We hear all the time about how exercise is good for the heart. But what about the effects that exercise has on the brain? Well, it turns out that exercise is one more thing that can be added to the list of “what’s good for the heart is good for the brain”! We have used exercise (crawling, creeping, walking, hiking, running, etc.) in our work with children for decades specifically because we were convinced of the organizing effect that physical activity has on the brain. We were also well aware of the many physiological (respiratory, cardiovascular, etc.) benefits of exercise. But Dr. John J. Ratey, Associate Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, has taken the science of exercise to a whole new level.
Summary of Book:
A groundbreaking and fascinating investigation into the transformative effects of exercise on the brain, from the bestselling author and renowned psychiatrist John J. Ratey, MD.
Did you know you can beat stress, lift your mood, fight memory loss, sharpen your intellect, and function better than ever simply by elevating your heart rate and breaking a sweat? The evidence is incontrovertible: Aerobic exercise physically remodels our brains for peak performance.
In SPARK, John J. Ratey, M.D., embarks upon a fascinating and entertaining journey through the mind-body connection, presenting startling research to prove that exercise is truly our best defense against everything from depression to ADD to addiction to aggression to menopause to Alzheimer’s. Filled with amazing case studies (such as the revolutionary fitness program in Naperville, Illinois, which has put this school district of 19,000 kids first in the world of science test scores), SPARK is the first book to explore comprehensively the connection between exercise and the brain. It will change forever the way you think about your morning run—or, for that matter, simply the way you think. (Summary courtesy of goodreads.com)
Neuroscience, Health, Psychology
Why We Like It:
Quite simply, we like it because it provides a solid scientific underpinning to so much of what we teach about the importance of physical activity or exercise for the development, organization, and function of the human brain. Dr. John J. Ratey looks at some of the latest neuroscience as it relates to physical exercise and the brain and the evidence is clear – if you want to perform to your potential, physical exercise must be a part of your regular routine.
One of the wonderful things about the book is how Dr. Ratey shows the incredibly broad impact that exercise has on the brain – learning, dealing with stress, overcoming anxiety and depression, helping with attention problems, beating addictions, regulating hormones, the aging process. This should really come as no surprise since the brain controls literally everything that we do. But it bears repeating since we tend to take the brain for granted and give little notice to how our daily habits are affecting its performance.
Without getting into any details, I want to give special mention to the first two chapters of Spark. They deal with the relationship between exercise and learning and the extraordinary experience of a school district in Naperville, Illinois when they decided to go all in on a revolutionary physical fitness program. You’ll have to read the book to get the specifics but believe me it will blow your mind! I love that Dr. Ratey decided to begin the book with these two chapters because they provide spectacular scientific evidence for the connection between physical exercise, the structural and physiological development of the brain, and the subsequent development of functional ability. He clearly explains in easily understandable terms a physiological process that takes place in the brain when we are physically active. This is research that was completely unknown thirty years ago. The implications of this are critically important for all of us, especially for our children. The bottom line, as we have said so many times, is that movement (i.e. exercise, physical activity, etc.) is the glue that holds everything together in the human brain. The takeaway for your child is to start early and make exercise and physical activity a way of life. Your child’s brain will thank you for it!
Hopefully you are shifting gears from thinking about holiday purchases to what really matters – enjoying quality time with friends and family.
That said, if you are doing any last minute shopping or want gift ideas in 2019, save this post for reference!
- 2018 Holiday Shopping Guide: Toys
- 2018 Holiday Shopping Guide: Books for Children
- 2018 Holiday Shopping Guide: Books for Children
Also, you close out the year, please consider supporting the Reach Family Institute and BrainFit Kids!
- Via Facebook – help us reach our #Giving Tuesday Goal!
- Check out our Support BFK Page and Donate!
BrainFit Kids is a part of the Reach Family Institute and provides all of the online resources you have been enjoying free of charge. We are working on new information and resources for 2019 and look forward to continuing to share information with you and build community. If there are any particular topics you’d like us to address in the coming year please don’t hesitate to reach out to us!
Wishing you all a wonderful holiday and and peaceful end to 2018.
We can’t leave out you parents! You are the key to making your families work. This is a list of books that we think are great for all parents out there. We broke them down by books we think are great to give to those who are expecting and books that are useful at any point in parenthood.
Wonderful books for expectant parents:
- Breastfeeding Made Simple: Seven Natural Laws for Nursing Mothers Nancy Mohrbacher and Kathleen Kendall-Tackett – Let’s be clear. When you are first starting out there is nothing simple about breastfeeding! It is something that is unfamiliar and there are so many variables involved that for many it is a very challenging journey. A beautiful and important and natural journey, but often challenging. This book truly does help in so many ways though! It is a wonderful resource for any breastfeeding mama and good resources are extremely valuable when starting on your new breastfeeding journey. It is generally stated that the biggest key to success in breastfeeding is knowing others that have been successful. This is very true in that it is extremely valuable to have a tribe to turn to that has been there and been able to push through the challenges. I would add this book to that mantra though. The key to success is having a tribe of other moms AND this book.
- Sleeping with Your Baby: A Parent’s Guide to Cosleeping by James J. McKenna – James McKenna is widely recognized as the guru when it comes to matters of mother-infant sleep relationships and the science behind cosleeping. Whether cosleeping is something you intend to do or not, this book is worth a read. It’s a short and easy read full of super practical information on cosleeping and how to do it safely whether it’s something you only do occasionally or whether it is your sleeping arrangement of choice on a nightly basis.
- Touching: The Human Significance of the Skin by Ashley Montagu – Originally published in 1971, Montagu’s “Touching” is the Bible of work related to the critical role that the tactile sense has on human development. In the intervening years, medical science has proven Montagu to be quite prophetic in his assertion of the all encompassing importance of touch.
Books that are wonderful for every parent, especially those of young children:
- The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle – Author Dan Coyle gets it like few others we know. By it we mean the extraordinary implications of the biological phenomenon called neuroplasticity. Our entire approach to child brain development is rooted in this fundamental reality. Coyle is a kindred spirit. You need this book. It will make you a better parent. Check out the full review we did of this book.
- Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain by John J. Ratey, M.D. – Unfortunately many, rightly so, have come to equate psychiatrists with the drugs they prescribe. Dr. Ratey uses medication when he thinks it will help but his first prescription for conditions like depression and anxiety may surprise you. It’s exercise! That’s right, Dr. Ratey proposes and shows that physical activity (mobility) should be at the heart of any attempt to improve human function. This book will get you off the couch and your brain will thank you for it.
- The Read-Aloud Handbook: 7th Edition by Jim Trelease – We are huge proponents of reading to children from the time they are infants. So this book is right up our alley! Trelease gives a splendid explanation of why reading to children throughout childhood is important along with a great list of books for all ages.
Hands-on play is critical because it provides the brain with real sensory experience and provides opportunity for the practical use of motor function. This holiday season we encourage you to focus on providing the young children in your life with gifts that will foster this. We’re talking – books, blocks, puzzles, musical instruments, and the like. Here’s a breakdown by age of some of the items we think are great for children and their development.
Expectant / Newborn – 12 months
Our favorite mat for tummy time: Tumbl Trak Tumbling Mat – You can read all about why we consider this the best mat for tummy time in our previous blog post. Suffice it to say we probably consider this the best investment for a baby in the first 6 months of life in terms of a tool that will assist them in the most important aspect of their development in this time period. The mat is also a lot of fun as they grow older.
Finding toys that keep baby interested during tummy time are always a good buy. Soft and colorful balls like the rolling rosa are great during the early months of tummy time. As they start to move around on their tummy in later months, anything that give them an an incentive to chase are ideal. Babies at this age also love tags and crinkly things so toys like this will easily last for the first 12-18 months.
We are also big fans of the Tobbles Neo Stacking Toy for similar reasons. During the early months it provides good motivation during tummy time since the stacking balls move around a bit when on their own. As they start to move you’ll find them harmlessly gumming on them. As they get a bit older, it is a great first stacking toy due to the forgiving nature of how it stacks.
Melissa & Doug makes some great puzzles for young children. The ones with bigger knobs are good for children around age 1.
Whenever you give your baby something to hold, make sure it is not a choking hazard. It’s not a bad idea to have a small object choking tester on hand so that you know exactly which items to keep away as you are baby-proofing.
Introducing children to music and musical instruments early on is so valuable. In the early months these items will simply be something that you use to engage your child, but as they approach 6-12 months they will begin to take charge of the instruments themselves. These are some of the musical toys we have loved for our kids.
- Maracas, tambourines, triangles – Small maracas like these are nice for little hands to grasp.
- Drumscan be a bit noisy, but are certainly a kid favorite.
1 – 2 year olds
This is the box set that we have and it has a good variety as a starter music set (we kept the triangle with it’s metal stick away until the kids were older) but there are a number of great Melissa & Doug box sets and instrument options available.
- Geometric stackers like this are wonderful for working on hand eye coordination and keep young toddlers busy for long periods of time. Children at this age love stacking.
- In addition to stacking, young toddlers experiment a lot with spinning objects (and themselves!) so this SpinAgain Stacking Toy from Fat Brain Toys is a great one.
- We love this bead sequencing set. While it is geared towards older kids (4+), the truth is that children beginning between 1 and 2 years old can benefit from playing with these as well. We simply recommend putting away the smallest beads in the set and letting your child explore this set under supervision. The beads are fun for them to feel and you can talk to them about the differences in the shapes, the colors, sort colors/shapes, and let them practice putting the beads on the rods.
- Melissa & Doug offer classic colorful wooden blocks as well as this architectural set. Both of these provide great hands on play and will grow with your child over time.
- Playmags are very fun and allow for children to build in different ways than they do with classic building blocks. While these are geared more for the 3+ age group children can begin experimenting with the magnetic tiles in the 1-2 age range. Eventually one can use these to work on combining shapes to make other shapes, hone concentration (and patience!), and add on the clickins to work on letters, spelling, numbers, and math.
- Melissa & Doug have great puzzles for young children. The ones with bigger knobs are good for children around age 1 and their wooden peg and chunky puzzles are great for young toddlers.
Balance Bike (yes seriously, you can start ~18 months):
Once your child is comfortably walking you can begin to introduce a balance bike to them. This one by Woom is our favorite! Check out our blog about why a balance bike is the absolute best way to teach your child to ride a bike, our post on why we recommend these bikes in particular, and our step-by-step guide to teaching your child to ride.
2 – 3 year olds
Cooking with kids provides so many opportunities for hands-on lessons. You can introduce math concepts, feel different textures, talk about different cultures, etc. It is one of the best places for children to learn through all of their senses! We love having a learning tower in the kitchen so that your child can help you out and get up to your level and you aren’t worried about turning your back and having them fall. There are lots of learning tower options out there but we have the Guidecraft Kitchen Helper as we like the feature that allows it to be folded up and tucked away.
Remo drums are awesome for kids and they have a nice deep sound that isn’t annoying. This is the specific drum we have but they make them in numerous shapes and sizes. In addition to just playing the drums, kids also love putting smaller objects (like Duplos, etc.) on these drums and making them bounce around!
Many of the items we listed for 1-2 year olds continue to be fun at this age; however, the kids begin to use them in a different evolution based on their age.
- Geometric Stackers, SpinAgain Stacking Toy, bead sequencing set, Melissa and Doug colorful wooden blocks, Playmags + clickins,
A favorite addition at this age are Tents
- Tents are wonderful for imaginative play. There are endless options out there so go with something that fits your space and your child’s interests. This is the one we have and it works well because it folds down into a small bag that we can put away when not being played with. This was key for us when living in a small city condo – https://brainfitkids.com/rocketplaytent
If you are just starting your little one out on a balance bike at this age then we recommend you start with the Woom 1 or the Woom 1 Plus. If your child is taller and big enough to fit the Woom 2 then you could start with that. Simply remove the pedals at first so that it is used as a balance bike until your child is ready to add on the pedals. Check out our blog about why a balance bike is the absolute best way to teach your child to ride a bike, our post on why we recommend these bikes in particular, and our step-by-step guide to teaching your child to ride.
3+ year olds
This glockenspiel is a wonderful instrument for introducing children to proper pitch and tone. It is also easy for them to play and experiment with.
Once you believe your child is ready we recommend getting them a nylon knife set that is designed to get them involved in cooking and cutting. These sets work really well and are designed to be easy for small hands to grip.
Toys that are still fun:
- Geometric Stackers, SpinAgain Stacking Toy, bead sequencing set, Melissa and Doug colorful wooden blocks, Playmags + clickins,
- Our kids love using combining many of the toys at this age blocks + duplos, etc
- For kids who have shown that they like building and creating with blocks we absolutely love KAPLA Construction wooden blocks as they offer a bit more of a challenge and more room for creative construction. It is incredible what can be built with these simple neutral blocks!
- This Pattern Play set is really beautiful and is great for working on more complex patterns with older toddlers. The listed age for this is 8 but we have used it can certainly be introduced as early as 3.
There are a couple games that we love to introduce around the age of three.
- UNO is a great game to reinforce colors and numbers. It’s a fairly straightforward game that young kids can pick up on quickly and it really works well to practice colors and numbers. Plus it’s one the whole family can enjoy! When first introducing the game we recommend playing without the “extra” cards (wild, draw two, etc) to make the game more simple and move faster. Once your child really gets the hang of how the game works then you can add those in. This is a favorite of ours to pass the time at restaurants or while traveling. It also makes an excellent stocking stuffer!
- Connect 4 is another one that has simple rules and can be introduced at this age. It will take a bit for your child to pick up the strategy but give them time and work together with them and you’ll soon find that they are legitimately planning ahead and strategizing and beating you!
Balance and Pedal Bike: If you are just starting your little one out on a balance bike at this age then we recommend you start with the Woom 1 or the Woom 1 Plus. If your child is taller and big enough to fit the Woom 2 (or if they are ready to move to a pedal bike – without training wheels!) then you could start with that and simply remove the pedals at first so that it is used as a balance bike until your child is ready to add on the pedals. Check out our blog about why a balance bike is the absolute best way to teach your child to ride a bike, our post on why we recommend these bikes in particular, and our step-by-step guide to teaching your child to ride.
The age recommendations below are meant as a guide to when you should introduce the books. All of the books will continue to be enjoyed by your child and continue to be a good tool for the development of understanding for a long time.
Our criteria for choosing these books:
- It has to meet the neurological/developmental needs for each child’s stage.
- It has to be FUN.
- It has to be educational and the information has to be accurate.
Newborn to 6 months
High Contrast Books Ideal for Newborns:
- Baby’s Very First Black and White Library – A great price value. There are 4 books. There is only 1 picture per page and the pictures are simple, clear, and contrasting. These books have all the elements for good visual stimulation for young babies. These books are smaller so great to throw in a diaper bag or take along with you on a trip.
- Look, Look! – Another book that we like for it’s high contrast images and red writing. We have a full book review on this one if you want to learn more about why we like it.
- On the Farm – This book is listed as 9 months + but we recommend it for newborns because the pictures are simple and contrasting. Black and white contrast is important to develop the immature vision of the newborn. It is made of thick cardboard and opens like an accordian which is perfect for tummy time. And later to learn the animals.
- 1 2 3 Counting – Like the On the Farm book, it is perfect for Tummy Time and as baby grows the counting becomes the fun.
Books with Ideal Images and Information for 3 months – 6 months
- Animal Noises – A great price value. Your 3 month old baby will enjoy hearing the animal noises and the simplicity of the pictures. And later on will join you in making the animal sounds himself.
- Baby’s Very First Little Library – A great price value. The simple, big, and contrasting primary color pictures make this book series (4 books) perfect for the vision of a 3 month old. The subjects covered (Animals, Mealtimes, Colors and Bedtime) make it perfect for the 6 month old and up.
- Baby’s Very First Noisy Book Series – A good auditory stimulation for your little baby with fun, farm sounds, trains, nursery rhymes, jungle and zoo to choose from. As your baby grows the push buttons are good for manual development.
- Baby’s Very First Touchy-Feely Animals Book – A great book to help develop awareness of third dimension by touch and appreciation of pleasant touch. I chose this one because of the simplicity of the picture which is attractive to this age range. But I do recommend any of the Touchy-Feely Books of the Series.
- Flip a Face – Colors – The large simple faces in this book have great appeal to young babies.
- That is not my… Series – All of these books are great for tactile exploration and a fun read for this age range. There are many in the series to choose from!
6 – 12 months
- Animal Hide and Seek – Provides lots of fun feeling and learning about animals. Each page has multiple touchy feely textures and flaps!
- Baby’s Very First Slide and See Series – All of the books in this series have beautiful vivid colors and are very inviting of child participation. At first you will need to move the flaps but your child will soon take over.
- Big and Little Box Set – There are 4 books in the box set. The large pictures are attractive for a 6 month old and the rhymes keep baby engaged. These board books are sturdy for little hands and the information is good for the growing baby.
- Haiku Baby – The poetry and sweet illustrations of this book are sure to capture the attention and peak the interest of your little one.
- Tip Tip, Dig Dig – This is a great one for little construction enthusiasts. It’s bright colors and large text give a simple introduction to different parts of of the construction site. It’s one your child will quickly come to memorize and recite.
1 – 2 years old
- All Better! – This book comes with reusable bandage stickers to put on the animals. The book helps children understand and accept treatment when they hurt themselves and they LOVE putting the bandages on each of the animals! They will soon be rushing to help take care of anyone they see that gets hurt.
- B is for BEDTIME – This sweet bedtime story also provides a good introduction to letters with wonderful cute pictures and short sentences. It is ideal to increase child’s everyday vocabulary while walking your child through a lovely a-z bedtime routine.
- Duck and Goose Series – All of the books in this series are sweet and your young toddlers are sure to become fast friends with Duck, Goose, Thistle and Bluebird. The bright, simple illustrations are great for young children and the books cover a wide array of relevant topics for children at this age.
- Very First Words Box Set – This set includes 10 books (10-14 pages each) that introduce a wide array of words into your child’s vocabulary. A B C, 1 2 3, Colors, Animals, On Vacation, At Home, Bedtime, My Body, Things That Go, and Nursery Rhymes.
Richard Scarry’s Best Word Book Ever – This book is wonderful for introducing young children to a huge array of vocabulary in a fun way. You can read our complete book review to learn more about why this is one of our household favorites.
- 1, 2, 3… By the Sea – This counting book has nice rhyming flow to it and provides a game of searching for the items talked about on each page. This book can be introduced early on to learn numbers but can also really grow with a child as they interact more with the pictures and eventually use it as an early reader book. It also comes with the Storytime App for more interactive fun with the book.
2 – 3 years old
- Cars and Trucks and Things That Go – Another favorite Richard Scarry book of ours. Kids will love searching for Goldbug and following the pig family through their adventures. In truth we love all of the books in the Richard Scarry Series!
- Bears Don’t Read – We recommend this book because it teaches love for reading, kindness and perseverance.
Goodnight, Goodnight Construction Site – This is one of our bedtime favorites. It’s done in a very clever way and provides a nice wind down for bedtime, especially for construction lovers.
- Telling the Time – I have listed this book in this age range because the story has concrete activities that happen at specific times and most importantly in an order. This allows the young child to begin understanding the concept of time. As they grow the clock becomes more useful.
- In My Heart: A Book of Feelings – This is one we recommend at an earlier age than the publisher. It’s a beautiful book that introduces children to all of the human emotions. You can read our full book review on it to learn more about why we love this one!
- Lift the Flap Very First Questions and Answers Series – Why Do Animals Talk, What is Sleep, What are Stars, What is Poop, etc. These books increase a child’s curiosity and start to address questions they may be beginning to ponder at this age. It’s series that helps you and your child talk about the many questions they are asking and the books are beautifully presented.
- My Very First Books Series – Our World Book, Space, Dinosaurs, and Animals to choose from. The books in this series have lots of information and are great for increasing a child’s vocabulary as well as knowledge about the various topics.
3 years old +
- Dinosaur Bob and His Adventures with the Family Lazardo – This quirky book is on the longer side but it’s full of adventures and silliness. It’s one our kids have loved and a great one when they’re in the mood to snuggle in with you and really sit down for a story. They also love the song at the end!
- Jessica’s Box – This story details a young shy girl trying to make friends at school. It’s a sweet story that opens opportunities for a wealth of valuable conversations with young toddlers. A charming book that speaks to the desire of all children to be liked for who they are (School Library Journal).
- Look Inside Series (Your Body, An Airport, Space, Our World, Jungle, etc.) – Kids love the lift a flap books and this series starts to delve a little deeper than the Peek Inside series and the Questions and Answers series for those whose curiosity and attention span is allowing them to dig a bit further into these topics.
- Shine-A-Light Series – This is a great interactive series because when the child shines the light behind the page it reveals a hidden image and brings the story to life. You have 19 books to choose from depending on the child’s interest. Because the information appears like magic, it is a great series to broaden your child’s interests and knowledge.
- Sleep, Big Bear, Sleep – This is a bedtime favorite in our house. Kids are sure to giggle at the misadventures of poor big bear as he stumbles around mis-understanding the words of old man winter.
- 5-minute Stories Series – There are MANY different 5-minute stories available. You can find pretty much all of the Disney and Pixar stories along with classic characters like the Berenstain Bears, Curious George, etc. If there’s a character your child is in love with there’s probably a 5-minute story book available. Some super eager little book-lovers may enjoy these stories between 2-3 years old but most will probably get the most out of it starting around 3. We will often choose to just bring one of these along with us for a trip as it then provides about 10 or so stories while traveling.
- 100 Paper Planes to Fold and Fly– This book provides 4 different models to perfect. It is a great parent/child do it together activity book for the little ones and it encourages “practice makes better”! There is also a 200 Paper Planes to Fold and Fly for your Kindergarten/First Grader or up. In addition there are versions that include Birds to Fold and Fly, Bugs to Fold and Fly, Dragons to Fold and Fly, etc.
Toddlerhood is a time of many feelings. It’s a time of discovering new feelings, of not always having the words to put to feelings, and of figuring out how to express feelings. In My Heart does a beautiful job of describing feelings in ways that may feel very familiar to a toddler and it helps them to find the words to put to the multitude of feelings that they are experiencing.
Name of Book:
Summary of Book:
Sometimes my heart feels like a big yellow star, shiny and bright.
I smile from ear to ear and twirl around so fast,
I feel as if I could take off into the sky.
This is when my heart is happy.
Happiness, sadness, bravery, anger, shyness . . . our hearts can feel so many feelings! Some make us feel as light as a balloon, others as heavy as an elephant. In My Heart explores a full range of emotions, describing how they feel physically, inside. With language that is lyrical but also direct, toddlers will be empowered by this new vocabulary and able to practice articulating and identifying their own emotions. With whimsical illustrations and an irresistible die-cut heart that extends through each spread, this unique feelings book is gorgeously packaged. (Summary courtesy of goodreads.com)
Recommended Age Range:
2 – 6 years. Note this is a younger age range than is listed by Barnes & Noble. They list the range as 3 – 6 years. We think that it’s a book worth introducing as early as 2 years as this is when toddlers are first starting to struggle with the ability to express their feelings and this book does a great job of introducing various “feeling” words into a young toddler’s vocabulary.
Why We Like It:
Jo Witek’s book, In My Heart, does a beautiful job of addressing the vast array of feelings that a toddler and young child are experiencing. Young children can struggle with putting feelings into words and may express their frustrations or feelings of discomfort or sadness in various non-verbal ways when they don’t know how to express themselves.
It is our job, as parents or caretakers, to create a safe and trusting relationship so a child can feel comfortable enough to work through those struggles. It is our job to be aware of the various manifestations of these feelings, to help children work through them, and give them tools to express them. It is our job to let them HAVE those feelings. Even the ugly, messy, uncomfortable ones. Because all feelings are valid. It is so important for a child to understand that it is ok to have feelings of sadness, frustration, anger, and fear along with all the other wonderful happy feelings we experience. By creating an environment in which a child feels safe to have a wide array of feelings and supporting them as they work through their feelings we validate who they are and what they are going through.
Very little people have very big emotions. And it can be overwhelming for them. It can be overwhelming for us, as the adults in the room as well. In My Heart works through the full gamut of feelings in such a beautiful and fun way. The illustrations in the book are whimsical and playful and the descriptions of the various feelings are spot on and age appropriate. We’ve found this book to be a wonderful tool to introduce vocabulary related to feelings into the lives of little ones.
Having just made a major cross-country move with many bumps and unexpected twists and turns along the way we have gone through many, many feelings in the last few months. Having a book like this was so helpful to open conversations about different feelings as we navigated (and are still navigating!) that journey.
Others in the Series:
- Brave As Can Be: A Book of Courage
- Hello in There!: A Big Sister’s Book of Waiting
- With My Daddy: A Book of Love and Family
- In My Room: A Book of Creativity and Imagination
- All My Treasures: A Book of Joy
What should you look for when purchasing books for your kids? Let’s break it down by age.
Newborn to 3 months:
At this stage the most important thing is to have books with bright, big, contrasting pictures or shapes. They should be simple, only one picture per page, and the picture should have few details. The written information is not as important. Short duration is key here, so the book should have no words, one word, a couplet, or a phrase per page so you can flip through it fast. At this age the visual stimulation is more important than the auditory information.
Example of a good book for this age level: Look, Look!
3 to 6 months:
Continue with bright, contrasting pictures but now the picture can be more detailed. The written information now is important to begin developing understanding. Here, begin with books that have one phrase per page and as the baby grows you can read books that have one to two very short sentences per page. Books that rhyme and have a nice rhythm to the language are good. The duration should be kept very short so you want to flip through the book fast enough to keep your child’s attention. Later on in this stage or early in the next stage, books with harder and thicker pages are good so that it is easier for your child to turn the pages on her own as you read the book.
Examples of good books for this age level: Flip a Face – Colors
6 months to 1 year:
Information content should increase and even more details in the pictures. Up to 2 or 3 short sentences per page. Of course, if your child loves to have stories read you probably can read books that have more sentences on a page. Here, the type of pictures are important because the more details there are in the pictures, the more things your child has to look at as you read the book and the more likely you will keep her attention as you read. Books about animals, babies, clothing, toys, transportation, etc. are good. Peek-a-boo type of books are fun at this stage.
1 year to 2 years:
More information and more detailed pictures. Pictures can be smaller and have more things on a page for the child to look at. Even more so at this stage than the previous one, the more things a child has to look at, the more details, the more likely you will be able to keep her attention as you read all of the information on a page. You can now have books with a paragraph or two. Pop up books are fun! Books that teach body parts, colors, opposites, shapes, space and such. Books that give children information in a concise and simple manner. As you read to your child pay attention to what types of books she shows more interest in and foster that interest. Begin to introduce books that come from a series. Your child will enjoy seeing the same characters in different stories.
Examples of good books for this age level: Duck and Goose
2 years and up:
Keep increasing the amount of information. Books can become more and more sophisticated in terms of the information they contain and have many paragraphs on a page as child’s attention span increases. Books that come from a series have more sophisticated stories. Books that talk about feelings, that help with toilet training, and that teach life lessons are good. Books about nature, cultures. or any other subject that interests you and your child. By now you will have a good idea of the types of books your child enjoys.
Examples of good books for this age level: Cars and Trucks and Things That Go
The important thing to keep in mind is to keep the reading sessions frequent and short when dealing with a young baby and, although the duration increases as the baby grows, you always want to stop reading when you see your child beginning to lose interest or even before so the next time you offer to read a book your child will be happy to read!
Daniel Coyle has examined the ways in which people, as individuals or as groups, get better in a number of his books. And it all links back to the brain! We’ll be sure to review each of them (listed at bottom of review) in time but will start with the first in his series: The Talent Code: Greatness Isn’t Born. It’s Grown. Here’s How.
Name of Book:
Summary of Book:
A New York Times bestselling author explores cutting-edge brain science to learn where talent comes from, how it grows—and how we can make ourselves smarter.
How does a penniless Russian tennis club with one indoor court create more top 20 women players than the entire United States? How did a small town in rural Italy produce the dozens of painters and sculptors who ignited the Italian Renaissance? Why are so many great soccer players from Brazil?
Where does talent come from, and how does it grow?
New research has revealed that myelin, once considered an inert form of insulation for brain cells, may be the holy grail of acquiring skill. Journalist Daniel Coyle spent years investigating talent hotbeds, interviewing world-class practitioners (top soccer players, violinists, fighter pilots, artists, and bank robbers) and neuroscientists. In clear, accessible language, he presents a solid strategy for skill acquisition—in athletics, fine arts, languages, science or math—that can be successfully applied through a person’s entire lifespan. (Summary courtesy of goodreads.com)
Why We Like It:
Let’s change that to why we LOVE it! This is one of the books we recommend most often to parents. There are many reasons why.
First of all, we recommend it because Daniel Coyle GETS IT! More than any other author writing about the human brain, he understands that the bottom line for everything we do is the development of our brain. He understands this at a very deep level, something we have rarely encountered in more than 4 decades of working with children and the human brain.
Second, Coyle makes an extremely complex subject understandable to a non-scientific audience. This makes The Talent Code perfect reading for our parents, who want to understand more about how their children develop but who, for the most part, are not scientists and don’t want to become scientists! We appreciate this because it is something we have done for many years in working directly with parents of brain-injured children. There are lots of people who know a lot about the brain but there aren’t many who can talk about it in a way that the man or woman on the street can understand.
Ever heard of the 10,000 hour rule? It was formulated by Swedish psychologist, Anders Ericsson. The rule says that expertise in any endeavor is the result of about 10,000 hours of dedicated practice. That’s about ten years. It’s been proven to be true across many fields of endeavor. The Talent Code explains why.
One of the wonderful things about The Talent Code is the way in which it shows the broad application of the neurological principles in many areas of life. Coyle explores the idea in relation to football (soccer), tennis, baseball, music, writing, skateboarding, painting, sculpture, etc. This is important because it highlights just how critical brain development and function is to everything that we do.
Another reason we like this book is because it also looks at the neurological basis of talent with regard to coaching and mentoring. What is the best way to practice a skill? What are the qualities to look for in a good coach or mentor? As children develop interests in various endeavors they will need people in their lives who can foster those interests and help them develop their abilities. The Talent Code can be an invaluable resource for parents as it gives good guidelines for learning how to spot those people.
The Talent Code ends with a look at how we can apply the neurological basis of talent outlined in the book to the fields of education, business, psychology, aging, and raising children. Finally, someone who sees the bigger picture! As I said at the beginning, author Daniel Coyle GETS it!
Others in the Series:
Coach John Wooden, former head basketball coach at UCLA, won ten NCAA national championships in a 12-year period, including a record seven in a row.
Coach was fond of saying that it’s the little details that are vital to creating success on the court and in life.
His wisdom also applies to the development of young children. I’ve got a little details tip for you today that can make all the difference in getting your little one’s mobility off and running… or should I say crawling?
Assuming that the brain is functioning well, every newborn baby is an athlete in the making. The mobility pathway that eventually leads to elite physical performance begins at birth and what happens in the first year of life is critically important.
In the early months of life the main mobility objective is to develop good head and trunk control and for your baby to become comfortable with being in the prone position (on the tummy). But the grand prize is crawling on the tummy for transportation. And this is where paying attention to little details can make a huge difference.
Crawling on the tummy is difficult work! Your baby has to move across the floor with the entire torso in full contact with the surface. Naturally, this causes a lot of friction, thus making movement more difficult. To the extent we can reduce friction, we can make crawling easier. Try crawling on a plush carpet compared to a linoleum floor and you will see what I mean. So, what to do?
“It’s the little details that are vital. Little things make big things happen.” Coach John Wooden, UCLA Bruins
The answer lies in the little things. In order to facilitate movement we need to minimize friction with a surface that is smooth (like linoleum) and firm, but not hard. We’ve done the research and tried all kinds of surfaces in our work with children who have mobility problems. The best product we have found for them and for little babies is the Tumbl Trak Tumbling Mat. It is smooth, firm (but not hard), colorful, measures 4 ft x 8 ft and folds neatly for storage. The mat comes in two thicknesses, 1-3/8 inch or 2 inches.
For little babies, the thinner mat is perfectly adequate. If you’d like to use the mat for tumbling when your child is older, then the 2 inch mat is the way to go.
Many parents place their babies on cloth baby gyms or soft foam ABC play mats or tiles. These may be cute and comfortable but they are entirely unnecessary and make movement more difficult, not easier.
Cloth baby gyms usually have a mobile overhead so parents tend to place their baby on the back so baby can see the mobile. That’s nice for vision but it interferes with mobility because babies move on the tummy not the back. You can however place your baby on the tummy when using the cloth baby gym. And when your baby needs a break from tummy time you can flip her over and she can enjoy the mobile. You can also use it in conjunction with the Tumbl Trak Mat to provide an incentive to move forward.
Foam ABC play mats or tiles make for a cute room decoration and they cushion falls nicely but they also make movement difficult because they have a rough non-skid texture which creates friction. We want to reduce friction, not increase it.
You have to be careful how you use this kind of equipment. Our advice is don’t waste your money on things your baby doesn’t need especially if they interfere with good brain development.
The Tumbl Trak Tumbling Mat is not cheap. So, think of it as an investment in your child’s future. Nothing influences human brain development and organization more than mobility. How that mobility happens in the first year of life is critical to everything that follows. Your investment will pay huge dividends for years to come.
If you decide to purchase this mat we recommend placing it outdoors for several days to a week so that the vinyl covering can outgas. Once you’ve done that you are good to go. Let us know how it works for you and feel free to write with questions.
Richard Scarry books have been around for decades. There are lots of them in the series so if you’re kids are into them you’ll have lots to choose from as they grow. The Best Word Book Ever is a great one to start with.
Name of Book:
Summary of Book:
Words, words, words! They define everything and kids want to define their world. Richard Scarry’s Best Word Book Ever is frankly the best word book ever!!! From the Bear’s home to the beach, from the airport to the zoo, verbs, numbers, parts of the body, every oversized spread has hundreds of things to look at, point to, and identify
Pigs, cats, rabbits, and bears, all doing what we do every day—playing with toys, driving fire engines, and experiencing life, just like the avid readers of this classic favorite. In print for fifty years, this book has sold over 4.5 million copies. . . . That’s over a billion words learned by children all over the world. Learning has never been more fun! (Summary courtesy of goodreads.com)
Recommended Age Range:
1.5-3 years. Note this is a younger age range than listed by Penguin Random House. They list the range as 3-7 years. Our kids have LOVED this book starting at about 1.5 years of age and then moved on to other Richard Scarry books with longer stories in them by about 3 years old.
Why We Like It:
This classic book is wonderful for increasing your little one’s vocabulary in a fun way. Literally everything in the book is labeled and kids love looking through the pictures and talking about everything they see. We found that our kids really started to enjoy it at about 1.5 years of age. It’s also a helpful tool in developing language as it aides with the first step of developing understanding. Before children can perfect language they need to develop understanding and one of the best ways to develop understanding is through hearing and talking about anything and everything. This book provides a great canvas on which to do that. Since everything is labeled it often reminds us as adults to point out things we might otherwise gloss over. And it provides opportunities to take any number of tangents about items or topics that your child shows an interest in.
If you speak Spanish (or want to learn Spanish along with your child!) then the Spanish Edition is great as it lists everything in both English and Spanish. So it’s a wonderful way to build vocabulary in both languages.
Once your child has the attention span for slightly longer stories you can move on to some of the other great Richard Scarry books. These are some of our favorites:
- Richard Scarry’s Cars and Trucks and Things That Go
- Richard Scarry’s What Do People Do All Day?
- Richard Scarry’s Busy, Busy World
In Cars and Trucks and Things That Go our kids love looking for Goldbug on every page. Since this is really one long ongoing story we started a rule at bedtime that we would do 6 pages at a time and would keep a bookmark in the book to pick up where we left off each night. This helped keep bedtime reading from stretching on for too long! 😉 The other two, What Do People Do All Day? and Busy, Busy World are good compilations of shorter stories that you can do piecemeal with your kids. As we mentioned, these books are classics so some of the content can be outdated but it can also make for fun sharing of stories. “Kids, this is what pencil sharpeners looked like in the classroom when I was a kid…”
We hope you and your kids enjoy reading these ones as much as we have!