Motherhood, Marriage and Other Wild Rides

Health, Happiness and the Pursuit of Mommyhood

3 Fresh Approaches to Educating Boys in School December 13, 2013

Filed under: health,school — rjlacko @ 2:59 pm
Tags: , ,

Dixon bookBoys have fundamentally different learning patterns, says pioneering expert

The problem of boys in education is not a new one. I printed pages of studies for my sons’ preschool and kindergarten teachers, begging them not to compare my boys’ abilities to sit criss-cross-apple-sauce or write the alphabet as prettily and patiently as their female counterparts.

A recent study from researchers at the University of Georgia, which followed 10,000 students as they moved from kindergarten to eighth grade, indicates that though boys scored well on tests, indicating mastery of material, girls got better grades. Researchers account for higher scores in girls because they comported themselves better than boys while in the classroom.

“Boys and girls have fundamentally different learning needs; girls are better at  sitting still and listening, whereas boys learn better via kinesthetic learning,  which involves more physical activity,” says Edmond J. Dixon, Ph.D., who has more than three decades experience as a teacher and is a parent of boys, and is the author of “Helping Boys Learn: Six Secrets for Your Son’s Success in School,” ( He also has a teacher’s edition titled “Helping Boys Learn: Six Secrets for Teaching Boys in  the Classroom.”

“There are many other studies, however, showing boys underperforming in school; now, it’s a matter of what we’re going to do about  it.”

Dixon, a cognitive-kinesthetics specialist, discusses why his first three “secrets” are so important in helping boys with active minds and bodies.

• Movement matters: The student most likely to disrupts the class because they cannot sit still is a boy. Research reveals that young boys’ brains develop a tremendous amount of neural wiring to facilitate movement and sensitivity for how things “fit” together.
When a boy is a toddler, we would never think that a sedentary child is a good indicator of health, so what makes us think that he should change while in grade school?
TIP: Allow a boy to use his “movement wiring” by allowing him to use his body as he learns to represent the topic.

• Games work: Testosterone makes males naturally competitive. If you want them to become suddenly engaged in something, make a game out of the lesson—it’s just like flipping a  switch on. Just look at sports talk shows with analysis such as “Pardon the   Interruption;” each expert has a clock clicking down to make his point. Little gaming tricks like this works on the male brain.
TIP: Create clear rules to help boys understand victory, and add legitimacy to the lesson. Games also serve as an excellent method for male bonding, too.

• Make them laugh: Observe a group of males; whether young or old, they bust each other’s chops. Not only is it okay, they enjoy it! Everyone has a positive chemical reaction with laughter; boys, however, often use humor as a form of communication, an asset with which most girls do not have a problem. Research has demonstrated that boys’ emotions are processed initially in the more primitive parts of the brain and come more indirectly to the speech centers. That’s why making a crude joke is easier for males to communicate sensitive feelings.
TIP: Before starting homework or an assignment, ask a boy to consider what might be funny, weird or strange about it; his mind will be more focused on the topic afterwards.  

About the author: A pioneer in the field of cognitive-kinesthetics for learning, Edmond J. Dixon, Ph.D., is the founder of the KEEN Differentiated Learning Group, an organization dedicated to helping struggling learners, and the creator of  KEEN 5X, a series of strategies for classroom engagement and learning that have been used with more than 50,000 students and teachers. His previous books, “KEEN For Learning” and “Literacy Through Drama,” have been used by educators to improve classroom learning.

Dr. Edmond J. Dixon’s book Helping Boys Learn: 6 Secrets for Your Son’s Success in School

This easy-to-read book gives parents what they need to help  their songs become successful learners at home, in school, and beyond. Discover how to use these six secrets to help boys:

 Sit still and stay focused
 Avoid distractions and stay on task
 Complete homework without nagging
 Put forth their best effort in schoolwork
 Become passionate, successful learners in school

I’ve had too many encounters with teachers which have ended in heartache for all parties. Most boys want to do well in school, and that means they want to move. When the teacher expects a class to sit still, and perform as well as the top (female) performer, everyone, the teacher included, is left frustrated, and disappointed. What experiences have you had in your son’s classroom?


WIN a free Rock ‘N Learn Phonics DVD set! October 4, 2010

Attention moms and dads (and TEACHERS!) of children aged 6 and older! I’m giving away a FREE set of Rock ‘N Learn Phonics DVDs, volumes One and Two.

Rock ‘N Learn, Inc. began as an idea that would help children learn by putting educational material to music with a current sound-the kind of music that kids enjoy and find motivating.

Busy parents and teachers love the way Rock ‘N Learn Phonics captures kids’ attention. Cool songs and humorous characters take the struggle out of learning to read. Students control the pace, advancing as they master each new skill, so they can practice on their own and feel proud of their accomplishments; it’s fun with this highly-entertaining phonics DVD.

Children learn phonics rules through fun songs and word families. Next, they practice their skills by reading simple phrases using words that rhyme. When ready, they apply the skills they have learned to read complete sentences and stories. The read-along stories on this DVD are presented at a slow pace for beginning readers. As children practice, they also work on fluency by singing along with songs about the stories. A bonus section presents the stories at a normal pace to help kids learn to read fluently.

Rock ‘N Learn Phonics Volume 2 DVD is a perfect follow-up once  they’ve mastered the material on Volume 1. With Phonics Volume 2, young children discover other ways besides “silent e” to make long vowels, such as: ai, ay, ee, and ie. They practice long vowel patterns and apply phonics rules by reading sentences with words that feature long vowel sounds.

Viewers also practice reading words and sentences with r-controlled vowels, diphthongs, the schwa sound, syllables, ending sounds, and more. Eventually, students read stories that proceed from simple to complex. By also singing along with songs about the stories, children build reading fluency and have lots of fun.

Rock ‘N Learn Phonics is perfect for learning at home, regular education, special education, remedial classes, ESL, and even adult basic education. By covering a variety of skills at different levels, these phonics DVDs provide an effective tool for differentiated instruction in the classroom and at home. 

Rock ‘N Learn DVDs work great with any DVD player, computers with DVD players, projection screens, and interactive white boards.

Rock ‘N Learn has won numerous prestigious awards including such as Dr. Toy, Parents’ Choice, iParenting, National Parenting Publications, Learning Magazine Teachers’ Choice, Early Childhood News, National Parenting Center, and Parent’s Guide to Children’s Media.

Win this free set!

Simply tell us about you in the comment box! Are you a parent? A caregiver?A teacher? Are you hoping to help your little one get a headstart on reading, or do your children  or students have special needs or need help with speaking and reading English? I’d love to learn more about you! One random winner will be selected on Monday, November 1, 2010. (approx. value $39.99)

Learn more about Rock ‘N Learn here.


Baby’s language development starts in the womb December 5, 2009

Surprisingly, the sound of a newborn’s cry varies from hospital to birthing center around the world. Two babies born at the same moment in two different countries will cry a melodic rendition of their parents’ mother tongue, according to  a new study published by Current Biology. The findings suggest that infants begin picking up elements of what will be their first language in the womb, and certainly long before their first babble or coo.

“The dramatic finding of this study is that not only are human neonates capable of producing different cry melodies, but they prefer to produce those melody patterns that are typical for the ambient language they have heard during their fetal life, within the last trimester of gestation,” said Kathleen Wermke of the University of Würzburg in Germany. “Contrary to orthodox interpretations, these data support the importance of human infants’ crying for seeding language development.”

In many ways, this news shouldn’t come as any surprise. Early studies have already shown us:

  • Human fetuses are able to memorize sounds from the external world by the last trimester of pregnancy, with a particular sensitivity to melody contour in both music and language. (Anyone who has played a particular song or music while pregnant is delighted when baby shows recognition and preference for it!)
  • Newborns prefer their mother’s voice over other voices and perceive the emotional content of messages conveyed via intonation contours in maternal speech (a.k.a. “motherese”).
  • Earlier studies of vocal imitation had shown that infants can match vowel sounds presented to them by adult speakers, but only from 12 weeks on. That skill depends on vocal control that just isn’t physically possible much earlier, the researchers explain.

Although prenatal exposure to native language was known to influence newborns’ perception, scientists had thought that the surrounding language affected sound production much later, the researchers said. It now appears that isn’t so.

Wermke’s team recorded and analyzed the cries of 60 healthy newborns, 30 born into French-speaking families and 30 born into German-speaking families, when they were three to five days old. That analysis revealed clear differences in the shape of the newborns’ cry melodies, based on their mother tongue.

Specifically, French newborns tend to cry with a rising melody contour, whereas German newborns seem to prefer a falling melody contour in their crying. Those patterns are consistent with characteristic differences between the two languages, Wermke said.

“Imitation of melody contour, in contrast, is merely predicated upon well-coordinated respiratory-laryngeal mechanisms and is not constrained by articulatory immaturity,” the researchers write. “Newborns are probably highly motivated to imitate their mother’s behavior in order to attract her and hence to foster bonding. Because melody contour may be the only aspect of their mother’s speech that newborns are able to imitate, this might explain why we found melody contour imitation at that early age.”

  1. Mampe et al. Newborns’ Cry Melody Is Shaped by Their Native Language. Current Biology, November 5, 2009; DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2009.09.064

Fun, Educational Road Trip Games for Kids July 23, 2009

Mother and homeschooler Jessica Parnell knows how to turn any place into a learning environment–even the back seat of the car on a road trip with her children

“We found ways to take the basic [subjects] and turn them into a game,” says Parnell. “This not only helped to pass the time, but brought out the creativity in all of us.”

For a selection of some of Jessica Parnell’s fun and educational on-the-road games on the subjects of English and Grammar, Math, and History/Science/Nature/Creativity,  read the rest of this article here.

Ready to road-trip? Check out Budgeting for the Best Family-Friendly Hotels.


Observing How Your Baby Learns: Getting Back to Basics March 20, 2009

It’s easy to get caught up in the “shoulds” of parenthood: what should the baby eat, how long should the baby sleep, at what age should my baby roll over, sit, watch an educational DVD, crawl, walk, talk, or poop in the toilet. Our overwhelming love and urge to protect and teach drives us to push all sorts of well-meaning toys and activities on our children in an effort to encourage early learning, to give their already gifted genius the challenge it needs to excel.

No matter how many books you read or people you speak with, nothing prepares you for the wonder of parenthood. Most moms and dads will agree that the sleepless nights, the soiled diapers, fluids from all orifices, and unpredictable outbursts,  do absolutely nothing to dull the pure joy and pride of watching your little cherub smile, recognize you, recognize his or her own hand, and begin discovering the world around them.

When our Noah would repeat “heh-wo” to the word “hello” in his first month of life, I was (and remain!) convinced (like all parents) that my child has a phenomenal little mind. He will be two years old next month, and is now clearly attempting to read words. He identifies numbers, and is practicing counting to 100 (thanks to a song I made up for bedtime, originally intended to be so boring and repetitive as to leave no reason to remain awake). He can identify shapes and colors, and knows the difference between a whale, a dolphin and a shark. He blows my mind. 

kids-and-iphone2When our first was born, my husband made some very attractive flash cards, with the hope that we might nurture his intellect from infancy.  Our boys both like them enough, but watching them grow has taught me a very basic lesson in parenting: Our parents and their parents had it right (more or less.) I say “more or less” because my sons would not be able to categorize animals, for instance, if we did not provide a plethora of tiny plastic replicas, or read about them in picture books regularly (i.e.: parental involvement and learning materials required). However, the flash cards are kind of silly (no offence to my better half, we’re learning all this together.)

noah-in-basket4While we are diligent about providing our children with educational toys and books, and offer them trips to local parks, the zoo, museums, and libraries, their particular “aha!” moments come from the most elementary sources—digging in dirt or sand with a shovel, flying a kite, banging on one thing using another to make a loud sound, building a tower from blocks, kicking a ball or pulling something on wheels (pretty much all the same things our grandparents did when they were little and weren’t yet acquainted with Playhouse Disney or Baby Einstein.)

We’ve been visiting potential schools our children might one day attend (We live in a community where school options are plentiful and we want to be confident in our decision when the time comes. Yeah, right.) During this process we’ve been presented with a variety of teaching methods, yet one thing remains absolutely clear—a child will “get” something if he or she is ready, and if the interest is there. Some kids are far better served by waiting until first grade to learn the alphabet, instead experiencing the world through imaginative play, and other children are fiercely determined to write their own name in nursery or pre-school.

One thing is certain: I need to pare down and keep it simple. This week, a day after a trip to Santa Ana Zoo (where the kids had a lovely time), I decided to go check out a park I’d driven by a hundred times. The Aliso and Wood Canyons Wilderness Park completely surprised me with its 3,879 awe-inspiring acres of green serenity. I’ve lived in Orange County for over two years now, and our venture made me crashingly aware of the peace we’ve been missing. Nowhere were noises of traffic or endless bustling bodies or cement boundaries. More importantly, as I chided myself for not having sought out this place long before, my child was receiving his surroundings in an entirely powerful way. He has visited the woods in Canada on trips to see Gramma and Grandpa, and he has enjoyed numerous days at the beach and neighborhood parks, but I’m embarrassed to admit how overcome he was by the dirt path and the rocks. How citified we’ve been! Our own backyard has recycled tire chips beneath his playhouse and slide—environmentally friendly, but not, well, environment. As we walked along, we listened to birds chirping and insects calling and water running. Again, no traffic in the background. (Even the waves at the beach echo traffic noise.) We came across the occasional jogger or mountain biker, and Noah shared his excitement with them. There were some bushes humming loudly with insects, sending him running to grab my leg, but the best of all were the caterpillars. “Pill!” he squealed (his word for caterpillar)—he recognized them right away, he knew exactly what they were from books, but this was astounding, for both of us. Within seconds we were on our knees, observing, gently touching, smiling excitedly at one another. He even chased one, being careful not to block its path. In a few weeks, they will be butterflies. He “knows” that from Eric Carle, but he won’t really know it until we come back and witness it.

I know I must sound horrible, aren’t these experiences so rudimentary? But, if I had “forgotten” to get away from the noise and business of life and into nature, maybe other moms and dads have been pounding the pavement too? Having a kid means being tight on time, and those jogs or hikes we used to take when we were solo can slip away with the demands of parenthood. But, while we are too busy running our household, our children are also missing out. Let’s make time for nature (and its learning materials), remembering our own childhoods, and leave the concrete world behind for a while.


Cheap and Super Fun Games for Babies, Preschoolers and School-age Kids! March 15, 2009

It doesn’t take much to thrill a kid. In fact, it’s often the “small stuff” that makes for the most meaningful childhood memories. I came across this fabulous list of kid-friendly activities on These simple games boost development, are free or low-cost, and offer a fun way to spend quality time with your child!

Here’s a collection of simple, cheap, memory-making activities that are sure to be a bright spot in your child’s day – and yours!

5 cheap and fun baby activities

Let ‘er rip

Maybe it’s that pleasing shredding sound or maybe it’s the satisfaction of making a permanent change in something, but babies love to tear up paper. So plunder your recycling box for magazines or junk mail – when you see that gappy smile on your baby’s face as she gets to work, you won’t even mind the mess.

Dog days

You could take your baby to the zoo, but don’t be surprised if he falls fast asleep – or favors the water fountain over the orangutans. Instead, try a park where he can see dogs playing. It’s a lot less overwhelming and every bit as exciting, plus it doesn’t cost a penny. Just be sure to practice good doggy-and-child safety habits. You might want to carry your baby in your arms or a baby carrier to make sure he’s safe when watching and petting the pups (with permission, of course).

Flashlight games

Turn off the lights, close the blinds, grab a flashlight, and lie back on the floor for a rockin’ light show with your little one. Dance the light beam along the ceiling and walls as your baby stares in delight. An older baby might like to try holding the flashlight herself (though you shouldn’t be surprised if all she does is gum it). Just don’t let her shine it directly in her eyes – or, for that matter, in yours.

Dining out

For a change of pace, set up your baby’s highchair in the backyard or out on the front stoop and, between bites, let him fling the food wherever he likes. He’ll feel like he’s won the lottery! A bit short in the yard department? No worries – bring a booster chair to the park and set it right on the grass. Throw in some bubbles and you’ve got a perfect recipe for a fun-filled morning.

Go clubbing

In your living room, that is. Turn on your favorite music and dance with your baby in your arms. She’ll be in seventh heaven – after all, she’ll be enjoying three of her favorite things in the world simultaneously: music, bouncing, and closeness to you.

5 cheap and fun toddler activities

Hop a freight

Toddlers love transportation, especially if it’s a departure from the same-old-same-old car seat. Check out your local airport or hospital – many have a free shuttle or tram that you can ride as often as your little one’s heart desires. If you don’t usually travel by bus, check your local bus system and take a spin around town, enjoying things from a thrilling new vantage point.

Play dough

Borrow a tip from kid-friendly restaurants and let your toddler play with a gratifying hunk of pizza dough. Not too sticky and not too runny, it’s the perfect consistency for little fingers. Get some from your local grocery store or pizza parlor or mix up your own. A rolling pin is the icing on the cake for this activity (or, shall we say, the cheese on the pie). If you’re feeling motivated, you can bake a pizza with the rest of the dough while your child plays with his portion. Otherwise, simply freeze or refrigerate the rest for future playtime.

Fancy wrappings

If you’ve ever watched a toddler open a present, you know that she’s likely to ignore what’s inside and focus all her attention on the box, wrapping paper, and ribbon. If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em! Wrap up something small, such as a pretty postcard or a toy you already own. Make sure to use lots of ribbon and paper (Sunday comics work great). Present it to her with a flourish.

Baker’s man

While your toddler isn’t yet old enough to wield an electric mixer or flour sifter, he may be ready to be put in charge of the cookie-sprinkle department. So bake up a batch of cookies (you can even buy pre-made dough) and let him go nuts with a container of sprinkles. You’ll probably end up with several bare cookies and a few heavily sprinkled ones. Don’t forget to take a picture!

5 cheap and fun preschooler activities

Bathing in the pink

Or the green, or the blue… A few drops of food coloring can go a long way toward making bath time something special. It’s especially fun to mix a couple of primary colors together, such as blue and red to make purple. And no, your child won’t emerge from his bath looking like a grape – a few drops of food coloring diluted in a tub of water won’t dye your child’s skin.

Time travel

You know those old photographs of your own third birthday party or your ninth-grade dance? Dig them out and snuggle with your preschooler for a trip down memory lane. Wedding videos work well too! Of course, she’ll also enjoy seeing pictures and videos of herself when she was “little.” So break out the snacks and make an evening of it.

Ravishing radishes

When it comes to instant gardening gratification, radishes are the way to go – they pop up in a matter of weeks! After winter’s last frost, take your preschooler to the gardening store and let him pick out the package of seeds with the picture he likes best. (It’ll cost just a few dollars.) At home, find a sunny patch of yard and have your child plant the seeds directly in the ground or in a small planter. You can even grow radishes inside in a container set in a sunny south-facing window. Your little gardener will love digging a hole, sprinkling in the seeds, and covering them up. The fun continues as he gets to water the radishes and watch them grow.

Monochrome meal

We grown-ups like a little variety in our meals – but kids, who often love uniformity, get a kick out of having a special dinner in which everything is the same color. So serve up a meal that’s entirely orange (macaroni and cheese, sweet potato, orange juice, carrots), green (pesto pasta, limeade, broccoli), or yellow (lemonade, scrambled eggs, corn, pineapple).

Hunting down nature

Give your child a bag or bucket and go on an old-fashioned nature hunt. Take your time and let him collect whatever he likes – pinecones, leaves, rocks, sticks, burrs. When you get home, break out the glue and cardboard and get him started making a collage or sculpture. He may also enjoy painting a rock or two (it could become his new favorite pet).

5 cheap and fun school-kid activities

Bon appétit!

Let your child be in charge of dinner – with you as her helpful assistant. She gets to decide what to make. Some suggestions: English muffin pizzas, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, grilled cheese sandwiches, pudding or gelatin for dessert. She can act as the “head cook” and even draw up some fancy menus. She may especially enjoy doing this activity with a friend.

Rest for the weary

You know those nights when you’re beyond exhausted, and you just wish someone would put you to bed for a change? Here’s your chance! Tell your child that you need a special helper to put you to bed early – and ask if he’d like to do the honors. He can pick out your pajamas, make sure you brush your teeth and wash your face, read you a book, tuck you in, give you a kiss, and turn out the light. It’s a safe bet that you’ll hear some delighted giggles from beyond your closed door! (Of course, this assumes your partner or another responsible adult has agreed to take on the nighttime duties for your child – and you’ll likely find yourself returning the favor sometime soon.)

Camp in

Wait for a dark and dreary day. If your child has a case of the “nothing-to-do” doldrums, all the better! Now suggest that you go camping – in your family room. Make a “tent” with sheets and blankets draped over chairs. If you have sleeping bags, dig them out – or just create some bedrolls with blankets and pillows. Tell stories and sing songs around an imaginary fire. And when the lights go out, make a beautiful galaxy appear on the ceiling of your tent by shining a flashlight through a colander.

Kid’s choice day

Let your child “run” the day. She can make the important decisions such as what to eat, what show to watch, and what activities to do. Give this day a special name so that she can plan it, as in, “On my next ‘Ali Day,’ I want to ride bikes, wash the dog, and eat spaghetti. (Helpful hint: To avoid power struggles with your child’s teacher, don’t do this on a school day!)

Treasure hunt

Send your child on a treasure hunt, right in your own house. It takes a little preparation, but the excitement is worth it! Give him a note that says something like, “Look in the flour canister.” Or make it a bit trickier by writing a clue he has to solve, such as “Look for the white powder that we use for baking.” (If your child’s reading skills are still primitive, simplify your notes, help him read them, or draw pictures instead.) In the flour canister, he’ll find another note telling him where to look next, such as in the refrigerator or under the welcome mat. Let the hunt include a few more hiding places, and put a prize in the very last one (try under his pillow). The prize can be very small – for example, a piece of candy or a pad of paper. As in all true treasure hunts, the real joy is in the search.

Have some fabulous ideas of your own? Comment below!