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Music helps premature babies’ brain development

The information that classical music is good for babies has circled the web and parents’ group chats. But are the benefits real? We do not know whether it is classical music specifically. However, a study by the Geneva University Hospitals has proved premature infants have better brain development when they listen to a specific type of music.  

Premature babies who were exposed to music in intensive care units developed their brain networks more effectively, leading to a functional brain architecture more similar to term newborn babies. 

The impact in the development of the brain 

In some areas of infant brains exposed to music, larger development was detected. This had an impact on sensory perception, on attention mechanisms which are helpful to the learning process related to cognitive and perceptive development, on affective and emotional processing, and on cognitive and behavioral responses

The study was developed by researchers from the University of Geneva and published in June 2019 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS), one of the world’s most-cited scientific journals. 

Overall, 45 babies participated in the research: 16 term newborn babies (i.e. babies who were not born prematurely) and 29 preterm infants, newly born in the ICU environments of the Geneva University Hospitals (HUG). 

Of 29 premature babies, 15 were in the control group which had no music intervention and 14 were in the one which had. 

According to the article “Music in premature infants enhances high-level cognitive brain networks”, written based on the study’s results, premature babies exposed to a certain type of music had significant enhancement in the development of their brain networks in relation to the preterm babies who had no contact with the music. 

The brains of premature babies are not fully developed yet because of their shorter pregnancy period. For this reason, babies need to spend some time in an ICU incubator to continue developing. 

Despite simulating the environment of the uterus, incubators are found lacking in terms of development. According to Petra Huppi, the professor leading the UNIGE’s Faculty of Medicine’s research and head of HUG’s Development and Growth Division, “The brain’s immaturity, combined with a disturbing sensory environment, explains why the neural networks do not develop properly.” 

:: You can also read: The benefits of rhymes when learning to read ::

The Music

The premature babies from the study had contact with music composed exclusively for them. The specific instruments that were used, such as a harp, bells, and a pungi, had already produced brain and behavioral responses in premature newborns in a previous study. 

The music was divided into three tracks in order to adapt to the babies’ vigilance state: one that helped awake the babies; another which interacted with them while they were alert; and a third one that helped put them to sleep. 

Written by Luisa Scherer

Translated by Mariana Gruber

How music works in the brain

Music can evoke distinct sensations in each one of us. Some songs allow us to relive our memories and can take us back to our childhood, meanwhile others make us feel excited regardless of the situation. Sometimes we may even feel nostalgia when listening to a specific song or band, and we may even remember people who are no longer around us. 

Considering these sensations that we are all familiar with, have you ever wondered how the act of listening to music is processed by our brains? 

Daniel Levitin, a psychologist, neuroscientist, musician, music producer and the author of the book This Is Your Brain on Music explained in an interview to Globo’s Portal G1: 

“… Each time we listen to a musical pattern that is new to our ears, our brains try to make an association between any visual, hearing or sensory sign. We try to contextualize new sounds and, eventually, create these memory links between a particular set of notes and a certain place, time or set of events”.

This explains the fact that we associate music with moments and people

Daniel also states that music has a direct connection to our brain and stimulates the production of the so-called happiness chemicals, such as serotonin, endorphin, dopamine, oxytocin and prolactin (the latter in pregnant women).  

How the human brain reacts to music 

Carolina Octaviano has a Master’s degree in cognition and philosophy from the Universidade Federal do Paraná (UFPR). In her article, she explains how music is received by our brains

She writes that “once the sound is transmitted by molecules through the air, it reaches the eardrum, which vibrates in or out, according to the breadth and volume of the sound it receives as well as its frequency – that is, whether it is low or high. However, at this stage, the brain receives incomplete information, without a clear understanding or what the noise really represents – whether it is a voice, the wind, machines, etc. The final result, decoded in the brain, represents a mental image of the physical world, which is generated by a long chain of mental events”. 

Carolina explains that the first process of this chain is the “characteristics extraction”, when the brain only perceives music’s basic characteristics through specialized neural networks. “In this stage, the sound is decomposed into basic elements such as frequency, timber, its location in space, intensity, among others. This occurs in the peripheral parts of the brain. The second step occurs in the upper parts of the brain, when the newly-acquired basic information needs to be integrated, therefore obtaining a complete perception.” 

Almost all brain regions are involved when we listen to music 

Carolina states that musical activity involves almost all brain regions as well as neural subsystems.

“When a song is emotionally touching, structures from the instinctive regions of the cerebellar vermis (a cerebellum structure that modulates the production of dopamine and norepinephrine neurotransmitters and its release by the brainstem) and the amygdala (the cortex’s emotional processing’s main area). In musical reading, the area used is the visual cortex. The act of following along with a song is able to activate the hippocampus (responsible for memories) and the inferior frontal cortex. For music execution, the frontal lobes are activated – the motor and sensory cortex”. 

:: You can also read: What is homeostasis? ::

Music benefits to the brain 

In an interview to the newspaper O Globo, psychologist Daniel Levitin shares that recent studies have reinforced the notion that listening to music “improves physical and brain health, increases the immunological system function, promotes social bonding even without the presence of other people and improves general well-being”. 

“Actually, we use music to regulate our moods throughout the day, even if we don’t do it intentionally. We choose different songs for working out and having dinner, or relaxing before going to sleep. The neurochemistry of these feelings and moods was attributed to music’s ability to modulate the levels of dopamine, endorphins and opioids in the brain. For example, techno tends to increase stress hormones (cortisol, ACTH, prolactine, growth hormone and norepinephrine), while meditative music reduces them significantly. On the other hand, listening to music we like may affect our well-being hormones”, he explains. 

The relationship between music and neurological development 

The physician and researcher Mauro Muszkat wrote an article in which he shows that music can act as an improving factor for diseases like depression or Alzheimer. Through this statement, he instigates art-educators, musicians and teachers to carry out an exercise of child observation and, along with them, to participate in a “process of language construction, in order to find answers to the kid’s struggles and for their inclusion, both educationally and socially”.

“Music can’t be understood without taking into account the subjectivity, the playful engagement and the transitivity which characterizes art. Music, in any of its dimensions, be that aesthetic, therapeutic or ritualistic, involves the perceptual motor and executive brain functions. Feeling and processing music imply the analysis of the physical and acoustic signs of the air molecules vibrations (sounds) and its decodification in a subjective and complex cultural system. Therefore, physical signs transform into emotional states that reflect expectations, tension, rest and movement as well as cause fluctuations in our endogenous physiological rhythms such as heartbeat, respiratory rate and brain electrical rhythms”, he explains. 

“Listening to music also affects the functioning of our brain. The physiological alterations due to exposure to music are multiple and range from the neurovegetative modulation of variability patterns of heart rate endogenous rhythms, respiratory rhythms, cerebral electrical rhythms, and sleep-wake circadian cycles to the production of several neurotransmitters linked to rewards and pleasures and the pain neuromodulation system. It also intensified linguistic abilities”, he writes. 

“For people whose cognition is declining, music can facilitate the activation of highly plastic neural networks, which are involved in episodic autobiographical memories in individuals with brain malfunctions. Therefore, the benefits of music are already widely known for many international groups, due to its ability to evoke emotions and bring back hidden memories”.

Mauro also explains that kids are not the only ones who benefit from listening to music; teenagers do as well, as music acts as a helping factor to them during the difficult transitioning stage, in which they encounter “changes that are not only hormonal but also neurobiological, as well as changes in impulsivity, motor agility and periods of oscillating moods and boredom”. 

Written by Débora Nazário

Translated by Mariana Gruber

EDITOR’S NOTE

According to an article about neurodevelopment and musical education, the human brain goes through four main stages of structural development. 

The first one happens during fetal development, during pregnancy, where the formation of billions of cells occurs in order to form the brain’s structure.

The second stage is soon after the birth and in the first few years of life with the emergence of connections between the cells, which create the brain’s “mind maps”, responsible for sight, language, hearing, etc. 

The third stage happens between the ages of 4 and 10, during which every new learning reorganizes and reinforces the connections between the cells of the human brain. And the last stage happens after the age of 10, when the brain is still able to undergo physical changes and learns and memorizes information throughout its life. 

In other words: half of the brain’s formation stages is during childhood, when the best “conditions” for learning are presented. 

Windows of opportunity

Another common concept in neuroscience is the “windows of opportunity”, periods in which kids appear to develop each type of intelligence more easily, making each stimulus and development more efficient. It’s worth remembering that such windows are not fixed and definitive, they are simply estimates. 

Taking into account the windows of opportunity, we can mention here some types of intelligence which are developed more easily during childhood and how to stimulate them. 

  • Linguistic or Verbal Intelligence: it is developed from birth until the age of 10, in which connections that transform sounds into words with meaning are developed. Vocal games, conversations, stories, tales, rhymes, and musical stories can stimulate linguistic or verbal intelligence. 
  • Musical Intelligence: it is developed from birth until the age of 10. From the age of 3, the brain areas that dominate motor coordination are very sensitive and already allow for musical execution. It can be stimulated through singing, hearing, movement, dancing, musical games, sounds identification, and other activities that develop the inner ear. 
  • Body Kinesthetic Intelligence: it is developed from birth until the age of 6. The brain develops the ability to associate visualization and the act of grabbing an object, for example. It is developed through play activities that stimulate touch, taste and sense of smell, mimes, movement interpretation, and various motor activities and games, with or without objects. 
  • Logical-Mathematical Intelligence: from birth until the age of 10. Cognition is developed through kids’ actions towards objects in the world and their expectations of them. It can be developed through drawings, representations, games, musical activities, and simple problem resolutions in various areas that stimulate logical thinking. 

Music and Truth and Tales

Our app Truth and Tales, for kids between the ages of 5 and 10, has many activities that can stimulate the four types of intelligence mentioned above. 

The interactive stories stimulate the Linguistic or Verbal intelligence by telling stories in rhymes; the Musical intelligence by the soundtrack and some sound identification games with musical notes; and the Logical-Mathematical intelligence by problem solving games using drawings and representations. 

The audiobooks also stimulate the Linguistic or Verbal intelligence for the same reason as the interactive stories; and they also stimulate Musical intelligence due to their soundtracks. 

The exercises from Move It-Move It, that restore kids to their homeostatic state, stimulate their Body Kinesthetic intelligence through movements interpretation and motor activity games. . 

We highlight here the soundtrack of the app itself, which covers the entire Truth and Tales’ experience: from the menu to the activities. Knowing about the effect of music on kids’ brains, we asked qualified professionals to create a soundtrack especially for the app. Its musicality makes the entire experience even more special. 

Sources for the article: 

Literartes – Revistas da USP

O Globo

Jornal da USP

Ciências e Cognição  

El Economista

What is Homeostasis?

You must have heard this sentence before: “the human body is a perfect machine”. But did you ever stop to think about what guarantees our perfect functioning considering how complexly we are built? When we feel goosebumps on our skin from the cold or when we sweat after practicing physical activities, these are physiological responses whose goal is to keep our body’s internal temperature in balance. It is through this matter that we can touch on the subject of homeostasis, which acts on maintaining the balance of our body’s functioning. 

What is homeostasis?  

The human body needs to be in balance in order to guarantee its functioning.

In an interview to UOL, Nicolle Queiroz, a cardiologist and professor of the Medical School of the Universidade de Santo Amaro (Unisa), in Brazil, explains that sweat, for example, is part of a mechanism called homeostasis, which is responsible for regulating body temperature so that all body functions happen seamlessly. 

Professor Kelvin S. Rodolfo from the University of Illinois starts an interview with Scientific American by explaining what homeostasis is according to the word’s meaning. “Homeostasis, from the Greek words for “same” and “steady,” refers to any process that living things use to actively maintain fairly stable conditions necessary for survival”.

The term was coined in 1930 by the physician Walter Cannon. His book, The Wisdom of the Body, describes how the human body maintains steady levels of temperature and other vital conditions such as the water, salt, sugar, protein, fat, calcium and oxygen contents of the blood. Similar processes dynamically maintain steady-state conditions in the Earth’s environment.”

Moreover, PhD professor Ismar A. de Moraes’s explanation about the concept of homeostasis revives the one created by Claude Bernard, a famous French physiologist:

“All vital mechanisms, despite their diversity, have only one function: to keep the life conditions of an internal environment constant.” 

Ismar states that we must understand homeostasis as an organism’s tendency to maintain its internal conditions always within normal or physiological parameters. According to their position on the evolutionary scale, living beings may present a bigger or smaller ability to adapt to their environment. 

“Each moment in which there is a tendency to imbalance, the homeostatic mechanisms will show up in order to ensure regulation or the return to normality. This applies, among others, to the regulation of the body’s pH as well as to thermoregulation and circulation,” he writes. 

:: Read Also: Stories with humor are beneficial to the brain and to cognitive development ::

What is the importance of homeostasis? 

Homeostasis acts mainly in the functioning of the nervous and endocrine systems. The nervous system coordinates bodily functions and the endocrine system indicates “what must be done” for each organ. 

If a system is under conditions that provoke alterations, it then faces instabilities – and its tendency is to act in order to combat such alterations. Homeostasis has a fundamental role in this process. 

Professor Kelvin S. Rodolfo also mentions the importance of the human body’s temperature control processes. “For example, the human body uses a number of processes to control its temperature, keeping it close to an average value or norm of 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit. One of the most obvious physical responses to overheating is sweating, which cools the body by making more moisture on the skin available for evaporation. On the other hand, the body reduces heat-loss in cold surroundings by sweating less and reducing blood circulation to the skin. Thus, any change that either raises or lowers the normal temperature automatically triggers a counteracting, opposite or negative feedback . Here, negative merely means opposite, not bad; in fact, it operates for our well being in this example. ” 

He emphasizes that “homeostatic reactions are inevitable and automatic if the system is functioning properly, and that a steady state or homeostasis may be maintained by many systems operating together. For example, flushing is another of the body’s automatic responses to heating: the skin reddens because its small blood vessels automatically expand to bring more heated blood close to the surface where it can cool. Shivering is another response to chilling: the involuntary movements burn body tissue to produce more body heat.”

Kelvin S. Rodolfo explains furthermore that oscillation is a common and necessary behavior of many systems and that they themselves promote such oscillations above and below the equilibrium level.  

Homeostatic systems evolved throughout the years to help the body maintain its ideal functions in different environments and situations. But beyond that, according to an article published in 2013 by the National Library of Medicine (National Center for Biotechnology Information), a group of scientists theorized that homeostasis mainly provides a “quiet background” for cells, tissues and organs to communicate with one another.  The theory proposes that homeostasis makes it easier for organisms to extract important information from the environment and to transmit it between different parts of the body. 

Homeostasis beyond physiology 

Moving slightly away from the explanations of homeostasis in the body, professor Kelvin S. Rodolfo says that homeostasis has also found useful applications in the social sciences. “It refers to how a person under conflicting stresses and motivations can maintain a stable psychological condition. A society homeostatically maintains its stability despite competing political, economic and cultural factors. A good example is the law of supply and demand, whereby the interaction of supply and demand keeps market prices reasonably stable.” 

Sources

Essential Nutrition

Scientific American

Written by Débora Nazário

Translated by Mariana Gruber

EDITOR’S NOTE:

The body needs to return to homeostasis when it encounters a stress factor. When we think about this stress factor, we usually think of a flu that weakens our bodies or makes it feverish in order to combat an infection; or we think of a freezing-cold day and clothes that are not warm enough, thus our bodies shiver uncontrollably in order to generate heat and avoid lowering its temperature. 

However, there’s also psychological stress: when we are overloaded or concerned about something. Our bodies have a series of responses in the face of stress and each person reacts differently. Some people sleep, others crave sweets; some lose all appetite, others feel constipated – or need to visit the toilet five times a day. All of this is our body showing us that there is an imbalance that may be emotional. 

Kids can also be stressed and have responses such as a lack of appetite, sleep deregulation or irritability. You need to stay alert and seek the help of pediatricians and therapists in case one of these warning signs is identified. 

Truth and Tales, our children’s well-being app, relies on some activities that may help kids return to their homeostatic state. The interactive stories and audiobooks are Teaching Stories, ancient stories structured in a way that improves neuroplasticity and provides space to develop finer skills, such as focus and attention. 

We also offer physical activities that integrate the body and mind and help restore homeostasis. In a playful and fun way, kids are given space to notice their bodies and their feelings, placing their attention back on themselves. 

Stories with humor are beneficial to the brain and to cognitive development

Childhood is a time during which we learn a lot and cognitive development is being constantly stimulated when we are little. Stories with humor in them also have an important role in this development. 

Each new stimulus children receive makes them explore the world, their senses, and, therefore, learn and interact with their environment. Reading stories is a way to stimulate these learnings. 

In this article, we explained that reading stimulates the growth of white matter in the brain, which is a set of nervous fibers in the brain that help it to learn and function. 

The benefits of stories with humour for kids

Researchers Olufolake Orekoya, Edmund SS Chan and Maria PY Chik, all from Hong Kong Baptist University, wrote the article “Humor and Reading Motivation in Children: Does the Tickling Work?”. In this article, they explain how reading and, mainly, literature with elements of humor can be beneficial to children’s learning. 

They present a two-year investigation about learning and teaching children’s literature done by five universities with elementary school students. It reveals that most children prefer reading books that make them laugh

The results also showed that what makes children avid readers are books with funny stories. The study reported what were children’s preferences when it came to reading, which goes from funny stories to adventurous ones,  fantasy and others. 

Children are easily adaptable to the bond in humor and creativity, both of which help cognitive development. As children grow up and become more cognitively mature, they may appreciate different forms of humor present in the stories. 

Reading, humor and cognitive development

The article states that “humor appreciation is closely related to cognitive development”. “When a child is engaged in humour appreciation, he or she intends to finish a problem-solving exercise to identify and unfold the incongruity hidden beneath the humour stimuli.” (Zigler, Levine, & Gould, 1967)

“Literature confirms the benefits and significance of humour for school learning socially, cognitively, affectively and behaviorally since it facilitates playful learning environment, lessened learning anxiety, stimulated students’ learning motivation, and deepened teacher-student relationship (Davies & Apter, 1980).”

“When children read humourous texts, they engaged in a ‘cognitive play’, ‘where words and concepts are used in ways that are surprising, unusual, and incongruous, activating schemas with which they are not normally associated’ (Martin, 2007, p. 109; Shultz & Robillard, 1980).”

According to Rod A. Martin, reading as a cognitive activity possibly activates “positive emotion of mirth (i.e. enjoyment), leading to enhancement of creativity, memory and social virtues that include: sense of responsibility, helpfulness and generosity) (Martin, 2007).”  

Humor theories

John Morreall, who is a PhD in Philosophy and Emeritus Professor of the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, evaluated three traditional theories regarding laughter and humor: the Theory of Superiority, the Theory of Relief and the Theory of Incongruity. Based on these theories, he put forward a new one which claims that humor is cognitive play

John explains that “not all laughter is about persons, and so there need be no comparison of persons”, as it was stated in the Theory of Superiority of humor. He says “we may be amused by a stage comedian doing a perfect impression of some movie star without comparing ourselves with that comedian or the movie star. And even if we do compare ourselves with persons about whom we are laughing, we need not judge ourselves superior to them. They may make us laugh by surprising us with unexpected skills that we lack.” 

“After two millennia in which the Superiority Theory was the only widely accepted account of laughter, the Relief Theory and the Incongruity Theory emerged in the 18th century. According to the Relief Theory, laughter operates like a safety valve in a steam pipe, releasing built-up nervous energy.”

This theory, however, started to be questioned. The act of speaking and the elements of humor in said speech didn’t seem to require emotions. In addition, some experiences of fun also rely solely on the element of surprise. The Theory of Incongruity was one of the most widely accepted in the twentieth century, since it stated that “humorous amusement is a reaction to something that violates our mental patterns and expectations.” 

Reflections on the theories of humor

After considering the theories of humor mentioned above, professor John Morreall wrote that there are four insights. “First, humor is a cognitive phenomenon – it involves perceptions, thoughts, mental patterns, and expectations. Secondly, humor involves a change of cognitive state. Thirdly, that cognitive change is sudden. And fourthly, amusement is pleasurable.” 

To these four insights he added others: 

“ 1) Humor is a nonserious activity in which we suspend practical concern and concern about what is true. 

2) Humor is primarily a social experience.

3) Humor is a form of play in which laughter serves as a play signal. Coining the term shift for a sudden change, we can say that humor involves the enjoyment of cognitive shifts.”

Putting all these ideas together, he presented the following theory of humorous amusement: 

Laughter makes people experience a cognitive shift and “their playful disengagement and their pleasure are expressed in laughter, which signals to others that they can relax and enjoy the cognitive shift too.”

How humor affects the brain

Brian David Boyd, professor from The University of Auckland in New Zealand, explains that laughter, although it is often triggered by words, is in itself pre-verbal and non-verbal

According to an excerpt from his article, “laughter and sobbing are ‘the first two social vocalizations that children make’; unlike speech, they are relatively involuntary, socially contagious, and with a consistent emotional valence; like other primate social calls they do not require fine articulation but only an ’alternation of the presence and absence of vocal sounds, superimposed on relatively more stable mouth postures,’ and their motor activity depends on mid-brain and brain stem circuits rather than the higher speech centers.”

Training for the unexpected

This confident sharing of expectations that happens in verbal communication is essential for social play. This also happens in games and activities, so that there is as much room as possible for the unexpected. 

Shared expectations that allow for surprises that catch us off guard, that simulate risk and stimulate recovery, are the key not only to play of all kinds but also to humor. In jokes we are often primed for surprise, but despite our actively seeking to anticipate an unexpected resolution, the punch line still takes us unawares, but in a way that allows the tripping up of our expectations to be followed by a swift regaining of balance.”

Laughter brings us together

The article also says that “our very recognition that we share such expectations makes our amusement socially binding in the way that physical play, through  its dependence on the less novel expectations of ritualized behavior, also serves to unite. 

If a would-be joke does not take us by surprise, if, as we say, we see the punch line a mile off, we will not find it funny. On the other hand, springing a joke with insufficient preparation can also ruin it.

But if our expectation has been primed, if we know a joke is coming, and we still find the punch line takes us by surprise, it will be even funnier: it resembles exactly the relationship between the keen general expectation of play, and the acute particular surprises animals, including humans, especially enjoy in play.”

At last, in his article, professor Brian brings up a question asked by the philosopher Daniel C. Dennett: “What advantage could Homo sapiens gain from laughing? Why would laughter and humor have evolved as behaviors that matter so much to us?”

His answer was the following: “Laughter, by signaling our pleasure in cognitive play, invites and encourages us to prepare playful surprises for one another. Playing socially with our expectations reinforces our sense of solidarity, our recognition of the huge body of expectations we share; it trains us to cope with and even seek out the unexpected that surrounds and can extend these expectations; and yet it can offer a first more or less playful warning to those who diverge from them in ways we reject.”

Written by Débora Nazário

Translated by Mariana Gruber

EDITOR’S NOTE

Now that we already know the role humor has in stories and children’s preferences for funny tales, here are some reading recommendations!

Truth and Tales, the app we developed, has many stories that are full of twists and humor! They are Teaching Stories, which you can learn more about here. The Teaching Stories usually make use of lots of humor in order to develop a certain level of preparedness to the unexpected as well as give the stories a special touch!

The Truth and Tales story called “The Child and the Dragon” presents several funny characters and dialogue, in addition to twists and turns the reader never sees coming!

Download the app and try reading, playing or listening to our stories! 

How Games and Video Games Develop Spatial Vision

Spatial vision is a well-known term for those who develop games and apps, or even amongst education professionals, but it is still rarely discussed outside these fields.  

Spatial vision starts to develop when we are babies. Elizabeth Spelke is a psychologist and researcher of Harvard’s Laboratory for Developmental Studies, and she has studied children’s cognitive development since 1980. 

In an article published in 2020, she stated that babies can distinguish between changes in angles and shapes in drawings. Through gestures, the little ones can also learn to develop a sense of geometry. 

We spoke to Vânia Cristina Pires Nogueira Valente* about how spatial vision manifests and is improved through games

*Vânia Cristina Pires Nogueira Valente is vice-coordinator of the Media and Technology Post-Graduate Program – Professional Masters – from FAAC/Unesp and a lecturer in Graphic Representation. She is also a professor at the Faculty of Architecture, Arts and Communication from Universidade Estadual Paulista Júlio de Mesquita Filho, and author of the book Desenvolvimento da Visão Espacial por Games Digitais, (freely translated to “Spatial vision development through digital games”).

What is spatial vision?

According to Vânia, spatial vision is a set of abilities. It’s a skill which isn’t innate – in other words, no one is born with this skill, it’s instead developed throughout life. 

“Spatial vision isn’t a gift, it’s something you develop just like you learn how to write or ride a bike. Spatial vision can be improved and developed and increasingly sharpened. This skill involves imagining objects and three-dimensional things and conceiving a kind of construction in your head.” 

“For example, Waze is a two-dimensional map, but you can imagine the road and the corner where you will turn. The process of converting from 2D to 3D means you have a well-developed spatial vision skill. Or, when you imagine dice and see them turning in your mind: that’s spatial vision working.”  

How can we develop spatial vision?  

The professor states you need to develop cognitive skills before developing spatial vision. “It’s necessary to have quick thinking, a notion of distance, response speed and reflex. That is why in contact sports, in which you need to reach a goal and calculate the time to get rid of the opponent, such as football, there are several skills that are developed, and all of this helps to develop spatial vision.” 

“Many of these skills, such as quick thinking and reflex, are also developed by games such as shooter games, in which the players have to get rid of their opponents and, in order to do that, they need to think quickly. 

Vânia mentions the game Overwatch in her book as an example of action games that also stimulate the skills necessary for spatial vision development. Games in which there’s speed usually require response speed. Many of them also contain several elements on screen that players need to pay attention to. All these elements develop skills that lead to the improvement of spatial vision, according to Vânia. 

“I like some more specific games, like Minecraft, in which you can look at objects from different points of view. You can navigate around the space, the game’s environment, and you see the same object from different positions: from the top, head-on, and from the sides. That allows the brain to put together 3D objects based on these views. I mention Minecraft to my students to exercise their spatial vision skill,” she explains. 

Developed spatial vision may be necessary for many different jobs: 

The benefits of spatial vision development provide several necessary skills for many professions, according to Vânia. 

“In my case, since I teach engineering, design, and technical drawing, students need to draw objects, projections, blueprints, aerial and front-view drawings and therefore need their spatial vision skill very well-developed.” 

“I used to notice in my lessons how easier it was for students who played games or practiced action and contact sports such as football than it was for the others. Professionally it is very important to have a well-developed spatial vision, and so is for our personal lives.” 

Vânia remarks that spatial vision is also extremely important for driving, since, in order to drive the vehicle, the driver’s attention must be on several places and they have to calculate the space, speed, etc. 

Written by Débora Nazário

Translated by Mariana Gruber

Editor’s Note

Now that we’ve seen that many electronic games help to develop spatial vision, a question may arise: what about kids and violent games? This subject has been openly discussed since video games gained traction as a source of entertainment, at least 20 years ago. 

Of course, the later violent games are introduced to kids, the better. But playing this type of computer game or video game isn’t necessarily making kids violent. Behavioral change in kids never stems from one thing only, albeit that doesn’t exclude the possibility of violent games being a trigger for aggressive behavior. That depends on how much time this kid plays every day, if there’s open dialogue between them and the parents, if their older siblings also play these games and even the kid’s personality. 

Specialists’ Opinion

Even specialists disagree when it comes to this subject. There are those who defend that electronic games do influence kids’ behaviors and those who defend that it isn’t something defined by one factor only and that there is a series of events, not an isolated one, which may lead to this type of behavior. 

To this day, when it comes to this theme, it is hard to find an article which has reached a verdict. Most likely because there are many issues involved: the parents’ participation in the kids’ lives, the relationship between the kids and their caretakers, social-economical, gender, and personality issues, and so on and so forth. 

One common ground between them is in relation to screen time according to the kid’s age. Several Pediatric Associations and Councils around the world recommend no screen time at all for kids under the age of 2. From this age forward, the recommendation starts with 30 minutes and increases along the age range. 

Another common ground is in regards to kids who isolate themselves in electronic games, which is a warning sign. Kids who usually play on the computer and video games but take part in other activities and hobbies have a different relationship with electronics than kids who isolate themselves in the computer and in video games. If your kids are isolating themselves, you can: give them more attention, offer another type of activity, take them out, ask them about their friends, etc. Also, help them with whatever they need. 

Outro consenso é em relação às crianças que se isolam nos jogos eletrônicos, que é um sinal de alerta. Crianças que costumam jogar no computador e videogame, mas que fazem outras atividades e hobbies, têm uma relação diferente com os eletrônicos das crianças que se isolam no computador e videogame. Se seus filhos se isolam, vale dar mais atenção a eles, oferecer outro tipo de atividade, fazer mais passeios, perguntar sobre seus amigos e etc, e ajudá-los no que for necessário.

Harvard Analysis

A 2010 analysis from Harvard Health Publishing, from Harvard University, gathers articles from specialists from both sides of the coin. Some articles, more recent at the time, argue that “much of the research on violent video game use relies on measures to assess aggression that don’t correlate with real-world violence”. Even more important than that, “some studies are observational and don’t prove cause and effect.”

According to this document, “Although adults tend to view video games as isolating and antisocial, other studies found that most young respondents described the games as fun, exciting, something to counter boredom, and something to do with friends. For many youths, violent content is not the main draw.

“Boys in particular are motivated to play video games in order to compete and win. Seen in this context, use of violent video games may be similar to the type of rough-housing play that boys engage in as part of normal development. Video games offer one more outlet for the competition for status or to establish a pecking order.”

What may be done at home

Our point is: it’s not the end of the world if your kids play violent electronic games. If that’s the case and you do have some concerns, do the basic

  • Show interest in what your kids are interested in.
  • Try to understand why they like it so much.
  • Play it with them, talk about it. 
  • Do some research on the game and search for more information on it. 
  • Beware of behavior changes and ask the kids what they think, instead of being sure you already know the answer. 
  • Encourage them to play sports.
  • Remember it is important for kids to have limited screen time! If you haven’t set a limit at home yet, see whether that makes sense for you and your family. We’ve talked about this in this article
  • Check whether your kids are playing games appropriate for their age range.* 

* For example: 7-year-old kids playing a teen-rated video game is undoubtedly inappropriate. If this happens, research similar and fun alternatives to offer your kids, in exchange for the first option. For instance, if they’re playing a shooting game, find a paintball alternative, in which the mechanics are the same, but there isn’t as much violence. 

On the other hand, it is very common for teenagers between the ages of 13 and 14 to play mature-rated video games. Is it ideal? No, but forbidding them from playing only makes them feel outraged, in this case. To evaluate this case, take into account your kids’ particularities such as maturity and sensitivity to some themes and talk to them about the game’s content (guns, violence or any other theme you find inappropriate for them. At their age, an open dialogue is better than taking the game away from them). 

Truth and Tales’ stance: we don’t recommend that kids under the age of 4 consume any screen content. For more details, we recommend reading this post: “Kids and exposure to screens: how far is it okay?” 

What is Cognitive Development?

The term cognitive development is frequently used by therapists, doctors and educators. We have also used those two words together in a lot of content published here in our blog. But do you know what it means?

In an interview from December 2019 for the Maria Cecília Souto Vidigal Foundation — which has worked for the cause of early childhood and the first stages of child development since 2007 — doctor Drauzio Varella explained a little about cognitive development. 

“We are born with our entire neurological equipment set up, but not ready: our brain is a miniature of the adult brain, i.e. morphologically speaking, the shape is well-established. However, what allows for the development of cognitive activities isn’t brain shape but the neurons. It is the links between them, because it is through them that information is communicated, through these established connections. If you stimulate these connections with games, made-up stories and by reading to children, they will start to develop their cognitive ability based on the stimuli of synapse formation, which is the interaction between neurons,” he explained. 

Three core concepts of cognitive development in early childhood 

In order to explain these connections that happen in our brains a little further, we will present three core concepts of early childhood development, developed by the National Scientific Council on the Developing Child from Harvard University. 

These three concepts show how the advancement of neuroscience, molecular biology and genomics offers a much more thorough understanding of how our first experiences are built in our bodies and brains, for better or worse. 

1. Experiences shape the brain’s architecture

The experiences lived by children during their first years of life have a lifelong impact on their brain architecture and development. Genes represent the diagram to be performed, but experiences shape the process that will define whether the brain will build a strong or weak foundation for learning, behavior and health throughout their lives. 

During this important stage of development, billions of brain cells called neurons send electrical signals that communicate among themselves. These connections build the circuits that establish the brain’s basic architecture. Circuits and connections are multiplied quickly and are strengthened by their frequent use. 

Our experiences and the environment we live in determine which circuits and connections will be used more. The most frequently used connections get stronger and become permanent, whereas rarely used connections disappear through a normal process called pruning. Simple circuits are built first, forming the foundation upon which more complex ones will be built later. 

It is through this process that neurons build circuits and connections for emotions, motor skills, behavior control, logic, language and memory. All of this happens during the early stages of development. 

With repeated use, the circuits become more efficient and connect to other areas of the brain more quickly. Despite originating from specific areas of the brain, the circuits are interconnected and there cannot be one type of skill without others that complement it. It is similar to building a house, everything is connected, and whichever comes first builds the foundation for what will come later. 

2. Serve and Return Interaction Shapes Brain Circuitry

A solid architecture of the brain is shaped through the serve and return interaction between the child and the adult. In this game of development, the neurons create new connections in the brain as the child instinctively makes face expressions, sounds, and gestures, and the adult reacts in a very significant way and with a focus on the child’s action. 

This starts quite early in life, when babies try to express themselves and the adults interact by calling the babies’ attention to their faces or hands. This interaction shapes the foundations of the brain circuitry upon which all future development will take place. 

The serve and return interaction helps to create connections by means of the neurons from all brain areas, establishing the emotional and cognitive skills that children need to live. For example: language and literacy skills are formed when a baby sees an object and the adult utters its name. This builds connections inside the baby’s brain between the specific sounds and their corresponding objects. 

Later, adults show to kids that such objects and sounds can also be represented by marks on a page. With the adults’ constant support, children learn to decipher the writing and, then, to write themselves. Each stage is built from the previous one. 

Ensuring children’s caregivers are involved in the serve and return interaction from their first few months is to promote the construction of a solid foundation in the brain for learning, behavior and health — for the rest of their lives. 

:: You can aldo read: Physical activity, games and lots of fun: Health for our children! ::

3. Toxic stress harms healthy development

Learning to deal with stress is an important part of healthy development. When we experience stress, our response system is activated, the body and brain become alert, adrenaline takes over and heart rate increases, as well as the stress hormone levels. 

Stress is relieved when children get the nurturing support they need from an adult. Their bodies react to the adult’s response and slow down, returning to homeostasis in no time. In severe situations, such as continuous abuse and negligence or when there is no nurturing adult to soften the impacts of stress, the response to stress remains activated. Even when there is no apparent physical damage, the prolonged lack of care and attention on the part of the adults is able to activate the stress response system. 

The constant stress response activation overwhelms the developing systems. As a result, there are serious long term consequences for the children, and this process is known as toxic stress. Over time it results in a stress response system that is permanently on alert. 

Science shows that the prolonged activation of stress hormones during early childhood can reduce the number of neuron connections in these important regions of the brain in a period that children should be developing new connections. Toxic stress can be avoided if we ensure that children grow up and develop in warm, reliable and stimulating environments. 

When questioned about early childhood development and lifelong health on The Brain Architects Podcast by Harvard University’s Center on the Developing Child, the center director, Dr. Jack Shonkoff, explains that one of the new science’s most important messages compels us to connect the brain to the rest of the body. “Because what happens early on is not only important for learning and social and emotional development and school achievement, but it’s an important influence on your physical and mental health for the rest of your life. .” 

Jack also says that there are no perfect brains or immunological systems. “How we grow up, how we learn, what our health is like is related to the interaction between how we are individually wired to begin with and what our life experiences are about. And the important part of our life experiences, the most important, is the environment of relationships that we grow up in. And then also of importance is the physical environment in which we grow up. How safe is it? How protected or exposed are we to toxic substances in the environment, lead, mercury? How much space do we have to move around? So all of these things together, interacting with how everybody is unique from a genetic point of view results in a wide, wide range of normal development.” 

How pedagogy explains cognitive development: 

In order to understand how pedagogy explains cognitive development, we talked to Carol Mota, who is an educator, clinical psychopedagogue, and author of the book “Autism in Children’s Education: an Outlook on Social Interaction and School Inclusion” (loosely translated). She explained that play is the best way to stimulate this development. 

“As children play, they are continuously learning. When they play by exploring a specific toy that involves spatial or sensory matters, for instance, their logical thinking and memory are stimulated,” she said. 

“While playing amongst themselves, they are also learning a way to engage with others, which in turn expands their cognitive processes. We need to think that, even though cognitive processes exist, they don’t expand outside a cultural context of social interaction. It is by interacting with others, with an interactive exchange between pairs, between children and adults, that kids take ownership of new skills,” explained the educator. 

Interaction is key: 

Carol highlighted that, more than games that stimulate logical reasoning, what is key and most important is the social interaction that happens during these moments. 

“Social interaction and interactive exchange: that is how we are going to approach these matters in a more significant way. As we interact, communicate and talk to each other, we need to reflect about our behavior, we need to think about which answer to give to specific questions. When we reflect and formulate questions, our cognitive processes are active and it is in this dialogue between me and the other person that these processes expand, and that cognitive development starts to emerge.” 

“It is through play that children will learn how to use their bodies, from the contact with different languages that may involve music, visual arts, etc. Therefore, children will get to know others and the world through several different perspectives, which helps to develop cognitive skills,” said the psychopedagogue. 

Written by Débora Nazário

Translated by Mariana Gruber

The Social Media Guide for Parents of the Sharing Era

Social media is increasingly present in our lives. Sharing our routines, what we eat, who we meet and what we are listening to has become the norm, so much so that there are now many people who have turned this into their work and source of income. Amidst all this, certain necessary precautions have been taken for granted, especially by parents and people who live with kids

The internet provides great things, such as support networks for parents, for instance — however, there are certain behaviors that need to be reviewed and questioned. Is it healthy for children to grow up with so many moments of their lives exposed on the internet? The main tool to find a healthy balance on social media is common sense. 

That is why we have brought here part of an article from the Common Sense Media website, A New Parent’s Guide to Social Media. Check out below.

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A New Parent’s Guide to Social Media

By Caroline Knorr

This is a reproduction of part of an article originally published on the Common Sense Media website. No copyright infringement intended. 

Keep your head in the game of social media

Think through your posts – really. To you, an ultrasound image or the story of baby’s first giggle is the most precious thing ever. To the rest of the world, it’s just content. (Cute content, but still.) Social platforms track data, your followers judge what you post, and just like anything else, your information can be copied, shared, or misused. Ask yourself the three questions below to determine whether you need to share smaller. If so, you can send your picture to specific people, make an invite-only private group, or just set your profile to private.

  • How will this make others feel? Maybe you have followers struggling with fertility who aren’t ready to share your joy. Maybe your friends are over your baby (sorry). Maybe folks disagree with your choice to share baby pics at all. 
  • How wide is my network? You could be connected to people you barely know – friends of friends of friends – and there’s no guarantee that those people will have your family’s best interests at heart. 
  • Is my profile public or private? Stories about people’s kids’ photos falling into the wrong hands — for example, stock-photography brokers looking for baby pics to sell or internet trolls misusing images – are a growing risk. The bad guys get their stuff from public profiles.

Avoid “over-sharenting.” What’s over-sharenting? Pictures of poop, constant updates on every gurgle, livestreams of intimate moments such as breastfeeding, bath time, and potty training. Be thoughtful about what you’re sharing and how often. And make sure to comment, like, or otherwise interact with your friends’ and families’ posts about their lives.

Know when to go to the pros. It’s fine to get input from your online pals, but for anything that has major importance – feeding, health and safety, money, education – call your pediatrician, child care provider, financial advisor, or your mom. Anything with minimal consequences, such as when to put baby in shoes or the best time to clip their nails, is OK to crowdsource.

Be careful about baby’s “digital footprint.” Some parents create social media profiles for their babies with the idea their kids will use them when they turn 13 (the age of consent for social media). While it can be fun for relatives to get an update “from baby,” a profile creates a digital footprint, which invites data tracking, marketing, and other privacy issues. If you decide to create a profile, make sure you include only minimal information, use strict privacy settings, and avoid any photos that are potentially embarrassing.

 Here are some things to consider:

  • You might love the photos of baby in the tub, but how will they feel about them when they’re older?
  • Tweens or teens might be upset that you used their names to create profiles they didn’t actually consent to.
  • Social media sites are for users over 13 because companies use data – basically, who your friends are, what you click on, and where you go on the web – to build a demographic profile, which they then sell to other companies for marketing purposes. The data isn’t personally identifiable, but it’s still Big Brother-ish to think they’re tracking your baby’s online movements. 

Be Practical 

Join a photo-storage service. You’ll post about 7 billion photos of your kid before they’re out of diapers. Photo-storage platforms such as FlickrPhotobucket, and Google Photos have the advantage of free or low-cost storage, plus the ability to share with only certain people or groups. (Every online platform has privacy issues, though, so make sure you’re comfortable with the terms of any service you join.)

Preserve memories digitally. You can do this a few ways. Some parents like to grab the opportunity to create an email account under baby’s name. Once they have an email address, you can use it to send messages, photos, and videos so they are all collected in one place. Or, consider an electronic scrapbook or journal such as Notabli, 23snaps, and eFamily, which offer a secure way to collect and share photos, videos, and stories.

Protect your well-being

Get rid of triggers. The highly curated photos and posts from friends whose lives seem more fulfilling can make moms feel sad, jealous, and angry. Unfollow anyone who doesn’t make you feel good. Instead, seek out groups, advocates, and thought leaders who nourish your soul. 

Tweak your settings. Most social platforms allow you to hide posts (see fewer posts from someone); snooze (temporarily stop seeing posts); mute (turn someone off for a while); and do not disturb (temporarily block a person).

Manage notifications. Constant pings on your phone can overwhelm and distract you. You can turn off notifications entirely, allow only important ones, or batch them so you receive them on a schedule.

Connect with the growing anti-perfection movement. Real Simple’s public Instagram profile, #womenirl, shares photos from people’s real (messy) lives.

Step away. The impact of social media isn’t fully understood. New parents are emotionally vulnerable because they’re tired, unsure, and perhaps suffering from postpartum depression. If you feel crappy more than you feel good, and sharing photos from your life doesn’t make you feel better, talk to a professional about what you’re going through.

The importance of make-believe, lies and imagination in childhood

Have you ever been surprised by a kids story? A whimsical, creative narrative full of details and plot laden with almost unimaginable elements? The answer is probably yes. It’s very common for kids to tell stories in great detail to those who live with them. And to do so, we need to experience some lies so we can create stories.

Stories and their perspectives change according to kids’ ages, as they keep up with the little ones’ development. The ability to create these narratives changes and gains new shapes and layers. 

Childhood is a favourable time for the imagination because it is the phase of life in which we learn, observe everything and notice others as well as the world around us. When we are kids, we perceive and feel frustration, joy, sadness and several other feelings we don’t even know how to name. 

The questions that remain are: should these behaviors — which are quite common to kids’ daily routine — be encouraged? What is their importance to childhood? Can they contribute to the process of learning and becoming autonomous? We’ll talk about all of this and more down below! 

Make-believe as self-expression 

It’s nice to see in which moments the narratives full of imagination are constructed by children and to notice what makes them comfortable. This way, it is easier to understand what is the “message” they want to convey. Sometimes there is no message, instead being simply an expression of what they see and how they manage to externalize their perceptions

According to Deborah Moss, a neuropsychologist specialized in child behavior and a Master in development psychology, in an interview given to UOL’s Portal Bem Viver (freely translated to “Good Living Portal”), claimed that “children can use their imagination to create one or more playmates and conceive each one in very particular ways, in order to externalize their relationships, what they feel, or what they learn every day. These representations concern getting in contact with yourself. 

::Read Also: The benefits of rhymes when learning to read::

Making up dialogues: 

In many situations, kids repeat what they hear from adults. They give voice to objects and reproduce discourses they overhear. They use their imagination and create dialogues between these objects, make up situations and also end up finding solutions to conflicts they themselves created. 

This type of play is extremely positive and enriching to their vocabulary, it allows them to practice their speech and encourages their ability to handle conflicts, even if it’s all just pretend. 

Imaginary Friends: 

It’s common for kids to have imaginary friends that join them throughout their day-to-day activities. 

For many years, imaginary friends were associated with a lack of social skills, but that is a big mistake according to the opinion of emeritus professor Marjorie Taylor, from Oregon University—located in Eugene, Oregon, in the US. 

According to Marjorie, these friends can vary in terms of personality and level of connection to the kids’ routines. Some are characters from movies, real toys, their own image in the mirror, parts of the body, drawings and others, brought to life by their own imagination. Their period of existence is variable, lasting from a few days up to many years. 

The professor has stated imaginary friends can help kids handle emotional issues or fears. She has also discussed how kids who have imaginary friends present no disadvantages concerning social cognition, differently than what many believed years ago. 

In her Master’s thesis, “The creation of imaginary friends: a study with Brazilian children”, Natália Benincasa Velludo brings evidence that the “creation of imaginary friends isn’t associated with developmental shortfalls and can even be a predictor of more sophisticated skills, such as a more developed vocabulary, for example.” 

In other words, unlike what our culture preaches, kids who have imaginary friends don’t have attention problems or cognitive deficits, and they may present more robust vocabulary. 

Self-confidence development

By means of stories and their creativity, kids can create imaginary characters who are strong, brave, and can handle different situations. When the little ones are in contact with these characters, they may “mirror” these stories and overcome their own fears and anguishes with the help of this incentive. 

Psychologist Sally Goddard Blythe, author of the book The Genius of Natural Childhood: Secrets of Thriving Children, states that “the imagination is able to create visual images in the mind’s eye, which allows us to explore all kinds of images and ideas without being restricted by the boundaries of the physical world. That is how children start to develop problem-solving skills, coming up with new possibilities, new ways of seeing and being, which develop important critical thinking perceptions which will help them throughout their lives.”  

Kids and lies

Children lie, regardless of their upbringing or their parents’ example. Many argue that kids lie to defend themselves, to flee from a situation they don’t want to face or in order to get what they desire. Yes, that happens, but it’s not the only reason they do this.  The reasons kids lie go beyond that and are part of kids’ cognitive and language development and their notion of reality. 

There is evidence that children’s lying behavior is connected to executive functioning. According to the study Social and Cognitive Correlates of Children’s Lying Behavior published in 2008, executive functioning skills are first expressed at the end of early childhood and develop throughout its entirety, a time in which researchers have noticed an increase in the ability to tell lies. 

It was suggested that inhibitory control (the ability to suppress thought processes or interfering actions) and working memory (a system that retains and processes temporary information in the mind) can be linked directly to kids’ lies. When they lie, kids need to suppress the story of the transgression they intend to conceive while representing and expressing the false information that differs from reality. 

In order to sustain their lies, children have to inhibit thoughts and statements which are contrary to their story and would reveal their transgressions, thus storing the content of the lie in the memory. Therefore, in order to tell lies successfully, kids must be able to juggle conflicting alternatives in their minds (in other words, what they really did/thought and what they say they did/thought). 

Many lies told by kids have no apparent motive. In other words: there is no underlying goal to achieve something, escape from a situation or call out attention. They lie because that is part of the process of growing up. Kids aren’t familiar with the concept of morality and it is during childhood that they experiment things related to it for the first time. Lying is one of the ways children naturally find in order to experience these social concepts. It appears in different aspects at different childhood stages: 

2-4 year-olds

At this age, language skills are arising and kids still don’t know exactly where truth begins and ends. During this period, they are unable to keep the lies they tell. 

Younger kids also have a pretty unstable understanding of the difference between reality, daydreaming, desires and urges, fantasies and fears. 

In other words, when kids are confronted for having something they got without permission and they deny doing so, they can express their wish that they had not taken it by saying they didn’t take it, due to a language limitation. 

5-8 year-olds 

Between the ages of 5 and 8, children tell more lies in order to test what they can do, especially lies related to school – classes, homework, teachers and friends. Keeping lies may still be difficult, although they start to become more and more skilled at hiding them.  

According to pediatric psychiatrist Elizabth Berger, “the regulations and responsibilities present at this age are usually too much for kids. As a result, kids often lie in order to appease the forces that seem to demand more from their performances than what they can offer.” 

9-12 year-olds

Most kids this age are on the right path to establish an identity of being dedicated, trustworthy and mindful. However, they are also becoming more skilled at keeping lies and more sensitive to the repercussions of their actions, and may have strong feelings of guilt after lying

Direct and long conversations about honesty are definitely necessary, since there will be a few rare “little white lies” moments in which dishonesty is acceptable in order to be polite or to spare someone else’s feelings. 

How to deal with kids’ lies? 

Although lying is a normal part of kids’ development, parents and educators can give them support in three different ways, according to an article from Neuroscience

“First, avoid excessive or over-the-top punishments. In a study comparing a West African school that used punitive punishments (such as hitting with a stick, slapping, and pinching) and a school that used non-punitive reprimands (such as time outs or scolding), students at the school with punitive punishments were more likely to be effective liars. Children from families that place a strong emphasis on following the rules and not open dialogue also report lying more frequently.

Second, discuss emotional and moral scenarios with children. This “emotion coaching” supports children’s understanding of when lies are most harmful, how they affect others, and how they themselves might feel when they lie. (…)

Third, ensure the lie really is a lie. Very young children are prone to blend real life and imagination, while older children and adults frequently remember arguments differently to one another.”

Written by Débora Nazário and Luisa Scherer

Translated by Mariana Gruber

The benefits of rhymes when learning to read

Childhood is marked by big discoveries and one of them is learning how to read and write. Through literacy, children start exploring a world that so far has been uncharted territory for them. This process may happen with the support of playful approaches that involve music, poems and rhymes. In order to stimulate literacy, these methods are used by many therapists and educators and have presented positive results to children’s cognitive development and learning

This article published in 2014 by Frontiers in Psychology, a journal that publishes rigorously peer-reviewed articles in the psychological sciences and clinical research fields, claims that rhymes can be effective enablers of vocabulary learning because of the way they support active predictions of the words that follow. 

In two experiments, it was tested whether rhymes, when used to help children anticipate new words, would make such words easier to learn. The children exposed to rhyming words exhibited that they learned more of them in the condition of predictive rhyming compared to children who were not. 

The researchers’ hypothesis is that the development of these new words and their predictability encourage children to be more involved with them. They may not be able to predict the exact name of a new word the first time they are reading a story, but when a new name comes at the end of the verse, children will be more capable of anticipating that something is coming — something which will sound like the ending of the song or story’s previous sentences. This anticipation can encourage attention and therefore stimulate learning. 

:: Read also: Why is reading so important? ::

All in due time and on their terms

The process of learning that involves reading and writing is very subjective and children have their own rhythms on this journey.

We talked to speech therapist Manuella Barcelos, who works at Núcleo Desenvolver at UFSC’s University Hospital since 2010 and works with a multidisciplinary team that cares for children who complain about learning disabilities regarding these processes. 

According to her, literacy, i.e. learning to read and write, involves two brain processes that are well developed by children by the time they begin school. One of them is language — since children bring resources and baggage from home — and the other is visual processing

School makes the connection between these two areas, introducing letters and their whole new universe. When children learn based on this question, it is crucial to think that there is a way to teach which is more adequate for them, which promotes reading and writing in an easier way, and, in this sense, rhymes are great allies

Phonological Awareness when learning to read 

“Phonological awareness happens when children start to manipulate their speech sounds in a conscious manner. They will know speech can be split into small units called words, smaller ones called syllables, and even smaller ones called phonemes. For literacy to happen, it is important that children learn these prerequisite skills and through a phonological method it is possible for them to learn to read and write more easily”, reports the speech therapist. 

Manuella employs rhyming in the learning to read process of the children she works with. “The literacy process involves phonological awareness. Within phonological awareness there is rhyming, one of the first signs of awareness, which is when the child starts to notice the endings of words that have the same tone. In addition to rhymes, there is also alliteration, through which the child notices that the beginning sounds can also be similar, e.g. could and cook,” she reports. 

Rhyming is one of the first signs of phonological awareness and we see this since kindergarten. Its use is very important. I use it in my work, mainly with kids with learning difficulties and disabilities such as dyslexia, spelling, or kids with auditory processing disorder (APD). It is fantastic for the process of learning to read and write. We need to stimulate phonological awareness, but even more important is to do so during preschool, even before children have properly started to learn how to read and write”, she explains. 

Rhymes as a skills development tool

Canadian researcher Ginger Muller, with a master’s degree from the University of British Columbia, developed works for 20 years using rhymes and songs in several early childhood education programs in Vancouver, Canada. 

In her work, she contextualizes specific rhymes inside domains defined by the Initial Development Tool: physical health and wellness, language and cognitive development, communication skills and general knowledge, social competence and emotional maturity. She therefore shows how rhymes can be practiced effectively with kids of different ages and their benefits to these skills

In this article written by the researcher, she shows that children learn well when surrounded by rich environments in terms of language, joy and fun. Ginger presents songs that can help to develop these skills, “centenary children’s rhymes and songs, tested and proved, support children’s general development in terms of meaning and engaging forms,” she writes. 

Using rhymes with kids, in addition to helping them learn to read, also brings them closer to our national culture. There are several rhymes that rely on cultural elements from different regions of the country as well as their folklore. This experience is enriching for children in every sense! 

Editor’s Note: Truth and Tales and rhymes

A very cool tip for kids who are learning to read is Truth and Tales, our original app!

Truth and Tales is an app for kids between the ages of 5 and 11 with interactive stories and audiobooks. All tales are told in rhymes, both in the interactive and in the audio versions. Knowing about its benefits, we made sure to adopt rhyming in every single one of our stories

We periodically conduct tests with children in which the same story is told in 2 versions: one with rhymes and one without rhymes. In addition to the benefits mentioned in this article, in our tests children are more interested in the rhymed version of the stories.

Aside from the rhymes, Truth and Tales also includes optimized fonts for people with dyslexia and a read-along tool which works as a karaoke, in which the words are highlighted as the narrator reads them. That is tremendously helpful when learning to read. Try it with the kids! 

Written by Débora Nazário

Translated by Mariana Gruber

The amount of cuddling babies receive can affect their DNA

This is a reproduction of part of an article originally published on the ScienceAlert website. No copyright infringement intended. 

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Babies Who Get Cuddled More Seem to Have Their Genetics Changed For Years Afterwards

by David Nield

The amount of close and comforting contact that babies young infants receive doesn’t just keep them warm, snug, and loved. A 2017 study says it can actually affect babies at the molecular level, and the effects can last for years. Based on the study, babies who get less physical contact and are more distressed at a young age, end up with changes in molecular processes that affect gene expression.

The team from the University of British Columbia in Canada emphasizes that it’s still very early days for this research, and it’s not clear exactly what’s causing the change. But it could give scientists some useful insights into how touching affects the epigenome – the biochemical changes that influence gene expression in the body.

During the study, parents of 94 babies were asked to keep diaries of their touching and cuddling habits from five weeks after birth, as well as logging the behaviour of the infants – sleeping, crying, and so on. Four-and-a-half years later, DNA swabs were taken of the kids to analyse a biochemical modification called DNA methylation. It’s an epigenetic mechanism in which some parts of the chromosome are tagged with small carbon and hydrogen molecules, often changing how genes function and affecting their expression.

The researchers found DNA methylation differences between “high-contact” children and “low-contact” children at five specific DNA sites, two of which were within genes: one related to the immune system, and one to the metabolic system. DNA methylation also acts as a marker for normal biological development and the processes that go along with it, and it can be influenced by external, environmental factors as well.

Then there was the epigenetic age, the biological ageing of blood and tissue. This marker was lower than expected in the kids who hadn’t had much contact as babies, and had experienced more distress in their early years, compared with their actual age. “In children, we think slower epigenetic aging could reflect less favorable developmental progress,” said one of the team, Michael Kobor.