How to Raise a Genius in 5 Easy Steps

Hint: You're probably already knocking this out of the park

How to Raise a Genius in 5 Easy Steps

There are a series of studies highlighting the importance of the first three years of a child’s life - many of us have read or heard of them. Researchers have discovered that the first 1000 days are far more important in creating secure, confident, successful adults than we ever realized. 
Once upon a time, scientists saw brain development as a fixed process, influenced solely by your genes and that “smartness” was just attributed to luck. Thankfully, we’ve come a long way from those days and we now know that the brain has plasticity - it’s continuously growing and developing as a result of experiences.  This process starts in the womb and lasts through a lifetime, but the biggest changes generally occur in the infant and toddler days. During this time, the human brain triples in size and grows vital connections that have far-reaching effects throughout their lives.
The good news is the key elements that these developing brains need are likely things you already instinctively provide for your kids. Take a look, here’s how to grow a genius in five easy steps.

Feed the Body and Feed the Brain

Pretty simple. Babies need health and nutrition to grow and develop. Malnourished kids show learning deficits, less resilience, and a lowered ability to navigate the challenges of life. Don’t get hung up on breast feeding vs. formula or debating whether the Paleo diet is better than the Mediterranean diet. It’s not about finding the perfect balance of gluten and protein. Just feed your kids real food, full of nutrients. Fill your cupboards and tables with healthy options, take your kids to their doctor’s appointments, keep them hydrated and watch them thrive.

Hug, Kiss, Cuddle, Touch

People are discovering more and more about the healing powers of touch - but really, haven’t you always known this on an intuitive level? Who can resist holding that sweet smelling baby or caressing the chubby cheek of your precious toddler? These days the maternity ward is full of signs touting the benefits of skin-to-skin contact with newborns. Touch promotes bonding, which creates security in little ones and security provides the richest soil in which the brain can bloom. Cuddling, kissing and holding hands reduces stress response and stress can be a major blocker in brain development. You can’t spoil a baby by picking them up too much. Baby wearing is more than a fad - it’s a tool in growing secure, resilient baby brains, ready to take on the world.

Talk, Talk, Talk

There is a now-famous study that followed families from high and low socioeconomic groups and looked at language development in their children. The researchers discovered that kids in the low-income group heard an average of just over 600 words per hour, while the children of the higher socioeconomic bracket heard over 2000 words an hour. The study showed that this had a huge impact on the achievement potential and the language development of the children at age three. They followed up with the children again in third grade and discovered that their abilities at age three strongly correlated with their performance at age nine. The message is to talk, talk, talk to your babies, to your toddlers and to family. Tell your kids what you are doing and why you are doing it. Ask questions, and answer their questions. Let them overhear you talking to your spouse, their grandparents, the family pet - just keep up the chatter! 

Let’s play!

Talking, singing, clapping, peek-a-boo, stacking blocks, hiding toys under blankets - all those games you play and have played with your little ones are growing their brains. The more you play, the more your child’s brain creates vital pathways upon which they will later add more information. Laugh, make-faces, gaze into each others eyes. Have some fun with your under three set - it’s better than an ivy league education in growing their brain.

Avoid screen time

The stimulating play experiences and all those vital words have to come from a real, live interacting human. Screen time will not have the same impact. You can’t improve your baby’s language skills by sitting them in front of the tablet. In fact, researchers are beginning to understand that not only is screen time not helpful to these little ones, it may actually be damaging. The recommendation is to avoid screen time altogether for those under two and to use it selectively and wisely for older kids. 
So there you go - five easy steps that you are probably already doing to grow your budding genius. Oh, and by the way, although those early years show the greatest brain growth, it’s never too late to have an impact on a developing brain. The principals are the same throughout your child’s life.  
Check out this video for some more information on how to help kids reach their potential. Now go give your child, of any age, a cuddle and play a game together - their future depends on it!


Gawking at Heartbreak: How We View Tragedy on Social Media

Is it our place to share someone else's tragedy?

Gawking at Heartbreak: How We View Tragedy on Social Media

A horrific thing has happened. A family I know has suffered a gut-wrenching tragedy that has reset the course of their lives. It’s one of those stories that stops you in your tracks, shakes you to the core and takes your breath away for a moment.
And, of course, within 24 hours of this story being shared with those closest to the family, the pictures started splashing across Facebook. A well-meaning friend set up a memorial fund, one that the family did not ask for. Now it is being tweeted, shared, and commented on. Donations are pouring in. Condolences are coming from strangers in far flung corners of the world. 
Parenting groups have picked up the story and everyone is reflecting on how the loss impacts them. And, inevitably, with the heartfelt expressions of sadness comes questions and criticism. What happened? Could it have been prevented? People are wanting to explore the details and offer suggestions and critiques.
How is this helping anyone? 
I think there are some things that are just not our loss to share and comment on. Seeing the pictures, donations, and comments fly around the internet made me feel sick. It seemed to somehow cheapen and exploit this devastating calamity.
Social media seems to have relegated people’s very real, very personal tragedies to the latest cause of the day. What will the world be chatting about this week - arguing if you see the dress as white or blue, or gawking at a family’s tragedy?
I get it. Any parent can imagine the horrifying loss of a child, or a mother, or a spouse. We feel we can relate to these stories and the harrowing thought comes: it could have been us. I am not suggesting the messages building in the comment box don’t come from the heart. But I think sometimes we need to remember, this is not our tragedy. We are not the ones who need support. 
I get it. When terrible things happen, we want to feel we are doing something, anything, to help. We want to believe that opening our wallets, or writing a heartfelt sentiment will somehow ease the pain. Devastating stories make us feel the world out of control and we try to make some sense of a senseless loss. 
I’m certainly not against charity. There is a time and a place for giving and giving can have a far-reaching impact in the lives of many. I believe in the impact of the global village and applaud supporting each other in positive ways.
But there is also a time and a place for privacy. Grief is a long difficult process. Grieving people need space to figure out how to get off the floor and put one foot in front of the other again. They need the enveloping love of family and friends - but perhaps the endless comments of acquaintances and strangers are do more harm than good . And just maybe, they don’t need the voyeuristic eyes of the social media world watching them try to piece their lives back together in the face of unimaginable loss.
Think before you share. Share joy, share triumph, share advice. Maybe hold back on sharing someone else’s grief.  Remember these stories are about real people and real heartbreak. Don’t let this interconnected, share-happy virtual world of ours turn support into gossip and turn misery into a spectacle.

Is French Immersion a Good Fit For Your Child?

A teacher (and parent of two) weighs in on the language education debate

Is French Immersion a Good Fit For Your Child?

I’m sure some of it is down to my parent bias, but it seems as though my daughter is quite ahead verbally.  At just over two years-old, she has an excellent vocabulary and seems to have a great mind for picking up languages. She loves learning words in my husband’s native Punjabi and knows at least 100 words in Tagalog, courtesy of our amazing nanny.
Having a late December birthday means my little chatter-box will be already enrolling in kindergarten next year. Noticing her gift with language, I thought early stream French Immersion might be the answer to provide her with some challenge and continue to feed her ever-inquisitive mind.
I have never taught French Immersion (although I may have a gift for the gab in English, my poor memory skills have made acquiring new languages a challenge for me). And despite teaching in a multitude of schools and neighbourhoods, I have yet to land in one that offers French Immersion, so my experience here is rather limited. Alas, I have turned the internet and to other parents to amass a list of pros and cons to help me decide if French Immersion is right for us.


Many studies support the idea that a bilingual brain is better. Bilingual (and multilingual) students often demonstrate increased skills at problem solving, enhanced attention span and a heightened ability to task switch.  These types of skills (which fall under the umbrella of executive function) have a greater impact on student achievement than any other area of brain development. It seems, if you can give your child a leg up in the arena of executive function, you are setting them up for success.
Fifty years ago, the commonly held belief was that speaking to and teaching kids in two languages only confused them and stunted their linguistic development. These claims have long since been refuted. Children who have early and frequent exposure to more than one language tend to acquire language more quickly and more effectively than their single-language counterparts. In the long run, multilingual children tend to perform better on several tests of cognitive ability. Of course, statistics are always relative and should be taken with a grain of salt. Unilingual kids can still score off the charts and bilingual kids can still struggle.
There are increased employment, travel and social opportunities for those who speak more than one language. When I entered teaching, competition for jobs was fierce and it was very difficult to secure a place with the school board - unless the applying teacher spoke French. French teachers are always in demand and those who were bilingual had a much easier time securing teaching jobs. There are many careers that demand multilingual skills. Plus, the Canadian Census information suggests that Canadians who are bilingual have a higher average income than us single-language speakers. 
And, it sure is nice to be able to speak another language when travelling. I am often embarrassed by my feeble attempts to communicate my needs in other languages when abroad. And, just think of the advantage my daughter would have if she ends up on the Amazing Race and they go to a French speaking nation? Besides, those French Immersion kids sound infinitely cooler ordering at a French restaurant than their less linguistically-talented parents.


Some critics argue that the French Immersion curriculum has not been updated in many years and does not offer the rich, experienced-based learning that the English classroom does. There is a perception that French Immersion still relies heavily on memorization, paper and pencil tasks and drilling kids excessively. However, a quick scan of the curriculum documents for Ontario show that there are almost identical expectations outlined in both language curriculums. 
I think, like so many educational experiences, there are good and bad teachers and there a many different teaching styles. Spelling tests and reading logs are outdated and unhelpful in any language. A great teacher will foster curiosity, interest and make learning come alive, no matter what stream they are teaching in. 
The biggest critique of French Immersion seems to be its lack of support for gifted learners, struggling students, and those with learning disabilities. There are few - and in some boards no - special education teachers assigned to the French stream. Struggling students are often encouraged to switch back to the English track, as that is where they will receive greater support. Gifted opportunities tend to be limited to the challenge of learning in another language, and more effective enrichment strategies aren’t offered.
Also, students may have to endure a long bus ride to an Immersion program and may not attend school with their neighbourhood friends. Now, on one hand I think a student attending a non-neighbourhood school will have a more diverse group of friends, which is a good thing. On the other hand, I don’t want my daughter to feel left out of games at the park, because the “local” gang feels they don’t really know her. Although, this dynamic wouldn’t be any different if she was in a gifted program, attended a private school, or went to a faith-based school board. I think kids in general are pretty accepting and make fast friendships with those around them.

The Decision

I’m still unclear about what is the best educational path for my daughter. I plan to visit the classrooms in question to really get a sense of what program will suit her needs. I do take comfort in the fact that if my talkative, strong-willed girl is not enjoying school, in whatever program we put her in, she will be sure to tell us, her teacher and anyone else who is willing to listen. She already complains to her music teacher if they don’t sing her favourite song in toddler music class, then comes home to tell me about it. What can I say? The girl knows what she wants.
What are your experiences with French Immersion? Is it right for your family?