Being Proactive! - Laura Johnston

Like most new parents-to-be, my husband and I were absolutely elated when we found out we were going to have our own precious Little One after spending the previous four years welcoming nephews and nieces into our already large, blended family. Once the euphoria settled down, reality (and, if I’m being honest, pure and utter terror) settled in…

“I know I’m 31, but I don’t feel ‘old enough’ to be a mom yet!”

“How on EARTH am I supposed to be in charge of another human being ALL. THE. TIME?”

And the classic:

“Am I going to be good enough for this little baby?”

As we all know, ready or not, Mother Nature is going to help you bring that baby into the world and you’re going to have face those doubts head on.

Meet Will! He blessed our family with his presence on May 17, 2016 at 10:14 p.m.



Now, let’s backtrack a little bit. I like to consider myself a good combination of Type A and Type B personalities, but when it came to this baby, my hyper-organized “planner” characteristics went into overdrive. After spending the previous two and a half years working with children as young as three with learning challenges, I knew, without a doubt, I was going to be proactive when it came to my son’s education.

The first thing I could do for him, before he even arrived, was start interviewing the best possible schools for him, knowing he would be spending his entire days there starting at three months of age. My husband and I visited several “typical” daycare facilities near our home, all of which tried to “wow” and “impress” us with their integration of iPads, laptops, and digitized media. Little did they know, alarm bells were going off in my head like that annoying morning alarm clock you can’t seem to shut off. No way was my son going to sit in an infant classroom with an iPad in front of him all day. Knowing what I know about screen time and its negative effects on brain development, especially in young children, this was a major red flag for me. My husband even nailed it when we got in the car to leave, “You hated that they said the word ‘iPad’ about three dozen times, didn’t you?” Bingo!

After visiting several facilities with no luck, I started to panic, sure we were never going to find what we were looking for. Then God stepped in, like He always does, and reminded me that He’s got this! By some miracle, a spot in the infant class at the Child Development Center at Georgia State University (my husband is an employee at GSU) had opened up and it was ours if we wanted it! The beauty of CDC at Georgia State is that they open their doors to students in the nursing program, early childhood education program, and psychology departments in order to gain critical field experience and conduct research studies on willing participants. This was right up my alley! And the best part of it all? There was not a screen in sight!!! 

Will began attending school on his 3-month birthday and after some First Day Mommy Tears, we haven’t looked back! His teachers actively engage in play, song, stories, and rhymes with him all day long! It makes my Mom Heart feel good to know he is so unconditionally loved all day and it makes my Teacher Heart happy knowing he is being taught and challenged in developmentally appropriate ways each day.


Of course, I have to do my part at home as well. Will has been listening to the history and geography tunes we sing with our students at Academics Plus since he was in the womb. His particular favorite is “Western Europe” (“Luxembourg, Leichtenstein, Switzerland…”). To this day, that song will calm him down if he is in a particularly cranky mood. Sometimes I feel crazy singing world geography songs to my infant, but slowing it down and over-pronouncing each syllable is great for his phonemic awareness and language development!

We also sing nursery rhymes on what seems like a constant loop at our house. As cheesy as I may look, I know the more dramatic I am with my intonation and facial expressions, the easier he is going to pick up on the natural rhythms and cues of social language. My sweet boy loves to engage in “conversation” with anyone and even takes turns babbling back and forth with whoever will engage with him.

Sometimes we just walk around the house or the yard and look at and touch everything. I make it a point to name each item we see. Why not start building that vocabulary now! I also make it a point to use a lot of synonyms. Instead of “big”, why not “huge”, “large”, “gigantic”, or “enormous”?!

I totally get it, though. There are days where I am exhausted from helping my Academics Plus babies build their cognitive and educational foundations and I can’t imagine going home and doing it all evening, too. It would be so much easier to go home and pop my Little Guy in his walker in front of the TV for a little Mickey Mouse Clubhouse mini-marathon. But… my gut won’t let me do it, no matter the circumstances. Will’s little brain is growing and building connections at an astounding rate and he is primed for learning now, so it’s my job to make sure we take full advantage of this time because we will only get it once.

The bottom line is this: You are never too young to start laying foundations for your education.


The Magic of Mnemonics with Vocabulary and More

Remember this: “My Very Educated Mother Just Served Us Nine Pizzas”? Some of you may be more familiar with “My Very Earthly Mother Just Sat Upon Nine Pins”? Well, I guess with Pluto’s sad goodbye from our previous lineup of nine planets, it would now be “Mother’s Very Embarrassing Meatloaf Just Stunk Up Nashville”... I think we all know I made that one up but I’m sure the humorous image is now emblazoned on your mind. And with this image --and a chuckle-- you can easily use it to name the 8 planets of our solar system to date.

A mnemonic, or a memory device, is any pattern of letters, images, ideas, or associations that helps one remember something. Using mnemonics to learn and retain challenging vocabularyor information is one of the best tools for children to use. A high level of vocabulary not only helps your child navigate through verbal sections in high-stakes tests like a pro, it is undeniably linked to his or her everyday level of comprehension, processing speed, and written expression. The ability to readily recall key information is also indispensable in every aspect of your child’s education and is a cognitive skill that they need through college and beyond.

So what are some ways you can help your child use mnemonics to remember important information or vocabulary?

1.     Make acronyms: Rearrange the beginning letters of keywords to make a new and simple word to remember.

Example) The 5 things students should check for after writing can be remembered using the acronym “C-TOPS” -- read like “See Tops” -- which stands for capitalization, tense, organization, punctuation, and spelling.

2.     Come up with a story: Use similar sounding words to come up with a “story” or a short sentence. This is a win-win technique since it also exercises your child’s phonemic awareness!

Example 1) Students can remember capital cities of states with “stories” like this one about Maine: “Hold onto your hat, a mighty gust of wind is blowing down Main Street!” This can conveniently be shortened to “A gust of (Augusta) wind on Main (Maine) Street”.

Example 2) Students can remember the meaning of the word “arduous” with the short illustrative sentence: “The arduous snow-covered trail was hard on us.”

3.     Draw a cartoon or image: Any kind of visual aid helps many learners and a drawing or image that goes along with your verbal mnemonic can be particularly helpful.

Example) You can easily draw an image like this one to reinforce the following vocabulary mnemonic with visual learning:

4.  Rhyme: Dr. Seuss proved to us a long time ago that anything in a rhyme is fun to say. Simply rhyme the ending words of different facts or ideas to create an easy mnemonic that your child will love to repeat. 

            Example) In 1607, the English crossed the sea,  And Jamestown, Virginia became their colony!

5. Movement: Remember that any of these mnemonics can be paired with movement to activate the cerebellum and increase retention (please see blog post, “Movement and Learning” for more information). Movement can be anything from clapping hands to bouncing/throwing a ball to jumping up and down so be creative according to movements or exercises your child finds fun.

6. And lastly... get silly together: Children love silly words, stories, sentences, pictures, and rhymes that make them giggle. The more they find mnemonics fun, the more they'll want to use them. What better scenario can we think of than our children laughing and learning at the same time? So don't hesitate to channel your creativity and imagination into creating silly learning mnemonics that will stay with your child. After all, you don't have to be a kid to still chuckle at "Mother's Very Embarrassing Meatloaf Just Stunk Up Nashville".

Movement and Learning

At a time when attention disorders are at an all-time high, incorporating movement into learning is more crucial than ever. There are countless, research-based benefits to adding movement to learning and how movement in general can benefit all children in all aspects of life!

In a recent study out of the University of Central Florida, researchers found that children with ADHD performed best when they were able to move around or wiggle in their seat. Mark Rapport, one of the study’s authors, has also conducted previous research in which he found that “the excessive movement that’s a trademark of hyperactive children—previously thought to be ever-present—is actually apparent only when they need to use the brain’s executive functions, especially their working memory”. If we think about children in a classroom, they are continuously using their working memory! It is used for tasks such as remembering the teacher’s instructions and following through, completing multi-step math problems, copying from the board, learning to read and sounding out new words, and remembering what they are supposed to be paying attention to! With their working memory in almost constant use, having the ability to wiggle in their seat can do wonders for these children in the classroom.

In addition to boosting attention in the classroom, incorporating movement into study time and learning can help children retain and recall information more efficiently. The cerebellum, the part of the brain responsible for motor control, is densely packed with neurons and is also responsible for memory and attention. How interesting that the part of the brain that controls movement is also the area responsible for learning! When children incorporate movement into learning, multiple neural circuits are working at once, strengthening connections and increasing cognitive efficiency!  

At Academics Plus, we love to incorporate as much movement into our sessions as possible. Whether it’s ball bouncing, doing cross crawls, turning our activity into a game of basketball,  “marching out” math facts on the stairs, or running the hallway for a stretch break, movement increases retention for our students and allows them to stay more focused.  Ball bouncing is a great activity that is easy to incorporate at home as well. Nearly all academic material can be recited out loud and bounced out on the syllables. For example, a key historical date could be bounced out“Ju-ly Fourth In-de-pen-dence Day”. Remember, if a piece of information can be repeated aloud, it can be “bounced out”!

Other exciting at-home ideas can be having your child act out an event in the book they’re reading, reenacting a historical event from social studies, spelling and forming the letters of their spelling words with their whole body, or measuring items around the house with their arms, legs, feet, hands, or fingers! When learning is fun and interactive, it not only boosts a child’s memory, but also their confidence and engagement in the material, allowing them to make great gains emotionally, cognitively, and academically!

Spelling Word Frenzy!

With the school year well underway, students are getting into the routine of weekly spelling words. And sometimes, it can certainly feel like a frenzy- the monotony of the same practice over and over or the last minute panic when your child remembers that their test is tomorrow! At Academics Plus, we believe that learning can always be fun. Below are some fun, creative activities that we love to use with our students at Academics Plus and can help your child practice their spelling words at home in unique ways!

  • Bounce each word out with a playground ball! For example, the word "luminous" would be bounced out "lu-mi-nous, l-u-m-i-n-o-u-s, lu-mi-nous". Bouncing the words in syllables, as well as spelling out each letter, helps students hear the specific sounds each syllable makes and breaks the word into more manageable pieces. Ball bouncing activates the cerebellum, creating more neural connections and increasing cognitive efficiency and memory!
  • It is so important to break down each spelling word into syllables! In the photo below an instructor writes a spelling word on the white board, broken down into syllables. The student then copies the words three or four times. The instructor or student then erases the white board and the student tries to write the word correctly from memory, but with his eyes closed! He loves the added challenge and the repetition, combined with the funny task of trying to write "blind", truly solidifies the words in his memory!
  • If you have a small sandbox at home (or you can make your own sensory tray with a baking pan and sugar or salt), have your child write their words in the sand! Children always love to play with their hands and "get dirty" and adding a sensory component to spelling word practice enriches their learning. This would be fun to do with shaving cream or bathtub finger paint as well!
  • Have your child write their spelling words with their feet instead of their hands! No pencil required, but bare feet on carpet adds an excellent sensory component! We also love to take our white board off the wall and write the spelling word on the board. Then, the student gets to erase the white board with his sock! Remember to erase in the same direction as you would write!
  • If your child is a Brainjogger, wearing their headset while practicing spelling can help further increase auditory processing and recall. You can also enter their spelling words into their word lists each week so that when they Brainjog, they are naturally practicing their spelling words at the same time! We love to input their words into our program, so remember to share their list with our team each week.

However you choose to practice spelling words, make it fun! Your child will have better recall and you'll both have fun together along the way!