Thursday, 26 November 2015

3 ways to encourage whole brain learning through play

Hi guys, today I have a guest joining me to discuss whole brain learning and how you can incorporate it into your play time with your children at home, so please be upstanding and welcome Amanda from Shichida Australia.

When my daughter was around 1 year old, we began story-time at the library. It was a half hour of singing, reading, talking and some bubbles play. At first it was a way for me to get out the house and be around other people and not feel so isolated as a mom. I continued coming for another reason. I noticed that my baby was remembering signs and interacting with the presenter. My first thought was “I have a baby genius’ and my second thought was “i wonder what else she can learn through play?”

I began integrating music, dance and play into our everyday tasks. I would sing to the tune “If you’re happy and you know it’.
If you see the color (insert color), pick it out! (while pointing to the color)
If you see the color (insert color), pick it out! (while pointing to the color)
If you see the color (insert color), give a wiggle and a giggle
If you see the color (insert color), pick it out! (while pointing to the color)

I used this basic tune to talk about not only colors, but shapes and body parts. Before long, my itty bitty baby was starting to recognize shapes, colors and body parts. It is how she learned almost anything: we danced, sang and pointed stuff out.

I thought, imagine how fun school would be if we played to learned beyond preschool?
New research is supporting the idea that play and learning are not mutually exclusive. In fact, they go hand in hand. Research is showing that children that engage in playful learning are developing memory skills, their language is developing and they are able to adjust to an academic learning environment. This whole brain approach to learning is changing the way we learn and remember things. In fact, research is showing that all functions of the brain are connected.

A pioneer in childhood whole brain learning, Dr. Makoto Shichida, has committed 40 years to developing techniques to stimulate early development of the brain. Dr. Shichida emphasizes parent-child bonding and when a child feels free to express himself, he is more able to learn. This is a balanced approach to whole brain learning.

Here are easy ways to incorporate this whole brain, play based learning into your schedule without feeling you are adding more to your plate. Try to engage at least two senses at a time. 

  1. Schedule time for physical play, integrate music into your play. Hot potato with music or musical chairs are two examples. Silly time and having your child using hand-eye coordination, while waiting for musical cues stimulated different parts of the brain at once.
  2. Have adult and child interactions. Pretend you are in a restaurant and your child is the server and chef. Pretend you are a patient in a hospital and your child is the doctor.
  3. Recreate an experience, such as travel or a vacation. Pretend you are in another country and practice using simple words from another language. This helps engage the multi-language circuit of the brain.

The most important things to remember are to let your child’s imagination run wild, make sure your child feels safe to express himself, and let your child be the guide.

About the author:. Amanda works PR for Shichida Australia ((, spreading her love for childhood learning through fun, music and play.  When she isn’t chasing her two kids and (trying to) prepare healthy meals, she is cuddling her fur baby, a 9 year old boxer.

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Making your bed the right way

I bet you didn't know you've been making your bed all wrong all these years. I know I was surprised when I received an email from Terrys Fabrics telling me this. I also wondered briefly how they knew how bad I was at making the bed. But after a quick scan of my general area showed up no hidden cameras in my bedroom, I figured they have just been reading my blog long enough to know that domestic goddess is one title you will never find on my resume.

Now I can get a cover on my doona (or duvet for my American friends) thanks to the burrito method. (for anyone who doesn't know what the burrito method is, please google it.) Before the burrito method came around and changed my life I used what I call the ghost method which involved me climbing into my doona cover and stumbling around my room moaning like a disturbed ghost while I tried to get my doona to fit nicely into the corners of the cover. I know one woman who was relieved I never married her son after she watched me get a doona into its cover this way.

I know all about hospital corners and how to do them, although thanks to the genius Bertha Berman who invented the fitted sheet in 1959 I've not had to do a hospital corner except when I make the bed after staying in a hotel. (I know they are just going to strip the bed as soon as I check out, but I still hate leaving the bed unmade when I leave.) But I will admit to you right now that my bed is currently an unmade mess because my alarm clock thinks it is hillarious to rip my blanket right off me to wake me up in the morning, and I got tired of having to wrestle with my big queen size blanket every single morning, so it just lays where she throws it until bed time. If I was any kind of house proud, this would bother me I'm sure, but considering the teaspoon of sugar I dumped on the counter this morning while trying to make my first coffee of the day is still sitting there waiting to be cleaned up, we all know that ain't gonna happen any time soon.

But for any one of you out there who actually does like having a pretty bed, and always wonders how the designers of the world always manage to get the beds they make to look so perfect, below is a handy dandy info-graphic that Terrys Fabrics very kindly shared with me, which gives you everything you could possibly ever need to know about making the perfect bed. As for me, I will always be the sweaty person standing on her bed grunting while trying to wrestle a fitted sheet onto a double mattress. If someone can please invent a fitted sheet that goes onto the bed easily without me having to summon Satan, please contact me, I may want to marry you.

Bed Making Hacks
Bed Making Hacks by Terrys Fabrics.

Friday, 20 November 2015

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Thursday, 19 November 2015

National Family Caregivers Month

November is National Family Caregivers Month. This is the time where the people who care for their sick and ailing family members are recognised for their hard work, sacrifice and above all love. I was recently contacted by Heather Von St James, a brave and incredible woman who survived Mesothelioma. She documents her story over on her blog, which you can find here. She has asked me to discuss National Family Caregivers Month, to help shed some light on this wonderful cause.

Caregivers are all around us. They care for their parents, their children, their spouses, their siblings or their grandparents. They give up their own lives to make sure the people they love are cared for in the best possible way, so now is the best time to find a caregiver you know and let them know their effort is appreciated. Being a caregiver can be a thankless task, made harder by the fact that you spend your time watching someone you love suffer. Caregivers must put aside all of their own feelings and issues and put the needs of their loved ones first. This can be a challenge for most of us, but caregivers do it on a daily basis, without expecting a word of thanks from anyone.

A female lawyer I met through my work at the family law firm is currently caring for her husband who is suffering Mesothelioma, just like Heather Von St James did. (For anyone who doesn't know, Mesothelioma is a rare and aggressive cancer caused by exposure to asbestos. The prognosis for anyone diagnosed with Mesothelioma can be grim.) This woman is now juggling being the sole provider for her family, caring for their small child, and caring for her husband as he undergoes the aggressive treatment necessary to treat Mesothelioma. (Treatments for Mesothelioma currently include surgery, either a pleuronectomy or a pneumonectomy, followed by months of chemotherapy, and then months of radiotherapy. These treatments make the sufferer very ill, but the alternative is much worse. For more information check out the Mesothelioma website)  On top of that she has to put up with the "helpful" advice from other family members who are not currently helping her with her increased work load. When her family first got the diagnosis my boss told us to let her vent to us whenever she needed it, as it was clear she wasn't going to get this opportunity elsewhere, so whenever she made one of her infrequent visits to our office, the office manager would take her off and listen to her, sometimes for up to an hour at a time. During this time she'd cry, she'd get angry, she'd laugh, and then she would leave, returning back to her life until the next time she needed a sympathetic ear. While our office manager could do nothing to actually lessen her work, she could still help her at a time when anyone would feel absolutely hopeless.

I always had the utmost respect for this woman, but more so when I saw how hard her life became once her husband was diagnosed. It never stopped her from getting up every single morning and doing everything she had to just to keep her family going. It didn't mean she never cried or got upset, she is still human, but she never let her sadness stop her from being a loving mother and wife, and an amazing lawyer. This is the kind of selfless work carers do every single day, and for that they need to be thanked.

So if you know someone who is caring for a family member, do something today to let them know their hard work is not only noticed, but appreciated. And if you are one of the more than 60 million caregivers in the United States alone, or one of the millions of caregivers from around the rest of the world, thank you.

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Peace amongst the hatred

My heart sank when my mum uttered the words "Did you hear about Paris?" It sank further when I heard about Baghdad and Beirut. I felt the same sickness in my gut I felt when I heard about the two attacks that happened in my own country. It seems as though the world is falling apart right now, and while I have met one or two people who greet the news of these attacks with an apathy and resigned shrug which says it's not shocking anymore that people are dying in such horrible ways, most people are just as saddened and hurt as I am.

What is uplifting however in this time of hatred and terror is the messages of peace and acceptance coming from every day citizens. As one who can still remember clearly where I was when the September 11 attacks happened, I know that for the longest time, the word Muslim was a dirty word. This time, not so much. This time we are more educated, We know who the real enemy is, and it is not the Muslims of the world. Hashtag movements like #illridewithyou and #notinmyname let the world know that the terrorists still haven't won as long as normal people like you and I show compassion and love in times of great fear. As long as we keep in mind that this is not a war against a religion, but a war against extremists, good will always prevail, no matter how many attacks ISIS want to claim responsibility for, or how much they try to scare us into rejecting Muslims.

For a complete and concise explanation as to what exactly it is we are dealing with, the best person to ask is Waleed Aly. He is an Australian newscaster, and he is also a Muslim. He used his power as a television personality to educate the people of Australia as to who the enemy is, and his words need to be heard by everyone.

So please, watch this video, hear his words, share it with your friends, and above all, don't give hatred a chance.

My thoughts and prayers are with the people of Paris, Beirut, Baghdad, Syria, and every other country that is being affected by extremists and terrorists alike.

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

How we dealt with (and survived) the death of a pet

For Miss K's birthday this  year, my little sister Kimberley gave her two goldfish. I hadn't been warned about this prior, so it was a surprise for both of us. She gleefully informed me as she handed over the little tank she was actually going to buy her a goat, but decided fish was a more practical gift idea. For that fact I am forever grateful.

Now anyone who knows me knows I have bad luck with animals. Of course my bad luck is not as bad as my little brother Ben's bad luck with animals, he was headbutted by a trout once, as he peered into a lake, an accomplishment I am yet to match. But given my track record with animals, and my seeming inability to keep them alive was well recorded when these fish were made a part of our family. To date I have had a total of three dogs, one cat, one guinea pig and two fish as pets. My first dog died of pavo virus as a puppy, which absolutely broke my heart at the time. The next two dogs were a blue heeler and a boxer, both given to me to replace the original dog. I lived in a tiny two bedroom flat at the time, which any dog lover will tell you is a terrible place for such large and energetic dogs to live, so I had both of them re-housed fairly quickly. The cat ran away after a few months, but I think I still see it wandering around the area occasionally, so I can only assume it found a new home close by. Our guinea pig died from exposure one night when I didn't secure the tarp around his cage tightly enough and it was blown off by strong winds. So I didn't have high hopes for these fish. Sure enough the first fish died within a month of becoming our pet, a fact which I now understand probably stems from being put in a tank too small for two fish. Live and learn. The fact that the second goldfish survived a further 8 months with us is nothing short of a miracle.

The fish were named Yes and No. This is what happens when you let a four year old name animals. Yes was the fish that survived the longest, and let me tell you, keeping a fish alive is actually harder than it looks. We dealt with two cases of swimmers bladder, and I suspect it was a bacterial infection that got him in the end. During his time with us I learned that a whole flake of fish food is waaay too much for a fish to eat, especially given they need no more than a piece of food the size of their eye several times a week. I also found out you can cure constipation in fish with peas, a fact which disgusted Miss K given her pure hatred for the little green balls. He had been sick for three days this time, and nothing I was doing helped. It became inevitable after day two that Yes' days were indeed numbered, so that day as I noticed Miss K staring at Yes, watching his weird sideways swim around the tank I let her know that Yes was going to die soon. I told her he was really sick this time, and she needed to realise we weren't going to have a fish for very much longer. She nodded very quietly then asked me for a drink.

Over the next two days we spoke occasionally about Yes, she was worried he was in pain, but given I am poorly informed about the pain tolerance of the average goldfish, I told her he wasn't feeling anything right now, This may have been a lie, I still have no idea, but I didn't want death to be scary for her, I just needed her to understand it is a part of life. Luckily for me Yes kindly waited until she was asleep last night to die. I went in to check on him before I went to bed and after five minutes of tapping walls and agitating the water I was indeed satisfied I had a dead fish on my hands. I disposed of everything there and then, I didn't think it was kind letting Miss K see what a dead fish looked like, so when she woke up this morning the bench that had housed Yes' tank was empty. She stared at the empty space for ages, almost like she thought her eyes were lying to her, and the tank was still there. She turned to me and said "the fish is gone." I simply nodded, I couldn't think of what to say. She asked if Yes died and I simply nodded again. I'm sure another person could have used this opportunity to give a speech on the gift of life, or say something reassuring about Yes' suffering being over, but mourning the death of a fish is something I'm sadly inexperienced in so I simply said nothing. She stared at the space for another few seconds before she turned to me and asked for another fish. For the love of God please no.

I have actually since Googled how to deal with the loss of a pet with children, and they all say don't replace the pet straight away, as it makes the child feel disloyal. Apparently Miss K is plagued by no such burdens and is keen to move on to the next victim pet. I for one am still exhausted from the task of keeping one small fish alive for so long, and have now decided that the degree of difficulty in caring for a pet is directionally in proportion to the size of it. The smaller the animal is, the more trouble it will give you. To remedy this, I have decided the next pet we will have must be an elephant. Surely something that large must be a walk in the park. Otherwise I am happy for people to start gifting Miss K with pet rocks from now on.

If any of you have actually had to deal with a grieving child, give me your tips below, I'm sure as Miss K gets older this is something that will really need to be dealt with, as she wont be so easily distracted by shiny things for much longer.

Monday, 2 November 2015

Overcoming Speech Delays - Tips and Resources

I have mentioned in passing a few times over the past few months that Miss K is having issues with her speech. The issue actually goes a bit deeper than just a few issues, and it has been something we have been dealing with for over 2 years now. Miss K has made great progress in that time, but it has been a rocky road, full of frustration and tears for her, and sleepless nights for me. In order to hopefully save someone a whole lot of heartache that comes with speech delays, I have managed to compile a list of tips and resources that have helped us enormously over the past two years, and I am sharing them with you now.

One thing I found when I first thought there were issues with Miss K's speech was that there was a very large lack of resources for parents online. Everything I found gave the same information, strengthen her mouth muscles with straws and lots of games, but it didn't tell me how I could correct the real issues, or even how to identify them. To this day I still don't know why Miss K never learned to talk the way most kids do. It certainly wasn't because she wasn't encouraged to talk at home, we had many fights over her first years as I tried to coax, beg or threaten words out of her to no avail. I felt hopeless and totally useless at my job. Eventually at her 2 year check up with the maternal health nurse I brought up the delays, hoping that our nurse would take us seriously, and she did. Although at the time speech pathologists were still refusing to help children until they were at least three years old, our local community medical centre was just beginning a program to help bridge the gap, so we took advantage of their services until Miss K was old enough to be referred to a speech therapist.

Miss K has been going to our speech therapist Chloe for almost 12 months now, and the difference in that little girl is more than just her speech. She is more confident, she is happier, she absolutely shines because for the first time in years she is understood by more people than just me. We have run the gamut of emotions during this time, from frustration to shame to confusion to pride to pure joy. It has been an absolute roller coaster, but we were recently told that Miss K is nearly at the point where she no longer needs speech therapy, and the relief is almost overwhelming. So to help other parents who are going through this lengthy and tiresome process, below are a few things I have found help enormously, as well as some websites where you can get further help.

Medical help
If you suspect there are issues with your child's speech, the first thing you will need to do is seek medical advice, to make sure there aren't any underlying issues that need to be addressed. We discovered that Miss K is tongue tied, which has contributed to some of her speech impediments, but not all, and this required a visit to a surgeon to assess whether she needed the tendons under her tongue cut. At the very least your doctor can refer you to a speech therapist if necessary to help you work through any issues with your child's speech. These days speech therapists have recognised that therapy can help from as young as two years old, so you can get help sooner rather than later these days.

Talking to and encouraging your child to speak
Talking to your child from birth is essential of course, firstly because it helps your child recognise you outside of the womb. Before they were born they heard your voice daily, so to hear them again once they are born lets them know they are with the person they have known their whole life. Then you become your child's example on how to speak as they get closer to the age of forming their first words, so the talking needs to be almost constant. But you also need to encourage them to talk too. Turn their first coos into full conversations to teach them that talking requires giving and receiving noise. But once you get past the first word (which is always dada for some darned reason) encouraging the next words can be difficult.  Repetition of simple words such as up or more, and teaching them that using these words cause things to happen encourages children to want to speak more. Remember that kids can process thoughts slower than adults do, so you will need to give them a few seconds of silence every time to process your request.  This website has further great tips on introducing speech to your toddlers

Learning through play
A lot of the websites I read through would say to encourage speech through play, but they didn't give real examples to start you in the right direction. For us, it was Miss K's home corner which was the real winner. Miss K and I would play restaurants or shops, and Miss K would need to tell me exactly what she wanted to buy or eat before I would give it to her. We'd swap roles regularly to keep the game fresh. Of course if your child is more into cars or dinosaurs, or dolls or whatever, you should build the games around whatever their favourite toys are. If your children are a bit older, using board games and cue cards is also another great way to build up their vocabulary or work on specific speech issues. We got several board games from Chloe to take home with us, complete with their own cue cards, and with every role of the dice Miss K needs to pick up a cue card and say the word or sentence on the card after she moves. This has been one of our most successful exercises, and the only one I have been able to use consistently, as once Miss K realises she's meant to be learning something with our exercises she loses interest. Incorporating play into the exercises makes the learning fun, and distracts children from the fact that this is actually work. Guess Who is also a fabulous game for encouraging speech, and one we now use a lot at home. Children's songs are also a great way to encourage speech, and I'm sure you all know about a million of them, so start singing with your kids. For more information on speech through play, check out this website here

Using printouts
Now days there are so many websites which offer free printable games and resources you can use at home to help your child with their speech issues. One of the first we used was given to us by Chloe, called Colorful Semantics. This is a program provided by London Speech Therapy and the printout can be found here. This program is great for teaching children to build sentences based on who, what, where, and it comes complete with pages of colourful pictures for your child to use in their learning, as well as complete and comprehensive instructions. You can also find printable games and activities online for you and your child to play, as well as cue cards, and a multitude of worksheets you can download and use any time.

Learning through videos
Youtube is full of great videos you can watch with your child to encourage talk. There are a lot of channels that are actually aimed at English as a second language, but Miss K loved them, especially the ones with lots of bright toys included in their videos. A great channel for learning is Baby Big Mouth which is aimed at teaching vocabulary and spelling to little learners.

Now I am by no means an expert when it comes to speech therapy, and getting your kids to talk. Which is why I love these following websites, because they are by experts, so if you need further help, these are a good place to start.

The Speel. As well as a ton of free resources that anyone can use, Alex at The Speel has just launched a new 8 week program called Incredible Little Communicators which you and your child can complete at home with support from Alex.

Playing with Words 365. Playing with Words 365 has a heap of free resources for parents, and lots of articles to help you work through finding a speech therapist, and what to expect once your child starts therapy. This is a great place for any parent to start their journey as she has resources to suit children from birth to age 5!

Free Language Stuff includes printable activities on 20 different areas of language, making this a great place to find activities to complete at home with your children to help build their language skills.

Mommy Speech Therapy. This is another great website full of free resources and printables you can use at home, and lots of advice for parents as well. I visit this website often and I love this woman.

Pinterest is another great place to look for resources, and a lot of speech pathologists are now filling the website up with heaps of helpful advice and places to start your journey.

If any of you out there are going through the same journey as me, and you have stories to share, please leave them down below, I love hearing from my readers, and it is always wonderful to hear you're not alone when dealing with the tough stuff. Also if you know of other resources I have missed here, also leave them down below, because the world is a great big place, so bring it all to me and we'll share it together.

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