Monday, March 14, 2016

The Science Behind Reading to Your Kids

Have you heard about the play Harry Potter and the Cursed Child? More Harry Potter in my life? Yes, please.  New Harry Potter things brings me back to a wonderful time in my life when I was the 11-year-old girl with buckteeth and frizzy hair hoping to be cast as Hermione. *Side note: My sister and I really did try out for the Harry Potter movies in one of the most embarrassing and epic home videos I have ever seen.  Yes, we thought it would be ingenious if we “rode” in and off screen… with both of us on a single broom. And yes, it is better than you can imagine or I could describe.*

Anyway! When I was younger, my dad took me to a local bookstore that had a breakfast release party for the kids who couldn’t stay up to midnight: they made porridge in a cauldron and it was magical. As I got older, my dad started taking me to the midnight book releases, even when I was a bratty teenager. These were the years where I didn’t want to be seen with my dad otherwise, but on those nights, I knew we had a date and I didn’t want to share those first few moments of getting my hands on a new Harry Potter book with anyone else. 

Bless him. He used to buy the books on tape, given that he doesn’t have much free time for reading, so he could drive and listen and then share the excitement with me. “Can you believe Harry had to fight that dragon?”  my Dad would say after coming home from work. “Nooooooo!!” I would squeal “Just wait until you get to the next part!”.

My Dad cultivated and encouraged a love of reading through all these adventures with Harry Potter. When I wanted to be one of the first ones to get my hands on the books, he made it happen. When I wanted to try out for the films, he filmed our antics. When I needed to gush over the books, he listened.  I credit the amazing series for a large part of my love of reading, but when I had my own daughter and reflected on how I would introduce Harry Potter to her, I came to realize how much of my love of reading came from my Dad being so encouraging, even well before Harry Potter was on my radar.  My earliest memories consist of bedtime stories,  trips to bookstores, and visits to the library. All of these things my parents did for me prepared me to be able to pick up a novel like Harry Potter and really enjoy reading it!

Professional organizations such as the American Academy of Pediatrics and advocacy groups have encouraged parents to read to their children from birth to foster early learning and create connections in the brain that promote language development. However, until recently, there was no direct evidence of reading’s effects on the brain. Now, in new research presented at the Pediatric Academic Societies meeting in April 2015, it has been demonstrated that reading to young children is in fact associated with differences in brain activity supporting early reading skills.
The children in the study underwent functional magnetic resonance imaging (fancy way to basically takes lots of pictures of the brain) to measure brain activity while they were listening to age-appropriate stories via headphones.
Results showed that greater home reading exposure was strongly associated with activation of specific brain areas supporting semantic processing (the extraction of meaning from language). These areas are critical for oral language and later for reading.

Pretty cool, huh?

Did you have a favorite book series growing up? Or a favorite story you made your parents read to you over and over again? I personally loved Richard Scarry’s “What do People do all day?” and still have that book in my bedroom at home!

If you’re also a big Harry Potter fan check out this quiz. I expected to be Hermione, secretly wanted to be Bellatrix Lestrange, and I actually go Minerva McGonagall. My husband got Dobby the house elf…and that pretty much sums up our relationship!

If you want to read more about the study I talk about, check it out here.

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Friday, February 26, 2016

How to start meditating: Mindful Moment for the SPIRIT

I’ll never forget the day a spiritual mentor looked at me and said “your mindfulness muscles are weak”. I was living a fast-paced, high-stress, non-stop lifestyle and could literally not sit still for more than 2 seconds. (This only a slight exaggeration. Just ask my husband. He would say my record of sitting still was less than 5 minutes tops. And that took significant effort.) 

As a Doctor of Physical Therapy, her words spoke to me. I spend my career helping patients improve their movement, one way being by strengthening their muscles. When she said I needed to strengthen my mindfulness muscles, suddenly things clicked. I realized I didn’t have to live my life multi-tasking, striving for efficiency all the time, and being without moments of rest and recovery. 

I found my answer to mindfulness training through meditation. Neuroscientists have discovered that meditation actually causes physical changes in your brain. Pretty amazing isn’t it?  There is evidence that meditation can decrease stress and anxiety and increase focus, creativity, and improve communication.

When I started meditating, I situated myself laying down on my bed determined to keep myself still for the recommended 10 minutes. I had installed an app to be my guide through this process (see bottom of the post for more). Truthfully, I was scared. I really did not believe I could stay there for 10 minutes. And what if my mind went elsewhere (like it does ALL THE TIME)?

Here’s what happened: before the end of the 10 minutes my body completely shut down and I fell asleep for 3 hours! This girl, who had never taken a nap in her life (I mean…who has time for that?!), was out for 3 hours. This was a huge awakening (and accomplishment). My body was clearly exhausted, running on adrenaline, and when I finally took a few minutes pause I went into complete hibernation mode. It quickly became evident that my body was craving rest and reprieve from my current hectic lifestyle. 

I started meditating almost daily. A year later, I get about 4-5 sessions in each week. I literally feel my body craving and anticipating meditation time. The long naps after meditating have subsided, however it took several months before they started to fade (I did have a lot of lost rest time to make up for). What’s most incredible to me is that I now am meditating for 20 minutes at a time and it feels like 5 minutes. Our bodies (and minds!) are truly amazing at how they can learn, adapt, and grow.

Some days, 20 minutes of meditation is just not possible. I’ve come to learn that this is OK. Even on days that I miss my full 20 minutes, I still take a few “mindful moments” to pause and settle my body and brain. Meditation doesn’t have to be lengthy, scary, or even done in a quiet place. In fact, you don’t even need to start with 10 minutes. If you’ve never tried meditating before, they best way is to start pausing and taking a few “mindful moments” throughout your day. In case you’re interested in learning how to start, I’ve created an acronym to help you.

Take a moment to observe your sensations as they relate to your surroundings. Notice noises, lights, the feeling of where your body makes contact with a surface. Scan from head to toe to notice any areas of tension in your body. Check your breath - is it shallow? fast? what is its quality? At this point we are just observing, not judging or attempting to make any changes.

If you feel comfortable, close your eyes, if not just soften you gaze taking your surroundings slightly out of focus. You may choose to look at a single object. Imagine yourself in a place and in a position where you would feel completely relaxed. This may be in your bed, on the beach, or cuddled next to a loved one in front of a warm fire. Let your imagination take you somewhere comfortable.

 Check your breathing. Sometimes during moments of distraction we hold our breath without realization. Allow your breath to deepen, the belly relax and expand, quiet the chest so that it does not move with each breath. Start counting your inhales (silently or in a whisper). Continue to the count of 10. If you become distracted and don’t make it to 10, without judgement, start over at 1 and repeat the exercise one more time.

Repeat scanning your body from head to toe. When you come across areas of tension this time I want you to tell yourself to let go. Allow the tension to fade and your breath to deepen. 

Take a moment to reflect on why you are taking this moment out of your day to pause. Remind yourself who you are doing this for and why. Think of how you and others may benefit from you taking time to take care of yourself. 

The most importance part of this meditating is the ending. No matter how you are feeling about the meditation, give thanks for this moment and for this day, as each is a blessing. "In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you." 1st Thessalonians 5:18 (KJV). 

Interested in training your mind more? My favorite meditation app is “Headspace”. Consider it a gym membership for your brain. There is a 10 day free trial before being asked to join with a subscription. I have been using this app for over a year now and it has been nothing short of life changing. (Note: I have no relationship with Headspace and am not incentivized for you clicking on the link above. I just love it so much and have to share!) 

If you choose to use Headspace, I do have a few recommendations:
(Feel free to lay down in your bed, despite the recommendation not to do so.
*Make sure you deepen your breath through your abdomen, instead of your chest (as the cues are given in the app). This will help decrease hyperactivity in your nervous system. 
If you are unable to do a subscription service at this time, the app is a free alternative for learning meditation skills. 

If you are interested in reading more about the idea of “giving thanks in all things" then check out Ann Voskamp’s book, “One Thousand Gifts”

Have you tried meditation? What are your favorite meditation apps? I would love to hear how others are incorporating mindfulness into their day!

Have a great day! 

*This post may contain affiliate links* 

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Valentine's Humor

Happy Valentine's Day from Sofa Mama {soon to be another name} blog!

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Last Minute Valentine's Gift Idea

I'm pulling a post from the archives to share with you a fun {last minute} Valentine's gift from baby. Originally this post was titled "Baby Footprint Valentine". Check it out by clicking on the picture below!

Happy {early} Valentine's Day!