Got 1 Minute? 3 Art Games to Boost your Kid’s Strategic Thinking, Problem Solving and Visual Recall

By Ruthie Briggs-Greenberg

It’s Monday. You have to get your kids to school, and you’re only on your first cup of coffee. What can you do that will help them think better and not annoy you? An art activity! What, you ask, is an “art activity”? It’s something that exposes kids to art. Why should you do it? According to the National Endowment for the Arts, kids with more art experiences had higher GPAs than kids who lacked those experiences. How do you start? Pour that second cup of coffee, set the timer for 1 minute and do one of the following:

GAME 1: (The timer is set, right? Did you pour that second cup of coffee?) Ask Junior “How many things can be done with spoons?” Now wait. If Junior hasn’t had breakfast, they might say, “I don’t know.” But, if Junior just had a bowl of sugary goodness, the answer may be, “You can eat with spoons, dig with spoons… Uhhhhhh…..” Then Junior may fall silent. This is where you say, “Keep going…”  Junior may come up with one more answer, something involving “you can fling a spoon.” The minute will pass.

What’s the answer? An unknown number of things can be done with spoons. Think outside of the box, or in this case, the silverware drawer.  This idea of thinking beyond what is obvious frees your child’s mind to use their imagination.  Imagination leads to solutions. Let’s get back to the spoons.  If you weld spoons together, you could build skies, or a wall, and then you could make a house of spoons, (no, it’s not cheating, I never said, “a spoon,” or that the spoons had to remain in their original form). The question leads your child, and you, to think strategically to solve a puzzle. This method of thinking creatively frees up your mind to design, imagine and build ideas that don’t exist. That’s how art starts. You’ve spent a minute and engaged in strategic thinking.

GAME 2: Grab a pencil and a piece of paper. Ask Junior to draw a bicycle with circles, and lines. Did you set the timer for one minute? If your coffee has kicked in, you can try it too. What does this game do for Junior? It makes them think about design principles of how shapes fit together for practical use. If you want a hint, a very basic bike can be drawn using 5 circles and 11 lines. Wait a minute, how is this art, you ask? It is art because it involves organizing shapes and lines and creating a design. So you’ve just covered design, which fits under problem solving.

GAME 3: Open the cupboard and let Junior look at it for 8 seconds. This is not the time to obsess over the fact that there is high fructose corn syrup in half of the breakfast cereals. Close the cupboard. Ask Junior, “How many colors can be made from the colors on the boxes inside the cupboard?” You’ll probably get this, “I don’t know”. Who thinks about cereal boxes and art? Ask Junior to open the cupboard and see if there is red, yellow and blue inside, if so, you have the three primary colors. All colors can be made from the three primary colors. Play a color addition game (go on, the first part wasn’t even 20 seconds). What is red plus yellow? Orange. Was there a yellow box on your shelf? A blue one? Sure there was, everyone has that blue box of pasta on the second shelf, so now you have yellow plus blue. You get the picture. Now you’ve covered visual recall.

Wow, look at you, covering strategic thinking, problem solving and visual recall all before your 3rd cup of coffee! Junior used art, or thinking about art, to fire up those synapses before class. Thinking about art will carry over into other areas of study, such as math, language, and science. Ultimately art allows individuals to create something from nothing by strategically analyzing a problem and solving them. If you have five minutes, tour the world’s greatest museums online. This may lead to conversations about the historical context that art was created in, or the purpose of art. If you ask Junior what they think about a painting they are looking at they may say, “I don’t know”. That’s ok, school doesn’t train our kids to think of possibilities, it teaches kids to have answers. Get Junior thinking and they will come up solutions to all kinds of life situations. 1 minute art games lead Junior to strategic thinking, problem solving and visual recall, and you did it all without a 4th cup of coffee.

Photograph by D Sharon Pruitt via Flickr/Creative Commons

Eat, Play, Sleep

By Susan Maushart

In a recent Australian study, four in ten mothers describe dinner as an “unpleasant experience,” with the meal usually ending in an argument. At the same time, 76 percent agree that sit-down meals strengthen the family’s communication (and possibly its vocal chords), according to a recent survey of more than 16,000 mothers nationwide. Contradiction? Not necessarily.

Maybe the experience of being together as a family is a bit like eating your spinach. As Popeye might have observed, that which doesn’t kill us makes us stronger. Like it or not—and clearly four out of ten of us don’t—family meals are consistently correlated with positive outcomes for children. And not just slightly positive outcomes. Ridiculously positive ones. Kids who eat family meals five to seven times a week get better grades, have a sunnier outlook on life, have significantly fewer problems with drugs, alcohol, or nicotine, and seem almost magically protected from developing eating disorders. They also—surprise!—have healthier diets. Recent research from the Department for Children, Schools and Family found a direct link between frequency of family meals and high school leaving scores, while a study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health in 2008 uncovered a clear, inverse relationship between “eating together as a family” and risky sexual behavior. Weirdly enough, simply having supper together was as protective against unsafe sex as “doing something religious together.” Then again, maybe it’s not that weird.

It’s not the “postcode effect” either (where socioeconomic class is the underlying determiner of advantage). Researchers in study after study have controlled for demographics and the findings remain. Rich or poor, middle class or underclass, highly educated or barely educated, families that eat meals together are dishing up a smorgasbord of advantages for their kids.

These facts are hardly news—although the media love nothing better than to give parents a serve on the topic. Or mothers, more accurately. In most accounts, the demise of the family meal is attributed to the usual suspect: feminism—or, as it is more decorously described, “Women’s participation in the workforce” or the “dual-earner family.” The implication is that when mothers work, families, like chickens, go free-range and slightly feral. Yet in Australia, where the full-time workforce participation of women with children is much lower than it is in the United States and the UK—a mere 11.42 percent of mothers report that their children usually eat at the family table. Remember, too, that we are talking about where and how the family members eat, not about who (or what) is doing the cooking. The effect is exactly the same, whether it’s a roast with all the trimmings, a stir-fry with fourteen intricately diced and unpronounceable vegetables, or burgers and fries eaten straight from the wrapper…

Among the things the family-meals literature doesn’t tell us is whether the benefits increase arithmetically with time—if twenty minutes around the dinner table is beneficial, are forty minutes verging on miraculous?—but heading into The Experiment, it seemed safe to assume that more of a goof thing was probably going to be…well, a good thing. Because we had always been a family that ate meals together…I was looking to The Experiment as a way of extending the experience in both quantity (time spent) and quality.

Admittedly, we were coming off a pretty low base. I would definitely have put up my hand along with the 40 percent of Australian mothers who find mealtimes unpleasant AND the 67 percent who believe they are good for us anyhow. Most nights, I’d put a fair amount of effort into preparing a meal. Nothing lavish—like most teenagers, mine are allergic to lavish—but in the main nutritious, balanced, and quasi-palatable…My kids were demon speed-eaters…With no more attractive prospect to lure them from the dinner table, [they’ did not exactly learn to linger over cigars and brandy. But at least they stopped inhaling their food and bolting for the nearest digital foxhole. We did slow down, all of us, and, over time, we did engage in more meaningful dinnertime dialog….

There were unexpected gains elsewhere on the bill of fare. Deprived of his early- morning downloads, Bill started spending more time at the breakfast table. He didn’t initiate a lot of conversation. But he did eat a lot more eggs, and spent an impressive amount of time reading the sports pages. I’m not sure it improved family communication, but it made me smile to see him tented behind the pages of The Australian…Sussy, too eventually started to make unscheduled appearances at the breakfast table…I’d serve her whatever it was I was making for Bill, anyway, and she’d eat every bite. It was sort of the opposite of demand feeding—more supply feeding, really—and I wished I’d started it fourteen years earlier.

Excerpted from The Winter of Our Disconnect by Susan Marchaut. (c) 2011 Susan Marchaut. Jeremy P. Tarcher, Penguin Group USA, Penguin Random House.

Photograph by Anna Demianenko via Unsplash.

Good News About Fighting Sibs

Kids on beach

By Dr. Laura Markham

I wasn’t prepared for my son’s reaction when his little sister was born. At four, he’s had only a few tantrums in his entire life. But when the baby appeared, he seemed to panic. He was clingy, he was angry, he was scared. I was trained as a psychologist, but I was out of my league.

Like me, most parents look forward to the awe on our older child’s face as he or she gazes for the first time at our newborn. We imagine the baby laughing as her big brother entertains her with funny faces. When one child gets hurt, the other will repay the care he’s received from us, offering his sibling a hug and a blankie. Over time, romping through the sprinkler will give way to bike rides and camping out, which will give way to arguing over who gets the car on Saturday night and consoling each other over lost games and broken hearts They might head their separate ways after high school, but that bond will continue through all the ups and downs of adulthood. We want to believe we’re giving our children a priceless gift: a friend for life.

But sometime in the first year—maybe even before the baby arrives—most parents begin to realize things may be quite so simple, as I hear from the families I coach:

“She loves her brother…In fact, she hugs him so hard that it scares us…Her hands always seem to end up around his neck.”

“I can’t even drive the car safely because they can’t keep their hands off each other.”

“He really pushed me to my limit when I came out of the shower and he had peed on his nine-month-old brother!”

There’s no way around it. Sibling rivalry is universal. After all, every human is genetically programmed to protect resources that will help him survive, and your children depend on and compete for what are, in fact, precious resources—your time and attention. Even when there’s plenty of love to go around, young humans haven’t developed much impulse control, so they’re bound to get into conflicts. Finally, temperament colors every relationship. Children who tend to be challenging will be even more challenging when you introduce a brother or a sister, and some siblings simply clash.

Unfortunately, many parents don’t know how to help their children with these strong emotions, so hurt feelings can lead to aggressive acts, which can spiral into negative patterns of interacting with each other. Those feelings can set the tone in a sibling relationship right through the teen years, and even have a way of popping up at family stress points across a lifetime.

But there’s good news, too. The sibling relationship is where the rough edges of our early self-centeredness are smoothed off, and where we learn to manage our most difficult emotions. Siblings often become good friends, and because they know each other so well, they can provide each other a deep sense of comfort. Even siblings who fight a lot usually do gain respect for each other and eventually get along. When they’re grown, may siblings feel a deep connection to the only other people who understand what it was like to grow up in their home.

And here’s the best news of all. Parents can make a tremendous difference in shaping the sibling relationship. Sibling jealousy is unavoidable, but it’s almost always possible to help children develop a strong, positive bond that trumps the natural jealousy. It’s not always easy to raise siblings who appreciate each other, who become friends for life—but a committed parent can make all the difference.

Excerpted from Peaceful Parent, Happy Siblings by Dr. Laura Markham. (c) 2015 Dr. Laura Markham. Perigee, Penguin Group USA, Penguin Random House.

Photograph by Daria Nepreikhin via