Empowering You to Parent with the Brain in Mind
Parents are the first and most influential teachers in a child's life... 85% of the human brain develops in the first three years of life so we want to help you with tips and tools to make every day count and help you maximize your child’s potential.
Our goal is to help you raise smart, capable, and compassionate children.
We hope these Simple Ideas With Profound Impact will make the difference in your child's life.
Welcome to the BrainFit Kids blog. We’re so happy that you found us. If you’re a new parent, congratulations on landing the most important job in the world! Our goal at BrainFit Kids is to help you raise children who are smart, capable, and compassionate. Children who have self-confidence, are not afraid to try new…Learn More +
We are super excited about the launch of our new website and free email course. BrainFit Kids is a labor of love. It is the culmination of two lifetimes of research, learning, and experience; combined with the passionate application of that knowledge by two very dedicated parents. It has taken several years of hard work…Learn More +
Everyone who knows us well knows that we really enjoy cooking. We spend a good deal of time in the kitchen preparing delicious meals. I like to be in the kitchen because it is a place where so much happens, a great gathering place for the family to talk and share their day while they cook a meal together. The kitchen is also the perfect place for hands on learning!
Here are some of my favorite learning activities in the kitchen.
Keep one bottom cabinet without a child-proof lock and keep non-breakable things in it (tupperware, plastic or stainless steel bowls, etc.). Let that be your baby’s safe space. When your baby is crawling around she will enjoy opening and closing the door, getting the containers in and out, stacking them, rolling them, and so much more. You will be amazed how much fun your baby can have just experimenting with these things while you are free to make dinner!
Another great thing to do in the kitchen is to present your child with opportunities for tactile exploration. When baking have her put her hands in the flour and tell her how soft it is, have her put her hands in the batter you made and feel how sticky it is. Yes, it can get messy, very messy! But, the more opportunity you give your child to explore and feel different textures the more she will develop her tactile sense and manual ability. All motor ability requires good tactile ability. And boy, cooking provides abundant opportunities to use and develop manual ability.
When I was raising Juliana, and now when my grandchildren visit us, I use a kitchen chair for them to climb on to reach the counter. At their home they use a learning tower which they call “the tower of power”! Once your child is walking and stable on her feet she can get up onto the tower and closer to the counter. Give your child lots of opportunities to join you in the kitchen and help you out. They don’t have to make the entire meal with you but give them little jobs or encourage them to join in for as much as their attention allows.
Here are a some examples of what and how you can teach in the kitchen:
Tactile and Manual Opportunities
- Have her scoop flour or rice or whatever you need with a measuring cup or measuring spoon.
- Have her stir with a wooden spoon or any other spoon you prefer.
- Allow your child to get her hands in the food – knead dough or mix the salad.
- Make homemade play-doh with your child. (There are lots of recipes out there – here’s the one we use! It smells delicious and lasts for months if kept in the refrigerator)
- Whip eggs or cream (by hand) or even just pretend and whip in an empty bowl!
- Spin the salad spinner. You might need to put the salad spinner on the floor, or a low stool if your child is little and is not able to reach the spinner well enough to put the force necessary to spin it. I prefer the floor because it has less chance of tipping over.
- Have your child push the buttons to turn on the blender, electric mixer, coffee grinder, etc.
- Have your child crack eggs and eventually teach them how to separate the yolks from the whites.
- Counting – When cooking there are lots of opportunities to count things in the kitchen. The eggs you are using in a recipe, the lemons, the avocados, berries, etc. Just get in the habit of counting things with your little toddler whenever possible.
- When eating fruit or any finger feeding type of food you can count backwards. For example, begin by counting how many berries are on the plate. As your child eats them say, “there were five and you ate 1 so now how many are left?” and count the 4 remaining berries. Repeat this as she eats all of them.
- In addition to counting, while you cook you can teach measurements, fractions, and so much more.
Understanding and Language
- Teach your child the names of everything in your kitchen. It will increase her understanding.
- Teach colors using your tupperware and metal container lids. You can also get measuring cups and spoons that are in different colors and use that as a way to teach colors and the different sizes of the cup measurements.
- Teach your child to sort things in containers or drawers – by family (all fruit in one basket), by color, by shape.
- Teach the concept of bigger and smaller. “The orange is bigger than the lemons and the lemons are bigger than the berries, etc.”
- Teach space concepts – inside/outside, on top/under.
- Since cooking requires doing things in a specific order it gives children the opportunity to practice following instructions.
- The more your child understands the more she has to say!
While you are having fun with your toddler in the kitchen your child will gain the additional benefit of having her first lessons in teamwork and the importance of helping each other. And you don’t even have to tell her, she’ll learn this naturally through the process of cooking! In addition, it doesn’t cost you anything. It doesn’t get much better than that. Who knows, you might end up with a little chef on your hands!
Remember the story of the Three Little Pigs? When the Big Bad Wolf got to the third little piggy’s house he huffed and puffed to no avail because that house was carefully built of bricks. It didn’t end well for the Big Bad Wolf! Developing the human brain is a lot like building a house. The more you pay attention to creating a strong foundation in the first years of life, the better the brain will function. You want that brain to be like a house of bricks! Let’s take a look at how we do that.
The most important thing that we can say about the human brain is that the brain grows through use. It does so most rapidly in the first year of life but continues to do so regardless of the age of the brain’s owner, which is good news for yours truly! The brain grows through use because of a basic law of nature that says that function determines structure. I wrote a post about this a while back and hope you found it interesting and informative. If you haven’t read that post yet I highly recommend you read it before proceeding with this post because understanding this law is critical to understanding how your child’s brain develops. You can find it here.
In this post I want to talk about what this law actually means in practice for your child. In order to do that I’ll focus on the function of mobility. There are two ways in which this law affects your child’s structure – the structure of the brain, a process that takes place unseen; and the anatomical structure of the body, a process that is very easy to see.
Function determines structure in the brain
First, let’s look at the brain. For our purposes, in order to keep things simple, we divide the human brain into four parts: the medulla, the pons, the midbrain, and the cerebral cortex. Every time your child’s brain is receiving stimulation from the environment, his brain is changing. Every single message (visual, auditory, tactile, olfactory, and gustatory) that the brain receives actually changes the physical structure of the brain. Likewise, every time your child moves his arms, legs, hands, fingers and toes, and every time he makes sounds, his brain is changing.
When your baby is born the main parts of his brain are already formed but not every part is fully functioning. There are still trillions of connections to be made in order for the entire brain to be fully functional. This is a process called neurological or brain organization. The function of mobility plays a critical role in creating brain organization. Here’s how that happens.
In the beginning, all of the movements your child makes are the result of reflexes being triggered. As those reflexes are used the brain changes as a result of that use. As the brain changes, as new connections are made, your child’s level of ability increases. Bit by bit, provided he is getting the correct kinds of opportunities, i.e. tummy time, he will develop more and more physical ability. First, he will learn to hold his head up. Then he might learn to roll over. Eventually he will learn to crawl on his tummy and later creep on his hands and knees.
When a baby is crawling on his tummy and creeping on hands and knees the parts of the brain that are being stimulated, developed, and organized are the pons and the midbrain, two primitive but very important parts of the human brain. Your child’s pons and midbrain are literally growing as he uses these functions. His brain is developing a richer network of connections and it is getting bigger just like a muscle does when you exercise. And, just like a muscle, it is becoming more efficient and effective.
All you need to do is make sure that you are providing the right opportunities. Mobility is key to brain organization because the brain works as a holistic system. Everything affects everything else. Primitive brain structures (medulla, pons, and midbrain) are connected to higher level brain structures (cerebral cortex). As in any system, it is important that each component of the system functions well for the entire system to function well.
Function determines structure in the body
Now let’s look at how the function of mobility affects anatomical structure.
The most obvious example of this law in the human body is that regular exercise results bigger and stronger muscles. The more we use our muscles the better the structure and the more effective they become. So what does that have to do with your child and her development? More and more people are recognizing the important role that movement and exercise play in brain function. However, precious little attention is paid to how movement develops in children. Many parents focus on when their child will begin walking and are not aware of the importance of the mobility stages that lead to walking.
At birth a baby has little to no head control due to underdeveloped neck muscles. The more opportunity you give a newborn to be on his tummy (function), the earlier he will develop neck muscles (structure) and the earlier and better he will hold his head up. When a baby is on his tummy his head functions just like the weights you lift at the gym (you know, for those parents who still find time to make it to the gym!). Eventually, with plenty of opportunity to be on the tummy, he will start tummy crawling from one place to another.
When a baby is tummy crawling there is a lot that is going on. First, he is developing the muscles in his neck, back, tummy, arms, hands, legs, and feet. He will need these muscles to be able to sit up straight, to push away from the floor into a creeping position, and eventually to stand up and walk. Provided he follows the natural pathway to walking he will develop beautiful posture. This process is how the law “function determines structure” relates to your baby’s physical function and muscle development.
Second, in addition to muscle development, children who tummy crawl a lot develop bigger chests and more mature breathing. Breathing is important because it is the primary way that we get oxygen for our brain. And later it will play an important role in the development of language.
Unfortunately, for a variety of reasons, today many babies skip the tummy crawling and/or creeping on hands and knees stages. Many babies spend hours sitting in chairs (Bumbo, etc.). Many spend a lot of time in walkers. All of these devices are detrimental to good brain development and organization because they deny the baby the opportunity to learn how to tummy crawl and creep on hands and knees and therefore interfere with the process of brain organization.
Many babies roll as a means of transportation. Many scoot on their bottoms. These movements by themselves are not a problem. However, they do not provide the same neurological and structural benefits as tummy crawling and creeping on hands and knees. Because they sidetrack children from learning to tummy crawl and creep on hands and knees, these forms of movement result in poor brain organization, less muscle tone and strength, poor coordination, and poor posture. This is because the opposite of the law is also true – lack of function results in lack of structure, poor function results in poor structure, abnormal function results in abnormal structure.
So, taking advantage of this law is actually really easy:
- Provide your child with the opportunity to go through the natural stages of mobility – tummy crawling, creeping on hands and knees, and then walking.
- Avoid all devices that deny your child the opportunity to go through these stages.
- Make sure that once your baby develops a function, he uses that function. In other words, your baby must practice! The more he uses the function, the more the structure will change, both in the brain and in the body.
The end result? Excellent brain organization and beautiful physical structure, just like a house of bricks. How cool is that?!
The REACH Family Institute and BrainFit Kids really exist for only two reasons… to celebrate human potential and to honor human dignity and respect for life. We celebrate human potential by empowering parents with cutting edge knowledge about child brain development and sharing our four decades of clinical experience with them. We honor human dignity by teaching respect for life, and by serving children of all levels of ability from all segments of society.
All of us at REACH/BFK see all of you as part of our very large international family. Because of that, I want to share with you some of the highlights of this past year, some of the challenges we faced, and some of the lessons we learned. I’ll wrap up with a peek at what we have in store for you in 2019.
This past year was, in many ways, a remarkable year as we celebrated some fantastic milestones in our history.
A Few Milestones
40th anniversary – In 1978, REACH co-founder and Director, Charles R. Solis, Jr. led a group of six brain-injured young adults (the Appalachian Trail Challenge Team) on a successful thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail. Starting on April 8th at Springer Mountain in Georgia, they traversed 13 states, enduring extreme heat and humidity, freezing rain and snow, dense fog and howling winds. They suffered through painful blisters, hypothermia and physical exhaustion. And those were only the physical challenges! Most people who thru-hike the Appalachian Trail do so alone because it is far more difficult to hike for months on end with a group. Under Charles’ leadership, the Challenge Team reached the summit of Mt. Katahdin in northern Maine on September 15th, his 25th birthday. They were the first group (able-bodied or disabled) in history to successfully thru-hike the entire Appalachian Trail as a group. Their record still stands today.
30th anniversary – In 1988, at Hacienda Santa Teresa in Venezuela, we launched the Programa Leopoldo Pilot Project, a volunteer effort to serve poor families with brain-injured children. Starting with just three families, the project quickly grew and within four years was serving 32 families with a waiting list of more than 500 families from all over Venezuela. In 1992, Programa Leopoldo officially began as a “train the trainer” program for Venezuelan professionals. From 1992 to 2002, Charles and Conceição trained more than 200 Venezuelan doctors (specialists in pediatrics and physical medicine/rehabilitation), physical, occupational, and speech therapists, psychologists, and special education teachers. Working together with Sra. Christine Vollmer, Association Provive, and the Alberto J. Vollmer Foundation they forged a unique partnership with the Venezuelan Ministries of Health and Education and opened 34 centers throughout Venezuela where children with developmental difficulties could be seen free of charge.
25th anniversary – In 1993, the mayor of La Victoria in Venezuela, Ismael Garcia, commissioned a study to determine the incidence of children with developmental difficulties in his region. Stunned by the high percentage of children with a wide range of neurological problems he sought our assistance in bringing badly needed help to them and their families. Later that year we inaugurated the Casa de La Mujer in La Victoria which was staffed by several recent graduates from our professional training program and funded by the city of La Victoria. This was the very first center opened in Venezuela where the initiative and funding came from the governing officials. Charles and Ismael, now a Deputy in the National Assembly, remain good friends to this day.
20th anniversary – In 1998, on the heels of a presentation on Programa Leopoldo at a conference at the Vatican, REACH was awarded non-profit status as an organization formed for charitable and educational purposes.
Launch of BrainFit Kids – In April of 2018, we launched our BrainFit Kids website, blog, and 7-day Free Email Course “Make the first three years count!” BrainFit Kids was years in the planning and creation and we are thrilled that hundreds of people are now taking our course each month.
This past year was also a year of monumental challenges for us, challenges that were personal but that were intricately woven with everything that we teach and have experienced throughout our professional careers.
The challenges involved family and stepping up when help was needed. Mom was suffering the effects of cancer and its treatment, Dad was in the downward spiral of Alzheimer’s disease. Because of failing health they could no longer care for themselves or live safely in their home unless someone could step in to care for them. The question was who? Without getting into the details (there are a lot of details!), after weighing all of the options, we told my mother that we would move in with her and my dad and care for them until the end of their lives.
So began a year of total devotion as Conceição and I took over responsibility for every aspect of their lives. Eventually this involved everything from cooking meals, administering medication, washing clothing, and cleaning the house; to bathing, changing diapers, dressing, and spoon feeding. We did this while simultaneously continuing our work with the children on the West Coast and in France, and traveling to Oregon to pack up our house for the move to the East Coast.
Once my mother knew that we were in it for the long haul, she was able to relax and give herself permission to let go. Mom passed peacefully at home surrounded by her sons and Conceição on the morning of January 22, 2018.
Caring for my father was a very different story. Over the course of the year, as his cognitive decline progressed we saw many different versions of him. At times he was like a hyperactive two year old. At times he was lethargic. Some days he slept until noon. Some days he was up at 5:00 am. Some nights he slept well, some nights he didn’t sleep at all. Most of the time he was very confused, occasionally he was incredibly lucid.
It was a constant roller coaster. Eventually, he no longer recognized either of us. When I would tell him I was Charlie Solis he would smile and say, “Me too!, How about that!” Winter turned to spring, and spring into summer. Dad slowly but surely lost more and more of his memory and his confusion got worse and worse. But, physically he was in great shape and so we planned on this being our life for the foreseeable future.
In July, Conceição went to California to help our daughter, Juliana, and son-in-law, Jack, and the grandchildren with their move from Chicago to the Bay Area. What started as a week or so long trip to help with the transition turned into a 6-week encampment as almost everything that could go wrong with the move, did go wrong. It was rough on everyone but it could have been a lot rougher if not for Vovó (grandmother in Portuguese). Conceição stepped in and lightened the load of caring for the children considerably, thus allowing Juliana and Jack to deal with the myriad issues confronting them.
And then summer turned into fall. In October, at a routine checkup with his cardiologist, we learned that Dad’s heart was failing. Still, he seemed to be doing well in general so life went on. I went to Oregon to pack our belongings for the move. Just as I was finishing up, on the day the movers loaded the truck for the trip to Pennsylvania, my father passed peacefully at home surrounded by my three brothers and Conceição on the morning of December 19, 2018. It still saddens me that I was not there but I have to believe that deep down Dad was OK with that. We had spent so many special moments together during the course of his last year. We had said what needed to be said.
Some Lessons Learned
- Principles are principles! – I spent a lot of time thinking about our decision and commitment to my parents and why, beyond the obvious reasons, we decided to do it. With time and reflection I realized that our entire careers involved work based on two fundamental principles – respect for life and honoring the dignity of every human person no matter their circumstance. We taught these principles for decades in many different situations from individual consultations with families to speeches at the Vatican and in Geneva. I came to understand that the real reason for our decision is that it was inevitable. If we were to remain true to our principles, we had to “walk the talk”!
- Our parents are HEROES! – Throughout our careers, we have always admired the incredible courage and dedication of the parents we work with who have brain-injured children on our Home Program. We often call them the “jewels” of society. They do heroic work with their children, with no recognition, often with little relief, often for decades. We had a taste of this many years ago during our training. We worked in a school with young adults and served as their surrogate parents. We lived with them, ate with them, served as dormitory supervisors, etc. When I took my group on the thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail, I was responsible for them 24/7 for nearly six straight months with almost no time off. So, we had a sense for what our parents live with on a daily basis. Or so we thought! Our experience living with and caring for my parents multiplied our admiration for them a thousand fold!
- Family is what really matters! – Author Steven Covey was fond of an exercise where you imagine yourself at your own funeral. What will people say about you? How do you want to be remembered? Covey also often said that when on their deathbed nobody wishes they had spent more time at the office. When people have regrets they virtually always involve family. Nothing mattered more to my parents than their family. I had many occasions over the past year to meet people who knew Dad well and every one of them told me that he was always most proud of his four boys. He considered being our father to be his greatest calling and his greatest accomplishment. He was a wise man. Conceição and I cared for my parents until the end of their lives, providing them with the love and support that they so generously gave to me and my brothers when we were growing up. RIP Charles R. and Alma M. Solis. No regrets!
A Peek at 2019
We can’t say too much yet because we are currently transitioning from our role as full-time caregivers. But we can give you some hints. Expect to see a lot more online presence from BrainFit Kids this year. Some of the things we’ve got in the pipeline – Online Video Courses, Online Consultations, Mentoring Programs, BFK Podcast, E-books…
I’d like to leave you with a small but important piece of advice. Teach your children to be flexible. Flexibility is critical when it comes to handling changes in life and life often changes. Also, teach them what really matters in life. People, especially family and friends, are important. They should be treated with love and respect! The rest is just stuff! If we all teach our children to love and respect the people in our lives we will have a much more compassionate world. So, let’s all do our part by beginning at home.
Apologies for the length of this post today. It was important to me to share these thoughts with you as all of it is so woven together as if part of a cloth.
I’d love to hear your thoughts as well. We have much to learn from each other! Share your stories, your struggles and triumphs. Send us your questions, and let us know what topics you want us to cover in the coming year.
Thank you everyone for your love and support this past year and cheers to a 2019 filled with promise and possibility!