Exercise and Your Child’s Brain

exercise brainMarch usually marks the middle of the third term of the school year. For some children the winter months are the most challenging. With shorter days and cold, sometimes snowy weather, they are less able to get outside and burn off their extra energy. This makes it difficult for them to “settle down” and get working on their homework.

There is actually a neurobiological reason for this and it has to do with the neurotransmitter chemicals in the brain. I won’t get technical here, but there are three main chemicals in the brain that influence learning. They are serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine. These chemicals work together to focus, motivate and improve learning in the brain. In his book, Spark, John Ratey, says that exercise improves learning in three ways. I’m paraphrasing but it helps to improve alertness, attention and motivation, helps the cells hold onto new learning and spurs the development of new brain cells. All of which are necessary for new learning and of course for homework.

Here’s how you can help. If you notice that your child is struggling to settle down to do their homework don’t force them. That tends to shut down the brain making it harder to work. Instead, encourage some activity for 15 to 30 minutes. Set a clear time frame so that your child is not surprised that they have to get back to their homework. Provide a five minute and a two minute audio and visual reminder to help with their transition back to homework.

Most middle school students can focus for 30-40 minutes and for elementary age children it is about 15-20 minutes. It’s important to break up your child’s homework time with 5-10 minute activity breaks after a period of focused work. Also providing a snack of lean protein can increase your child’s level of dopamine. Dopamine helps the brain carry the messages from one side to the other. (For children with ADHD, medication helps to increase the level of dopamine allowing the brain to feel “comfortable” and to process the information more efficiently.)

So get your kids active and watch their ability to focus increase and the amount of time they spend on their homework may decrease.

Keeping Your Child's Papers Under Control

Are you overwhelmed by your child’s papers? The younger they are it seems the more paper they bring home. Depending on the age of your children there are generally three types of children’s papers that come into the home.

LOOK AT: Their school papers that have been corrected and returned, notices

RETURN: The notices and/or items to be signed

KEEP for REFERENCE: The schedules you need to hang onto, contact list for scouts, CCD schedule, etc.

hanging-desk-free-organizerThe LOOK AT group: First you need to decide whether you want to hang it up for a few days, save for posterity or save for now and purge at the end of the term. For this type you can easily use an accordion folder, or a desktop file with fat hanging folders or a hanging file like the one shown. If your child is in middle school or above they should have their own desktop file or a hanging file and should periodically clean out their notebooks and put the papers in a labeled folder for each subject. This way they are all together when it comes time to study for the midterm exams or review for MCAS.

If you just can’t bear to part with some of your child’s art work then leave it displayed for a while and then store in a memory box. At the end of the school year you and your child can enjoy the time going through the papers and picking no more than 10-15 favorites to save.

in boxRETURN: Several clients I have use in/out boxes labeled for each family member. Each child is responsible for emptying their backpack of papers and putting any thing that mom or dad needs to see in their in box. Mom or dad then checks it each day and signs it and puts it in junior’s in box. Then when Junior is getting ready for tomorrow he has to put that signed paper into his backpack and place the backpack near the door.

KEEP for REFERENCE: Sports, Dance and Scout schedules should be entered into your planner and placed on the current month’s family calendar. It is also helpful for your child to enter it into their agenda as well. It helps them plan their long term projects better if they know when they have practice. If there are only a few schedules you may want to make a folder for your desktop file labeled schedules or put each child’s schedule in their folder.

Those Friday papers you get from school often have upcoming event dates. Those should be entered into your planner or electronic calendar as well. You can keep the paper until the event has taken place in a tickler file.

Group contact lists or the season schedule can also be kept in a binder using page protectors. I have created several Family notebooks that hold schedules, the recycle calendar, the library hours, favorite take out restaurant menus and other odds and ends that you need to hold onto but don’t know where to put them. Just make sure that each category is labeled and for a while you might want to put a reminder up that you saved such in such in the family notebook. Keep it easily accessible. You’ll be amazed at how much time it saves you.

If you struggle with your papers, then sign up on our website to receive this month’s Laine’s Logic Newsletter and read, “Paper, Paper Everywhere, but Not the One I Need!”

Conquering the Summer Reading List

“Connecting a child and a book is like dropping a pebble into the water. You never know where the ripples will end up.” Ronald Jobe


Summer’s ½ over! That means along with camp, sports practice and summer fun, children and teens also need to find time for reading. Many schools provide a summer reading list beginning in the fourth or fifth grades requesting that students read two or more books from a selection. Requirements vary from one to five books and students may be asked to either write something about each book or take a “test” on them once they are back at school.

If your child has a list and has not started it here is a way to create a plan and avoid the last minute rush. First figure out how many books are required and either borrow them from the library or buy them. Look at the calendar and divide the number of weeks left by the number of pages in the book. For example, if you have two books to read and each is 200 pages then your child would need to read 400/4=100 pages a week (based on 4 weeks left of summer) to finish both books. That would mean reading about 20 pages a day five days a week. A reality check with a calendar and the books required will help your child develop a better sense of time management. Or you can divide the book by its chapters and figure out how long it would take to finish if your child read a chapter a day.

To encourage children to read, there is no better way than to model it yourself. Set aside 20-30 minutes of reading time for the whole family each day. Find a time that works for your family such as, after a meal, late afternoon, or before bedtime. Summer is a great time for you to get some reading in too. Nothing beats reading a good book in the shade while sipping an iced tea. Sharing and discussing books is a great way to keep those communication lines open. What are you reading?

Want to end the homework hassle? Our Learning Logistics class, is a four week class that teaches students study skills, time management and organization skills. For more information go to: http://www.laineslogic.com/. Next class starts October 19th at the Hingham Community Center.