Tuesday, July 31, 2012

How to Help Your Child Get the Most Out of the Olympics

There’s a natural excitement that comes with the Olympics. You can use that excitement to encourage positive learning experiences and give your child the chance to explore new interests and activities.
Here are 5 ways to help your child get the most out of the Olympics:

1. Watch the Olympics together.

Watch your child’s favorite event or events and maybe an event that’s new for your child. For toddlers and older preschoolers, you could have some Olympic-inspired activities set up on shelves in the room where your family watches television. That way your child could enjoy watching some Olympic events with you but not feel forced to watch events he or she isn’t interested in.
Even if you feel the stories of the athletes are sometimes “fluff” pieces, those are often the most interesting and inspiring for children (and people like me). They’re a good springboard for character-building discussions with your child.

2. Do some Olympic-inspired educational activities.

There are SO MANY great Olympic activities you can do to help prevent the “summer slide” if your child is still on summer vacation. And whether or not you’re still on summer vacation, the Olympics are a great way to refresh or continue your child’s excitement for learning.
You and your child can read Olympic books, check out lots of online Olympic resources, make Olympic crafts, make an Olympic scrapbook, learn about different countries, study the history of the Olympics, learn about different sports….

There are too many great educational activities to even begin to list them all here. I have an Olympic Unit Study Pinterest Board where I’m pinning Olympic posts, websites, and activities of all kinds and for all ages.
The number of activities available can seem overwhelming, but I recommend just choosing some you feel drawn to. You can even have your child help you choose activities he or she would like to do. I also have a Montessori-Inspired Olympic Unit with activities you can choose or you and your child can choose together. I’m adding to both my post and Pinterest board throughout the Olympics, so keep checking back for new ideas. Note: If you’d like an Olympic creed word art freebie (and information on the Olympic creed and Olympic motto), I have that here: Olympic Creed Word Art Freebie.

I’m also excited to be participating in Kids Bloggers Go Olympics, where you’ll find activities and ideas throughout the 18 days of the Olympics! I’m pinning each of those posts to my Olympic Unit Study Pinterest Board, too. And I’ll have an Opening Ceremony post at Living Montessori Now tomorrow!

3. Encourage your child to try out a new sport.

Whether or not your child has discovered a favorite sport, now is a great time for your child to try out something new. It could be a one-day activity that may or may not lead to something exciting. My husband and I tried to give our children lots of opportunities to find what they loved. You never know what might spark a new interest or even a new career.
For our son, a cub scout activity in which he worked to earn medals for trying various sports led to both our kids’ careers as adults. For Will, it was a one-day skiing activity that showed his natural talent at skiing, which led to ski racing, which led to our moving to Vail, Colorado, which led to our kids discovering figure skating, which led to lots of great family trips to competitions, which led to international competitions (and Christina living in Great Britain and representing Great Britain in ice dance), which led to both of our kids having successful careers in skating.
Whether your child is interested in sports just for fun or as an intense part of his or her life, there are many character-building benefits to sports when they’re encouraged in a healthy way.

4. Hold your own family Olympics or an Olympic-themed celebration.

This could be a fun way to encourage movement and physical fitness, promote family togetherness, and/or just have a fun celebration. The Olympic-themed event could be a party for neighborhood kids as well. You’ll find lots of ideas for family Olympics and Olympic parties on my Olympic Unit Study Pinterest Board.

5. Get caught up in the excitement of the Olympics, but remember that it’s all about the journey.

Allow you and your child to feel the excitement of the Olympics. It’s okay if your child has Olympic dreams after watching the Olympics (whether or not your child will actually ever compete in the Olympics). I have more about following those interests in my post “Raising an Elite Athlete.” One of the links in that post is particularly relevant to a lot of parents’ worries about allowing those dreams: “What If My Child Doesn’t Win the Olympics? Is It Alright to Dream?”
What’s most important in this excitement is truly following your child’s interests. Your child’s Olympic wishes may foreshadow an exciting sports career. Or they may be stepping stones leading to something else which is exciting in an entirely different way. Just trust that following your child’s interest will lead to something wonderful. And be careful that you don’t get your own Olympic dreams mixed up in your child’s.
The Carl Lewis quote is one that my family always found helpful for keeping things in perspective: “It’s all about the journey, not the outcome.”

full article: http://raisingfigureskaters.com/2012/07/26/how-to-help-your-child-get-the-most-out-of-the-olympics/

Are you doing anything fun to get your children involved in the Olympic excitement? We would love to hear even more ideas of fun Olympic activities!

Monday, July 30, 2012

Do Children Need Risky Play?

Child development experts around the world are alarmed at the reduction in free play allowed children at home, school, and in the community.   Simultaneously, schools are pressured to provide more physical exercise within the school day to counteract rising rates of obesity and diabetes.

How Much Risk is Too Much?

In November, 2011,The National Post reported that schools in Toronto, Ontario had banned almost all balls on playgrounds following an incident where a parent was hit in the head with a soccer ball.  Students responded with petitions, protesting the ban and many parents agreed, but school is not the only setting where children’s play is being restricted.

How can the correct balance be struck between safety and the excitement of creative, free play?  Is unstructured play really necessary?  How much risk is too much?  These are questions that have been explored in recent research.
Anushka Asthana, education correspondent for The Observer in Britain, reported on an extensive literature review by Play England in November, 2008, which revealed that half of Britain’s children had been banned from tree-climbing and many had been banned from playing tag.  Even hide and seek were considered too risky by some parents.  While the potential dangers involved in tree-climbing are obvious, the same study pointed out that falling out of bed resulted in almost three times as many hospitalizations than falling out of trees did.

Evolutionary Reason for Risky Behavior

Children playing at the beach will enthusiastically build shelters for themselves out of driftwood, despite the risk of slivers, scrapes, stings, bumps and bruises.   This is independent discovery learning, and their dreams will incorporate this new learning into existing memory networks while the bumps and bruises heal.

The Journal of Evolutionary Psychology reported, in 2011, [points out] that risky play appears to have an evolutionary anti-phobic effect.   For example, children have a natural and adaptive fear of heights which protects them from intentionally exposing themselves to dangerous heights.  Despite this fear, they tend to take gradually increasing risk with heights and in doing so are able to desensitize themselves and avoid a phobia that would interfere with normal life.  In taking risks, with adult guidance, children experience the positive emotion of excitement paired with the experience of coping safely, which reduces the level of fear and anxiety.

Graduated exposure to anxiety-producing stimuli, where the child has control over the degree of exposure, combined with mastery oriented thoughts (e.g.I can do this) is an effective method of reducing anxiety and fear.  Thus the child is able to move the boundary between danger and safety, expanding his/her range of experience and ability.

Over-Protection Reduces Resiliency

Well-intentioned, but inhibiting, protection from age-appropriate risky play could result in more anxiety for children as they are prevented from experiencing the gradual exposure necessary to overcome fears that are no longer relevant due to the child’s development of adequate coping skills.

Minor injuries are a normal part of life, are not usually traumatic to children, and could even be educational, as adults provide appropriate care and encourage the child to carry on.  Serious playground injuries are relatively rare, and usually due to children’s behaviour rather than the equipment used.

Despite risk of injury, observational studies show that children will seek activities that involve height and speed regardless of adults’ restrictions.  The ambiguous pairing of fear and excitement when children are engaged in risky play is motivating; successfully balancing pleasant and unpleasant emotions is intensely rewarding.

Culture and Over-Protective Parenting

Cultural differences influence the degree of protection/restriction provided by parents and early childhood educators.  Scandinavian parents tend to encourage a greater degree of freedom to roam outdoors than some other western countries, for example, while in North America there has been a trend in recent years to reduce risk to the point of boredom.  While rough and tumble play is stimulating for motor and cognitive functions, sedentary play is dangerously unstimulating, with alarming reports of increasing childhood diseases such as diabetes, heart problems, and psychological difficulties such as anxiety and depression.

Developing Resilience in Kids

The adults in childrens’ lives are a powerful influence on developing resilience, the ability to bounce back from inevitable stressors in life.  Resilient children develop empathy, and are less likely to suffer from mental illness.  They develop good problem-solving skills, are courageous about trying new experiences, and have healthy attachments with adults.

Excessive restrictions on exploratory play, and parents’ anxiety about normal risk, can have a negative effect on the development of resilience in children, as too many rules reduce the opportunities for children to improve competence and confidence. Inadequate protection can also negatively impact children’s development of resilience; as in most areas of child-rearing, balance is the key.

full article: http://decodedscience.com/do-children-need-risky-play/16254/2

As a parent, how do you allow or not allow your child to play? Do you think more 'risky play' is a natural and important part of child development?

Friday, July 27, 2012

Make Your Own Glowing Chalk

So Simple! Great way to play in a basement, with a black light etc.

To make our glowing chalkI placed some sidewalk chalk in a bowl of orange glow water, and some in a bowl of green glow water and let it sit for several days.

  The glow water slowly absorbed into the chalk to make glowing chalk!
While the green worked the best, and was the most vibrant, the orange worked great too!

Thursday, July 26, 2012

What Parents Can do to Help a Child Succeed in School

It is almost time to return to school. Students are collecting their school supplies in their backpacks and are eager to find out if their best friends will be in their class next year.
This is also a time for parents to be planning their child’s return to school. Playing an active role in their child’s school experience is the best way for parents to ensure their child’s educational success.
Studies on parent involvement indicate that the most accurate predictor of a child’s achievement in school is the extent to which the child’s family is able to:
Create an environment that encourages learning.
Communicate high yet reasonable expectations for their child’s achievement and future career.
Become involved in the child’s education at school and in the community.
Here are some ideas that can help parents provide a family environment that will support success.
Encouraging learning
Regardless of the student’s grade level, homework can be an everyday expectation. If the teacher did not assign homework, or if the student finishes the homework quickly, parents should expect the student to have plenty of books on hand to practice reading.
Parents should set aside a time and place to ensure that homework is completed without distractions. The best way to determine an appropriate amount of time is to multiply the grade level by 10 minutes. A first grader should have 10 minutes of homework; a 12th grader, two hours. However, depending on the student and the teacher, that can vary.
There is no doubt that students will begin using the Internet for schoolwork, even at very young ages. It is important for parents to understand how they and their student can use it best.
A good online resource is “Parents’ Guide to the Internet,” www.ed.gov/pubs/parents/internet. It is intended to help parents — regardless of their technological know-how — effectively employ online resources in their child’s education. The guide provides parents with an introduction to the Internet, instructions on how to navigate it, a glossary of common Internet terminology and suggestions on how parents can allow their children to tap into the wonders of the Internet while safeguarding them from its potential hazards.
Expectations for achievement
Children will often fulfill the expectation set for them. If a parent expects their student to get all B’s on a report card, what is the student’s motivation to get all A’s? The goal was met at B’s. Until students reach about 11th grade, the long-term reasons for doing well in school have not sunk in. Therefore, their only motivation to achieve is the parental expectation. However, it is important to know your children and be fully aware of their skills and abilities. Parents’ expectations should be reasonable.
Become involved
Becoming involved means establishing two-way communication between the parent and teacher, school administration or other parents. When students know their education is important enough for mom or dad to take the time to visit the school to volunteer, spend evenings attending school meetings, or make a phone call or send an email to check on a student’s progress, education becomes a priority for the student as well.
Ask your child’s teacher how to get involved, and keep asking throughout the school year as needs change.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Spatial Knowledge Vs. Spatial Choice

Spatial Knowledge Vs. Spatial Choice: The Hippocampus as Conflict Detector?

Hippocampal NMDA receptors in the brain help to make the right decision when faced with complex orientation problems.

Synapses are modified through learning. Up until now, scientists believed that a particular form of synaptic plasticity in the brain's hippocampus was responsible for learning spatial relations. This was based on a receptor type for the neurotransmitter glutamate: the NMDA receptor. Researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Medical Research in Heidelberg and Oxford University have now observed that mice develop a spatial memory, even when the NMDA receptor-transmitted plasticity is switched off in parts of their hippocampus. However, if these mice have to resolve a conflict while getting their bearings, they are not successful in resolving it; the hippocampal NMDA receptors are clearly needed to detect or resolve the conflict. This has led the researchers involved in this experiment to refute a central tenet of neuroscience regarding the function of hippocampal NMDA receptor-transmitted plasticity in spatial learning.
The hippocampus is part of the forebrain and processes a large amount of information from various parts of the brain. Incoming signals are transmitted by granule cells in the dentate gyrus to pyramid cells in the CA3 region and from these to pyramid cells in the CA1 region. NMDA receptors can optimise or weaken the transmission efficiency of the neurotransmitter glutamate at the synapses involved at the signal flow. It has long been speculated that this form of synaptic plasticity is needed when learning about spatial associations. Rolf Sprengel and Peter H. Seeburg from the Max Planck Institute for Medical Research worked with colleagues from Oxford and Oslo to refute this theory.
The scientists studied genetically modified mice lacking NMDA receptors in dentate gyrus granule cells and pyramid cells in the CA1 region. They were thus able to observe for the first time ever what happens when NMDA receptor-dependent plasticity is switched off almost exclusively at these synapses in the hippocampus. They analysed the learning behaviour of the mice and noted that learning capacity depended on the experimental setup. In a standard swimming test (the so called Morris Water Maze), the spatial memory of the genetically modified animals was just as good as the spatial memory of the normal controls. In this test, the animals had to learn the location of an escape platform placed just under the surface of water in a pool of milky water using external cues and had to find the hidden platform after a few attempts.
In a second spatial orientation test in which the animals could find food in three of six identical arms of a "six arm dry maze," the mice lacking NMDA receptors in the dentate gyrus and CA1 region of the hippocampus repeatedly visited arms without food, while, after a number of attempts, the controls -- as in the case of the swimming test -- used markings outside of the maze to enter the three arms where there was food.
Although both tests demand spatial learning, the genetically modified animals performed worse only in the maze arm than the controls, apparently irritated by the fact that arms were rewarded or not rewarded with food. David Bannerman from Oxford therefore designed a second swimming test. In this test, the location of the hidden platform was marked with a beacon. A second identical, beacon was placed at another location in the pool as a decoy -- there was no platform under the water at this second location. The mice had to learn that only the spatial orientation and not the location of the beacons -- like the visually identical arms in the maze -- was crucial for finding the platform that would allow them to escape. As the beacons were used by the animals with a preference for hippocampus-independent orientation, it was also difficult for the controls to unerringly find the hidden platform after numerous trials. Mice lacking the NMDA receptors in the dentate gyrus and the CA1 region could not resolve this problem. If both beacons were removed or the shape of the decoy beacons was modified, all the animals quickly selected the location of the invisible platform.
"This clearly shows that, after a number of runs, even our genetically modified mice know the exact location of the hidden escape platform or can purposefully get their bearings in the swimming pool when searching for various beacons. Our mice therefore have no learning or memory problems in either of the two tasks. If, however, the tasks are temporally superimposed and if the location of identical beacons in the swimming pool does not have to be evaluated as distinct items of information, our mice are not capable of making the right decision to resolve the problem," says Rolf Sprengel.
The NMDA receptors in the CA1 region of the hippocampus therefore seem to perform a conflict detection or decision-making role in the event of conflicts.
This is an extremely surprising result. It runs contrary to a textbook tenet that has prevailed for more than 15 years, namely that NMDA receptors in the CA1 region of the hippocampus are needed to develop spatial memory. "Thanks to Rolf Sprengel's new complex genetic technique of switching off the NMDA receptors only in specific parts of the hippocampus in adult mice and to David Bannerman's intelligently linked behavioural experiments, we now know that NMDA receptors in other parts of the brain are probably responsible for learning spatial relations," explains Peter H. Seeburg. The researchers assume, therefore, that hippocampal NMDA receptors are also significant in other non-spat

image: http://www.illustrationsof.com/royalty-free-brain-clipart-illustration-1052821.jpg

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Study on Gender, Mathematics and Anxiety

Girls' Mathematics Performance More Likely to Suffer Than Boys' as a Result of Mathematics Anxiety

If a train is travelling a distance of 55 miles at 150mph, how long will it take to reach its destination? If the thought of having to answer this question makes you apprehensive, then you may have mathematics anxiety. A new study published July 9 in BioMed Central's open access journal Behavioral and Brain Functions reports that a number of school-age children suffer from mathematics anxiety and, although both genders' performance is likely to be affected as a result, girls' maths performance is more likely to suffer than boys'.
Mathematics anxiety is a state of discomfort associated with performing mathematics tasks and is thought to affect a notable proportion of both children and adults, having a negative impact on their mathematics performance. Researchers from Cambridge University, UK, set out to investigate in 433 British secondary school children whether mathematics anxiety has any effect on mathematics performance on boys and girls. The team controlled for test anxiety, a related construct, but which isn't typically controlled for in mathematics anxiety studies.

The investigators found children with higher mathematics anxiety have a lower mathematics performance, but girls showed higher levels of mathematics anxiety than boys and it was a significant indicator of their performance. The fact that there were no gender differences in maths performance despite higher mathematics anxiety in girls could suggest that girls could have the potential to perform better in mathematics were it not for higher levels of anxiety.

The results from this study provide strong evidence to show that secondary school children experience mathematics anxiety. Lead author Dénes Szűcs commented, "Mathematics anxiety warrants attention in the classroom because it could have negative consequences for later mathematics education, particularly as it is thought to develop during the primary school years." Mathematics anxiety could account for the reasons why only 7% of pupils in the UK study mathematics at A level and why the number of students taking maths at university level is in decline.

Full article: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/07/120709093115.htm
image: http://ms-abuboo.com/math%20symbols.jpg

Monday, July 23, 2012

Schools Bulk up on Better Nutrition

We tell our kids to eat right, finish their greens, lay off the processed goodies, all that good stuff.
So how much sense does it make to send our kids off to school knowing that the cafeteria is serving congealed mashed potatoes and mystery meat?
According to KALW, there are Bay Area schools looking to change the stereotype of questionable cafeteria food. Oakland Unified School District is joining in a movement started by Berkeley schools to serve more nutritious foods to its students.
In a district where many students are at school until early evening, Oakland schools, in conjunction with the Center for Eco Literacy, conducted a study to determine how many students are eating school food, and where improvements in nutrition need to be made.
What they found was not only food of poor quality, but that many students weren’t getting enough to eat to begin with.
Oakland Unified’s Nutrition Services Director Jennifer LeBarre tells KALW that while she’s seen “incremental” improvements in her eight years working for the school district, she is definitely happy with the progress that is being made.
Even parents have responded positively to the improvements in the foods their kids are eating at school. One mom says that better school food can transfer home with the kids:
In addition to adding a “hot supper” to the menu for students that are on school grounds into the evening hours, there is also a push to link schools up with local farms, a difficult feat at a time when budget cuts on the educational level are so high. But LeBarre maintains her optimism that feeding healthier meals to today’s kids is completely possible.

full article: http://sfbay.ca/2012/07/01/schools-bulk-up-on-better-nutrition/

Is there anything you do to make sure your children eat healthier at school? Is your school doing anything to help improve their healthy food selection etc.?

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Interesting Take on Child Discipline: No More Time Out

No More Time Out?

I try very hard not to give time outs to my children; I think, in general, they’re a bad idea. What better way to breed anger and resentment in one’s progeny than to stick them somewhere away from you, just at the moment they probably need you the most?
I understand the time-out tactic (or the older-kid version of sending one to one’s room) on a number of rational levels. Both parties, parent and child, often have to take a minute to compose themselves, to let the anger of the moment subside in order to have meaningful dialogue. It sometimes seems necessary, especially with three-year-olds in full tantrum mode, to put them someplace else for a time to restore the collective sanity. But it occurred to me recently, when my 7-year-old lay on his bed in misery, that I never wanted to leave him there too long, at any age. I never wanted him or his brother to have to sit with their bad mood, to build up the sad, lonely, angry thoughts that often occur to one when left to stew alone.
Isolation as punishment is a problem. Solitude of the not healthy kind is rampant in our society, and it’s easy to see why when I myself am tempted to send my children off to distant locales just because it is easier to shun them than to face the difficulty head on. But if members are not willing to stick around and tackle the issues, both families and communities can become fragmented and disjointed. It’s vital that we hug one another, even at times of upset and anger – especially at times of upset and anger.
Take the day when my older son, 9, asked me to get him a glass of water while I was in the midst of making dinner. I stood there, surrounded by obvious duties, as he calmly readHarry Potter, waiting to be waited on.
“I’m sure, darling, you can get it yourself,” I said, mustering all the sweetness I could in my voice, gesturing to the drawer right below his feet where the cups live.
“You’re lazy,” he said rudely, staring straight at me. I could see in his eyes the comment was partly in jest, but I was in no mood to joke.
“Really?” I said. “Really?”
My first impulse was to send him to his room, so I did, shuttling my now-sorry-for-the-comment son determinedly up the stairs while vociferating loudly all that I had done for him and others that day, all that I did for him and others every day.
“Are you still mad at me? Do you hate me?” he sobbed from his bed, thirty seconds into his exile.
My heart softened. “No, and No,” I said. “You can come down:”
Mad as I was, I couldn’t leave him there, crying and guilt-ridden.
He walked down the stairs and hugged me, crushed his little self into my middle desperately and then looked up at me with his big brown eyes. “I’m sorry Mommy,” he said.
“I know, Sweetie,” I said. “I’m just tired and have done a lot and I get upset when you don’t appreciate it.”
He nodded and wiped away his tears. “I know.”
The evening went well after that, everyone tip-toeing around tired Mommy, just like I like. Maybe I’m a wimp, maybe it will bite me in the behind in the long run, but lengthy sob sessions, long separations seem silly to me when a few minutes of explanation could suffice.
Yes, until your children are the age when you can actually reason with them, perhaps time outs are useful for settling everyone down. But from the minute they can really understand what you’re saying, coming back together and communicating honestly to make it work seems like such a better, if often challenging, option.

What is your opinion on this idea of not using time out as punishment? What is your take on the best way to discipline a child?

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

New Evidence Links Immune Irregularities to Autism

New Evidence Links Immune Irregularities to Autism

Scientists at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) pioneered the study of the link between irregularities in the immune system and neurodevelopmental disorders such as autism a decade ago. Since then, studies of postmortem brains and of individuals with autism, as well as epidemiological studies, have supported the correlation between alterations in the immune system and autism spectrum disorder.

What has remained unanswered, however, is whether the immune changes play a causative role in the development of the disease or are merely a side effect. Now a new Caltech study suggests that specific changes in an overactive immune system can indeed contribute to autism-like behaviors in mice, and that in some cases, this activation can be related to what a developing fetus experiences in the womb.

The results appear in a paper this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

"We have long suspected that the immune system plays a role in the development of autism spectrum disorder," says Paul Patterson, the Anne P. and Benjamin F. Biaggini Professor of Biological Sciences at Caltech, who led the work. "In our studies of a mouse model based on an environmental risk factor for autism, we find that the immune system of the mother is a key factor in the eventual abnormal behaviors in the offspring."

The first step in the work was establishing a mouse model that tied the autism-related behaviors together with immune changes. Several large epidemiological studies -- including one that involved tracking the medical history of every person born in Denmark between 1980 and 2005 -- have found a correlation between viral infection during the first trimester of a mother's pregnancy and a higher risk for autism spectrum disorder in her child. To model this in mice, the researchers injected pregnant mothers with a viral mimic that triggered the same type of immune response a viral infection would.

"In mice, this single insult to the mother translates into autism-related behavioral abnormalities and neuropathologies in the offspring," says Elaine Hsiao, a graduate student in Patterson's lab and lead author of the PNAS paper.

The team found that the offspring exhibit the core behavioral symptoms associated with autism spectrum disorder -- repetitive or stereotyped behaviors, decreased social interactions, and impaired communication. In mice, this translates to such behaviors as compulsively burying marbles placed in their cage, excessively self grooming, choosing to spend time alone or with a toy rather than interacting with a new mouse, or vocalizing ultrasonically less often or in an altered way compared to typical mice.

Next, the researchers characterized the immune system of the offspring of mothers that had been infected and found that the offspring display a number of immune changes. Some of those changes parallel those seen in people with autism, including decreased levels of regulatory T cells, which play a key role in suppressing the immune response. Taken together, the observed immune alterations add up to an immune system in overdrive -- one that promotes inflammation.

"Remarkably, we saw these immune abnormalities in both young and adult offspring of immune-activated mothers," Hsiao says. "This tells us that a prenatal challenge can result in long-term consequences for health and development."

With the mouse model established, the group was then able to test whether the offspring's immune problems contribute to their autism-related behaviors. In the most revealing test of this hypothesis, the researchers were able to correct many of the autism-like behaviors in the offspring of immune-activated mothers by giving the offspring a bone-marrow transplant from typical mice. The normal stem cells in the transplanted bone marrow not only replenished the immune system of the host animals but altered their autism-like behavioral impairments.

The researchers emphasize that because the work was conducted in mice, the results cannot be readily extrapolated to humans, and they certainly do not suggest that bone-marrow transplants should be considered as a treatment for autism. They also have yet to establish whether it was the infusion of stem cells or the bone-marrow transplant procedure itself -- complete with irradiation -- that corrected the behaviors.

However, Patterson says, the results do suggest that immune irregularities in children could be an important target for innovative immune manipulations in addressing the behaviors associated with autism spectrum disorder. By correcting these immune problems, he says, it might be possible to ameliorate some of the classic developmental delays seen in autism.

In future studies, the researchers plan to examine the effects of highly targeted anti-inflammatory treatments on mice that display autism-related behaviors and immune changes. They are also interested in considering the gastrointestinal (GI) bacteria, or microbiota, of such mice. Coauthor Sarkis Mazmanian, a professor of biology at Caltech, has shown that gut bacteria are intimately tied to the function of the immune system. He and Patterson are investigating whether changes to the microbiota of these mice might also influence their autism-related behaviors.

Along with Patterson, Hsiao, and Mazmanian, additional Caltech coauthors on the PNAS paper, "Modeling an autism risk factor in mice leads to permanent immune dysregulation," are Mazmanian lab manager Sara McBride and former graduate student Janet Chow. The work was supported by an Autism Speaks Weatherstone Fellowship, National Institutes of Health Graduate Training Grants, a Weston Havens Foundation grant, a Gregory O. and Jennifer W. Johnson Caltech Innovation Fellowship, a Caltech Innovation grant, and a Congressionally Directed Medical Research Program Idea Development Award.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Organic vs. Natural: What the Difference?

Organic vs. Natural

What’s the difference? Is there a difference? We’re here to help you understand that there is a difference!

USDA OrganicWhen products are labeled with the USDA Organic symbol, here’s what you can expect and trust:
  • No toxic synthetic pesticides, herbicides, or fumigants
  • No chemical fertilizers or sewer sludge used as fertilizer
  • No planting of genetically engineered crops or use of cloned animals
  • No synthetic hormones or antibiotics
  • No artificial preservatives
  • No artificial colors or synthetic flavors and sweeteners
  • No trans fats
  • No irradiation
And what is the definition of “natural?” Well, it varies. According to the USDA, there is no clear definition, nor any enforceable standard within the food industry, though many natural products are marketed as “sustainable” with one or more of the following claims:
  • No pesticides or artificial chemicals
  • No artificial colors, flavors, sweeteners, preservatives, or other additives
  • “Family farm” raised
  • “Only natural ingredients”
  • “Whole ingredients” or “natural” foods
  • “GMO free”
But “natural” foods are often grown on farms applying synthetic pesticides, including several posing risks to people and the environment.  “Natural” foods are manufactured from crops grown with conventional, energy-intensive fertilizers, and frequently contain one or more products derived from genetically engineered corn or soybeans.
“Natural” foods often do contain one or a few ingredients grown using sustainable agriculture methods, both avoiding applications of dangerous chemicals and protecting soil and water resources, but what about other ingredients with hard to pronounce names buried in the ingredients list?
The world of “natural” foods gets even murkier on farms raising livestock, where claims are made implying that animals are raised in “natural” settings and are not given drugs and high-energy feeds to promote rapid growth. Some brands selling “natural” meat and dairy products do require farmers to not administer low doses of antibiotics to boost animal growth, while others discourage use of added hormones, but these claims are not backed up by meaningful enforcement and penalty provisions.
Only organic requires farmers to develop and follow a detailed farm system plan, and inspects farmers every year to make sure they are following all organic requirements set forth by the USDA.  Those that don’t lose their certification and may no longer display the organic seal on their product labels.
These are the reasons people should seek out products bearing the organic label whenever possible.  Organic food and farming is the safest and surest way to promote both your health, and the health of farmers, animals, and the environment. It’s as simple as that.

You can read the article here, too:

Friday, July 13, 2012

Fun Friday: Hand Print Butterfly's!

Hand print Butterfly's


Set out three colors of paint.

Have your toddler paint one hand in multiple colors and make an impression of his hand on a sheet of white paper(fingers open).

Have child wash off his hand, then paint the opposite hand with multiple colors and make an impression of his hand on the same or another sheet of white paper.

When hand impressions are dry, cut them out and glue the two pictures on either side of a large craft stick (or piece of cardboard cut into a large cigar shape) to create a butterfly. Alternatively, leave hand prints on paper and paint a line down the center [as pictured above]. There are so many possibilities!

image: http://www.clickacraft.com/sites/default/files/styles/huge/public/original_mk/IMG_5376.JPG

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Difference between Autism and Aspergers

Parents often breathe a sigh of relief when their child takes his first step, speaks her first word, and can spontaneously read his mother’s facial expression.
For children with autism, they might take the first step like all other children, but the first word and emotional communication might be a long way off. In some cases, it may never come.
The journey is different for a child with Asperger’s disorder. The first word may be early, followed by an explosion of language. Soon parents start wondering whether he might be gifted.
But these thoughts quickly become sidelined by concern as the child enters school and seems to struggle with friendships, play, and seems rigid and obsessive, despite a fantastic vocabulary.
Parents may become concerned because their child just never seems to be able to hit the mark socially, emotionally, and academically. And there is something unusual about the intensity of the child’s interests which seem to take over their life.
Our current psychiatric manual, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) Fourth Edition, catagorises autism and Asperger’s disorder as separate disorders. This is based on the very different challenges these young people face with language, and cognitive development.
But soon this will change, and the two disorders will be grouped under one umbrella term.

Understanding the difference

There is no clear biomarker or genetic test which can define or separate autism and Asperger’s disorder.
With some families' diagnostic journey beginning in late primary school or even in secondary school, differentiating between autism and Asperger’s disorder can be difficult.
In the absence of an extensive developmental history of language and social development, two normally intelligent young people, one with autism, the other with Asperger’s disorder, both presenting with social difficulties, and a history of repetitive, stereotyped behaviour, may appear to have the same struggles.
The common challenges and interests may even be the bedrock for a wonderful friendship between a child with autism and Asperger’s disorder.
The dilemma with this differentiation has fuelled a debate in clinical and academic circles spanning two decades: are autism and Asperger’s disorder the same disorder and should be “lumped” together diagnostically, or should we continue to “split” them.
To overcome the clinical confusion between a diagnosis of autism and Asperger’s disorder, the working party for the Fifth Edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual has recommended that Asperger’s disorder be incorporated with autism under the category of Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs).

Origins of autism and Asperger’s

Autism was first described by Leo Kanner in 1943 when he studied 11 children who seemed to relate better to objects than people.
Kanner said if these children eventually developed language skills, it was likely to be characterised by echolalia (repetition of words or syllables), pronoun reversal (referring to themselves as others have referred to them), and concreteness.
One year after Kanner defined autism, Hans Asperger published a description of children with the condition “autistic psychopathology”.
Asperger described a child who was precocious in learning to talk and often talked in a pedantic way about a topic of particular, circumscribed interest.
Asperger also observed that these children produced stilted and repetitive speech, which appeared to lack intonation. He noted that they were interested in social relationships, but lacked the ability to understand the rules of social behaviour.
Asperger noted that his group of patients moved in a “clumsy” way.
Despite the many similarities between Kanner’s and Asperger’s patient groups, Asperger disagreed that his disorder was a variant of Kanner’s autism.


We have only known about Asperger’s disorder since 1981 when Hans Asperger’s work was translated into English (refer to Rinehart et al, 2002 for complete historic references).
Asperger’s disorder did not appear as a separate disorder in standard diagnostic manuals until version four of the DSM series, only 16 years ago.
Looking back I can recall several young people I knew in my community who had significant social and communication difficulties, but were very bright and verbally able.
These young people were not diagnosed with any mental health disorders but were marginalized and seen as the “quirky kids” or eccentric, and had an underlying sadness.
There is no doubt the inclusion of Asperger’s disorder in DSM-IV-TR has positively impacted on the lives of these young people who are now better understood for their individuality, and have the support of wonderful organisations and support groups.
Categorising Asperger’s disorder as a milder type of autism is problematic because it implies that life is less challenging for a child with Asperger’s disorder compared to a child with autism.
But in some cases, young people with Asperger’s can suffer from more severe anxiety and depression than their peers who have been diagnosed with autism – and there is nothing mild about clinical anxiety and depression.
The Asperger’s label has also served as an important guide to help parents successfully link their children to fulfilling and rewarding social settings, activates, and later, careers.


The label change comes as some new discoveries are being made to better understand the disorders, including brain differences and subsequent diagnostic and treatment tools.
Melbourne researchers are using Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation to show that cortical inhibition, a common brain process that allows the suppression of brain cell activity, is impaired among young people with high-functioning autism, but not among young people with Asperger’s disorder.
The movement pattern or gait studies conducted at Monash University have shown that children with autism have a particular style of walk. Given that children walk before they develop social skills, understanding early walking patterns might expedite autism diagnosis.
The different life journey a child with Asperger’s disorder may take compared to a child with autism, together with other brain and psychological differences, may inform the future development of assessment tools, biomedical and other treatments for each disorder.
And who knows, in the future there may be a stronger scientific basis to argue against the lumping of the autism and Asperger’s disorder diagnostic category. Only time will tell.

full article: http://theconversation.edu.au/telling-the-difference-between-autism-and-aspergers-508

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Time to Get a Dog?

A few recent studies have found correlations between pet ownership and health in children. Maybe it's time to take your little one seriously when they ask for a pet!:

Study shows pets may make kids healthier

Parents are always looking for ways to keep their children healthy, but is it possible your pet is the answer?
A new study suggests an overly clean environment may not be as beneficial as a parent thinks.
No matter how much you protect your children, they're going to get sick and according to Dr. Craig Hughes it could be as often as every six weeks.
"If they are in day care, you could bump that up to every 3 to 4 weeks," said Dr. Craig Hughes.
But can one of these furry creatures decrease the likelihood of that happening? A new study found children who live in a home with a pet early on are more likely to be healthier compared with kids who don't live in a pet-owning household.
31 percent of those kids had fewer respiratory tract infections and 44 percent fewer ear infections compared to kids who don't live with a dog.
"You have to be real careful, its one study, there are a lot of things that could explain that has nothing to do with pets," said Dr. Craig Hughes.
Dr. Hughes says there could be a few ways researchers came up with these findings, for instance, a pet can brings things into the home that wouldn't normally be brought in.
"These can range from allergens even particulates that wouldn't cause an allergy but would challenge your immune system," said Dr. Craig Hughes.
Studies suggest that the dirt brought indoors by pets could increase helpful bacteria, yeast and other microscopic creatures that live in a developing child's body.
"Could they be bringing in different infective agents that don't make the kids sick but they are similar enough to other bacteria that they body gets some practice again," said Dr. Craig Hughes.
But before you go out and buy a pet, proceed with caution.
"Do I think it's going to be a huge significant factor, no but I think it would be another thing you would put on the side of maybe pets aren't such a bad idea," said Dr. Craig Hughes.
A pet provides multiple benefits.
"Unconditional love, you'll never get that any place else but a pet," said Dr. Jennifer Daniel, Veterinarian.
"All three of my boys are animal lovers they just like to have them around," said Dr. Charlie Deriso.
And nothing compares to the happiness a pet can bring to a family.
The study shows cats also seemed to have a beneficial effect on kids' health, but not as strong as dogs.

image: http://www.dogclipart.com/dog_clipart_images/bor_child_playing_ball_with_his_dog_or_puppy_0515-1004-1304-0342_SMU.jpg

Friday, July 6, 2012

Fun Friday: Play Dough

Here is a general recipe for play dough! A great craft and activity for a wide range of children (or even adults!)


2 cups flour
2 cups warm water
1 cup salt
2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
1 Tablespoon cream of tartar (optional--improves elasticity)

Mix all of the ingredients together, and stir over low heat. The dough will begin to thicken until it resembles mashed potatoes.

When the dough pulls away from the sides and clumps in the center, as shown below, remove the pan from heat and allow the dough to cool enough to handle.

IMPORTANT NOTE: if your playdough is still sticky, you simply need to cook it longer!
Keep stirring and cooking until the dough is dry and feels like playdough.
I've gotten many comments asking about sticky dough, so please just keep cooking a bit longer and itwill work!

Turn the dough out onto a clean counter or silicone mat, and knead vigorously until it becomes silky-smooth. Divide the dough into balls for coloring.
Make a divot in the center of the ball, and drop some food coloring1 in. Fold the dough over, working the food color through the body of the playdough, trying to keep the raw dye away from your hands and the counter. You could use gloves or plastic wrap at this stage to keep your hands clean- only the concentrated dye will color your skin, so as soon as it's worked in bare hands are fine.

Work the dye through, adding more as necessary to achieve your chosen color.

Play with your playdough- I really don't need to help you there. It's entirely edible, if a bit salty, so it's kid-safe.

When you're done, store your playdough in an air-tight container.
- If it begins to dry out, you can knead a bit of water in again to soften the dough back to useability. Once it's dried past a certain point, however, you'll just have to start over; thankfully it's not terribly difficult.
- If it gets soggy, you can re-heat it to drive off the extra water the dough absorbed overnight. This is usually the result of high humidity, but is fixable!

You can also bake it in the oven to make hard dough figures and ornaments, then paint or otherwise decorate the surface.