Train Your Brain to Listen: Five Fun Activities for Kids

Learning to Listen

We hear sounds (like birds chirping) and voices (like a teacher giving a homework assignment), but do we really listen?

Carole Elkeles is a retired educator who believes that if kids know how to listen, both school and life will be easier to handle. She says, “Listening skills are learned…and listening is basic for communicating, learning, thinking and acquiring awareness of the world around you.

Learning to listen can help increase the quality of relationships, reduce misunderstandings and improve productivity in the classroom or the workplace.

In her article “Listening Games and Activities,” Elkeles says that the skill of listening can be honed in about five minutes a day. It starts with knowing what types of listening skills need to be developed. Here are the five skills:

 

  1. Sound discrimination (What sounds are the same? What sounds are different?)
  2. Awareness of sounds (What sounds are heard in various situations?)
  3. Recognition of sounds (Which of these sounds is like buzz? hum? click?)
  4. Identification of sounds (Name this sound. Name item making sound or letter sound.)
  5. Sound concepts (Is it high or low? Loud or soft? Near or far?)

Try some of these fun activities with your kids: 

  1. To work on sound discrimination: Discriminate high and low sounds (with voice, or musical instruments). Or, match sounds. Fill small identical containers with rice, sand, nails, beans, cotton batting, etc. Make sure you have a pair. Shake them, and then find the two that sound the same.
  2. To work on awareness of sounds: Close your eyes and listen to the sounds heard in one minute. Or, recognize well-known sounds, like the ones we hear at home. For this activity you will need a tape with different sounds such as a tap running, flushing the toilet, vacuum cleaner, etc.
  3. To work on recognition of sounds: Listen to the sound that common appliances make. Invent a word that names the sound. As an added activity, children name the appliance together with the sound they invented. “The car goes _____.”
  4. To work on recognition of sounds: Finish the sentence with a word beginning with the same letter as the others. (e.g., Silly Sally saw seven…swings.)
  5. To work on sound concepts: Discover where a sound originates. (Close your eyes and listen carefully. “Where is it coming from and where is it going?”)

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Thinking Outside the Box (About Bananas)

Building a More Creative Brain

Maybe someone’s been monkeying around, but we went ape over the creative product reviews of the Hutzler 571 Banana Slicer on Amazon.com.

Either this real product sold on Amazon.com is particularly appealing to creative writers, or one creative soul has gone to a lot of trouble to create a string of the most entertaining, outrageous (and fictional, we hope!) product reviews you’ll ever read.

Here’s a sampling of what these raving reviews are saying about this product:

“Can’t believe how much time I used to waste with a ruler and pencil, marking my bananas to get those perfectly uniform slices.”

“I’m ordering one for my nephew who’s in the Air Force in California. He’s been using an old Slinky to slice his bananas. He should really enjoy this product!”

“I have 27 trained monkeys I use to do my evil bidding. Well, the younger monkeys’ teeth have not fully developed and so slicing a banana to feed them used to be a necessary chore…”

“I bought one of these for my boss for Christmas and he gave me a promotion the next day! I’m making over $500k now and just bought a Maserati! This banana slicer has changed my life.”

Of course, not everyone loves the Hutzler 571. The product got low ratings based on the following complaints:

“It’s kind of cheaply made. But it works better than the hammer I’ve been using to slice my bananas.”

“Great idea, but only so-so execution. Device has no indicator lights to let you know when cutting is complete.”

“I would have given this item five stars except it did not come with a USB cable. Folks, it’s 2012 (almost 2013) and I can’t believe someone is selling a product that does not come with a USB cable!”

So what goes on in the brain when someone is being creative?

Neuroscientist Nancy Andreasen has written a book on that topic called The Creating Brain: The Neuroscience of Genius.

According to Dr. Andreasen, creative people often entertain unrelated ideas and thoughts freely in a disorganized way. When this happens, she said the “association cortex”— a part of the brain known for linking ideas or thoughts in potentially novel ways—becomes very active.

Which might explain how the writer(s) of these reviews made the unlikely associations of “banana slicing” with Slinkies, USB ports and Maseratis (not to mention trained monkeys doing evil biddings).

Dr. Andreasen says anyone can build a more creative brain by giving your brain a creativity workout half an hour every day. In an article called The Brains Behind Creativity, she gives the following suggestions:

Explore an unfamiliar area of knowledge. Do you spend every day at a computer? Then in your spare time, learn to paint or garden. Or if you’re very good at gardening, take a class in philosophy. You get the idea.

Spend time each day thinking. Don’t follow a predictable train of thought. Instead, allow your brain to make wild and crazy associations.

Practice the art of paying attention. Pay closer attention to a person, object or event than you usually do. Later, recreate what you observed in a journal or sketch book.

Use your imagination. Practice asking—and answering—the question “What if…?”

You can read more entertaining banana-slicer reviews here. If you’re a fan of “clever,” you won’t be wasting your time. You might even be inspired to purchase the product and write a creative review of your own!

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Aquaponics: Good for Your Brain?

Grow Your Own Brain-Healthy Vegetables and Fish!

Aquaponics is a relatively new gardening technology that grows fish and vegetables together.

From a gardening standpoint, aquaponics is sheer genius, creating a symbiotic system in which fish create nutrients for the plants, and plants filter the water for the fish. The outcome? Healthier, happier fish; healthier, happier veggies. No chemicals allowed. Oh, and because the same water is recycled continually through the plants and fish tank, there’s no big water bill, either.

From small backyard systems to big commercial farms, people are using aquaponics to feed their families and even their communities with organic veggies and edible fish such as tilapia, perch, catfish, and even trout.

So what does that have to do with your brain?

Green, leafy veggies are great for your brain because they are often full of vitamins, iron, folic acid and antioxidants, all necessary for cognitive health, In fact, Harvard Medical School researchers discovered that women who ate the most green leafy veggies (compared to women who ate fewer veggies) experienced less cognitive decline as they aged.

Plus, many vegetables are also mostly water, which helps you stay hydrated. When your brain doesn’t get enough water, it can lead to headaches, overall low energy, mental fatigue and eventually memory problems and confusion.

And while aquaponics systems are limited to freshwater fish that don’t contain the levels of brain-healthy Omega-3 oil found in fatty saltwater fish, it’s still a healthy way to eat. In fact, tilapia—which do well in aquaponics systems—are exceptionally low in calories and high in protein, offering benefits related to your overall health, heart health and healthy weight (all important factors to your brain).

Plus, a key way to keep your brain healthy and active is to learn new skills. And for many of us, learning how to grow fish and veggies together definitely falls into that category.

If you’re up for a fun gardening adventure, click on the images in this blog to watch videos, or check out this YouTube search.  Aquaponics gives you healthier veggies, healthier fish, a healthier brain, a healthier heart and maybe even a slimmer waistline.

What’s not to like about that?

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San Antonio Living TV Segment: “Incredible TBI Recovery”

Vital Connections

 Four years after a devastating motorcycle accident left him with the brain function of a child, TBI survivor John Keller visits with Shelly Miles, host of the TV show San Antonio Living, about his incredible recovery. Joining John and Shelly on the set are Gina Cruz of LearningRx, and John’s dad, James Keller.

 Two years ago, the Kellers contacted the San Antonio Northeast LearningRx Brain Training Center. The Texas family was desperate for a solution to help John reclaim even a little of the mental performance lost as a result of the massive head trauma sustained in the accident. When he began working with the certified trainers at LearningRx, John—then 35 and a graduate of Texas A&M—was struggling severely with a brain that was functioning in many areas at the level of a three-year-old.

Until contacting LearningRx, this father-of-two had been working extensively with physical therapists to reclaim his body. It was time, the family decided, to reclaim his brain.                                      

After going through one-on-one brain training at LearningRx, John’s brain is functioning today at the level of a 19-year-old, a gain of 16 years in brain performance in less than two years of training. The transformation, say those who know John, is astounding.

Gina Cruz, who owns the brain training center that helped John, explains that her company’s unique approach of teaming clients one-on-one with certified trainers is based on the science of neuroplasticity. “You can rewire your brain,” Gina explains. “You are not stuck with the brain that you have.”

She compares exercising your brain to exercising your muscles.  “Just as being coached through an intense regimen of weight training stimulates your muscles to change and grow, being coached through an intense regimen of mental exercise stimulates your brain to change and grow, too, by strengthening and even creating new neural pathways.” She says this “bulking up” of the brain’s communication systems forever changes how the brain grasps and processes information.

One-on-one brain training has been so life changing for John that another family member has gone through the program, seeking help for a problem altogether different than recovery from a TBI. John’s six-year-old son recently completed LiftOff, a LearningRx program designed to give early learners a strong launch in school.

John sought the school-readiness program for his son after teachers recommended the kindergartner be held back from promotion to first grade. After John enrolled his son in the LiftOff program, improvements were so dramatic that the boy not only went on into first grade, he is now getting all A’s and B’s.

Now that John and his son have gone through LearningRx, John jokes that his dad, James, president of a family-owned business of 37 convenience stores, is next. Which may not be a bad idea, since LearningRx clients also include high-achieving career adults who want to stay sharp.

As John explained to Shelly Miles during the interview segment which aired on San Antonio Living, “You want good muscles, go to the gym. You want a good brain, work it out.”

His family, however, has a more poignant description of what  brain workouts can do. In Vital Connections, a book chronicling the incredible journey of John’s TBI recovery, the Kellers say that, if John hadn’t undergone brain training, he would still be an adult trying to function in life with the mental skills of a child. 

Brain training, they say, turned John back into a man.

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Advice from One Mom to Another: “Definitely Something You Should Look Into. It’s Life Changing!”

One Mom’s Advice to Another

When moms need unbiased advice, where do they turn? To other moms, of course!

 

In this online conversation between two moms, one woman describes…

…what made her daughter, in the first two months of third grade, completely forget how to read!

…something that “rang true” to her “Mom’s-gut-instinct”

…how she got her daughter IQ to jump 18 points!

…the absolute best parenting decision she has ever made.

 

If your child is struggling with memory, reading, addition or subtraction, or even writing essays that make sense, you’ll appreciate what this mom went through and how she solved these same problems for her daughter. Read her comments here.

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What Creative Thinking Looks Like

Why Being Able to Think Creatively Is Important

 What does solving a financial dilemma, remodeling a house, crafting a speech, and even dressing up your dogs and playing make-believe with your kids have in common? All these activities can benefit from the use of creative thinking. In other words, creative thinking isn’t just for writers and artists.

So what do we know about the mysterious process of creativity?

In the sixties, Dr. Sarnoff Mednick concluded that creativity is the result of connecting random bits of information to create new and original ideas. He went on to say that the more remote the bits of information are from each other, the more creative the idea.

Today, neuroscientists are discovering that, in the brain, that’s what creative thinking actually looks like.

In the brain, neuron cells are greyish in color, while the axons that connect neurons to each other are white. These axons—called white matter—create the pathways in our brain through which thoughts and information are communicated. In other words, more white matter means more communication going on in the brain.

Researchers and scientists, led by Drs. Hikaru Takeuchi and Yasuyuki Taki, measured the connectivity in the brains of 42 men and 13 women. What they discovered was that people who tested high in creativity also had more white matter connecting remote parts of their brain where diverse information is stored. The authors concluded that integrated white matter across broad regions of the brain underlie creativity by allowing us to do exactly what Dr. Mednick described: connect random bits of information to come up with new and original ideas.

Even better, the authors of the study say training that develops working memory can strengthen and increase the tracts of white matter in our brains! LearningRx clients, by working one-on-one with a LearningRx brain trainer, receive training that does exactly that: target and strengthen working memory, as well as six other core cognitive skills in the brain. In fact, after LearningRx brain training, kids, teens and adults who struggle with working memory are able to improve that skill by an average of 31 percentile points, and even clients who come to LearningRx with above-average working memories see an average gain of 13 percentile points.

Whether you’re crunching numbers, remodeling a house, crafting a speech, sculpting a statue, writing The Great American Novel or even just raising kids, being able to think creatively is important. And one-on-one brain training can help you strengthen the neural connections that make creative thinking possible.

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Weird-but-True Facts About Your Brain

Fun Brain Facts to Know and Share

What do you really know about your own brain? Let’s take a closer look at that gelatinous mass between your ears with five weird-but-true brain facts:

Your brain is softer than you probably think. What is the consistency of your brain? Brain tissue has been described as having the same consistency as Jell-O, warm butter and even the inside of an avocado! No wonder a bump on the head while playing sports, riding a bike or even tripping over your own feet can do serious damage.

Your eyeballs are actually a part of your brain. If a mad scientist unhinged your skull and pulled out your brain to inspect it, your eyeballs would come out with it!  Sight is the only sense that is connected directly to the brain –optic nerve fibers connect the retina to the brain, information is carried right along to the occipital lobe located in the back of the brain.

Your stomach has been nicknamed your “second brain.”  The stomach has been dubbed “the second brain” because it contains such an extensive network of neurons that it can function independently of the main brain between your ears.  No other organ can function independently of the brain in your head. This extensive network of neurons also allows the stomach to evaluate information, stress or the environment and respond with a “gut instinct,” that “knotted” feeling if you’re under stress, or “butterflies” when you’re nervous.

Your brain has no feelings.  Your brain can tell you if you’re in pain, but it can’t feel pain itself because it doesn’t have a nerve system of its own!  That’s why a surgeon can poke you in the brain while you’re AWAKE (creepy, right?) and you won’t feel anything.  So why do you feel the pain of a headache? It’s because of the effect of pressure on nerve tissue and blood vessels.

Your brain can physically reorganize itself.  Neuroplasticity is a fancy way of saying the brain is plastic—it can be molded, reshaped and changed—and it has this ability at every age throughout our entire lives. Scientists now know that, in response to intense mental exercises, the brain can be stimulated to strengthen, reroute and even create new neural pathways. This increases the efficiency with which brain cells communicate with each other.   Think of it as defragmenting your computer. Suddenly everything is running faster and more efficiently than before!  This is what one-on-one brain training does for kids and adults of every age. Wouldn’t you like to have a faster, smarter brain?

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Bet You Can’t Tickle Yourself

How Does the Brain Ignore Self-Tickling?

If someone makes a grab for that ticklish place above your knee, you double over in laughing protest. When you grab your own knee, nothing happens.

You can’t tickle yourself because your brain doesn’t pay as much attention to sensations caused by your own actions. In fact, brain scans show that neurons in the cerebral cortex—the part of the brain responsible for attention, awareness and consciousness—are less active during a self-tickle than when someone else is doing the tickling!

Scientists say the brain distinguishes between expected sensations caused by our own actions (for example, the pressure of the keyboard against our fingertips when we type) and unexpected sensations from our environment (for example, if someone sneaks up from behind and taps us on the shoulder). The reason? Heightened awareness of unexpected contact from our environment helps keep us safe.

And, perhaps, being less aware of our own movements keeps us sane. Imagine if you were constantly aware of the feel of your shirt against your skin, ever mindful of the vibrations of your own vocal chords as you spoke, or acutely aware of the feel of your own hair against your neck. That kind of nonstop mental stimulation would drive you nuts. When you look at it that way, not being able to tickle yourself is a small price to pay for sanity.

 

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Guest Blogger: One Homeschooling Mom’s Journey from Self-Doubt to Solutions (and Chocolate!)

Homeschooling Moms Find Help at LearningRx

Meet guest blogger Julie Worthy. Julie, who homeschools her four children, has already put three of her children through LearningRx brain training (with plans for number four!). In this post, Julie tells the story of another homeschooling mom she met at the LearningRx Center in Jacksonville, Florida.

After successfully homeschooling her daughter from kindergarten through ninth grade, Elizabeth discovered that her daughter was struggling with her schoolwork.  It was the first time ever!

It seems a common thread among homeschool moms to question our decisions when we hit a bump in the road.  The questions buzz like a swarm of bees.  “Did I do something wrong?” “If she were in public school would she be struggling like this?” “Did I choose the appropriate curriculum?”

I think, for most homeschool moms, our default mode is to question ourselves when we stumble.  However, looking back on my own homeschooling adventure I believe there is always a purpose in the stumbling.

Elizabeth began to search online for answers. That’s where she learned about one-on-one brain training at LearningRx. When I met Elizabeth at the LearningRx Center in Jacksonville, FL I was touched by her story.  Many people have never even heard of brain training, but Elizabeth could see right away that it held the solution to whatever her daughter was facing.

I had the privilege of meeting Elizabeth on her first day at the center.  Her daughter was shy and a bit nervous as they waited for their trainer.  I encouraged them both by sharing that one of my children had been skeptical about brain training as well.  All it took was one day of training, however, and he loved it!

Toward the end of that same week I met Elizabeth in the lobby once again.  I asked how the week had gone.  She told me her daughter enjoyed it and was excited to return.  When Elizabeth had realized her daughter was struggling, she was naturally concerned. Now—just a few weeks later—this mom was filled with hope and anticipation. In fact, as we talked, she was smiling as she popped a Hershey’s Kiss into her mouth.

Now that’s happiness!!

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Here’s to a Healthier Brain! Bottoms Up!

Flavanols Found in Chocolate Benefit Your Brain!

 

A recent study proves something you’ve been wishing were true: Chocolate is good for you!

You heard right! Chocolate has been scientifically proven to boost blood flow to certain areas of the brain. It’s the flavanols in chocolate that make it so healthy, and the darker the chocolate the better. Flavanols can also be found in foods like red wine, green tea, and blueberries. But let’s get back to the business of discussing chocolate.

Scientists found that drinking a flavanol-rich cocoa drink increased the flow of blood to the brain for two to three hours. Using Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI), these scientists were able to detect increased activity in specific areas of the brain in individuals who drank just one serving of the chocolaty drink. The activity is linked to dilation of blood vessels which allows more blood–and therefore more oxygen–to reach key areas of the brain. The result?  Better performance at specific cognitive tasks, plus greater alertness.

Scientists are going to continue looking into how this information can be used to enhance brain performance for people battling fatigue (can you say everyone?) and sleep deprivation, and it may even fight the effects of aging!  The study also suggests that chocolate may be helpful in treating vascular impairment (things like strokes and dementia), thereby maintaining cardiovascular health.

So the truth about chocolate is finally out.  Eating (or even drinking!) chocolate can actually make us healthier and smarter. It’s important to choose the right chocolates, meaning those high in flavanols, like dark chocolate.  So the next time you’re tired or unfocused, hit the dark chocolate instead of the coffee pot – your brain will thank you.

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