Category Archives: Learning

Back to School and Your Brain

By: Tina Davidson

First_Day_of_School_Thumbs_down

It’s that time of year again. Social media is filled with pictures of kids sporting new shoes and holding chalkboards to document their current grade level.

The first day of school should be a happy day for students, right?

Rarely do you see a sobbing child in a back-to-school photo (I know I cried when I started kindergarten) or belligerent photos of kids flipping off the camera  (a little league softball team learned the repercussions of this the hard way).

Although not all kids appreciate having their picture taken, they all love going back to school, right?

A thumbs down picture might be as far as some moms will let their kids go in expressing their disdain for having to go back to school.

The topic of kids being able to express themselves was addressed in a book I (sorta) read during summer vacation.

The first time I busted out the book, “How Children Fail,” by John Holt, my youngest son was appalled.

“It’s just mean to write a book about how children fail.”

B. Davidson, age 8

I tried to explain that it was a book about helping kids and preventing failure.

To my dismay, I failed to finish reading it, but I did succeed in reading the book’s summary.

One section of the summary that resonated with me was a discussion the author had with teachers.  Holt felt that most teachers aren’t honest about their feelings of impartiality (liking some students more than others).  This creates feelings of guilt in teachers and some force fake smiles around their students.

He went on to mention that the children in these classrooms end up resenting their phony teachers and this in turn creates phony kids. **You’ll have to read the passage to get all the context.**

“As we are not honest with them, so we won’t let children be honest with us. To begin with, we require them to take part in the fiction that school is a wonderful place and that they love every minute of it. They learn early that not to like school or the teacher is verboten, not to be said, not even to be thought. ”

“How Children Fail” by John Holt, Pg. 284

Have you ever corrected your child for complaining about school?

Guilty here.

I don’t want to encourage Eeyores (poor dear!) when it comes to school, but every kid should be free to express themselves.

Here’s a scary passage from the summary:

“It is a rare child who, anywhere in his growing up, meets even one older person with whom he can talk openly about what most interests him, concerns him, worries him.”

YIKES!!

Looking back, I’m glad my son expressed his dislike to me about my choice in summer reading books.

Holt also has a book titled, “How Children Learn.” I should probably let my son see me reading that one too. Or at least ask him how he feels about learning.

How do you feel about all this? Need some tools to help communicate with your child or help them with school?

The passion for stretching yourself and sticking to it, even (or especially) when it’s not going well, is the hallmark of the growth mindset. This is the mindset that allows people to thrive during some of the most challenging times in their lives.

www.mindsetonline.com

Check out the book, “Mindset,” by Stanford University psychologist, Carol Dweck. I read all of this fascinating book and I’m continuing to work on my mindset.

People with a growth mindset are also constantly monitoring what’s going on, but their internal monologue is not about judging themselves and others in this way. Certainly they’re sensitive to positive and negative information, but they’re attuned to its implications for learning and constructive action: What can I learn from this? How can I improve?

www.mindsetonline.com

Whether we are “in school” or not there is always more to learn.

Have a great school year!

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Your Brain’s Playlist

By: Tina Davidson

Tina_Davidson_tinadavidson_wordpress

This is me with “Tina” in Germany circa 2000.  Photo Credit: One of my college roommates. 

Music evokes strong emotions and can bring back memories long forgotten.

When I hear the song, “Cotton Eye Joe,” by Rednex, I am transported back to college and I picture myself surrounded by friends dancing under a black light.

I never really thought of my current playlist (Cotton Eye Joe, you didn’t make the cut) as a scientific tool, but now that’s changed.

Read All About It

My mindset has changed thanks to the book, “Your Playlist Can Change Your Life.” It boasts, “10 Proven Ways Your Favorite Music Can Revolutionize Your Health, Memory, Organization, Alertness, and More.”

Now that’s some big claims. I haven’t finished the book yet, but I’m listening to a lot of music and paying better attention to it.

Parental Advisory:  Stick to the songs that bring back good vibes.

Brain Tunes

Chapter 10, “How to Use Your Brain’s Own Music,” intrigued me the most. Music can be made from your brain’s own waves and added to your playlist.

Bonus Track:  Google “Brain Music Therapy” (BMT) and “Galina Mindlin“– once you’ve discovered BMT, there might be a cure for your insomnia after all.

Pump up the Volume

Here’s a few songs from my Summer Playlist:

I may regret my choices later (but all scientists have a work in progress, right?)

  • “Shake Shake Shake (Shake Your Booty)”- KC & the Sunshine Band

  • “Help”- The Beatles

  • “I Wanna Be a Lifeguard”- Blotto

  • “Last Night a DJ Saved my Life”- Indeep

  • “Obviously 5 Believers”- Old Crow Medicine Show

  • “Can’t Stop the Feeling”- The Piano Guys

 

Your_Playlist_Can_Change_Your_Life_Tina_Davidson_blog

Where’s the Show?

There’s nothing quite like hearing your playlist songs performed live. I doubt I’ll hear any of my summer playlist songs at the Cal Poly Performing Arts Center any time soon, but looks like the 2017-2018 season is going to be a good one.

Do you have a favorite local performing arts center? Here’s my top picks of the upcoming Cal Poly Arts shows (wish I could afford to attend them all):

  • Bill Murray, Jan Vogler & Friends- Oct 8

  • Steep Canyon Rangers- Jan 21

  • Improvised Shakespeare- March 16

  • Black Violin- Feb 17

  • Itzhak Perlman- Jan 16

  • Michael Feinstein- Jan 26

  • Andrew Bird- Oct 16

  • Koresh Dance Company- April 14

  • Cameron Carpenter- Feb 26

  • Brasil Guitar Duo- Oct 14

I Heard you on the Wireless

Special thanks to Cal Poly DJ, “Jack Funk,” for pouring out the groovy tunes on Wednesday evenings on KCPR (congrats on your graduation). My boys enjoyed listening to your show during our twenty-minute commute to gymnastics.

They’ll never forget that:

“Last night a DJ saved my life with a song.” Lyrics by Indeep

 

Happy listening! Here’s to a happy and healthy brain.

Please share your summer playlist in the comments.

 

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Strengthening Your Kindness Muscle

By: Tina Davidson

battleship

There are two ways to think about kindness. You can think about it as a fixed trait: either you have it or you don’t. Or you could think of kindness as a muscle. In some people, that muscle is naturally stronger than in others, but it can grow stronger in everyone with exercise.  TheAtlantic.com

Do you have a naturally strong kindness muscle?

I’m all for exercising kindness. In a world that often seems unkind, let’s focus on the small steps we can take to be kind to others– setting an example for the next generation.

Just as a pebble creates waves when it is dropped in a pond, so acts of kindness ripple outwards touching others’ lives and inspiring kindness everywhere the wave goes.  Dr. David Hamilton

Even if you can’t travel around the world giving monetary gifts to people like Leon Logothetis did in The Kindness Diaries (I haven’t read his book), you have talents and gifts that are unique and worth sharing.

Perhaps you’ve got an incredible smile or singing voice?

Whatever it is, be kind and share it with those in your life. I’m sure they’ll thank you for it and perhaps be inspired to pass some kindness along.  Their brain might even make it a habit.

Sources & Further Reading:

Masters of Love- Science says lasting relationships come down to—you guessed it—kindness and generosity. Emily Esfahani Smith.  TheAtlantic.com, June 12, 2014.

The 5 Side Effects of Kindness- 

The Kindness Diaries: One Man’s Quest To Transform Lives While Traveling Around The World With No Money– Jim DobsonForbes.com, December 14, 2014.

University of California – San Diego. “How the brain makes, and breaks, a habit: Neuroscience study identifies brain chemicals, neural pathway involved in switching between habitual behavior, deliberate decision-making.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 26 May 2016. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/05/160526185419.htm>.

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Have you read, “Peak–Secrets from the New Science of Expertise”?

artist-mom

By: Tina Davidson

Did you ever dream of becoming great at something? Maybe it was singing or playing piano?

Well, with enough deliberate practice you might just make your dreams come true.

I’ve been reading,”Peak–Secrets from the New Science of Expertise,” by Anders Ericsson and Robert Pool. I recommend you pick up a copy. It is fascinating stuff and I won’t give away too much. Let’s just say I was especially impressed with the memorization skills of London taxi drivers.  I was also quite intrigued with Laszlo Polgar’s experiment–his goal was to raise three genius children. It seems he succeeded.

Here’s my favorite quote from Peak (pg. 179):

“Deliberate practice can open the door to a world of possibilities that you may have been convinced were out of reach. Open that door.”

I hope I’ve shared enough to “peak” your interest about the book.

Let me know what you think!

 

 

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Wireless Education and Your Brain

EMF_wifi_toothbrushWireless Education and Your Brain

By: Tina C. Davidson

I recently saw an advertisement that I found kinda alarming. I wonder if anyone else did a double take when they first saw a picture of the iPotty?

Now, thanks to the iPotty, toddlers can use their wi-fi devices hands free in the bathroom. It would be awful if children got their tablets messy while using the bathroom, right?

Is this high-tech helper developmentally necessary?  Most children learned to potty train without the help of an iPad stationed above the toilet. Sorry, iPotty. (To read more about how technology is influencing children, check out the book, The Big Disconnect: Protecting Childhood and Family Relationships in the Digital Age. Sadly, tech addiction is starting young!)

So, what should we do since the high-tech potties, toasters, cars, fridges, helmets, dolls, toothbrushes (and who knows what else) all have wi-fi capabilities and are emitting EMFs? What are the health implications for our little and big people?

You can start by checking out a free quiz to test your knowledge of wi-fi safety. The quiz is brought to you by WirelessEducation.org and according to their website:

Wireless Education is the new training portal for Wireless Tech Safety. Our core business is focused on educationtraining and safety. We have researched medical and scientific information so you don’t have to.

I like the sound of that, but I’ll glean what I can from the Wireless Education site and others as I continue my quest for knowledge on the topic. (I can’t sit back and let them have all the research fun!)

How’d you do on the quiz?

I’m sure Jeromy Johnson, an EMF expert, would have scored 100% on the wi-fi safety quiz. He gave a TEDx Talk in February of 2016 on the issue. I recommend you check it out, if you haven’t already.

TEDx talks have become a popular way to reach a large audience on various topics (once videos are online they can go viral). Live talks, operas, musicals, and plays have always been an important tool for passing along ideas.  Your brain will most likely remember something better that it has seen and heard. I think a live performance can be a very memorable experience for your brain.

So far, there’s only one musical out there (that I know of!) that is addressing the health effects of wireless technology. Here’s more on the intention of the musical, Innocenzo:

A Note On Our Intention

We understand the “controversial” nature of this subject. Our aim is not to create or add to any existing conflicts. We are telling the story we have lived with the aim of prevention. Given our experience with electrosmog (ie, becoming seriously ill from it), we have decided not to wait for every scientist in the world to come to an agreement before taking action.

Not everyone is in consensus about the ill effects of wireless technology, but I agree that is is safer to take action now than to “wait and see.” It is encouraging that playwrights and web developers are doing their part to spread the word on how to be safe.

How about your readers? What do you think should be done to further protects consumers from electrosmog? Have you seen Innocenzo?

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Make-up, Myelin, and My Brain

high heels

By: Tina Davidson

Before my grandmother had Alzheimer’s, I paid more attention to fashion than myelination.  Now, Alzheimer’s prevention is always on my mind and fuels most of what I write about and research.

When I think of my grandmother, the word “beautiful” always comes to mind.  Not only do I consider her beautiful on the inside, with her generous, gentle, and joyful spirit, but she also always managed to look fabulous on the outside with her hair and make-up done.

I’m skeptical when it comes to applying the chemicals found in hair dyes and make-up to myself.  It hasn’t been completely proven that these items are a direct link to Alzheimer’s, but I know my grandmother probably had accumulated many chemicals since she was sitting in a chair at the hair salon on a weekly basis for decades. I don’t think her era was concerned about researching natural beauty products. It was pretty much whatever the department store marketed best.  I may never know for sure what brought about my grandmother’s disease or if her affinity for fashion contributed to her decline, but the questions remain: was her dementia due to genetics or environmental factors (including beauty regime).

I can’t do anything about my genetics, but I don’t want to take any chances on the things I have control over when it comes to my health.

Chemicals are Pain to my Brain

Not long ago, I had my hair done on a Sunday at a local salon. It wasn’t regular hours for them and it wasn’t a regular day for me. I was primping for a photo shoot to create my wedding photography work team’s holiday card.  I arrived around 10:30 a.m. and left the salon close to 2 p.m.

As I chatted and watched everyone get their hair beautified, I had a sip of a mimosa and inhaled way too much hair spray and dry shampoo (just think of a cloud of baby powderish substance hovering over my head like a word bubble ).  My brain began to hurt as I smelled dose after dose of sickly sweet hair spray, but I had no idea what chemicals were irritating my mucus membranes; this was not the best time to run anything thru the Environmental Working Group’s website, Skin Deep, as I blogged about previously.

Since it wasn’t the time to be too compulsive,  I pushed the thoughts of toxins aside.  After all, the dry shampoo was helping me achieve BIG hair.

Indeed, my hair was voluminous.

More tinges of guilt hit as I thought about what was still to come– the face paint, the sparkly dress, and the high-heels to match–  all foreign to me. I spend most of my days in jeans, minimalist shoes, and if I remember, I apply Dr. Bronner’s “Naked” organic lip balm.  I blend in quite well with the others who don this casual Central Coast style.  As the day of glamour went by, I started to have a greater appreciation for the many brides whose wedding day memories I help capture. It is hard work prepping to be in front of the camera all day.

Our lovely and youthful make-up artist advised me to continue my glamorous look and wear make-up every day. I formed a smile with my bright red lips and pushed away the remembrances of all the time I spent researching toxins and the cosmetic industry.  My look took on its final transformation with the fake eyelashes.

Who was this person?

Guilt and Your Brain

Throughout the day my brain kept sending me guilty reminders about the toxins linked to the beauty industry. I try to read labels, research, and avoid environmental toxins as much as possible. Sometimes I think my husband wishes I didn’t research food so much– he seems to like living in ignorance of what chemicals are added to his meals.

This year I epically ended See’s Candy and El Pollo Loco (those were just two of the big ones) for our household. And by “ended” I mean we can no longer partake of them because we steer clear of dyes, artificial colors/flavor, and preservatives. Some argue that if you don’t eat food containing these items all the time then you can splurge every once in a while– however, this is not the case with food and chemical sensitivities.  You don’t want to mess around with a little here or there.  There are some people who are so sensitive that just a little ingested brings on suicidal tendencies. Check out Dr. Doris Rapp’s book, “Is This Your Child? Discovering and Treating Unrecognized Allergies in Children and Adults” for further reading on the subject.

Thankfully, I do not have extreme food/chemical sensitivities. I did justify sitting in poor indoor air quality and slathering my face with what I deemed toxins as it was “just one day” (not enough for bioaccumulation).

When the time came, I slipped into my high-heels shoes that I’d purchased for $5.95 from the Goodwill. I began to regret my frugal choice since I could barely walk without excruciating pain. I thought back to my days of tap dancing in high heels at Christine’s Dance Studio in Orange.  How did I do it? In my younger years, I danced and performed without any second thoughts of pain or future foot damage.

Now, thanks to my affinity for research and in particular Katy Bowman’s book, “Every Woman’s Guide to Foot Pain Relief: The New Science of Healthy Feet,” I experienced  guilt in my pretty shoes because I knew the damage I was doing to my feet. I felt like a hypocrite but at the same time, scarily, I loved being “glamorized.”

You are What Your Skin Eats

Most likely, I didn’t cause any lasting long term-health effects by putting on a ton of make-up, hair spray, and high-heels one day of the year. (Ok.. I have to admit I actually got dressed up (high-heels, hair, and make-up) twice this past year. Who knows what my record will be for 2015!

In the meantime, I find myself researching make-up companies that don’t use any harsh chemicals or synthetic dyes so I can put on lip-stick and not feel guilty (first world problems of women with brain blogs).

Did you know some natural products contain ground up insects, or carmine, for coloring? There is a whole wave of natural, do-it-yourself, and organic make-up products/sites (some are legit and some just want your money). You’ll have to decide for yourself if you want your products with chemicals, insect juice, or organic botanicals.

What will you be feeding your skin in the new year? Remember to take care of your body’s largest organ.

My initial interest in a smarter approach to beauty was inspired by Paula Begoun’s book, “Don’t Go to the Cosmetics Counter Without Me” (2003, 6th edition).

lip tinty

Myelination in the New Year

Perhaps you are reading this and don’t share my struggle with guilt when it comes to wearing un-regulated make-up or shoes that are not recommended by a leading biomechanist.

Maybe you made a resolution for the new year to eat healthier, spend less, or exercise more? Maybe you make this resolution every year and fail.

Focusing on your brain’s process of myelination might be the key to your success this year.  Myelination is the process that contributes to the overall health of your central nervous system thanks to the myelin that is wrapped to insulate your brain’s cell networks so they can communicate more efficiently.

I’ve been following Christine Comaford on twitter and recently read her article on Forbes.com, The Truth about How Your Brain Gets Smarter.  She states:

Neuroscientists worldwide are increasingly studying myelin and its amazing impact on rapid learning, mastery, neuroplasticity.

Read her article to learn all the details on how to hard wire your brain to create smarter habits.  I liked her emphasis on the myelination process and plan to study it as a way to help increase my creativity in the new year.

On the flip side, there is also a process called demyelination where the axons in the central nervous system lose their myelin sheath. Interestingly, demyelination doesn’t cause the dementia in Alzheimer’s patients.  Scientists think the dementia is caused by amyloid [Beta] protein deposition and loss of neurons and synapses.  Multiple sclerosis (MS) is characterized by demyelination.

Just like fashion trends, your brain can change– sometimes for the better and, sadly, sometimes for the worst.

I hope you’ll focus on ways to improve your brain, like the myelination process, and use your imagination in the new year!

Happy 2015 and here’s to a healthy central nervous system!

Let me know how you plan on helping your brain stay happy and healthy. Say hello on my facebook page or send me a tweet!

@tinabrainblog

Sources & Interesting Reads:

Friedland, Robert P., and Barbara Krosner. “Managing Alzheimer’s Patients.” Science 282.5397 (1998): 2194. General Reference Center GOLD. Web. 15 Jan. 2015.

Helms, Kristen. “Improving patient outcomes in multiple sclerosis: considerations for medication therapy management.” Drug Topics Nov. 2013: 34+. General Reference Center GOLD. Web. 15 Jan. 2015.

New Studies Show Anxiety, Depression, Guilt Harm the Brain

Depression, overwhelming guilt in preschool years linked to brain changes

Make Your Work Resolutions Stick

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Rubber Bands and Your Brain

The Abstract Brain

Illustration by E.D.

By: Tina Davidson

My second grader knows a lot about the brain.

This is thanks in part to the book, “Your Fantastic Elastic Brain!” by Dr. JoAnn Deak and illustrated by Sarah Ackerley.  His Montessori learning center teachers use this book to help their students understand how they can grow and stretch their brains.  One day my son had a conversation with me about his fantastic elastic brain. He explained he had a large rubber band when it came to math since this subject is a breeze, but when it came to reading he still had a small rubber band– he is not an expert reader yet.

This rubber band idea is explained in the lesson plans that accompany the book:

Each of us was born with large and small rubber bands, corresponding to areas in which we are skillful and areas where we can grow.  Model how rubber bands can stretch, and explain that this stretching is symbolic of brain growth.”

You can download the lesson plans for “Your Fantastic Elastic Brain” for free online and purchase the book on Amazon.

The Magic Decade

Recently, after a drawing exercise at school, my son brought home the picture posted above. He told me it was a picture of the brain and proceeded to tell me where the cerebrum, prefrontal cortex, hippocampus, and amygdala were located on it. (As a brain blogger and mother, I was quite impressed with how much he knew about brain anatomy).  He also offered to draw and label the parts of the brain on his picture, but I told him it wasn’t necessary since I preferred the original abstract picture without the labels.

Sometimes I visualize my son’s brain more like a sponge than a rubber band– he soaks up information quickly and is able to retain it. He is in what Dr. Deak refers to as the “magic decade.” During the first ten year’s of one’s life, key neural connections are being made.  The University of Maine has a bulletin online that addresses the various stages of brain development in children, what you can do to support growth, and the different windows of learning. The bulletin mentioned:

Brain development does not stop after early childhood, but it is the foundation upon which the brain continues developing. Early childhood is the time to build either a strong and supportive, or fragile and unreliable foundation. These early years are very important in the development that continues in childhood, adolescence, and adulthood.

The early years are very important but remember the concept of neuroplasticity and that it is never too late at any age to grow and stretch your brain.

What routines have you established to help your children learn? How have you stretched your brain lately?  Do you think my son’s picture should have been orientated the other direction and I posted it upside down?

I’d love to hear your thoughts on the topic of rubber bands and your brain.

Sources & Resources

Deak, JoAnn. “Your Fantastic Elastic Brain.”

Online lesson plans for “Your Fantastic Elastic Brain.” www.littlepicklepress.com

The University of Maine.  Judith Graham, Extension human development specialist. Revised by Leslie A. Forstadt, Ph.D. Child and Family Development Specialist. “Bulletin #4356, Children and Brain Development: What We Know About How Children Learn.”

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