Get your baby swimming

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Screen Shot 2019-10-18 at 10.49.02 AMWhen your baby isn’t old enough to walk, it may seem silly to take them to the pool. But there can be so many benefits to splashing around and gliding through the water.

Being in the water engages your baby’s body in a completely unique way, creating billions of new neurons as your baby kicks, glides, and smacks at the water.

Due to their delicate immune systems, doctors typically recommend that parents keep their babies from chlorinated pools or lakes until they’re about 6 months old.

But you don’t want to wait too long to introduce your baby to the pool. Children who don’t get their feet wet until later tend to be more fearful and negative about swimming. Younger children are also usually less resistant to floating on their backs, a skill that even some babies can learn!

Here’s the lowdown on the potential benefits of infant swim time.

1. Swimming may improve cognitive functioning.

Bilateral cross-patterning movements, which use both sides of the body to carry out an action, help your baby’s brain grow.

Cross-patterning movements build neurons throughout the brain, but especially in the corpus callosum. This facilitates communication, feedback, and modulation from one side of the brain to another. Down the road, this may improve:

Reading skills

Language development

Academic learning

Spatial awareness

When swimming, your baby moves their arms while kicking their legs. And they’re doing these actions in water, which means their brain is registering the tactile sensation of water plus its resistance. Swimming is also a unique social experience, which furthers its brain-boosting power.

A four-year study of more than 7,000 children by the Griffith University in Australia suggested children who swim have advances in physical and mental development when compared to their peers who don’t swim.

Specifically, the 3- to 5-year-olds who swam were 11 months ahead of the normal population in verbal skills, six months ahead in math skills, and two months ahead in literacy skills. They were also 17 months ahead in story recall and 20 months ahead in understanding directions.

However, the study’s findings were only an association and not firm evidence. The study was also sponsored by the swim school industry and relied on parental reports. More research is needed to explore and confirm this potential benefit.

2. Swim time may reduce the risk of drowning.

Swim time may reduce the risk of drowning in children over 4 years old. Swimming may reduce the risk in children ages 1 to 4, but the evidence isn’t strong enough to say for sure.

It’s important to note that swim time doesn’t reduce the risk of drowning in children under 1.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), drowning is a leading cause of death among children and toddlers. Most of these drownings in children under 4 years old occur in home swimming pools. If you have a pool, early swim lessons may be helpful.

Even the youngest babies can be taught swimming skills, like floating on their backs. But for infants under 1 year old, this doesn’t keep them safer from drowning.

Even if your child has had swim lessons, they should still be supervised at all times while in the water.

3. Swimming may improve confidence.

Most infant classes include elements like water play, songs, and skin-to-skin contact with parents or caregivers. Children interact with one another and the instructor and begin to learn to function in groups. These elements, plus the fun of learning a new skill, may boost your baby’s self-esteem.

A 2010 study suggested 4-year-old children who had taken swim lessons at some time from the age of 2 months to 4 years were better adapted to new situations, had more self-confidence, and were more independent than non-swimmers.

An older study reinforced these findings, illustrating that a program that included early, year-round swimming lessons for preschool-age participants was associated with:

Greater self-control

A stronger desire to succeed

Better self-esteem

More comfort in social situations than non-swimmers

4. Increases quality time between caregivers and babies.

Even if you have more than one child, swim time that involves a parent in the water promotes one-on-one bonding. During a lesson, it’s just you and your little one focused on each other, so it’s a wonderful way to spend quality time alone together, point out experts who offer swim lessons.

5. Builds muscle.

Swim time helps promote important muscle development and control in babies at a young age. Little ones will need to develop the muscles needed to hold their heads up, move their arms and legs, and work their core in coordination with the rest of their body.

Swimming.org points out that not only does swim time for babies improve their muscle strength and ability on the outside, but the exercise provides internal benefits as well by getting those joints moving.

Swimming is also great for cardiovascular health and will help strengthen your little one’s heart, lungs, brain, and blood vessels.

6. Improves coordination and balance.

Along with building muscle, time in the pool can help your baby improve their coordination and balance. It’s not easy learning to move those little arms and legs together. Even small coordinated movements represent big leaps in your baby’s development.

A 2003 study Trusted Source found that swimming lessons may help improve the behavior of children as they grow. The study didn’t say why children who have lessons may behave better outside of the water in a pool environment, but it may be that they’re trained to listen to an adult instructor before getting in the water and prompted to follow instructions.

7. Improves sleeping patterns.

As we mentioned before, pool time takes a lot of energy for babies. They’re in a new environment, using their bodies in completely new ways, and they’re working extra hard to stay warm.

All of that extra activity uses up a lot of energy, so you may notice that your little one is sleepier after a swim lesson. You may have to schedule in time for a nap after time in the pool or move up bedtimes on the days that swim time is in your routine.

8. Improves appetite.

There’s nothing like a day in the pool or at the beach to make you leave hungry, and babies are no different. All of that physical exertion in the water, as well as the energy it takes their little bodies to stay warm, burns a lot of calories. You’ll probably notice an increase in your baby’s appetite after regular swimming time.

The takeaway.

As long as you’re taking all the necessary precautions and giving your baby your undivided attention, swim time can be perfectly safe.

Another benefit to infant swimming is that it’s a wonderful parent-child bonding experience. In our hectic, fast-paced world, slowing down to simply enjoy an experience together is rare.

Swim time with our babies brings us into the present moment while teaching them important life skills. So grab your swim bag and wade in!

The art of creating: Why art is important for early childhood development

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Screen Shot 2019-10-16 at 2.08.42 PMArt exploration is not only fun and entertaining, but also educational. Here are some tips for growing your budding artist.

Children are naturally curious. From the minute they gain control of their limbs, they work to put themselves out into the world to see how it all works. They explore, observe and imitate, trying to figure out how things operate and how to control themselves and their environments. This unrestricted exploration helps children form connections in their brain, it helps them learn—and it’s also fun.

Art is a natural activity to support this free play in children. The freedom to manipulate different materials in an organic and unstructured way allows for exploration and experimentation. These artistic endeavors and self-directed explorations are not only fun, but educational as well. Art allows youth to practice a wide range of skills that are useful not only for life, but also for learning.

Skills youth practice when participating in art activities include:

• Fine motor skills. Grasping pencils, crayons, chalk and paintbrushes helps children develop their fine motor muscles. This development will help your child with writing, buttoning a coat and other tasks that require controlled movements.

• Cognitive development. Art can help children learn and practice skills like patterning and cause and effect (i.e., “If I push very hard with a crayon the color is darker.”). They can also practice critical thinking skills by making a mental plan or picture of what they intend to create and following through on their plan.

• Math skills. Children can learn, create and begin to understand concepts like size, shape, making comparisons, counting and spatial reasoning.

• Language skills. As children describe and share their artwork, as well as their process, they develop language skills. You can encourage this development by actively listening and asking open-ended questions in return. It is also a great opportunity to learn new vocabulary words regarding their project (i.e., texture).

In addition to helping youth develop important skills, free expression is also good for overall health and well-being. Giving your child a creative outlet can help relieve stress and work through things happening in their lives. By encouraging artistic expression, you can help facilitate learning.

Not every child is exposed to a rich language environment.

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Screen Shot 2019-10-11 at 5.19.15 PM.pngChildren from low-income families hear approximately 600 words every hour, whereas children from higher-income families hear approximately 2,000 words an hour. This 30 million word gap leads to dramatic differences in vocabularies of 18 month old children, which increase significantly between 18 months and 24 months. 

  1. Children from impoverished environments may experience pronounced disparities in cognition, academic performance, IQ and school readiness early on that persist throughout the child’s lifetime. This inequality may be attributable to a large disparity in children’s early-language environments.
  2. Children from low-income families hear approximately 600 words every hour, whereas children from higher-income families hear 2,000 words an hour. Throughout the course of three years, this accumulates into a 30 million word gap between low income children and children from higher-income families. This 30 million word gap contributes to the stark disparities in academic performance and is influenced by a generational lack of access to education and language nutrition.
  3. Differences in early language environments lead to dramatic differences in vocabularies of 18 month-old children, which increase significantly between 18 months and 24 months. 
  4. Children who have heard fewer words since birth, are likely to know fewer words and have a less diverse vocabulary by age three.
  5. Children who are ill-prepared to start school are often unable to catch up, and thus, the achievement gap widens. Educational researcher Gloria Landson-Billings suggests that the achievement gap leads to an “educational debt” (analogous to the concept of a “national debt”), at the core of which is a generational lack of access to quality education. This “educational debt” becomes a cyclical process that brings socioeconomic co-morbidities such as illiteracy, under- or unemployment, health and behavioral issues and poverty.

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Bridging the Word Gap

The relationship between socioeconomic status and the word gap may be mediated by parents’ knowledge of child development. Knowledge about child development and how to support it seems to predict the frequency and quality of a parent’s communication with her child more than income or level of parent education. Therefore, efforts must be made to bridge the 30 million word gap, narrow the achievement gap and foster educational success for all children, regardless of the family’s socioeconomic status. Empowered Education and GoMo Health aim to help build that bridge.

How Reading to Children Impacts Their Lives.

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“The sun did not shine, it was too wet to play.
So we sat in the house all that cold, cold, wet day.
 I sat there with Sally. We sat there, we two.
And I said, ‘How I wish we had something to do!’”

These are the immortal opening lines from Dr. Seuss’ classic book, The Cat in the HatHaving read these lines thousands of times to my three children, at one time I had virtually the whole book memorized! I used to love reading and rereading the story of the mischievous feline, doing voices and intonations and asking questions as I went along. Of course, the major question is, “would you have let the cat into the house?” Reading The Cat in the Hat was clearly as much fun for me as it was for my kids and now my grandkids.

The value of reading to young children cannot be overemphasized. Many studies over the past 20 years show that spending time reading to preschool children is vital for boosting low-income children’s vocabularies, language development, sound awareness, and letter recognition abilities. According to the National Center for Education Statistics data, only 20 percent of 4-year-olds in poverty can recognize all 26 letters, compared with 37 percent of their peers at or above the poverty level.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, children introduced to reading early in life tend to read earlier and excel in school compared to children who are not exposed to language and books at a young age. Developing early literacy skills makes it easier for children to learn to read. Children who enter school with these skills have an advantage that carries with them throughout their school years. However, more than 1 in 3 American children enter Kindergarten without the skills they need to learn to read.

Unfortunately, the ability to meaningfully read to children is not an innate talent. “Everyone feels like they know how to read a book to children,” says Karen Stoiber, PhD, of the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee, “but in reality, many parents and teachers need coaching on how to ask questions as they go along to emphasize rhyming and to teach children how to follow words on the page.” Indeed, the process of coaching parents to help their child’s cognitive development should be part of a comprehensive educational process beginning in the prenatal period. Learning how to read to your child is an important part of this process.

One effective method for coaching parents in literacy development is Educare. EduCare is a maternal and child health program designed exclusively for health, language and literacy development. The solution delivers personalized guidance via mobile device to women or caregivers throughout pregnancy and baby’s early childhood through age 8.

Along with literacy development, EduCare also guides mom in:

  • Learning progression
  • Physical health
  • Psychological wellness
  • Emotional support
  • Social skills and peer engagement

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To learn more about EduCare visit: http://www.gomohealth.com/educare/

Latest research reveals the more you hug your kids – the smarter they get.

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Are you the kind of parent that’s always hugging your kids? If the answer is yes then don’t stop doing what you’re doing.

According to new research, physical affection during a baby’s development period is even more important than we thought. 

The more you hug a baby, the more their brains grow, according to a recent survey from the Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Ohio.

125 babies, both premature and full-term, were included in the study, which looked at how well they responded to being physically touched.

The results indicated that premature babies responded to affection less than babies who were not born premature. What was also revealed however, was that babies that were subjected to more affection by parents or hospital staff showed stronger brain response.

According to researcher Dr. Nathalie Maitre, this last revelation tells us that something as simple as body contact or rocking your baby in your arms will make a big difference in how their brains develop.

“Making sure that preterm babies receive positive, supportive touch such as skin-to-skin care by parents is essential to help their brains respond to gentle touch in ways similar to those of babies who experienced an entire pregnancy inside their mother’s womb,” Maitre tells Science Daily.

Basically, affection is vital for the development of the brain. So, cuddle and hug your babies as much as you can – and don’t forget to share this research to show everyone out there how important it is to be loving to our children!

End of the lullaby as younger parents eschew the bedtime ritual, survey finds.

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I just read an article in the Telegraph by Camilla Turner that amazed me. She wrote, “It may once have been seen by parents as a staple of the bedtime regime – but now it seems that lullabies are falling out of favour as younger parents eschew the ritual.”  

Just over a third (38 per cent) of parents sing lullabies to their children aged under five, according to a YouGov poll of over 2,000 adults.  

But the vast majority – 70 per cent – of those who sing lullabies are aged over 45-years-old, suggesting that the practice is less popular with younger parents. Maybe that explains my shock as I am a grand parent now and would still sing to my grandchildren.

The poll shows that women are more than twice as likely to sing to their children every night than men.

Research carried out at Great Ormond Street Hospital has previously shown that lullabies help to make children feel better.  

They sang the songs to a group of children under three, some of whom were waiting for heart transplants, and monitored their heart rates and pain perception.  

Results of the study, published by the journal Psychology of Music, showed that a group of child patients at the hospital experienced lower heart rates, less anxiety and reduced perception of pain after they had lullabies sung to them.  

A separate study, published by the National Literacy Trust last year, found that singing songs and rhymes with your baby and young child support language development and reading skills by encouraging children to listen carefully to predict.

Laura Jane-Foley, a soprano singer and ambassador for the Lullaby Trust which aims to prevent unexpected deaths in infancy and promote infant health, said: “Singing to children is just as important as reading to them.

“The musical three R’s of rhythm, rhyming and repetition are crucial to a child’s mental and emotional development and, by participating in the shared activity of singing, parents are strengthening the bonds between parent and child.”

I am preparing to work on two early childhood literacy programs within NICU units. Hopefully we will gain some insights there as well. Find out more about the power of singing to infants at http://www.talkwithmebaby.org.

Here is a classic in case you need a prompt.

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Ralph Nader on Early Childhood Education.

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When Ralph Nader visited Atlanta I shared our pilot programs for new moms, now named Educare, with him over a coffee.

Here are some of Nader’s thoughts regarding parents’ involvement in early childhood education. 

Nader believes education is clearly a significant factor in enhancing the future of impoverished children. Education levels bear heavily on efforts to bring families out of poverty and in providing livable wages for low and moderate and middle-income families.

Nader is adamant, “We need to invest in the nation’s children. We must assure an adequate safety net, health care, higher quality and more plentiful child care and vastly better educational opportunities, particularly as early as Kindergarten.” 

Parental responsibility should be encouraged by finding ways to help support parents in their efforts to help support their children as more families confront economic conditions demanding a greater deal of time be spent away from home. Parents should be as involved as possible in their children’s education; values do start with parents.

We both believe that early parental involvement is a way in which elementary education can be changed to make a real difference in the lives of our children.