Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Science News
from research organizations

Long-term benefits of improving your toddler's memory skills

Early intervention: New research shows that preschoolers with poor short-term recall are more at risk of dropping out of high school

January 12, 2016
Concordia University
Preschoolers who score lower on a memory task are likely to score higher on a dropout risk scale at the age of 12, new research shows. In a new article, the authors offer suggestions for how parents can help kids improve their kid's memory.
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If your toddler is a Forgetful Jones, you might want to help boost his or her brainpower sooner rather than later. New research shows that preschoolers who score lower on a memory task are likely to score higher on a dropout risk scale at the age of 12.
"Identifying students who are at risk of eventually dropping out of high school is an important step in preventing this social problem," says Caroline Fitzpatrick, first author of a study recently published in Intelligence, and a researcher at Concordia's PERFORM Centre.
She and the study's other researchers, who are affiliated with the Université Sainte-Anne and Université de Montréal, have suggestions for how parents can help kids improve their memory.
The study examines responses from 1,824 children at age two and a half, and then at three and a half. That data is then compared to the school-related attitudes and results of these children when they hit grade seven.
Results were clear: those that do better on a memory-testing imitation sorting task during toddlerhood are more likely to perform better in school later on -- and therefore more likely to stay in school. The imitation sorting task is specifically effective in measuring working memory, which can be compared to a childs mental workspace.
"Our results suggest that early individual differences in working memory may contribute to developmental risk for high school dropout, as calculated from student engagement in school, grade point average and whether or not they previously repeated a year in school," says Fitzpatrick.
"When taken together, those factors can identify which 12 year olds are likely to fail to complete high school by the age of 21."
Help at home
"Preschoolers can engage in pretend play with other children to help them practise their working memory, since this activity involves remembering their own roles and the roles of others," says Linda Pagani of the Université de Montréal, co-senior author.
"Encouraging mindfulness in children by helping them focus on their moment-to-moment experiences also has a positive effect on working memory."
Pagani also notes that breathing exercises and guided meditation can be practised with preschool and elementary school children. In older kids, vigorous aerobic activity such as soccer, basketball and jumping rope have all been shown to have beneficial effects on concentration and recall.
The researchers note that another promising strategy for improving working memory in children is to limit screen time -- video games, smartphones, tablets and television -- which can undermine cognitive control and take time away from more enriching pursuits.
"Our findings underscore the importance of early intervention," says Fitzpatick.
"Parents can help their children develop strong working memory skills at home, and this can have a positive impact on school performance later in life."

Story Source:
The above post is reprinted from materials provided by Concordia UniversityNote: Materials may be edited for content and length.

Journal Reference:
  1. Caroline Fitzpatrick, Isabelle Archambault, Michel Janosz, Linda S. Pagani. Early childhood working memory forecasts high school dropout riskIntelligence, 2015; 53: 160 DOI: 10.1016/j.intell.2015.10.002

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Physical Fitness in Early Childhood: What's Developmentally Appropriate
By Rae Pica
No pain, no gain. Target heart rate. Pumping up. These are all expressions we relate to fitness for adults. But do the same terms apply to young children? Why should physical fitness be a concern during the early childhood years? Don't young children get all the activity they need naturally by being children? Certainly, they are active enough to be physically fit!
Unfortunately, the statistics suggest otherwise. On average, children ages two to five spend about 25 ½ hours a week watching television (during a year, this is as much time as children spend is school), and this number doesn't include time spent playing video games or working with computers. Some studies show up to 50 percent of American children are not getting enough exercise (Taras, 1992). Research also indicates that:
  • 40 percent of five- to eight-year-olds show at least one heart disease risk factor, including elevated cholesterol, hypertension, and obesity;
  • the first signs of arteriosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) are appearing at about age five; and
  • the number of overweight children has doubled in the last decade.
In the past, heart disease risk factors were rarely seen in anyone under the age of 30. Of equal significance are the facts that obese children tend to become obese adults, and that children with high blood pressure are likely to become adults with high blood pressure. All of this indicates that "just being a kid" is not what is used to be and is no longer enough to keep individuals healthy.
The Good News
Since scare tactics are not always the best means of motivation, here's the good news regarding physical fitness:

  • Children who are physically active and experience success in movement activities show higher levels of self-esteem and a greater sense of accomplishment.
  • Physical activity helps children get through the day without fatigue and makes them more alert.
  • Fit children are more likely to participate in sports, dance, games, and other physical activities that improve muscular strength and endurance, flexibility, cardio-respiratory endurance, and body composition.
Many health problems are preventable. With an estimated 250,000 deaths a year in the United States caused by low levels of activity and fitness, the solution appears to be as simple as getting up and moving! Although there is currently little research suggesting that childhood physical activity affects childhood health, it is believed that individuals who are physically active as children are likely to remain physically active as adults. Therefore, physical activity in childhood may indeed have an effect on adult health.
The key to physical activity in early childhood is enjoyment. For adults, success might be defined in terms of an extra lap run around the track, an extra ten pounds lifted, or getting through an extra 15 minutes of aerobics. For a preschooler, success in any activity is simply a matter of how much fun it is!
What Early Childhood Professionals Can Do
Pangrazi and Corbin (1993) report that most children are involved in low-intensity, high-volume (long duration) activity each day and "this naturally occurring activity is consistent with the developmental levels of children" (p. 17). Therefore, teachers and caregivers need not be concerned with the type or intensity of the activity, as long as regular activity remains a part of the child's life.

The Physical Best program (1989), developed by the American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation, and Dance, defines physical fitness as "a physical state of well-being that allows people to 1) perform daily activities with vigor, 2) reduce their risk of health problems relative to lack of exercise, and 3) establish a fitness base for participation in a variety of physical activities."
If this definition of physical fitness is to become a reality for the children of today, they must be taught that physical activity is just as important in life as good hygiene and a proper diet. Teachers and caregivers must encourage, praise, and validate physical activity at every opportunity and serve as role models to the children in their care. Because Americans now burn fewer calories in the course of their daily lives, physical activity must be planned into each day.
Yes, the competition with television, video games, and computers is steep, but children will never be as motivated to be physically active as they are during the early years. The fact is, children love to move! So parents and early childhood professionals are not without weapons in their war against sedentary lifestyles.
Rae Pica is a movement education consultant and the author of Experiences in Movement, and the seven-book Moving & Learning Series. An adjunct instructor with the University of New Hampshire, she conducts movement workshops nationwide and has served as a consultant for Children's Television Workshop, the Head Start Bureau, and Children's World Learning Centers.
AAHPERD, (1989).Physical Best ProgramRestonVA: American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation, and Dance.
Pangrazi, R.P., & Corbin, C.B. (1993).Physical fitness: Questions teachers ask. Journal of Health, Physical Education, Recreation, and Dance, 64(7), 14-19.
Taras, H.L. (1992).Physical activity of young children in relation to physical and mental health. In C.M. Hendricks (Ed.) Young children on the grow: Health, activity, and education in the preschool setting(pp.33-42). WashingtonDC: ERIC Clearinghouse.
Developmentally Appropriate Aerobic Activities
Physical activity, like everything else in children's lives, should be appropriate for their level of development. Calisthenics and structured exercise regimens are not developmentally appropriate for young children and are not likely to contribute to a lifelong desire to keep moving. The following are examples of activities promoting both fitness and fun for young children.
Maroning- An energetic march around the room is a great fitness activity. You can provide an accompanying drumbeat or play a recording of a march. Challenge the children to swing their arms and raise their knees while keeping the rest of their bodies straight and tall.
The Track Meet- Running is a great aerobic exercise, and a lively piece of music in a steady 4/4 meter can help motivate the children. With school-age children, you can challenge them to race across the country and plot their daily progress on a, thereby integrating physical fitness with geography and math lessons. Once around the room might, for instance, equal a mile on the map. With preschoolers, you could use a puzzle map instead. Every day that they run around the gym or playground or for the length of a favorite recording, another state is placed on the puzzle to show their progress.
Rabbits and 'Roos- Children love to pretend to be animals. Ask them to jump like rabbits and kangaroos, alternating from one to the other. Which is the larger of the two animals? Which would jump more heavily?
Giddy-Up- If there are children in your group who can't yet gallop, challenge the class to move like horses. Those children who can gallop will likely do so, and those who can't will simply pretend to be horses so that they can still meet your challenge and experience success.
In essence, any locomotor skill can be an aerobic activity if it is performed continuously. Begin slowly and gradually increase the length of the activities. Encourage the children to push themselves a bit further each time.