LearningRx Brain Training Reviews 10 Ways Parents Can Partner With Teachers

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At LearningRx, we’re big fans of teachers. In fact, we’ve had teachers serve on our executive board and scientific advisory board, work as personal brain trainers, and even purchase LearningRx franchises. (Our founder, Dr. Ken Gibson, actually started his own preschool!) We also offer a FREE online continuing education course from the Professional Learning Board and regular recognitions for teachers, like the Crystal Apple Award.

In addition, because almost all of us are parents, we’re constantly creating articles to help parents and teachers better communicate (check out our piece on “Red Flag Phrases for Parent-Teacher Conferences”) and work together (see “Individualized Education Programs (IEPs): The Basics”), for everyone’s benefit.

There’s no doubt that teachers and parents can make an incredibly strong pairing when everyone works toward realistic goals with mutual respect. So we’ve gathered some ideas from teachers and our staff mommies and are sharing their tips on some of the best ways make teachers feel supported. If you’ve got other ideas, please share them in the comments below!

  1. Offer to help at home. Not everyone can volunteer in the classroom. Parents work, stay home with younger children, take care of sick or elderly family members, or live too far away to make multiple trips to school. But many teachers have things that can be done at home instead. “I have sorted and stapled piles of papers, cut out materials, done online research and sorted art materials into plastic baggies for a craft project,” says one mother of two. “I was surprised at how much I could help from home, and found it to be incredibly relaxing! There’s just something about cutting colored construction paper that takes you back to simpler times.” If you can spare even an hour a week, ask your child’s teachers what you can do at home to help with materials for the classroom.
  1. Share good deals. Even if you can’t afford to buy a ton of extra school supplies for the classroom, you can share extra-special deals that you run across. “I make a list of businesses that are offering freebies during Teacher Appreciation Week and give them to my kids’ teachers,” says one mom. “It doesn’t cost me anything and they love knowing about places like Chipotle and Chick-fil-A that offer freebies or BOGO deals.” Sites like Donors Choose and Fund My Classroom let teachers in high-needs communities post requests for financial assistance for specific projects, equipment, field trips and events. “I couldn’t always afford to donate a lot of money, but I would donate $25 and then use a promo code I’d find online to get a matching the donation from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, so the teacher would instead get $50 toward her project,” says another mom. “Then I’d share the code with the teacher and other parents, so any parent in the class who donated funds could double their money.”
  1. Volunteer as a chaperone. Most schools have at least one outing, a field day or school dance that needs chaperones. If you plan in advance, you should be able to help out at least once. “We did a field trip to Rock Ledge Ranch, a living-history farm and museum which is spread out over 24 acres,” one fourth-grade teacher recalls. “We hardly had any parent volunteers, so we had to watch close to 20 kids each. It was a very long day. They lost our lunches, one of the kids got sick and, of course, no one had to go to the bathroom at the same time.” Even if you can only go for part of the day, offer to help out at off-campus events. Every set of chaperone eyes helps keep things under control and more enjoyable for everyone.
  1. Offer your services. You don’t have to wait for career day to share your professional talents. If you’re a copywriter, offer to help with the class newsletter. Web designer? Offer to create a free page for the teacher to keep parents updated on everything. Dietician? Ask if the teacher would like you to give a short talk on nutrition during health class. Ask your spouse if they’d be willing to offer their time. “I’m an electric lineman, so I volunteered to do a presentation on electricity for my son’s first-grade class,” says one dad. “I was so worried it would be too boring for young kids, but they loved it! The school invited me back the following year.”
  1. Keep your kids’ learning skills strong. Cognitive skills are the core skills our brains use to think, read, learn, remember, reason and pay attention. When even one of these skills is weak, learning can be a real struggle and even the best teacher can’t make new information “stick.” Enrolling your child in one-on-one brain training to target weak brain skills can create lasting improvements in your child’s ability to learn anything, which makes your teacher’s job easier and more rewarding. “When a child, teen or adult comes to LearningRx, we administer a cognitive skills assessment,” says mother of four and LearningRx Vice President of Research & Development Tanya Mitchell. “The test takes about an hour and allows us to identify which cognitive skills are weak. Once we know which skills to target, we can create a customized program for the student that uses intense but fun training to work on those brain skills that need the most improvement. We’ve had program graduates tell us that their teachers couldn’t believe the results, and what strong, confident learners their students became thanks to personal brain training.”
  1. Head up a party. Teachers sometimes throw parties for holidays, big achievements or the end of a semester. In addition to needing help providing food and drinks, it’s nice for teachers to have a party organizer—someone that coordinates who will bring plates, drinks, food and do set up and clean up. You can also organize a teacher appreciation week. “At our school, the parents host a week-long teacher appreciation luncheon,” says one elementary school teacher. “Each grade provides the meal for a day and they do themes. So first-grade parents provide a buffet of Mexican on Monday, second-grade parents provide a soup and salad day on Tuesday, third-grade parents provide Italian food on Wednesday, and so on. It makes us feel really appreciated and we all agree that it’s one of our favorite weeks of the schoolyear.”
  1. Donate supplies. Time magazine reports that teachers spent, on average, $500 of their own money on classroom supplies. If you have contacts at stores or large companies, ask if they can donate supplies. (Some schools will even supply you with their tax ID number in order for the company to get a write-off.) You can also check yard sales and thrift shops to pick up cheap deals, or ask the teacher to create a list of classroom “needs” and “wants” that you can offer to copy and share with other parents.
  1. Review your kids’ papers nightly. Your kids’ teachers don’t send home papers to waste trees. Read their notes, sign and return papers promptly, and mark your calendar for important dates. Teachers need to focus their attention on educating kids, not making calls to parents who ignore requests for permission form signatures or parent-teacher meetings. “Sometimes, the classes get rewarded for getting all their forms in by a certain day,” explains one teacher. “If there are a couple stragglers who don’t turn in their signed papers, the whole class loses out.”
  1. Show your appreciation. A tiny box of chocolates, a tall mochaccino, a $5 Starbucks gift card for the drive home‑it’s the little things
    (accompanied by a note of appreciation) that show you care and value your teachers. “We had one mom who would bring us little gifts throughout the year,” says one assistant teacher. “A bottle of our favorite Snapple peach iced tea, some homemade soup or a container of raspberries with a nice note of encouragement. We get quite a few gifts around the holidays, but this mom would just bring us little tokens of appreciation randomly. She was so thoughtful that we actually gave HER flowers on the last day of school!” All of the teachers we spoke to said that gifts aren’t necessary, but even a nice note (from the child or parent) can make their day.
  1. Keep teachers in the loop. If your cat died, your ex is getting remarried or your child is having a hard time coping with a new school, let the teachers know. In addition to being able to involve a school counselor, if needed, it allows teachers to consider the role of situational sadness, anger or anxiety on the child’s performance. “When my husband deployed, I spoke to my daughter’s teacher in private to fill her in,” says the mother of an 8-year-old. “When my husband came back on his two-week leave, the teacher gave my daughter a much lighter homework load in order to maximize the time she could spend with her father.”

If you’re not sure how you can best support your teachers, just ask! Also, be sure to check out “6 Things Teachers Wish You Would Do” to get direct insight from surveyed teachers.

 

About LearningRx
LearningRx, headquartered in Colorado Springs, Colorado, is the largest one-on-one brain training organization in the world. With 80 Centers in the U.S., and locations in 40 countries around the globe, LearningRx has helped more than 95,000 individuals and families sharpen their cognitive skills to help them think faster, learn easier, and perform better. Their on-site programs partner every client with a personal brain trainer to keep clients engaged, accountable, and on-task—a key advantage over online-only brain exercises. Their pioneering methods have been used in clinical settings for 35 years and have been verified as beneficial in peer-reviewed research papers and journals. To learn more about LearningRx research results, programs, and their 9.6 out of 10 client satisfaction rating visit http://www.learningrx.com/

Beyond the Bin: 10 Cool Ways to Save on Back-to-School Shopping

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Buying back-to-school supplies, clothes, sneakers, backpacks and lunch sacks is about to require me to refinance my house. Considering that I only have two kids and they have to wear uniforms (which are cheaper than designer duds!), I should count my blessings. I have a friend who has eight kids—seven of whom are in school. I started wondering, How do moms of big families, or for that matter, mom of any size family, save on back-to-school shopping?

So I started asking around and searching the web for the best tips, tricks and advice. Here are 10 of the best. They go beyond the typical “Look for sales in your local area” to give you some more unique ideas. Hopefully there are at least a few that are new to you!

  1. Add Honey, the Chrome extension. Honey adds a new button to your checkout page at any of more than 100 stores, including Amazon, Kohl’s and Sears. With a simple click, Honey will search the web and apply the best coupon code(s) or deal to save you money on your purchase. As Time magazine says, “It’s basically free money.” You can also earn cash back. Just shop at any of thousands of stores that support the Honey extension and if there’s a cash back offer, the Honey button will appear at checkout. Just click the “Activate Cash Bonus” before you finish your purchase.
  2. Shop on a sales tax holiday. Nearly 20 states now offer anywhere from two to seven days of tax-free shopping on certain items. For example, in Texas, May 28-30 and August 5-7 were the tax-free days to shop in 2016. Specifically, during the August three-day holiday, you could purchase clothing, footwear, school supplies and backpacks for elementary and secondary students without paying sales tax. Those savings can really help a tight budget!
  3. Co-op with other families. Buying in bulk at places like Costco and Sam’s Club is great, but what if you don’t need 100 red pens? Create a plan to buy school supplies and divide them up with other families.
  4. Use cash back websites. Start all your online school shopping at sites like Ebates, which offers cash back and even double cash back at all the major stores. Right now you’ll earn 2% cash back on qualifying purchases at Walmart.com, 6% cash back at JCPenney.com, 10% at Samsung.com and 10% at Dell.com just for starting at Ebates. The Penny Hoarder offers a good list of cash back sites HERE.
  5. Sign up for text-to-get coupon programs. Most major stores now offer “texting clubs” that allow customers to receive mobile coupons on their smart phone. For example, if you text the word “JOIN” to 32453, American Eagle Outfitters will send you coupons via text message. For Famous Footwear, text the word “PROMO” to 326687. For Kmart, text “KMART” to 414141. You can often find these text codes on stores’ websites, but there’s also a good list
  6. Use professional and courtesy discounts. Did you know that Overstock.com offers free Club O Gold memberships for free to active military and veterans, teachers, students and first responders? The Club O Gold membership gives you reward dollars, free shipping on all orders, early access to deals, email offers, up to 40% cash back and more. There are sites that list stores offering discounts to specific professions and groups, including: GovX, which lists discounts for current and former military, first responders and law enforcement; Gift Card Granny lists 81 stores that give discounts to teachers; and The Simple Dollar lists 60 places you can get a discount just for showing a student ID (so bring your college kid with you when you do your shopping!).
  7. Buy discounted gift cards. Places like Cardpool.com sell discounted gift cards for up to 35% off. (You can also sell your unwanted gift cards for up to 92% cash back.) Right now, for example, you can buy a $25 Gap gift card for $21.75 (13% off), or a $25 Old Navy gift card for $21.12 (15.5% off).
  8. Download a price comparison app. Free apps like Shop Savvy let you scan a barcode or search for a product to find out which of 40,000+ stores has the best price. You can even create a shopping list and Shop Savvy will automatically watch the items on your list for the lowest prices. SnipSnap lets you snap a photo of a product in order to get coupons, mobile rebates, best prices and price-match opportunities.
  9. Price match over 100%. Price matching isn’t just for groceries. Some stores like Staples offer a 110% Price Match Guarantee certain times of the year. (Staples’ current 110% guarantee is in effect until September 17, 2016.) The Krazy Coupon Lady has an example of using the Staples offer to price match a 12 count of Bic Ballpoint Pens. Staples was charging $1.00, but Office Depot/Office Max was advertising the same 12 count of pens for $.25. So Staples matched the price, plus gave her 10% of the difference ($.75) which was rounded up to $.08. The final price? $.17 for the box of pens. Fry’s Electronics (which sells office supplies, computers, art supplies and more) will refund 110% of the difference if you see a competitor with a lower price. Other stores that price match over 100%: Shoplet.com, BrandsMart.com, eBags.com, OnlineShoes.com.
  10. Get a refund when prices drop. Paribus tracks the price changes associated with your online purchases. When it spots a price drop, it follows the store’s special procedures to file a claim for you. Paribus takes a 25% commission, but you only pay it based on the money they get back for you.

Do you have a great tip to help other parents save money on back-to-school supplies? Please share it in the comments below.

 

About LearningRx
LearningRx, headquartered in Colorado Springs, Colorado, is the largest one-on-one brain training organization in the world. With 80 Centers in the U.S., and locations in 40 countries around the globe, LearningRx has helped more than 95,000 individuals and families sharpen their cognitive skills to help them think faster, learn easier, and perform better. Their on-site programs partner every client with a personal brain trainer to keep clients engaged, accountable, and on-task—a key advantage over online-only brain exercises. Their pioneering methods have been used in clinical settings for 35 years and have been verified as beneficial in peer-reviewed research papers and journals. To learn more about LearningRx research results, programs, and their 9.6 out of 10 client satisfaction rating visit http://www.learningrx.com/. 

 

Overcoming shyness: Helping your child excel in school and life

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Do you have a son who is so incredibly shy that the first day of school is enough to wreak havoc on his digestive tract? Or a daughter who you worry won’t make friends due to her constant fear of meeting new people? If so, you’re not alone.

While some scientists may argue that shyness is often due to genetic predisposition, many psychologists will point to strong experiential factors. The first may bring up some feelings of empathy; if you were a shy child there’s always the possibility that some of that was passed down. The latter of the two can often be explained by past experiences of rejection or fears of future failure.

But there is good news. For children and teens who suffer from shyness, there are three major steps that parents can take to help:

  1. Highlight past successes
  2. Provide opportunities for new successes
  3. Get to the root of the problem


Reminders of past successes

Highlighting past successes doesn’t have to mean just verbally reminding a child that they did something well. It could include framing a photo of their best dance recital, placing awards or trophies in a place of prominence, placing an announcement in the newspaper or family newsletter, or asking them to mentor a younger child on the piano.

You can also “brag” to family members or friends within earshot of your child, (“I was so proud of Michelle. She scored two points in her basketball game!”) or encourage a child just for attempting something new (even if they didn’t excel at it). Some parents may disagree with the idea of giving out “participation awards,” but in the case of a shy child or teen, just trying something new can be a very big deal.

Opportunities for new successes

Just as you wouldn’t take a child who is afraid of heights up to the top of the Empire State Building, it’s not recommended that you force shy kids into unfamiliar social situations. Your best bet is to introduce them to familiar settings and activities, such as family events, close friends’ birthday parties or play dates in the comfort of their own home.

Building social confidence doesn’t just come from interaction, however. It’s largely based on self-confidence, which can be increased through solo successes in art, music, grades, individual athletics, writing and responsibilities (taking care of an older sibling or pet).

Look for opportunities to help your child soar at whatever he/she does—even if it has to start at home. Once your child hits a major milestone (such as completing an essay and entering it into a contest), be sure to praise his/her effort rather than the final result. In the case of the essay, for example, you could share the piece with friends and family and ask them to send complimentary responses, or post the piece on an online community portal or personal blog.

The root of the problem

Sometimes, shyness is the result of a pervasive problem that may or may not exist outside the child’s control. Bullies, cliques or an overly critical parent or sibling can lead a child to devalue his/her worth and accomplishments. Look for ways to foster discussion with children to help determine the cause of their shyness. Questions like, “What makes you feel sad?” or “When was the last time you were mad?” may spark a conversation that leads to some discovery.

One often-overlooked correlation is that shyness is often paralleled by low self-esteem due to slower (not lower) performance. While some may argue the “chicken or the egg theory”—that slow performance is a result of low self-esteem—scientists and psychologists now know that more often than not, self-esteem can be increased by increasing the speed at which results are attained. In fact, even smart kids tend to suffer a decrease of confidence when they don’t achieve their results (such as test-taking or homework) as quickly or easily as their classmates.

Take Angela Knutsen. Her 9-year-old daughter, Holly, was a good student and incredibly strong reader for her age. But Knutsen had concerns that while Holly was in the upper level math class, she seemed to struggle with her math facts. “When I would practice math drills with her, she would know 6 + 6 = 12, but if I immediately asked 6 + 7, she wouldn’t know,” explains Knutsen. “After I got her tested, I could tell why: her short-term memory was weak and her processing speed was slow. She couldn’t hold 6 + 6 is 12 in her head long enough to process ‘therefore 6 +7 must be one more, 13.’”

In addition, Holly had struggled with low self-esteem and suffered from extreme anxiety. “She has always had trouble going into new situations,” says Knutsen, who herself suffered from anxiety as a child. “She would cry every day when I took her to kindergarten, and in first and second grade she would get herself so nervous about a change in routine; if there was a field trip or an assembly the next day, she would cry several times the night before, and she would look physically sick. It broke my heart.”

Knutsen began researching programs to help bright children. “There were a lot of tutors and businesses that helped kids with severe learning disabilities, but that’s not what Holly needed,” she explains. “I eventually stumbled across a personal brain training company,” explains Knutsen. “The testimonials from other parents—especially those with fearful children like Holly—convinced me to give it a try. I kept hearing that increased confidence was a near-universal side effect.”

Initial testing confirmed that Holly was weaker in those cognitive skills that are needed to excel in math—logic and reasoning, and memory —(though still above average compared to her peers). More specific testing unveiled weaknesses in retrieval fluency, short-term memory, and executive processing speed.

Over the next several weeks, Holly worked with a brain trainer to strengthen her weakest cognitive skills. By the time she completed the program, Holly’s math skills had improved. But perhaps more importantly, so had her self-esteem. According to Knutsen, she was completing math tests and math homework more quickly and therefore didn’t have as much anxiety.

“The biggest change is non-academically,” says Knutsen. “Holly is beaming. She’s more confident, happy, thriving. She’s doing things on her own that she never would have tried before—basketball, art classes, new babysitters.  When she’s running off to try something new, my husband and I often say, ‘Who is this person and what has she done with our daughter?’”**

According to Dr. Ken Gibson, author of “Unlock the Einstein Inside: Applying New Brain Science to Wake up the Smart in your Child” there’s a good reason that kids beat themselves up over low performance. “It’s an endless cycle to try to raise the self-esteem of kids who aren’t performing well—especially if they’re placed into special education instead of trying to address the weak cognitive skills. Special education programs typically seek to accommodate struggling students with a primary strategy of lowering expectations to help those children get through school. Kids still compare themselves with peers outside of class, however, and special education students often suffer eroding self-esteem, which has the power to make their learning disabilities all that much more debilitating. But even smart kids will beat themselves up for underperforming in one subject.”

Tanya Mitchell, Vice President of Research & Development for LearningRX, a personal brain-training franchise, agrees. “We see all types of kids going through our brain-training programs—from children with ADD and dyslexia to teens who want to increase their learning skills to perform better on college prep tests. One of the most reported changes from parents is their child’s increased self-esteem.”

Whatever the cause, shyness is a common condition and shouldn’t be treated as a plague. Many children grow out of it and those that don’t can still go on to build healthy relationships and careers. Still, if there’s a non-genetic reason behind a child’s low self-esteem, getting to the root of the problem could mean watching him/her transform before your eyes.

 

About LearningRx
LearningRx, headquartered in Colorado Springs, Colorado, is the largest one-on-one brain training organization in the world. With 80 Centers in the U.S., and locations in 40 countries around the globe, LearningRx has helped more than 95,000 individuals and families sharpen their cognitive skills to help them think faster, learn easier, and perform better. Their on-site programs partner every client with a personal brain trainer to keep clients engaged, accountable, and on-task—a key advantage over online-only brain exercises. Their pioneering methods have been used in clinical settings for 35 years and have been verified as beneficial in peer-reviewed research papers and journals. To learn more about LearningRx research results, programs, and their 9.6 out of 10 client satisfaction rating visit http://www.learningrx.com/. 
**You may or may not achieve similar results. To learn more about our research and results on thousands of LearningRx clients, visit: http://www.learningrx.com/results.

 

10 Tips for Traveling with a Child with Special Needs

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The rewards of traveling with your family are myriad, and include time together, once-in-a-lifetime experiences, and fond memories. (Even plans that go horribly awry provide fodder for some of the best stories!)

But let’s not kid ourselves. There are challenges, too. Kids of all ages can get tired, bored, hungry, cranky, and demanding. And if you’re traveling with a child with special needs, the challenges can be even greater.

If you’re the parent of child with special needs, you may have already found yourself wrestling with the transportation of wheelchairs or special medical devices, or dealing with sensory issues, restricted diets, incontinence or social fears. Perhaps hyperactivity or behavioral issues have led to a meltdown at the worst possible moment (like when your plane is stuck on the runway for two hours).

As you’ve probably learned, preparation is your best offense and defense. To help make your next trip a little simpler, we’ve put together a list of things to consider when planning your vacation and packing. We can’t guarantee smooth sailing, but following these suggestions just might make that family cruise around the Bahamas a bit more enjoyable.

Tips for booking your trip:

  1. Consider using a travel agency that specializes in helping people with special needs. Flying Wheels Travel (flyingwheelstravel.com), for example, helps people with physical disabilities or chronic illnesses experience accessible travel around the world. Autism on the Seas (www.autismontheseas.com) offers cruises for people with autism, Down syndrome and other related disabilities.
  1. Choose a destination that caters to people with disabilities. Morgan’s Wonderland (morganswonderland.com) in San Antonio, Texas is a theme park designed to accommodate children of all abilities. Every ride is accessible to guests with disabilities. Many major state beach destinations now offer free or low-cost beach wheelchairs rentals.
  1. Check out your seat options on Seat Guru (seatguru.com). This site lets you evaluate seating based on legroom, seat width, and overhead storage capacity, as well as DC power, food and Internet accessibility. This will help you determine where your child might do best on the plane. You’ll also want to consider proximity to the restroom and whether a window, middle or aisle seat will work best.
  1. When figuring out the best time of day to travel, weigh as many factors as you can. It’s important to identify the time of day your child travels best, but don’t forget to factor in other dynamics. For example, if flying at night when your child is normally asleep sounds like a good plan, will you be more exhausted? Will you need to wake your child to deplane for layovers? Will a later flight be more susceptible to cancellation or overbooking?
  1. Get a note from your doctor. A letter from your pediatrician explaining your child’s condition/disease/disorder can be helpful when you’re asking for special accommodations (e.g., being seated together when a flight is nearly full) or upgrading. Offer to fax or email the letter to the airline or travel agency, and carry a copy with you as you travel.

Before your trip:

  1. Review the airline’s (and TSA’s) rules in advance. You don’t want any surprises if you’re traveling with assistive devices or wheelchairs, and you may even learn that there are special baggage claim areas or check-ins, like the TSA’s Precheck lane. Check-in online at home if possible.
  1. Evaluate medications. Plan so you won’t run out of medications while you’re on vacation or immediately after returning home.
  1. Identify pediatricians, specialists, or urgent care facilities in your destination city before you need them. If you suddenly need to seek medical assistance for your child while on vacation, it’s best to know in advance where you can go—especially at night or on weekends.
  1. Practice the travel routine at home. You can read a book about going on a plane, practice the procedures at home with a “mock flight,” or even visit the airport in advance to get your child used to the sights and sounds.

 

 

Packing reminders:

  1. What to pack:

Besides medications, you’ll need to consider your child’s specific medical, behavioral, dietary and emotional needs. Must-pack items may include:

  • Headphones to drown out noise
  • Soothing music
  • A tablet, smartphone, laptop or other technology with games, music, and movies that don’t require Internet access.
  • Snacks
  • Wipes and hand sanitizer
  • A copy of your child’s birth certificate and immunizations (in case they get hurt on the trip or will be in daycare)
  • A favorite blanket and/or stuffed animal
  • A sweater or coat
  • A change of underwear or Pull-Up, if necessary
  • Books and quiet, no-mess toys and art supplies
  • Stroller and car seat
  • EarPlanes (to relieve air pressure discomfort)
  • Dramamine for kids (for motion sickness)
  • A favorite sippy cup or bottle (though there are restrictions to bringing liquid on planes)
  • Postcards and stamps
  • Sunscreen, sunglasses and sun hats

Make a list of the five or so things you HAVE to bring (e.g., medications, passports, tickets) with the assumption that other things can be purchased on the trip if necessarily. The more preparation you put into the trip, the more you and your family can enjoy it!

Do you have a tip or trick that helps you travel with your child with special needs? Please share below in the comments to help other moms!

 

About LearningRx
LearningRx specializes in one-on-one brain training. We train cognitive skills through game-like exercises that are both fun and challenging—and we do it with a unique personal trainer approach. LearningRx’s customer satisfaction speaks for itself with an average rating of 9.5 out of 10. With 80 centers across the country, LearningRx is a pioneer in the one-on-one brain training industry. Learn more at www.learningrx.com

 

Building Your Toddler’s Cognitive Skills

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You consider yourself a good parent, right? You try to limit TV time for your toddler, buy organic whenever you can, and download only the most educational apps to keep your little one entertained while you fold laundry or get dinner started.

But if you’re like the rest of us, sometimes you wonder what else you could be doing now to help your toddler excel later. Should they be playing an instrument already? Learning Japanese? Doing baby yoga?

Not necessarily.

Everyone wants their baby to grow up to be healthy, happy and smart. You’re probably doing enough to promote the first two already. But what about the latter? What can you do now to help your child avoid struggling academically later? You can start by building a foundation of strong cognitive skills.

What are cognitive skills?
“Cognitive skills are the core skills your brain uses to think, read, learn, remember, reason and pay attention,” says Tanya Mitchell, Vice President of Research & Development for LearningRx’s (www.LearningRx.com), personal brain training company with 80 centers across the United States. “Working together, they take incoming information and move it into the bank of knowledge you use every day at school, at work, and in life. In babies and toddlers, we may not see these weak skills manifesting yet, but that doesn’t mean it’s too early to start targeting these foundational brain skills.”

Each of your cognitive skills plays an important part in processing new information. That means if even one of these skills is weak, no matter what kind of information is coming your way, grasping, retaining or using that information is impacted. In fact, most learning struggles are caused by one or more weak cognitive skills.

Here’s a brief description of each cognitive skill, as well as the struggles your child could experience once they start school, if that skill is weak:

Attention
What it does: Sustained attention enables you to stay focused and on task for a sustained period of time. (There’s also divided and selective attention.)
Common problems (once your child starts school) when this skill is weak during school years: Lots of unfinished projects, jumping from task to task

What to do with your toddler now: Buy age-appropriate wooden puzzles.

Memory/Working
What it does: While working member enables you to hang on to information while in the process of using it, long-term memory enables you to recall information stored in the past.
Common problems (once your child starts school) when these memory skills are weak: When memory is weak, they may have to read the directions again in the middle of a project, have difficulty following multi-step directions, or forget what was just said in a conversation. They may forget names, do poorly on tests and forget things they used to know.

What to do with your toddler now: Play age-appropriate memory match games.

“Although there are different types of memory, working memory plays an especially large role when your child enters preschool,” explains Mitchell. “That’s because it’s the age at which children expand their ability to follow multi-step directions.”

Logic & Reasoning
What it does: Enables you to reason, form ideas, and solve problems
Common problems (once your child starts school) when this skill is weak: Frequently asking “What do I do next?” or saying “I don’t get this,” struggling with math, feeling stuck or overwhelmed

What to do with your infant now: Show them a stuffed toy, then place it under a towel right in front of them. Then encourage them to find it, which will help their understanding of object permanence.

Auditory Processing
What it does: Enables you to analyze, blend, and segment sounds
Common problems (once your child starts school) when this skill is weak: Struggling with learning to read, reading fluency, or reading comprehension

What to do with your infant and toddler now: Read to them. Studies indicate that reading to infants and toddlers can promote thought development and help with phonemic awareness.

“Contrary to what many parents believe, letter knowledge is NOT the foundation to reading,” explains Mitchell. “Reading skills are built on phonemic awareness, such as sound blending and segmenting. In fact, studies show a 90 percent decrease in reading problems if children are first introduced to sound analysis activities. In addition to reading to your child, you can also build sound analysis skills by practicing rhyming, which forces the dissection of sounds.”

Visual Processing
What it does: Enables you to think in visual images
Common problems (once your child starts school) when this skill is weak: Difficulties understanding what you’ve just read, remembering what you’ve read, following directions, reading maps, doing word math problems

What to do with your toddler now: When they get old enough to understand, tell them stories using descriptive words. Then ask them questions, such as, “What color was the dog in that story?”

Processing Speed
What it does: Enables you to perform tasks quickly and accurately
Common problems (once your child starts school) when this skill is weak: Most tasks are more difficult. Taking a long time to complete tasks for school or work, frequently being the last one in a group to finish something

What to do with your toddler now: Add a timer to games and tasks that challenge cognitive skills, such as doing puzzles or playing the match game alone to see how fast they can find all the pairs.

Build a Smart Mom’s Toy Box for under $20
Stock your toddler’s toy box with simple, inexpensive toys that can build cognitive skills. A few ideas:

  • A deck of playing cards for memory match: Just spread out all the cards face down and have them try to find pairs. If they draw two cards that aren’t the same number or face card, they go back in the same spot face down. Builds memory and attention skills. ($1)
  • A geometric-shaped magnet set with board: Create a simple design and have your child replicate it. Builds logic & reasoning, visual processing and attention. ($5)
  • Rhyming words domino-like cards: Use these double-sided cards with words and pictures to teach rhyming. Builds sound segmenting, rhyming and auditory processing. ($3)
  • A wooden shape sorter: Encourage children as young as two to sort shapes. Builds logic & reasoning, visual processing and attention. ($9)
  • A timer: Add a timer to any task then encourage your child to beat their own time. Builds processing speed. ($1)

“When cognitive skills are strong, learning is fast, easy, efficient and fun,” says Mitchell. “Toys that work these skills are a step toward creating strong learners.”

If you’d like to learn more about building a foundation of strong cognitive skills, contact your local LearningRx center (www.LearningRx.com).