Exercise: Food For the Brain!

Note:  This information is taken from an article written by W. Douglas Tynan, director of Integrated Health for the American Psychological Association.  It is paraphrased from the Sunday October 26,2014 edition of the Philadelphia Inquirer. You can find more on this topic and other health topics on his website about healthy kids at: http://www.Philly.com

We all know that exercise is good for the heart and body.  Staying fit with regular exercise helps children grow stronger and ward off obesity.  But there are several studies that have found exercise to be EXTREMELY BENEFICIAL to children’s developing brains.

Charles Hillman from the University of Illinois found that kids who participated in regular physical activity – 60 minutes per day – enhanced cognitive performance and brain function. The study measured  one hour of vigorous exercise followed by 45 minutes of a less vigorous skills game for a total of two hours every day after school for 150 days of the school year.  On measures of concentration, attention, impulse control, flexible thinking and brain activity (measured by scalp electrodes), the 8-9 year old studied, did much better overall than their sedentary peers.

A second study by Catherine Davis at the University of Georgia, with older children who were overweight and did low level (20 minutes per day) and high level (40 minutes per day), for only 15 weeks had the same results, along with better scores in concentration, math and impulse control.  If a prescription medication showed the same results, people would be lining up to buy it.  If there was a curriculum that showed this benefit, school districts would be signing up in droves. 

But, it is NOT a product, but rather a lifestyle to be taught at home and in school. The best way to get children to do their best in school is to GET THEM TO MOVE! Instead of eliminating physical education programs, we should be expanding them.  The most intriguing part of these studies was the gain in impulse control.  Is it my imagination, or were there fewer children with ADHD 50 years ago when recess and backyard play were popular staples of every neighborhood? I’d love to hear your views on this interesting topic.


Pre-PiBo Day 1: Let’s Get Busy with Matthew Winner (plus prizes!)

For anyone interested in PB’s or WRITING them, Check out this post from Tara Lazar, Picture Book writer and host of the popular PiBoIdMo.

Writing for Kids (While Raising Them)

MWinnerby Matthew Winner

I think picture books rock.

Except for the ones that aren’t good and, as a parent, you dread reading even a second night in a row to your kid. And you try to sneak the book from his bedside stack and back into the library bag, but somehow he keeps pulling the book back out because heaven forbid our bedtime routine goes one night without a digger book. Oh, the digger book! With its droning text that stretches on and on without ever really saying a single thing. And is my kid actually paying attention to the words? Of course not! He’s looking at the pictures of the cool diggers. Yet we can’t skip a line of text because if there’s words then he wants to know what they say. Is it wrong for me to change the words on the page? What if I change the…

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A Library Visit…And My Appreciation.

I couple weeks ago while on vacation in western Pennsylvania, I had the pleasure of spending some time in the quaint, historic town of Bedford, PA.  Nestled in the Allegheny Mountains, this lovely town is the perfect place for a stop off the famed “LINCOLN HIGHWAY” AKA Route 30. While in Bedford, I stopped in the local library and was thrilled to see how much thought, care and attention was given to the children’s section of the

Teen section of the library.

Teen section of the library.

library.   Not only did they have a separate room for kids, there was another room, artistically decorated, for teens.  As a child, I was always spending time at my local library with it’s stiff-backed chairs and worn tables. This modern, comfortable and welcoming place would have made it so much more inviting, I would have had a hard time leaving!

Children's section of the Bedford County Library

Children’s section of the Bedford County Library


The next time you’re in western PA, stop by the town and maybe even visit the library.  Support your own local libraries. Where would we writers…and readers be without their support?  Three Cheers for Libraries!

And…three cheers for all the wonderful writers and bloggers who took part in my WHEELS OF CHANGE  Blog Tour, which officially ends today.  I really enjoyed being your guest and appreciate your helping me spread the word about the book.  You helped make the launch a success, and for that I am truly grateful!  If you’d like to check out the last stop on the tour, here it is: http://www.tmwallace.com

Free Fall Friday – Book-Give-a-Way: Karen Romagna

Big Congratulations to fellow NJSCBWI member, illustrator Karen Romagna for her new Picture Book.

Writing and Illustrating

Here is your chance to win a copy of Karen Romagna’s new book, VOYAGE. All you have to do is leave a comment and be willing to write a short review of the book if you win. The review can be on your blog, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Facebook, or Goodreads. (See more at bottom of this post.)

Voyage Covercropped

Karen Romagna has just finished illustrating her first picture book. Voyage launched at The National Book Festival in Washington, DC on August 30, 2014 and is available in bookstores October 1, 2014. Written by former US Poet Laureate, Billy Collins, Voyage is the tale of a young boy setting off for an adventure on the open sea. Karen used the softness of watercolor in illustrating this wonderful dreamlike tale.

Romagna, Karen Headshot cropped

Karen is a traditional painter. Her illustrations are primarily done in watercolor However, she also loves painting in oil.

Karen grew up surrounded by…

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Easy, Last-Minute Costume Ideas For Kids Big and Small.

I came across some great sights for unique, easy costume ideas for kids for Halloween.  The first site Surf Net, has costumes for toddlers and school aged children. using items found around most houses.  Check out their ideas at:


 One of my favorite sites for kid-friendly crafts, and holiday decorations as well as costumes is one I’ve mentioned before on this blog: Red Ted Art.  While looking for costume ideas, you might also check out the 20 Apple Crafts, 20 Pumpkin Ideas, and the Bat Crafts as well.  http://www.redtedart.com


picnic table costume

picnic table costume

Don’t forget, you can also have your child be his or her favorite Literary Character from a book by taking something unique from each character as the focus. One example would be to paint a lightning bolt on your son’s forehead and give him a pointed hat and he’s good to go as Harry Potter.  A pointed hat, green face paint and a long black scarf that doubles as a cape makes a pretty acceptable witch.  Dress your child in black turtleneck and tights and tie a sash around her middle and she’s an Oreo cookie.   You your imagination and you won’t have to break the bank to be original.


Mastering Kid-Speak – Erika Wassall

Writing and Illustrating

erikaphoto-45Jersey Farm Scribe here on…

A Dialogue Tune-up: Mastering Kid-Speak

Dialogue is one of the most important pieces of any manuscript, and this often goes double for children’s works. Dialogue moves the story along, develops the connection between your readers and the characters and keeps things tangible and realistic.

That means that mastering Kid-Speak is unequivocally important.

There is a rhyme and rhythm to the way that kids communicate, where they pause to think, how they choose their words, the direction their stream of conscious takes them in. I’ve often wondered if there are linguists who study children specifically.  I bet we could learn a lot about the development of the brain and human instincts by looking at how and why kids pick their words.

As writers, if our characters don’t sound realistic, we’ve already lost the battle.  It’s something a child will instantly and instinctively pick up on.  The…

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Dante’s Inferno and the Non-Fiction Writer: by Terry Jennings

I am pleased to bring you a post from a writer friend TERRY JENNINGS, whose specialty is CHILDREN’S NON FICTION.  here’s Terry:

If Dante had been a non-fiction writer, in the Divine Comedy he would have put a circle in hell for writers whose overriding vice is Pride of Research. I never read the Divine Comedy but I did read Dan Brown’s Inferno and I know Dante liked those little circles where you would burn for eternity to expiate your sins. So if at any time there is a writer’s confessional, I would have to own up to that vicious sin—researching so much and having such pride in my cool factoids and data that sometimes I forget that the research should play a supporting role, not be all consuming like the fires of hell. And the part that makes this whole thing vicious is that along with pride can come a bit of arrogance and infallibility. I’ve done all this research and I know all there is to know, right? Recently, during the editing of my fact-based picture book, Sounds of the Savana (Arbordale, 2015), fate (or my sweet editor, whichever you choose) knocked me off my high horse.

Normally, my problem is not to include every tidbit and morsel in a manuscript. That is a sin I have worked hard to overcome. I figure I have slaved to get those lovely little gems and I have to put them somewhere. They have to be of use. I try dropping them into cocktail conversation. For instance, “Did you know that vervet monkeys have different kinds of vocalizations for different predators?” Or “Did you know spiny mice slough off their skin if a predator catches them? All that nasty owl will get is a piece of skin—and the mouse’s skin regrows by the next day. Imagine that!” I eat up that kind of stuff, but it makes people around me fall asleep.

Since I can’t use them socially, I want to include all my new knowledge in my manuscript. After many rejections, however, I have learned to listen to the wise and include only what works organically in the story, what drives the story forward. I have had to, sadly, leave a lot of wonderful information behind, condemning it to that nether world of unused facts. At first it was hard, but working with Arbordale has eased the pain. They have back matter in each book. A place where I can display many of my beloved nuggets. And if there’s not enough room in the back matter, they have a website with lots more information and activities. And when I remembered my own website could be a third bucket into which I could drop the remaining morsels, I danced a jig.

Now that I have the perfect place for all my darlings, the stories flow more easily. They can be even more engaging. I don’t have to explain that sound waves are deflected by temperature differences in Sounds. All I have to do is have a lioness roar on one side of the lake and the wildebeest hear her as if she were right next to them. Then . . . in the back matter or the website, I can put all sorts of amazing stuff about how the layer of cool temperature over a warm lake can deflect the sound wave so that it travels farther than when the temperature is uniform. I can let them know that in a 60 mile circle around Mount St. Helens, no one heard the eruption. They saw it like a silent movie—all because of the temperature difference between the roiling volcano and the layer of cool 8:32-in-the-morning atmosphere above it.

Pride of Research can also lead to avoidance.  There is many a time when I’m almost ready to let the book go but I talk myself into just a bit more research so I don’t have to let my baby out into the world so everyone will say it’s ugly. Or the writing’s going bad and I dive headlong into a new strand of investigation so I don’t have to face my shortcomings.
With Pride of Research also comes a certain arrogance. Admit it. I know you’re out there. Just like me. We check and triple check every fact and have three page bibliographies for an 800 word piece. It doesn’t have to be overt self-importance. It can just be that cozy warm feeling that we’ve done your job well. We always try to do our job well. Carolyn Yoder (editor at Calkins Creek, an imprint for historical children’s books) would be proud.


That, however, is exactly how my pride of research came tumbling down around me.
“So, the illustrator wants to know what kind of owl would eat a spiny mouse?”
My sweet editor at Arbordale sent shivers of shame down my spine. In Sounds of the Savanna, “sound” shows up through predator and prey interactions. Since predators silently sneak, swoop, snatch, and stalk and prey squeak, squeal, heeaw, kerchew—actually make sound—when caught or almost caught, I foolishly concentrated on the prey. Every stalked critter, big and small was thoroughly researched. Its demeanor, its diet, its vocalizations, how it takes care of its offspring and of course, which animals preyed on it were minutely scrutinized. And it goes without saying I already knew they lived on the Savanna because that was my first criterion for choosing the species. But the predators? I had given them nary a thought. The research on the spiny mouse said owls eat them and that was good enough for me. Without much thought I could write that the owl swoops on silent wings with deadly talons—beautiful, although generic, tags—and that was sufficient. Was it arrogance or just plain forgetfulness? I know better. When I wrote my book about the recovery after Mount St. Helens’ eruption, I had tons of lists of the trees and animals that lived on the mountain and approximately when the species returned. I can’t believe I didn’t check on the spiny mouse’s predator. Turns out the Verreaux or Milky Eagle Owl loves spiny mice. And it didn’t take me too long to find it. Phew!

If that had been all, I might have come out with my dignity bruised, but still extant. But not long after the owl came the question about the vervet monkeys and their predator. Vervet monkeys have a vocalization for snakes. What snakes? All I could find was boas. My idea of a boa is huge. Vervet monkeys, not so big. I suggested they avoid the conundrum altogether by having the snake hidden in the grass. But by now I was absolutely distraught. Really? Two unidentified predator species? How could I? I checked to make sure there were no more hanging in the breeze and it turns out there weren’t. The other predators were well known dudes like leopards and lions, animals an illustrator can draw without getting down to differentiating between species.

I have been chastened, however. I promise to never let my pride of research make me blind to the shortcomings of my manuscript ever again. I will continue to do my job well, even better than I have because as non-fiction or fact-based fiction writers for children we are passing that information on to kids, and perhaps some day some one will take our book and use it as fodder to his or her pride of research.


Terry Jennings began writing in 1999. Her first piece “Moving Over to the Passenger’s Side,” about teaching her fifteen-year-old to drive was published by The Washington Post. She has written a few other articles for them and Long Island News Day, as well as Ranger Rick, and a family humor column in my local newspaper, The Reston Connection.

She also writes educational text for the Smithsonian Science Education Center and other educational outlets. Gopher to the Rescue! A Volcano Recovery Story (Sylvan Dell, 2012) was named Outstanding Science Trade Book by the National Science Teachers’ Association and the Children’s Book Council. Her other book, The Women’s Liberation Movement: 1960-1990 (Mason Crest, 2013) was named to the Amelia Bloomer Project’s recommended feminist literature for women birth to 18. Sounds of the Savanna, a book about sound as told through predator/prey interactions in the African savanna is on its way with Arbordale Publishers. It’s due out fall of 2015. Terry is currently working on a historical novel about the Cuban Revolution (1959-1961) loosely based on my childhood along with a couple of other picture books–one on Magnetism and one on Erosion.   IMG_0003

Contact her at:

website: Terrycjennings.com
science blog for kids: kcswildfacts.com

Game On! Brain Building Board Games to Make or Fake at Home.

I am thrilled to bring you today’s post from fellow blogger Katey Howes who blogs about literacy, parenthood and writing for kids at: http://www.kateywrites.wordpress.com

Every Monday her blog features a new Raising Readers post to help parents raise kids who love books. Katey is mom to 3 girls and countless manuscripts, all of which vie for her time and attention. She wrote this seated on a kid-sized chair while supervising the painting of wooden treasure chests from the craft store. The dishwasher and clothes washer were running, but there was still a good bit of cinnamon sugar on the floor from cooking streusel muffins with the kids that morning. (My kind of Mom!)

You can often find Katey discussing children’s literature, song parodies and household disasters on twitter @kateywrites or on Facebook at her author page: http://www.facebook.com/kateywrites

Here’s Katey:

My hall closet, originally intended for coats, is absolutely stuffed with boxes of board games and puzzles. I have a hard time resisting a new game – especially one that tricks my kids into using their brains. Unfortunately, it seems like these games get more expensive every time I turn around. Just today I came across a boxed set of card games that promise to help preschoolers with their letter skills:    Alphabet Zoop Card Game

From what I understand, this box contains 2 sets of 26 letter cards, a joker, and instructions for alphabet-themed versions of traditional games. For $19.95.
ABC Go Fish? Great idea!
$20 worth of great? No way.
Index cards and markers great? Oh, yes.

As a matter of fact, there are a lot of great, educational games you can make at home for a lot less money and just as much fun.

Don’t Say It retails for $16.95 and can be best described as Taboo for kids. Each card has a key word at the top. The goal is for the player to read that word silently, then describe the word in such a way that other players can guess what it is. The challenge? The player describing the word cannot say the other words on the card. For example, a player may need to get others to say “PIG,” but without using “sty” “bacon” “ham” or “mud.”    Don't Say It Game

Want to make it yourself? Index cards or card stock, a list of vocabulary words and your imagination are all you need. To level the challenge for kids of different ages, you can make your own rules: perhaps kindergarteners can’t use the 1st word on the list, but can use the others.

Want to leave the hard part up to someone else? Lucky for you Teach Speech 365 made a fabulous version of this game and sells the printables for $5.50 at Teachers Pay Teachers.   http://www.teacherspayteachers.com/product/Dont-Say-It-Describing-Dash-461132        Teach Speech 365 graphic

Zingo is the name given to a variety of products that help practice literacy skills like letter recognition, sight word reading, and simple spelling. The games come with a dispenser that pops out cards when you push the handle. Players then try to match the card to their playing card. The first to fill their card Bingo-style wins.
I love these games – and kids do, too. But buying a new one for each level of learning is an expensive proposition – since each dispenser and card set are a slightly different size from the others. I recommend skipping the bells and whistles and simply creating your own BINGO cards using the parts of speech your child is currently working on. http://www.BingoBaker.com   makes it quick and easy to create printable templates.

Scrabble Junior claims to make the classic game easy and fun for kids – and does so by providing you with a game board pre-printed with words for kids to fill in. For older kids, the back side of the board is more like a traditional Scrabble board, so it grows with kids. If you don’t already have Scrabble around the house, this may be worth the $13 it retails for at Toys R Us. If you already own Scrabble, think instead of making cards with words from your child’s classroom list. Draw tiles from the handy bag and see who can fill in their cards first!
Scrabble also sells a game called Alphabet Scoop with a fun twist. All the tiles are placed in a bowl. Each player has 1-3 cards with words on them. They take turns scooping out tiles with a spoon and trying to fill in their word cards with matching tiles. Fill in a word and yell out “Yummy!” to win. Again – seems pretty easy to make a version of this at home and customize it to your children’s reading levels!

Kids Charades from Family Fun retails for $19.95 at Barnes and Noble and other retailers. It is a great way to get reluctant readers to get in on the action, as they draw a card, read it to themselves, and then act it out for the group. Once again, with a little ingenuity, a kitchen timer and a stack of scrap paper you can make this at home in a flash – and tailor it to your children’s interests and reading levels. You could even put favorite book titles or characters into the mix!    Kids Charades picture
My kids – and my daughter’s Daisy troop – totally love the game Hedbanz – at least, when we make it ourselves. I have yet to cave and buy the boxed game that sells for $15-$20. Here’s how it works:
Players draw a card and do NOT look at it. Instead they stick it to their forehead, facing out, so that the other players can see/read it. Use elastic headbands worn sweat-band style around the forehead to hold the card in place. (Or, if you’re short on supplies, just write your clues on post-its and smack ‘em on the kids’ heads!)                hedbanz
Players then take turns asking questions like “Am I an animal?” “Do I have four legs?” and the like until they guess who they are. The player to guess first OR the player to guess the most cards by the time a timer runs out is the winner. Make this game easier for beginning readers by using pictures with words. Make it harder by eliminating the pictures. Have kids studying together? How about making it fun by putting glossary terms on their heads? “Am I metamorphic rock?” “Am I magma?” “Am I George Washington Carver?” The possibilities are endless.

I’m sure there are plenty of you out there with ideas for games you can make at home for less. I’d love for you to share them in the comments. And if you’re looking for more games that grow brains, check out Board Games That Build Readers and Board Games That Build (Bigger) Readers on Kateywrites.    KathrynHeadshots-45

I wish I’d thought of some of these great ideas to use when my kids were small.  They are great for classroom use as well, since we teachers are on a tight budget. Thanks for a fabulous post Katey!