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!
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
If you’re looking for a great first book for a newborn then look no further than Look, Look! Babies are born with limited vision thus you want to expose them to books with clear, high-contrast images to stimulate and develop their vision.
Name of Book:
Summary of Book:
Look, Look! Children run, fish swim, stars shine . . . all for baby’s eyes to see. This sturdy board book, full of high-contrast black-and-white cut-paper art perfect for staring at, is just the thing for the eyes of the youngest babies. A few words in curving red type on each spread describe the scenes – a car races, a cat stretches, flowers bloom – and extend the book’s age appeal so that it will be fascinating to older babies, too. Striking and stylish, Look Look! is the ideal first board book for babies just beginning to look and learn. Peter Linenthal is an illustrator who has taught art in elementary schools for twenty years. (Summary courtesy of goodreads.com)
Recommended Age Range:
Newborn – 3 months. Note this is a younger age range than is listed by Barnes & Noble. They list the range as 3 months – 3 years. We find this book to be ideal right from birth due to it’s large black & white images and large print in red. We find that older babies & toddlers may have moved on from the simplicity of this book.
Why We Like It:
This book checks off all of our priorities for ideal books for very young babies.
As a reminder, we recommend books that fit the following criteria for newborn – 3 month olds: 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.
Given that your priority in the first three months of life is visual stimulation, the large and interesting black & white photos in Look, Look! are ideal. There are limited words on a page and the ideas are very simple which makes it easy to read quickly. The board book also makes it easy to flip through quickly and also stands up to young babies who may be more interested in chewing on the book ;-).
This is also a great book to use for tummy time as the images catch a babies attention and provide a good distraction for baby and encourage baby to lift their head during tummy time as they get older and gain strength.
This is definitely one we think should be in every baby’s library from the start!
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!
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!