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Hungry Minds: How Curiosity Drives Young Learners

Susan Magsamen is the Senior Vice President of Early Learning at global learning company Houghton Mifflin Harcourt She is a member of the Educational Advisory Board for the Goddard School and senior advisor to The Science of Learning Institute and Brain Science Institute at Johns Hopkins University.  This piece was originally published on HMH’s blog.

“Curiouser and Curiouser” cried Alice after she ate the cake, and then suddenly shot up in height “like the largest telescope, ever! Good-bye feet” she exclaimed!

For some children, that iconic scene, shortly after Alice lands in Wonderland, is their introduction to the term “curiosity.”  But for us — well, take a moment and see what comes to mind when you consider curiosity…

I recently did a random “man on the street” survey, asking for single-word responses, and found that people associate curiosity with many things. I heard the words necessary, intelligent, spark, engaged, open-minded, open-ended, creative detective, and seeker.

Personally, I’ve been consumed with curiosity for decades, believing that it is the secret sauce to learning and to a fulfilling life.  So what is curiosity?

Einstein’s comment, “I have no special talents. I am only passionately curious,” provokes even more questions:  Is curiosity a skill or a talent? Is it innate or learned? Can it be taught or cultivated? How does it shape how we learn, especially early learners? What is the primary role of curiosity?

Regardless of how curious we are about curiosity, it is difficult to study. However, contemporary neuroscience has revealed some insights.  In a study published in the October issue of the journal Neuron, psychologist and researcher Charan Ranganath at the University of California, Davis explains that the dopamine circuit in the hippocampus registers curiosity.

“There’s this basic circuit in the brain that energizes people to go out and get things that are intrinsically rewarding,” Ranganath explains. “This circuit lights up when we get money, or candy. It also lights up when we’re curious.” When the circuit is activated, our brains release dopamine, which gives us a high. “The dopamine also seems to play a role in enhancing the connections between the cells that are involved in learning.”

Ranganath’s research, covered in this fascinating piece in Mindshift, gives us a working definition of curiosity, as an intrinsic motivation to learn. It also presents us with an exciting challenge – how can we create learning environments and experiences that will engage young children and ignite their innate curiosity?

The early years are a window of opportunity for parents, caregivers and communities to encourage curiosity. And it really matters. Curiosity increases knowledge and knowledge makes learning easier.

Nurturing curiosity in ourselves and in young children is easy to do. Here are my top ten ideas for the home and the classroom:

  • Slow down: In an age of immediacy, slow things down and encourage discovery. “I am curious about,” or “just out of curiosity” are great conversation starters.
  • Don’t have all the answers: Declaring you don’t know something, but that you want to find out together is an invitation for curiosity.
  • Put kids in the driver’s seat: In classroom activities or at home, let kids make decisions – this leads to uncertainty quickly and will encourage exploration.
  • Get real: Curiosity can’t be nurtured in the abstract – it’s messy.  Get kids investigating a topic or solving a mystery.
  • Delve deep: Hold your own Boring Conference in class – it’s a fantastic one-day celebration of the obvious and the overlooked, subjects that become absolutely  fascinating when examined more closely.
  • Encouragement matters: Acknowledge a question by saying “That is a wonderful or interesting question.”
  • Talk shop: What, why, how? Let kids explore how things are made. “How Things Work” is a great example.
  • Identify role models: Curiosity is also highly contagious.  If you set the example for being curious you will be amazed at how the world changes. Also, seek out others doing interesting things.  Chances are they are using their curious natures to guide them.
  • Practice: Make a list of things you want to know more about and carve out a little time to explore.

As for curiosity being the secret for lifelong learning in the 21st century, the “New York Times” magazine recently profiled productive people from various fields, including politics, art and science, who were 80+ years old. When asked by the “New York Times” what kept him intuitive, architect Frank Gehry, still going strong at 85, said “…. stay curious about everything.”

Quick and Healthy Snack Ideas

Spruce up snack time with these fast, easy, healthy and delicious snack ideas!

Lil’ Dippers

Ingredients:

  • An apple
  • Any kind of nut butter
  • Crushed peanuts or sliced almonds

Cut the apple into wedges. Then stick a toothpick in each piece, dip in nut butter and sprinkle with peanuts or almonds.


Top O’ the Graham

Ingredients:

  • Non-fat yogurt (any flavor)
  • Graham crackers
  • Banana slices
  • Dried cranberries

Spread a spoonful of yogurt on a graham cracker. Top with banana slices and dried cranberries.


Fishing for Crackers

Ingredients:

  • Carrot sticks
  • A bowl of hummus or veggie dip
  • Goldfish crackers

Dunk the carrots into the hummus or dip. Then put some goldfish crackers on a plate and use the carrot stick to “catch” the crackers.

Preschool: More than simply childcare

by Michael Petrucelli, on-site owner of The Goddard School located in Darien, IL
As seen in Suburban Life Magazine

There are many benefits to children attending preschool; two of the most important being: the nurturing of a life-long love of learning, and the development of important social and life skills that we all need to successfully navigate in the world around us.Children%20with%20Teacher_jpg

Childcare centers or preschools (the differences to be explained) are an option for working parents who need care for their children while they go to work, or for any parent seeking a group atmosphere for their children. Childcare centers and preschools may accept infants and toddlers, along with children 3-5 year olds, for part or full time programs.

What separates a top quality preschool from a childcare center?

A top quality preschool will provide: well-trained teachers, age and developmentally appropriate curriculum that prepares children for kindergarten and beyond, stimulating activities for children that will hopefully develop a life-long love of learning, a setting that allows each child to grow and gain confidence as the unique individual they are, and a dynamic environment that helps in the development of important social and life skills.

A quality preschool should provide a basis for academic learning, but even more important is helping to develop a passion for learning. School should be about making learning fun. Young children learn best by engaging in activities they find interesting, such as story time, playing with blocks or drawing. Children may listen to and interact with stories and songs – building blocks needed to grasp phonics and reading skills when it is developmentally appropriate. Play-based learning such as hands-on activities with water, sand, and containers, form the foundation for understanding some basic math concepts. Matching, sequencing, one-to-one correspondence all are activities that are done over and over in preschool settings and help children get ready for kindergarten and beyond. Puzzles, and games like “I-Spy” and chess help develop critical thinking, along with analytical and reasoning skills. It also helps children to understand that “doing your best” is important, and that not everyone wins all the time. Watching and collaborating with other children on the playground, or while working on a classroom task is also an important part of a learning process.

A quality preschool will also provide the opportunity for children to learn and interact in a group, to learn and interact with a classmate(s) in smaller groups, and to learn as individuals. Some simple but important life skills that can be developed by interacting with other children include: learning how to wait, how to take turns, how to listen and follow directions, collaboration, compromise, sharing, empathy and respect for others, advocating for one’s-self, and conflict resolution. Preschool also provides a place where your child can gain a sense of confidence while exploring, learning about new
topics, and playing with his or her peers. Children in a quality preschool will develop a healthy sense of independence; discovering that they are capable and can do things for themselves – from small tasks like pouring their own juice, to working on bigger issues like making decisions about how to spend their free time or who to partner with on a particular classroom project.

Whether you “need” “childcare” or not, every child can benefit from a quality preschool experience, where learning should be fun, and can help foster a life-long love for it. A quality preschool experience also will help children in developing important social and life skills that every child needs to reach his or her fullest potential in the life ahead.

Five Benefits of Teaching Children to Garden

Break out the seeds and bulbs because gardening season has arrived! Here are five benefits of showing your children how to garden.

  1. Gets children outside and active. Digging, planting and watering on a sunny afternoon are _72O8441_terrific ways to get some exercise while enjoying the beautiful weather.
  2. Children learn about science and the environment. This is an excellent opportunity to teach your child some basics of biology, such as how the sun helps plants to grow, how plants produce oxygen through photosynthesis and how vegetation contributes to a healthy environment.
  3. Teaches children how vegetables and fruits grow. Growing fruits and vegetables gives your child a look into small-scale farming and may encourage an appreciation for the process that brings produce to grocery stores.
  4. Encourages healthy eating. Planting a vegetable garden can lead to healthier meal times because children are more likely to try vegetables they have grown and veggies usually taste better when they are fresh from the garden.
  5. Inspires responsibility and a strong work ethic. Maintaining a garden can help children understand what the rewards of hard work are and how taking care of something requires diligence and persistence.

Language and Literacy Series: Talking with our Hands – A Hidden Key to Learning!

Susan Magsamen is the Senior Vice President of Early Learning at global learning company Houghton Mifflin Harcourt She is a member of the Educational Advisory Board for the Goddard School and senior advisor to The Science of Learning Institute and Brain Science Institute at Johns Hopkins University.  This piece was originally published on HMH’s blog.

It just amazes me the way newborn babies come into the world as natural communicators. After their first wail, they exhibit an increasing variety of gestures and sounds; quickly becoming full-bodied, kinesthetic communicators, successfully letting us know their needs and desires through a barrage of gestures and gesticulations.

Throughout his/her early growth spurts, a young child’s gesture vocabulary expands in complex and Handsfascinating ways.  Children begin with what is called deictic gestures (pointing at actual objects), and metaphoric gestures (movements in space to represent an abstract idea, such as gesturing upward to indicate “high”).  Then, as their use of language and vocabulary become more fluid, they begin to slowly connect words to objects and abstract thoughts.  Little ones form a fully integrated relationship between gestures and words as they grow from toddlers to preschoolers. This relationship with language will continue to be refined throughout life.

Recent research in language acquisition has revealed just how important gestures are in supporting word acquisition, as well as in other learning areas, including math.  The Goldin-Meadow Laboratory at the University of Chicago, headed by Susan Goldin-Meadow, is an important research hub for the exploration of the role and value of gestures. The lab focuses on topics related to cognition, development, education and linguistics, including the study of non-verbal communication, like gestures.

In a 2011 TexXUChicago TED Talk, Goldin-Meadow makes the case that gestures not only reveal what is on a child’s mind, but can also help change a child’s mind in order to support instruction and learning. This exciting discovery reinforces and supports our innate impulse to use gesture as a way to convey meaning.

Families can play an active role in word recognition and vocabulary skills simply by incorporating gestures, creative movement and meaningful play experiences into a child’s world, whether at home or on the go! Here are five easy activities that use gesture to generate vocabulary practice and boost literacy skills over time.

  1. Trust your instincts: Use your own hands to gesture with your children.  It’s not clowning around, it’s communicating! And nothing works better than modeling.
  2. Words and actions go together: When reading, encourage your child to point to images and identify them not only with words and sounds, but also by making shapes with their hands/bodies.
  3. Sing along: When in the car, play simple songs that encourage children to use gesture and movement. There are a ton of great silly songs – remember “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes”?
  4. Play: Encourage make-believe play where kids are given the opportunity to pretend and act out ideas.
  5. Practice: Try ‘Simon Says’ using gestures.  Practice is fun and it reinforces word and object recognition.

Whether you start with simple hand gestures or animated body language, by incorporating these elements into play and daily routine, you’ll be supporting your child’s literacy growth right in your own home!

Ten Things to Do During a Staycation

A staycation is a simple, cost-effective way of taking a break from the hustle and bustle of everyday life without the stress of travel. Here are some fun things you can do during your staycation.

  1. Visit a museum. Walking around a museum can be a great way for you and your child to get some exercise while learning something new. The museum may also be less crowded during the week.Staycation
  2. Go to the zoo or aquarium. As with museums, a zoo or aquarium provides an excellent opportunity to learn about wildlife while enjoying a nice stroll with your child.
  3. Have a game day. Spend a day playing board games, word games or sports you and your children like. You could even keep track of who wins each game and award a prize or treat to the person who wins the most games.
  4. Create a vacation spot. Set up an umbrella in your sandbox to make a mini beach in your backyard and prepare crabs for dinner. Or set up a tent in your backyard and go camping. Just don’t forget the s’mores!
  5. See a movie. Visit your local movie theater to catch a flick with your child, or cuddle up with your child on the couch at home and watch a movie.
  6. Get together with relatives. If your child’s grandparents or cousins live nearby, make plans to have them visit for a day or meet up with them for lunch.
  7. Plan a day trip. Do you live close to the beach or a state park? Pack some snacks, water and any other supplies you might need, and enjoy the wonders of nature with your little one.
  8. Celebrate “pajama day.” Spend a day just lounging around in your pajamas with your child. You can also play games, read a few books or put on some music and have a pajama dance party. Do whatever you want…in your pajamas.
  9. Bake some goodies with your little one. Give your child a bunch of different treat options and ask him to pick one. Then work together to gather the ingredients, mix them together and cook something special.
  10. Go for a drive. Lay out a map and ask your child to choose a nearby destination to visit. You can also encourage her to keep an eye out for attractions along the way.

Tips for Your Baby’s First Days

Your baby’s first days can be quite an adjustment, especially since you might not be getting enough sleep. Remember to do the following:

  • Sleep when your baby sleeps;
  • Keep scheduled activities to a minimum. Settling into a schedule with a new baby takes time;
  • Accept help when it is offered. You can’t do everything yourself, and that’s okay;
  • Leave baby with a trusted family member or friend so you can get a few minutes to yourself;
  • Eat properly and drink lots of water. Taking care of yourself will give you the energy you need to take care of your newborn;
  • Let non-essential household chores wait. Give yourself a little leeway and enjoy your baby’s first days;
  • Set limits with visitors. This may mean insisting that visitors wash their hands before holding your baby or asking anyone who is ill not to visit until he or she feels better. Also, let friends and loved ones know the best times to visit and how much or how little time you have for these visits.

Beat the Heat with Watermelon Coolers

Summer is here and the heat is on. You and your child can beat the heat by whipping up a batch of Watermelon Coolers. They’re easy, refreshing and, most importantly, delicious!

 Ingredients

8 cups seeded ½-inch watermelon cubes
2 cups water
6 ounces frozen limeade concentrate

Preparation

Arrange watermelon cubes on a baking sheet. Freeze 30 minutes or until solidly frozen. Working in batches, blend frozen watermelon, water and frozen limeade concentrate in a blender until smooth. Serve in chilled glasses.

What to Know While Your Baby Grows

Becoming a mother is one of the most amazing experiences you can have. Your child will change you and shape your life in ways that you cannot yet imagine. Here are five important things to remember during your pregnancy.

  1. Do research, but don’t go overboard. Learning about pregnancy, childbirth and parenting is good, but overloading on information might cause undue stress and worry. Know when to say when.
  2. Trust your instincts. Having moments of nervousness or self-doubt while you are pregnant is common and completely normal. Trust your instincts and your doctor.
  3. Ask for or accept help. It’s okay to ask for help. Many people will want to help you. If you want their help, accept it.
  4. Take a first-time parents class. Use this opportunity to ask questions, practice breathing techniques, develop a birth plan, network with other new parents and much more.
  5. Assemble a dream team. When you’re about five months into your pregnancy, start thinking about who you want on your “baby team,” both while you’re pregnant and after you’ve given birth. For example, find a good pediatrician. Consider recommendations from trusted friends and family members, and do your own research, too.

Five Fun Ways to Limit Screen Time for Your Preschooler

Guest Post
by Amber O’Brien, on-site owner of The Goddard School located in Forest Hill, MD

I am an onsite owner of a Goddard School, an education-based franchise preschool, and my faculty and I recently noticed that one of the three-year-old students had become increasingly tired in the morning and started having frequent meltdowns in the classroom. She had also become more difficult to wake after naptime. Communication between the parents and the teachers produced the reasons for the child’s change of behavior. The parents revealed that they had recently started giving an iPad to their daughter at bedtime and were letting her put herself to sleep. We explained the negative effects of too much screen time, especially at night, and encouraged the parents not to hand their child a device at bedtime.

In our increasingly technological world, devices are here to stay. Set boundaries and limits now so Preschool Computerdevices become teaching tools instead of detracting from precious interactions with family members. The introduction of smaller devices creates more opportunities to increase children’s screen time and a greater temptation for tired parents to hand their children a device. In parenting, the easy thing is often not the best thing, and we must always think about the long-term results of our choices.

As a parent of three teenage children, I know firsthand how difficult it is to stop devices from slowly creeping into our home life. My advice is to set boundaries now, because when your children are older and have cell phones, it will become increasingly difficult to monitor how much they use their devices. Habits children learn as preschoolers can pay dividends long into the future. Setting boundaries that you and your spouse both agree on and providing many fun and enriching alternative activities may be the key to a happy home where the children are not overtired and healthy relationships can grow.

You may be thinking to yourself, “I already know that too much screen time is not healthy, but what I need is some practical help. How can I limit my child’s screen time, and what are some fun activities we can do with our preschooler at home?” I believe the answer is balance. At The Goddard School, we provide a variety of interactions for the children so screen time does not distract them from other fun and stimulating activities. Consistency between the home and school is very important, and the expert and professional teachers in our classroom environments can teach us all a lot.

  1. Limit your child to only 15 minutes of screen time.

    Students at The Goddard School receive a limited amount of screen time. The tablets and computers in the classroom are teaching tools and only contain educational apps and games. Since students must take turns in the classroom, the students quickly learn that they cannot use the computer or tablet for more than 15 minutes.I suggest setting your phone timer for 15 minutes. When the timer goes off, or a few minutes before it goes off, remind your child that he or she should be finishing the game. Setting a 15-minute limit teaches your child that individuals are in control of electronic devices and not the other way around. Remember that these educational games are great teaching tools, but they should never replace the human interaction of snuggle time at night, and you shouldn’t use them to end a tantrum or to babysit a child.

  2. Make bedtime the most special time of the day.

    Not only was using the tablet depriving the above-mentioned three-year-old of enough sleep at night, but it also deprived her of precious snuggle time and the experience of sharing books with a parent. While educational games are a wonderful supplement for helping your child learn basic skills, they can never replace the joy of sharing a funny or touching book.Studies have recently shown that the blue light on computer screens interferes with the melatonin that helps people drift off to sleep. A sleep-deprived child is not a happy child. According to Charles Czeisler from the Division of Sleep Medicine, Harvard Medical School, and Division of Sleep Medicine, Department of Medicine, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, in Boston, Massachusetts, “Children become hyperactive rather than sleepy when they don’t get enough sleep, and have difficulty focusing attention, so sleep deficiency may be mistaken for attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).”1

    Ensuring that your child has enough sleep will give him or her a better chance for a more successful day with better behavior. Spend a little extra time at night to ensure that your child receives a warm relaxing bath, a chance to debrief and lots of snuggle time, which may help encourage a happier morning the following day. Make bath time fun with lots of bath toys and foam letters, and make story time special by asking questions and use different voices as you read to your preschooler.

    Don’t allow a TV in your child’s room, and take away all devices before bath and story time. Bedtime should be a time to unwind and slowly prepare for a deep refreshing sleep.

  3. Create an imaginative play area in your home.

    At The Goddard School, the students have so many fun, hands-on activities available that they are excited to start the next activity when their tablet or computer time ends. Look around your child’s classroom and take mental notes. Try to include similar materials and activities in an accessible area of your home to encourage your child’s imaginative play.Collect costumes, clothing and accessories your child can use to play dress-up. Create a play kitchen where your child can imitate you as you prepare dinner. Include clean boxes, containers and utensils from your kitchen. Add an easel and art supplies to a craft area. You could also create areas with a cash register so your child can learn about money, matching sets of cards for playing memory games to increase concentration, coloring books, clay or kinetic sand.

    Provide bins with different types of manipulatives, such as puzzles, LEGO, Lincoln Logs and other building materials. I would often give my children old magazines and child-safe scissors, and then I would watch as they happily cut out pictures and letters while developing their fine motor skills. Just as your child’s teachers put out different centers each day, take out new items and put away other items to pique your child’s interest. The more non-electronic activities you have available, the easier it will be for your child to hand over the tablet or turn off the TV.  If an adult comes down to the child’s level and plays with the child, the chances of a tantrum-free transition increases.

  4. Make meal times meaningful.

    Meal times should be about more than putting nutrients in our bodies. They should also be a time to reconnect with our family members and talk about one another’s days. At The Goddard School, teachers sit at the table with the children and eat with them. The children are encouraged to wait until everyone has their food, and they learn good table manners from watching their teachers.Make sure you read the daily activity report and use this information to ask your child about his or her day. Ask about the book that the teacher read, the fun outdoor activity or the messy process art activity. By asking questions about your child’s day, your child simultaneously learns lifetime lessons about communicating and extends the learning of the school day. Some families have each member describe a high and a low for the day. This enriching exercise helps all the family members learn to listen and share the successes and challenges of their days. I often ask my family, “What was something good that happened today?” I want my children to realize that each day has some good in it.

    At meal times, turn off all TVs, cell phones and other devices and give all of your attention to one another.

  5. Use physical touch and exercise.

    Preschoolers need touch and fun physical interactions with the people who love them. Children, like adults, receive and perceive love partly through physical touch and quality time.For our monthly icebreaker at our last PTO meeting in January, I asked the parents to describe their favorite non-electronic activity to do with their preschoolers. Parents smiled while describing playing hide and go seek and tickle monster with their children. One parent has set up tunnels to create an obstacle course in the basement, and the entire family goes downstairs to run races and play together.

    Children love to dance, so try putting on some dance music and dancing together as a family after dinner every night. Try playing a variety of musical genres as we do at school. The children’s favorites include “Let It Go” from Frozen, the dance song “I Like to Move It” and, of course, the chicken dance and the hokey pokey. A fun game of freeze dance, where everyone freezes when the music stops, teaches concentration and produces lots of giggles and smiles.

    Play classic games, such as duck, duck, goose; ring around the rosy; and London Bridge. All of these games include physical touch and whole body movement, and they provide valuable social interactions.

One of our most important goals as parents is to build healthy, close relationships with our children that will last a lifetime. We want our children to have more memories of reading bedtime stories and playing hide and go seek with us and fewer memories of us texting on our cell phones. Show your child that you are in control of all media and devices, provide alternate activities and choose to set boundaries, especially for meal times and bedtime.

 

1 Czeisler, C. (May 23, 2013). Perspective: Casting light on sleep deficiency. Nature, 497, S13. doi:10.1038/497S13a

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