after each activity of success or failure; just an assessment of what could be done next to improve upon the last results.

Numerous studies in Dr. Dweck’s book looked at children and adolescents who were given the same task, but they were praised differently.  An experiment was done with answering questions. One part of the group was praised for being smart and getting a ceratin number of problems right and the second group was praised for their effort and how hard they had worked on the problems. When the examiners offered harder, more challenging problems to the same participants, the “smart” group refused to do any more problems for fear harder questions would make them seem less smart – a failure in their eyes. 90% of the “effort” group asked for as many new problems as possible because they thrive on learning how to get better, on earning their successes. One more astonishing fact came from this study. The children were all asked to write down their scores for other school students to see what it would be like to go through the 10 questions they had just completed. 40% of the group that were praised for their ability, and not their effort, lied about the scores they achieved, because in the Fixed Mindset, imperfections are shameful.

So, with those two mindsets established, how are we to praise our children without driving them into the Fixed Mindset group? How do we get them to stop thinking in the black and white terms of “I have to win or be the best otherwise I have lost?” How do we shift to a Growth Mindset?

  • Children know when they are being falsely praised. Sure, they will take the praise and run with it but, in the end it’s hollow.
  • Start thinking of how you as a parent can change your statements to reward effort. Let your child hear you talking about how other people tried and failed and then succeeded, not because they were smart, but because they worked hard to change, improve and to stretch themselves.
  • Begin praising the effort in your child’s day, whether emotional effort, (“I know that was a hard thing to do but your apology was very good.”) or physical effort (“When you went after that ball today in the game, that was great hustle. Soon, you’ll be able to catch that player.”)
  • Make your statements to your child non-judgmental. Don’t give opinions about their traits or talents but instead, talk about their development and how exciting that is.
  • Don’t label your children! “This one is the artist and this one is our runner.” Try, “He really worked hard on a drawing yesterday. You should see how much he has improved.” Or “She has been really working to improve her running times and it’s really paying off.”
  • Teach children that there are tiny steps in reaching a goal. Things don’t just happen. Lay out each stage your child will need to accomplish in order to achieve something hard that they want and then reward every little step in that direction.
  • A mindset can be changed – yours and your child’s.

No parent sets out to undermine a child’s skills or to create a child who is afraid to attempt anything hard because it knocks them off their safe pedestal of always being the smart one or the fast one. But when we continue to praise ability, and not effort, we fall into the Fixed Mindset and our children will follow along with us.  We are all capable of reaching for a Growth Mindset; it just takes, well, it takes some effort!




Handwriting: a lost art?

pen writing

In our grandmother’s day, writing was one of the major 3 R’s, along with Reading and Arithmetic. (yes, arithmetic was counted as an R word…) Writing was considered a basic skill that all children needed to learn. Lessons were rigidly taught with endless drills.

Today with so many budgetary cuts, National Core Standards continue to chop away at handwriting in the schools, leaving millions of children with sub-standard handwriting when it comes to legibility and function. Other concerned groups point their fingers at the computer and key boarding skills as eroding the need for handwriting. And don’t get me started on texting, which eliminates the need to touch a pencil at all!

Bea Johnson, a national expert on childhood development states, “What happens to the child who is not allowed to write?  The latest research about the development of intelligence leads us to believe this is dangerous ground.  Windows of opportunity that only open once might be missed and potential for learning, lost forever.”

The problem with a lessened focus on handwriting or penmanship, started long ago. From the 1900 to the 1940’s, handwriting required that a teacher be trained in that field, and like a drill sergeant, she taught posture and pencil position right along with letter formation. Left-handed children were made to write with their right hands. We ruined a lot of kids.

From the 1950’s to the 1970’s, two accepted ways of handwriting came out that made everyone confused. Should schools adopt the Zoner-Bloser method (ball and stick) or The D’Nealian method (slanted with flares on each letter)? And to further compound the issue, in the 1970’s the Whole Language approach to learning was introduced. That approach said, we don’t care HOW they write as long as the CONTENT is good.

In the 1980’s handwriting woes became the number one referral to OT’s in the schools. At present day, teachers work hard to fit handwriting into the busy curriculum, but as a parent you can also help to child as he learns to form the letters.  Good letter formation fosters a tremendous sense of accomplishment when another person can read a child’s writing.

Take it from someone who was plagued her whole childhood with atrocious handwriting that there’s more to sloppy handwriting then just a bad habit. Writing is an extremely difficult skill for children to master. It involves a process that requires both mental and physical cooperation to be able to channel one’s thoughts onto paper.

First, it’s important to know that there is more to handwriting than picking up a pencil, placing it on the page and pushing it around. There are at least seven necessary components in any handwriting experience. They are:

  1. Memory: does your child recall hoe each letter is formed? Does he have to sit and think for long periods how the letter should look before he writes it?
  2. Orientation of the letter: Do any of the letters get reversed? The ‘d’ is often the letter that is most often reversed because it occurs more often than the ‘b’, ‘p’, or ‘q’.
  3. Placement on the line: Does your child’s letter float above the line or sink below it?
  4. Size of the letters: As a child gets older, the size of the letters should shrink. If your child is in second grade and the letters are still the bigger size of a Kindergartener’s, this would be an area to practice.
  5. Sequence: Does your child start writing the letters at the top of the letter? All capital letters are properly written by starting at the top and lower case either start in the middle like on an ‘e’ or at the top. No letters are written from the bottom up!
  6. Control: Does your child have a smooth formation to each letter or is there jerkiness?
  7. Spacing: Is there enough spacing between letters so that they don’t touch each other? Is there enough spacing between words so it is obvious where one starts and the next begins?

Now that you know the technicalities, there are plenty of things to do to help your child develop good handwriting skills. Handwriting Without Tears offers a whole line of curriculum and handwriting products that are meant to be fun and game oriented ways to practice writing. They offer everything from workbooks and guides, to special paper, to great hands-on materials for your learner.

Early skills involve crafts like lacing macaroni noodles onto yarn or thread, which works on the bilateral hand motions needed to learn how to write well.

Allowing your kids to trace shapes in sand or make forms and letters in play dough is another good way to get the fingers ready for holding a pen or pencil correctly. Sand tracing or play dough gives students an opportunity to practice their spelling as well.

Break chalk or crayons into smaller, more manageable pieces. This allows children to practice writing with their fingertips without having to hold the whole pencil just yet. You can even let your little ones play with finger puppets to help those fingers get working.

  • Trace in mazes or connects dots to learn the feel of going in all directions.
  • Teach upper case first since those are mostly straight lines. Then lower case, then numbers.
  • Write on dry-erase boards to get arm movement going, instead of just hand movement.
  • Color within the lines.
  •  For the older writer, allow your student to practice on a vertical easel. This is good for wrist and finger movement and dry erase markers can be a blast.
  • For too much pencil pressure, practice writing on a balloon. For too little pressure, shorten the pencil.
  • Draw a picture of a pencil with a cowboy hat to remind the child to start at the top of each letter.
  • Use Wiki Sticks to form the letters on paper. This is good for memory of each letter.
  • For a two player game, have kids try guessing what letter another child is tracing on their back. This is a fun and social way to get kids to practice their letters.
  • Also, make sure you invest in lots of fun writing options. Rainbow markers, disappearing ink, and magic colors are all types of writing utensils on the market that make the task of fun!

Other writing resources: (Handwriting Without Tears)

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