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Your Child

Why Kids Should Learn Handwriting

1:45

I think it’s fair to say that handwriting is becoming a lost art. Computers, tablets and phone keyboards have made actual writing with a pen and paper almost obsolete.

What was once an integral part of a child’s daily school lessons, today, gets about one-fourth the instruction time. What is surprising is that in the not too far future, some kids may never learn penmanship at all.

If keyboards become the most popular form of communication, is there really a need for printing and cursive skills? Yes, according to some educators. Not only will children lose the personal touch of handwriting but will they also lose the benefits learning penmanship offers the developing brain.

Putting pen to paper stimulates brain circuits involved with memory, attention, motor skills, and language in a way punching a keyboard doesn't.

"There is this assumption that we live in the computer age, and we don't need handwriting anymore. That's wrong," says Virginia Berninger, PhD, a professor of educational psychology at the University of Washington.

Indiana University psychologist Karin James, PhD, recently published a study looking at brain scans of preschoolers before and after they learned to produce letters, either by printing or typing. Before the lesson, the children couldn't decipher between a random shape and a letter, and their brains responded similarly to each. After they learned to hand-draw a letter, brain regions needed for reading lit up at the sight of the letter like they do in a literate adult. Learning to type a letter yielded no such change.

Other studies have shown that preschoolers that practice handwriting read better in elementary school.

Handwriting also requires concentration and teaches brain circuits responsible for motor coordination, vision, and memory to work together. "If in the future we were to take away teaching handwriting altogether, I worry there could be real negative impacts on children's development," James says.

Timed right, cursive also comes with some unique advantages. Berninger's research suggests kids who link their letters via cursive get a better handle on what those words look like and end up being better spellers, she says. Cursive also allows them to compose their thoughts faster than in block handwriting or via typing (at least until about seventh grade, when their brains become mature enough to manage two-handed typing quickly).

Berninger says parents can offer their children extra guidance with learning handwriting even before their child begins school and through their early years. Some children may learn these skills quicker and some may need a little more practice. But on an average:

Preschoolers can strengthen motor skills by playing with clay, stringing beads, working through mazes, and connecting dots with arrows to form letters.

From kindergarten through second grade, children should master block letters.

Third to fourth grade is when kids can begin and master cursive.

By fifth grade, children should continue to write by hand while being introduced to typing by touch (not just hunt and peck.)

As I’ve become more accustomed to using my computer or phone to communicate with others, I’ve noticed that my own handwriting skills are beginning to suffer. Cursive isn’t as fluid and readable as when I handwrote more often and my eye, hand and pen coordination isn’t near as comfortable as it used to be. 

I hope future generations will not lose the art of handwriting, not only because of the developmental benefits it offers, but because each person’s handwriting is unique to them.

Story source: Lisa Marshall, http://www.webmd.com/parenting/features/handwriting-matters-kids#1

Your Baby

Does Your Unborn Baby Hear You?

2.00 to read

More than twenty years ago I remember reading that fetuses can learn to recognize their mothers and father’s voices and then respond to those voices as newborns. I thought… well maybe… but it seemed to me that voices from outside of the womb would sound muffled from inside. Of course, I don’t remember my in utero experience so I don’t really know how words sound.

Over the years though, scientists have continued to examine how and what babies learn before they are born.

A recent study by researchers at the University of Helsinki in Finland have determined that fetuses not only hear and recognize voices but they can become familiar with different words and different pitches used when saying those words.

The study involved 33 moms-to-be, and examined their babies after birth. While pregnant, 17 mothers listened at a loud volume to a CD with (2), four-minute sequences of the made-up words “tatata” or “tatota.” The words were said with several different pitches. The moms-to-be listened to the recordings beginning at 29 weeks of pregnancy -about 7 months along- until birth. They heard them around 50 to 71 times.

Following birth, researchers tested the babies for normal hearing and then performed an electroencephalograph (EEG) brain scan to see if the newborns would respond to the made-up words and different pitches. And sure enough, the brain scans showed increased activity from the babies who had been listening to the CD in utero when the words were played to them after birth. Not only did they respond to the words, but also seemed to recognize the different pitches used when they heard them.  

The babies born to the mothers who had not listened to the CDs while pregnant showed little reaction to the words or pitches.

 “We have known that fetuses can learn certain sounds from their environment during pregnancy,” Eino Partanen, a doctoral student and lead author on the paper, said via email.

“We can now very easily assess the effects of fetal learning on a very detailed level—like in our study, [we] look at the learning effects to very small changes in the middle of a word.”

Some experts believe the finding shows that not only can a third-trimester fetus hear and recognize voices; he or she can also detect subtle changes and process complex information.

“Interestingly, this prenatal exposure also helped the newborns to detect changes which they were not exposed to: the infants who have received additional prenatal stimulation could also detect loudness changes in pseudo words but the unexposed infants could not,” Partanen says.

“However, both groups did have responses to vowel changes (which are very common in Finnish, and which newborns have been many time previously been shown to be capable of).”

You may be wondering why is it even important that scientists know if fetuses can recognize voices or words.  Partanen says because sounds heard in utero may shape the developing human brain in ways that affect speech and language development after birth.

“The better we know how the fetus’ brain works, the more we’ll know about early development of language,” Partanen says. “If we know better how language develops very early, we may one day be able to develop very early interventions [for babies with abnormal development].” 

An abstract for the Finnish study is published on the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences website.

Does talking and singing to your baby before it’s born actually stimulate his or her brain activity and increase language learning? Some experts say definitely yes, others say it has no impact. But really, most moms and dads enjoy baby bump bonding whether it’s productive or not. And who knows, maybe your pre-born hears you loud and clear. 

Source: Meghan Holohan, http://www.nbcnews.com/health/unborn-babies-are-hearing-you-loud-clear-8C11005474

Your Toddler

Proof That Reading to Your Child is Good for Them

1:45

Not only do small children love being read to but a new study confirms that it is actually good for them.

Brain scans taken of 19 preschoolers whose parents regularly read to them showed heightened activity in important areas of the brain. Experts have long theorized that reading to young children on a consistent basis has a positive impact on their brain development; researchers say this study provides hard evidence that it does.

 The study’s leader Dr. John Hutton, of Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center,

 and his team used functional MRI scans to measure real-time brain activity in 19 children, aged 3 to 5 years, as they listened to stories and to sounds other than speech.

Parents were interviewed about "cognitive stimulation" at home, including how often they read to their children. Based on their responses, the number ranged from two nights a week to every night.

Overall, Hutton's team found, the more often children had story time at home, the more brain activity they showed while listening to stories in the research lab.

The impact was largely seen in the area of the brain that is used to obtain meaning from words. There was "particularly robust" activity, the researchers said, in areas where mental images are formed from what is heard.

"When children listen to stories, they have to put it all together in their mind's eye," Hutton explained.

Even though children's books have pictures, he added, that's different from watching all the action play out on a TV or computer screen.

When a child is listening to a story being read to them, they are engaging a different part of the brain than when they are passively sitting in front of a screen with images.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) advises parents to read to their children every day, starting at birth. That pre-kindergarten time is a critical time for brain development, Hutton said. Other research has found that children with poor reading skills in first grade usually do not "catch up" with their peers.

Hutton believes that a traditional story time provides a critical "back-and-forth" between parents and children.

"It's not just a nice thing to do with your child," he said. "It's important to their cognitive, social and emotional development."

Reading to your child can help him or her build a lifelong relationship with the written word. That skill will help them be able to navigate more easily in school, later on in business and can bring hours of personal pleasure through the stories of gifted writers.

Source: Amy Norton, http://consumer.healthday.com/cognitive-health-information-26/brain-health-news-80/brain-scans-show-why-reading-to-kids-is-good-for-them-701897.html

 

 

Your Baby

Babies Can Tell the Difference and Sameness of Objects

1:45

How old are we when we begin to learn to tell when objects are alike or different?  Scientists involved in a new study say that with a little training, babies as young as seven months can discern whether objects are similar or not.

Previous studies have shown that toddlers have this ability, but researchers at Northwestern University, wanted to see if children could actually determine the difference at an even earlier age.  The scientists were the first to discover that infants can actually make this remarkable determination – long before they have the language skills to express abstract ideas.

“This suggests that a skill key to human intelligence is present very early in human development, and that language skills are not necessary for learning abstract relations,” said study author, Alissa Ferry, a brain development researcher.

To accomplish this, the scientists started out to see if seven--month-old infants could comprehend sameness and difference between two objects by showing them either two Elmo dolls or an Elmo doll and a toy camel until their observation time ran out.

They then had the infants look longer at pairs that were either the “same” or “different,” including test pairs composed of new items. The team saw infants who had learned the “same” relation looked longer at test pairs showing the “different” relation and vice versa. The team said this indicates the infants had figured out the abstract relation and recognized when the relation changed.

“We found that infants are capable of learning these relations,” Ferry said. “Additionally, infants exhibit the same patterns of learning as older children and adults — relational learning benefits from seeing multiple examples of the relation and is impeded when attention is drawn to the individual objects composing the relation.”

The researchers also believe that because the infants could learn the difference and the sameness of objects before they could speak, that this is a separate skill that humans need and develop early in their existence.

“The infants in our study were able to form an abstract same or different relation after seeing only 6-9 examples,” said study author Dedre Gentner, a professor of psychology at Northwestern. “It appears that relational learning is something that humans, even very young humans, are much better at than other primates.”

Source: Brett Smith, http://www.redorbit.com/news/health/1113398144/infants-can-compare-and-contrast-objects-study-052715/

 

 

Daily Dose

Internet Gaming

1:15 to read

I know a lot of kids received electronics for Christmas so they may now play all sorts of games.  But, with the electronics comes the issue of how long may they play, what games are age appropriate and when is it “too much”? Do you ever feel as if your child vanishes for hours on end in their room and suddenly you realize that they have been “gaming” all day.  

 

I recently read an article on gaming addiction and I had not realized how problematic this issue has become.  It seems that an increasing number of of children and adolescents are becoming pre-occupied with internet gaming and they demonstrate compulsivity and exclude other interests, including family time, school and outside activities. 

This is a new type of addiction and is even included in latest version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders as “Internet Gaming Disorder”. Some of the criteria include:

*Pre-occupation or obsession with Internet gaming

*Withdrawal symptoms when not able to play, including irritability or sadness

*Loss of interest in other previously pleasurable activities

*Lying about internet gaming time

I did not realize that the problem with Internet gaming addiction is such a problem in South Korea. In 2006 it was reported that 50% of South Korea youth were dealing with addiction!! In the U.S. it has been estimated to affect somewhere between 2-7 % of the population. There have even been outpatient treatment programs that have recently opened in the U.S. to deal with this issue.

Interestingly, when gaming there is stimulation of areas of the brain that have been associated with addiction.  Some studies have been done looking at images of the brain while gaming and this addiction is similar in neuro-circuitry to substance related addictions.  Scary stuff.

So parents, be aware and educate your kids on responsible Internet use and gaming.Remind kids that addiction issues tend to run in families…you can’t change your genetics. Make sure you know the warning signs of addiction such as decreasing school performance, cravings to play or withdrawal symptoms when games are taken away.

The best treatment and intervention seems to be cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and specific therapy has recently been developed. However, this treatment is in early phases and interventions will continued to need to be studied. 

 

Your Baby

Eating Fish During Pregnancy Benefits Baby’s Brain Development

2:00

Can eating more fish during pregnancy help babies’ brains function better as they grow older? Yes, according to a new study from Spain. The researchers say that mothers who eat three substantial servings of fish – each week- during pregnancy may be giving their children an advantage as they mature.

Researchers followed nearly 2,000 mother-child pairs from the first trimester of pregnancy through the child’s fifth birthday and found improved brain function in the kids whose mothers ate the most fish while pregnant, compared to children of mothers who ate the least.

Even when women averaged 600 grams, or 21 ounces, of fish weekly during pregnancy, there was no sign that mercury or other pollutants associated with fish were having a negative effect that offset the apparent benefits.

“Seafood is known to be an important source of essential nutrients for brain development, but at the same time accumulates mercury from the environment, which is known to be neurotoxic,” lead author Jordi Julvez, of the Center for Research in Environmental Epidemiology in Barcelona, said in an email to Reuters Health.

This important health concern prompted the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to come up with a guideline for pregnant women in 2014. It encourages women to eat more fish during pregnancy, but limit the intake to no more than 12 ounces per week.

For this study, researchers analyzed data from the Spanish Childhood and Environment Project, a large population study that recruited women in their first trimester of pregnancy, in four provinces of Spain, between 2004 and 2008.

Julvez and colleagues focused on records of the women’s consumption of large fatty fish such as swordfish and albacore tuna, smaller fatty fish such as mackerel, sardines, anchovies or salmon, and lean fish such as hake or sole, as well as shellfish and other seafood.

Women were tested for blood levels of vitamin D and iodine, and cord blood was tested after delivery to measure fetal exposure to mercury and PCB pollutants. At ages 14 months and five years, the children underwent tests of their cognitive abilities and Asperger Syndrome traits to assess their neuropsychological development.

On average, the women had consumed about 500 g, or three servings, of seafood per week while pregnant. But with every additional 10 g per week above that amount, children’s test scores improved, up to about 600 g. The link between higher maternal consumption and better brain development in children was especially apparent when kids were five.

The researchers also saw a consistent reduction in autism-spectrum traits with increased maternal fish consumption.

Mothers’ consumption of lean fish and large fatty fish appeared most strongly tied to children’s scores, and fish intake during the first trimester, compared to later in pregnancy, also had the strongest associations.

“I think that in general people should follow the current recommendations,” Julvez said. “Nevertheless this study pointed out that maybe some of them, particularly the American ones, should be less stringent.”

Julvez noted that there didn’t appear to be any additional benefit when women ate more than 21 ounces (about 595 g) of fish per week.

“I think it's really interesting, and it shed a lot more light on the benefits of eating fish during pregnancy,” said Dr. Ashley Roman, director of Maternal Fetal Medicine at NYU Langone Medical Center in New York.

“I think what's interesting about this study compared to some data previously is that they better quantify the relationship between how much fish is consumed in a diet and then the benefits for the fetus and ultimately the child,” said Roman, who was not involved in the study.

Roman also noted that pregnant women should avoid certain fish such as tilefish, shark, swordfish and giant mackerel. These are larger fish with longer life spans that may accumulate more mercury in their tissue.

While fish may be a great source of protein and benefit brain development in utero, most experts agree that women should consult their obstetrician about what fish are safer to eat and how much they should eat during pregnancy.

The study was published online in the January edition of the American Journal of Epidemiology

Source: Shereen Lehman, http://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-pregnancy-fish-idUSKCN0UW1S4

 

 

 

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