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Fun games to develop language, movement and creativity

Many teachers and parents look for ways of including valuable developmental skills into games with young children.  Mary Mountstephen shared this blog giving some information about Marlene Rattigan’s useful book. Entitled Kidz-fiz-biz:Scarf Magic, the book contains a DVD and 2 children’s scarves. You can access it at

In this blog we’d like to introduce you to some fun activities that you can do with your child at home or with small groups of friends. Scarves have enormous educational potential to stimulate language development, mathematical concepts and vocabulary and physical skills such as coordination, body control and body awareness. Some children need a little extra support to develop these skills, and Scarf Magic is an ideal way to do this in an enjoyable and active way,

You need enough scarves for children to be able to make a choice, and allow them free play initially, joining in yourself. There are many sources of scarves and friends may be happy to hand over unwanted gifts.
The scarves should be:

60 cm square for the children
60 cm or 1 metre square for the adults

As with all activities, set the ground rules first of where the children are allowed to move, and set boundaries around what they can and can’t do to play safely and that the scarves must be treated with respect and folded away neatly at the end of each session.

Spend some time initially exploring how to make the scarves move: Throw them in the air, slither them around on the floor, scrunch them up and watch them unfold. Throwing and Catching

  •  Scrunch the scarf into a little ball with both hands and throw the scarf high in the air, catching it with both hands. This can be done sitting, standing, and even moving around to music. You can also vary the speed and type of music to change the mood. 

  •  When this has been mastered, you can progress to throwing with one hand and catching with the other. It is a good idea to keep alternating the throwing and catching hands as this improves coordination and eye-hand control. 
Making Shapes and Maths Activities
You can use the scarves to explore mathematical language: 

  •  Fold the scarf into a rectangle and a triangle and count the number of corners and sides 

  •  Can you make the scarf into a smaller square by folding it up? 

  •  Are there any shapes they can find on the scarf?
Balancing and Crawling Activities
There are many different ways to be creative with moving that can also help develop language, coordination and perseverance. Some children may balance really well on one leg, but not the other, so encourage them to find different ways to experiment with this. 

  • Crawl around the room with the scarf tucked into the back of clothing, to make a tail. Play follow the leader. Stop on a signal and lift up one arm or one leg
  • Stand opposite a partner and hold one scarf between them, then try to balance in different ways

These are just a few ways to use scarves that can take your children on a ‘voyage of discovery’. The possibilities are endless and children often come up with their own ideas that can be added to your bank of ideas.


Children who snore may show changes to brain causing behaviour problems

Sleep problems, including unusual snoring, have been associated with behaviour and learning.  The latest research involving a large number of children has uncovered evidence that behavioural problems in children who habitually snore (three or more nights a week) may be associated with changes in the structure of their brain’s frontal lobe, leading possibly to problems such as inattention or hyperactivity.  The findings have been released by the National Institutes of Health in the USA.

This study is the largest of its kind and confirms the results of previous work, which indicated a link between regular snoring and behavioural problems.  Those children who most frequently snored generally showed worse behaviour.

The findings further showed that snoring is linked to multiple regions of the brain’s frontal lobe, an area involved in cognitive functions such as problem solving, impulse control, and social interactions. The statistical analysis also suggested that the brain differences seen in children who snore may contribute to behavioural problems, but additional work on how snoring, brain structure, and behavioural problems change over time is needed to confirm a causal link.

Frequency of snoring is seen as a form of Obstructive Sleep-Disordered Breathing (oSDB). Children who are screened for snoring may be referred for help.  This may include assessment and treatment for conditions that contribute to oSDB, such as obesity, or evaluation for surgical removal of the adenoids and tonsils.

The ABCD Study, the largest of its kind in the United States, is tracking nearly 12,000 youth as they grow into young adults. Investigators regularly measure participants’ brain structure and activity using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machines, and collect psychological, environmental, and cognitive information, as well as biological samples. The goal of the study is to define standards for normal brain and cognitive development and to identify factors that can enhance or disrupt a young person’s life trajectory.

“We know the brain has the ability to repair itself, especially in children, so timely recognition and treatment of obstructive sleep disordered breathing may attenuate these brain changes. More research is needed to validate such mechanisms for these relationships which may also lead to further treatment approaches,” said study co-author Linda Chang, MD, MS, Professor of Diagnostic Radiology and Nuclear Medicine who is a co-principal investigator on the ABCD study.




Difficult behaviour – could food be the culprit?

We’ve known for a long time that food can cause us problems.  The well-known adage ‘One man’s meat is another man’s poison’ was reportedly said by Herodotus in 460 BC.  Later, Hippocrates identified that stomach and skin complaints could be caused by drinking milk.  Yet the link between the food we consume and children’s problems remains stubbornly ignored by many.  Inattention is seen to be the result of ‘unbalanced brain chemicals’ or a symptom of a mental disorder (ADHD).  This is in spite of much evidence that attention and other typical challenges (can’t complete tasks; loses focus; is aggressive; can’t follow instructions  etc) may well be linked to brain function that is disrupted by food substances.

There’s a difference between a food allergy and an intolerance.  A food allergy means any immediate adverse immune reaction to any substance inhaled or eaten or coming into direct contact with the skin.  The reaction (swollen lips and tongue, asthma attack, rash) is immediate and so can usually be traced back to a particular cause.  Peanut and shellfish allergies are perhaps the best known.

Food intolerance is the name for reactions that show up to 72 hours after exposure, making the trigger food or substance much more difficult to identify. While the reactions may not be life-threatening, as in the case of an allergy, they can certainly impact badly on the general health and functioning of the child.  Symptoms of food intolerances can be divided into two broad categories: physical (especially digestive) and mental/emotional/behavioural.

It is much easier to understand the link between what a child eats and what happens in his digestive system than to see the relationship between his food and his feelings, behaviours and learning. Nevertheless, we have known for decades that reactions to foods can cause, amongst others, hyperactivity, nervousness, learning problems, depression, hostility, aggression, periods of confusion, irritability, mood swings and clumsiness. 

Partly clouding the issue is that the distinction between allergy and intolerance is still not recognized.  This means the absence of an immediate negative reaction to a food is seldom thought of as a possible cause of emotional/emotional/behavioural issues.

Dr William Philpott, a psychiatrist and an author of an interesting book titled Brain allergies, reported that intolerant reactions to foods and pollutants often trigger violent behaviour. This rings true to ILT practitioners, who have had experience of children as young as 3-years-old being expelled from their nursery schools for violent outbursts.  On careful analysis, the causes were food additives – such as colourants, preservatives and flavouring. 

Another case[1] involved a 5-year old boy with poor speech development.  The child showed an abnormal EEG (brain scan showing abnormal brainwave patterns) and a temper that was out of control.  The boy was found to be intolerant to chocolate, milk and cola, which were then eliminated from his diet for over seven months.  The EEG was repeated and found to be normal, and his behaviour was much improved.  When the culprit foods were then reintroduced, his EEG was once again abnormal and his behaviour worsened.

Common food intolerances

Many foods may be the triggers to adverse reactions but to help alert you to the most likely culprits in childhood, here are the top five usual suspects:

  1. Cow’s milk products
  2. Food additives and colourings
  3. Gluten grains (wheat, oats, rye, barley)
  4. Sugar
  5. Yeast

In addition, sometimes the clue to a culprit food may be the food that a child craves and insists on eating all the time.  Eating too much of the same food too often can lead to a food intolerance which then becomes a craving for that food.  Yet another reason to try and ensure that your family has a varied diet.

It is difficult to test reliably for a possible food intolerance and some tests are also expensive.  One method that can be done without expense at home is an elimination diet. 

Elimination diet

As the name suggests, this approach means that you withhold the suspected food to see if symptoms improve. This means being very strict and ensuring that the suspected food is totally absent from the diet.  For example, you may be withholding milk but the child is eating other foods containing milk, for example, baked products, cheese and so on. 

If the symptoms do seem to abate, after a while you add the food back to see if symptoms reappear.  Don’t be in too much of a hurry.  If food tolerance is the cause of the symptoms, it might take up to several weeks to see improvements – especially if the symptom is related to a health condition.  On the other hand, children sometimes show remarkably quick improvement.  An example of this is a young girl who showed mood problems, low energy levels, ‘foggy head’, sore muscles and some digestive problems.  We suspected wheat as her diet was particularly high in this, being part of nearly every meal.  After cutting out all wheat and wheat-containing products (read the labels!), she felt very much better after only a month. In the first few days, she had felt worse, which is a well-known sign of withdrawal from a biochemical addiction. This was a confirmation that the approach was correct and luckily passed after only a short while.

If there are multiple food intolerances, identifying them may be a long and difficult process. Symptoms may not improve even if one suspected food is avoided because other culprit foods may be contributing to the symptoms.  In this case, it would be better to consider a test, for which you should consult a medical doctor with specific knowledge of allergies and intolerances.

Is there a cure for food intolerances?

There is no simple remedy for a condition that is a manifestation of the body’s inability to adapt to certain things, not least eating too much of the same foods too often.  The only real way to deal with a food intolerance is to avoid the food so as to reduce or eliminate the symptoms.

[1] Haynes, A J & Savill, A. 2005. The food intolerance bible. HarperThorsons: Berwick upon Tweed

Is fish on the menu tonight?


Eating fish is known to have many health benefits.  In this age of Covid-19 with the accompanying life stressors, it seems that children and adults may need to include more fish in their diets.

New research (published Monday, April 19 2021 in the journal Molecular Psychiatry) reveals that a high daily dose of omega-3 was shown to suppress damage and boost protection at a cellular level during and after a stressful event. This means that these valuable oils can help the body resist the damaging effects of stress.  Participants in the study were found to produce less of the stress hormone cortisol and lower levels of a pro-inflammatory protein during a stressful event (which was giving them a 20-minute speech and maths subtraction task).

The benefit to adults was clear and supports the existing studies that omega-3 oils can help with depression and accelerated aging brought on by repeated stress.  It can also be concluded that children can benefit equally, especially if they are exposed to stressful situations – as many of them are in current and on-going circumstances. Those who find learning difficult or who struggle with behavioural issues are particularly vulnerable to stress.

The research used high doses of an omega-3 supplement.  There are good omega-3 supplements available on the market but many of the best products are expensive.  As parents, we would be wise to introduce fish to our children at an early age and then make sure that our families eat a variety of oil-rich fish at least a few times a week.  Cold water, fatty fish are the best, and we are lucky in that we have a few varieties at hand, including hake, snoek and sardines.  

But do beware of how you cook the fish.  Coating them in a thick batter and frying portions in unhealthy oils is not the best option.  Try to leave the skin on (the oils tend to be close to the skin) and explore the options of baking, steaming and grilling.  Fish cakes might be enjoyed too.  There are many suggestions online of how to encourage children to eat fish so those might help you overcome resistance by any family members, no matter their age.


Good motor control boosts learning

There is ongoing evidence to support the need for plenty of sports and active play in pre-, primary and secondary schools. 

A study by Uppsala University and published in the journal Psychological Science showed that babies with good motor skills are better at solving problems that require good cognitive skills.  More specifically, the study had 18 month olds performing a motor control task that tested speed and deduction skills, and an executive task where the children were given three different cognitive problems to solve. These three problems included the child’s ability to resist touching an attractive toy when told not to, a working memory component where the children had to recall in which of several drawers a toy had been placed and lastly finding a way of opening a transparent box containing a toy by means of a lever.

The researcher found a link between how the children performed the motor control element and the cognitive elements. “The children who were quick and successful in the motor control element were better at the tasks that required working memory than the children who were slower. They were also better at stopping themselves from reaching for the sparkly toy. These findings indicate a link between children’s motor skills and their cognitive development. ‘The body might shape their mind’ – this is a strong argument for the importance of physical activity, for focusing on sports and active play in preschool,” says Janna Gottwald, the researcher.

She believes that knowing this link can help children with motor control issues. If this aspect receives attention and the child is given intensive help, they may be able to avoid learning problems later in life.

“If we can see early on that a child’s motor skills are not developing as expected, it could be a sign that the child needs help with cognitive development later in life. This gives us the chance to prevent problems and plan for special educational interventions early in school and preschool,” says Janna Gottwald.



Nutrition not important? Bah humbug!

Those of you who are familiar with Integrated Learning Therapy (ILT) will have realized that we take careful note of a child’s current diet as well as a history of eating patterns.  Most people discount this, believing that the fare on offer at supermarkets, restaurants and fast food outlets is acceptable and what people have always eaten – without consequences.  Many rely on ready-to-eat snacks, pastries, cakes and meals. Many believe that much of the food we give our children is healthy, such as muffins, crisps, dried fruits, fruit juices, fresh white bread and more.

This is contrary to evidence of what foods are good for the body and brain.  Time after time, we ILT practitioners see how changing a child’s diet brings about remarkable improvements in challenging behaviours, attention problems, mood, feelings of being unwell and ability to learn efficiently.   One of the first signs that we often see is that children appear calmer and more in control of themselves.

A combination of poor choice of food and overuse of some medications, like antibiotics, causes unpleasant side effects in a child’s systems, one being ‘leaky gut,’ which sees a breakdown in the integrity of the intestinal wall. This allows content from the gut to move into the blood stream, where it certainly doesn’t belong.  Symptoms of this often show up as a child who complains of not feeling well, being overly emotional, constantly tired and unable to focus on schoolwork.   A recent case study saw one (initially) sceptical mom returning with her child to report on changes after following a strict diet for one month. She said that she was surprised that her child had easily conformed to the restricted diet and neither complained about or resisted it. At this stage, the child turned to his mom and said “Yes, but I like that my stomach doesn’t hurt after eating anymore.”  This was the first time that mom had heard of this and she was surprised but also very pleased at the positive result.

So consider your child’s diet and your choice of what you feed your family.  There are ways of getting healthy foods onto the table in a short time. It might take a little research and planning but the rewards are great.   And if you are struggling, there are professionals out there to help.



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