Academic Versus Play-Based Kindergarten

When the curriculum is in sync with natural brain development, everyone smiles.

When the curriculum is in sync with natural brain development, everyone smiles.

The hoopla began once Disney offered refunds to folks who bought Baby Einstein videos. Defenders of the videos insisted their children benefited from their time in front of the screen. Others gleefully took jabs at parents who thought watching them would make kids smarter.

But neither group asked the most relevant questions:  Just how do young kids’ brains develop, and how can we use that information to provide the best learning environment for children?

With such questions, we can hardly pick on just Baby Einstein videos.  Heck, kindergarten curriculum has also changed radically. Yet last I heard, today’s kids’ brains aren’t developing any differently than previous generations.  Nope, we’ve just changed what we demand at an early age.

Now if a five-year-old isn’t sitting still all day in school, we sometimes call it Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder—or some other diagnosis—rather than ask: Would we perceive that same child differently if he were in a play-based kindergarten?

Unfortunately, I’ve met too many adorable young kindergartners who have already experienced failure. That’s why I’m jealous of countries that use curriculum based on natural brain development.

For example, movement, intuition, images, and rhythm are mostly associated with the right side of the brain, and reading, writing, and math are mostly associated with the left side.  Turns out the right side has a burst of development between the ages of four to seven, whereas the left side gets going between the ages seven and nine.  So are we surprised that Denmark boasts nearly 100% literacy—and doesn’t present formal reading instruction until age eight?

But then, why stop with Disney and their Baby Einstein videos?  Why not hold schools accountable, as well? Challenge educators to provide research that shows today’s young children’s brains are different than kindergartners of past generations.  Have them prove that there’s no link between the recent accelerated academic push and the number of kids who are struggling in school.

And if they can’t substantiate claims that academic kindergartens are far better for young brains than play-based ones . . . . will millions of school kids also get a refund?

Helping Kids Transition – Part 2

There are a variety of techniques to help kids transition.

There are a variety of techniques to help kids transition.

At the Brain Highways Center, every child transitions 15 times during a 45-minute class. Here’s what we recommend and why it works.

1. Be goofy: Humor and novelty override primitive reflex responses.

  • Sing directions in a baritone and soprano voice.
  • Tell directions with an extreme accent.
  • Pretend you don’t know how to do what’s being asked. (“Do I put my shoes on my nose?”)

2. Add visual, tactile, and auditory cues: If there’s static in one or more sensory channels, a multisensory approach helps ensure comprehension.

  • Put on a wild-looking hat whenever it’s time to switch activities.
  • Remove playing cards until only the joker remains (then it’s time to switch!)
  • Fly your child (like an airplane) to the next activity.
  • Play or sing the same song right before (fill in the blank).

3. Add speed: There’s no time to get distracted while racing.

  • Record how long it takes your child to (fill in the blank). Challenge your child to beat her previous record every time she makes that same transition.

4. Avoid solo transitions: If everyone has to make the switch, there’s no fear-based reaction (i.e. Why me?) from being singled out.

  • Have everyone get out of the pool or leave the park, etc. when it’s time for your child to go to (fill in the blank).

5. Transition during an undesirable activity: We’re all more likely to transition if the current activity is not so fun.

  • Arrange it so your child leaves for the tutor when he’s pulling weeds.
  • Pick your child up from a play date after everyone is already cleaning up.

6. Let your child direct the transition: Kids with an underdeveloped pons and midbrain like to be in control, so they’re more apt to do what they’ve stipulated.

  • Have your child call out a pre-determined word that signals it’s time to switch.

7. Jumpstart the transition: Kids with an underdeveloped pons tend only to see what is right in front of them.  So, give them what they need to get started.

  • Hand the jacket to your child, rather than having her go get it.
  • Put the toy box right in front of your child, rather than telling him to start cleaning up.

What else has worked for you?

Why Kids May Have Trouble Transitioning – Part 1


When we address what's going on with the lower centers of the brain, kids transition easily.

An underdeveloped pons or underdeveloped midbrain or poor proprioception can make it really difficult to shift from one activity to the next. Here’s why.

As soon as kids with an underdeveloped pons perceive something as a threat (it doesn’t have to be real), they react with a fight-or-flight response.  Demand that something needs to happen RIGHT NOW, and the fight just escalates.

If those kids go into flight instead of fight, they delay or postpone the upcoming perceived threat—which makes sense.  How quickly would any of us transition if the next activity required us to jump into a pit of rattlesnakes?

Kids with an underdeveloped midbrain get stuck on a recurring thought (“I want to play with Legos! I want to play with Legos!”).  With that thought spinning in their brain, any new message (e.g. “Time for dinner.”) has slim to no chance of being processed.  Such kids also have trouble filtering unimportant sensory stimuli.  That then makes it difficult to focus on transition directions or to switch activities without being distracted.

Kids with poor proprioception don’t always navigate successfully from Point A to Point B—especially, if there’s a large open space involved in the transition.  So they drift everywhere but in the direction they need to go.

And, of course, a child can have an underdeveloped pons and an underdeveloped midbrain and poor proprioception . . . making the task of transitioning especially challenging.

Can kids make smooth transitions even if the lower brain development is incomplete? Yes.  Such approaches then offer new solutions for parenting kids with Autism, Asperger’s, ADHD, Oppositional Defiant Disorder, and other children who experience difficulty switching from one activity to the next.

Helping Kids Transition  – Part 2 will appear in the next post.  Photo courtesy of parents connect.com

Sugar-Free Halloween

The cortex parent takes Halloween candy away  . . . and their kids smile!

The cortex parent takes Halloween candy away . . . and their kids smile!

Can your kids really enjoy a sugar-free Halloween? Yes.

Americans eat an average of 25 pounds of sugar—and much of that is trick-or-treat candy. But sugar consumption can weaken the immune system and increase hyperactivity in kids with and without ADHD.

That’s why the cortex parent doesn’t just cross her fingers and hope there’s no fallout from eating tons of Halloween candy. Here’s a solution that eliminates the candy binge–eating.

Once the kids return home from trick-or-treating, they go shopping at their very own sugar-free Halloween home store.  Everything here can only be purchased with candy.

At the bargain end, your child buys inexpensive non-edible items.  Sugar-free goodies are also for sale here. Such treats can be theme-based, such as eyeballs (peeled grapes with raisins in the holes for pupils) or those bought from companies who specialize in sugar-free candy.

But the bargain aisles won’t put much of a dent in your Halloween shopper’s candy bank.  That’s why there’s always a wrapped, mystery item—one for each child—at the far end of the store.

That item’s sale price? Whatever amount of candy remains in your child’s bag. Of course, the item is something your child has been wanting.   When my girls were young, their friends thought the store was “cool,” and they were never pitied for skipping Halloween’s sugar-fest.

The answer doesn’t have to be a store. Regardless of the solution, the cortex parent accepts the broader challenge of the question: How can we preserve the best of Halloween (trick or treating) without succumbing to the worst of it (eating all the candy)?

Other ideas to share?

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