Benefits of Handwriting

Research indicates that handwriting and cursive skills are helpful for children in a number of ways. I know some readers will hold that typing can serve the same function. I am not discussing the benefits of typing at this time, and focusing on what we know about handwriting, specifically cursive handwriting. Perhaps this can be a topic for another time.

Spelling Benefits:
In some learners the break-free rhythm of cursive handwriting gives kinesthetic learners a better opportunity to learn spelling and to allow flow thoughts uninterrupted. Other research indicates that thoughts experience a “bottle neck” when many breaks between writing or typing need to take place. Fluid transfer of information through handwriting is a low level system that allows more brain activity for upper level systems to handle information. Further studies illustrate that while children can use word processing programs to convey information, there is still much need for paper note-taking and spelling benefits attained with handwriting skills carry over into word processing platforms.

Emotional/Psychological Benefits:
For the kinesthetic learner, cursive handwriting can offer a cathartic experience through the ability to engage in constant movement. There is a connection between handwriting and self-esteem. Some studies indicate that students with well formed handwriting feel better about themselves and the ideas they are putting on paper. Alternatively, poor handwriting may lead to a false assessments of ones written ideas and writing ability. When writing fluidly, one may have extended focus when compared to using a dimensional tool such a computer for typing.

Content Retention Benefits:
The effects on spelling have already been discussed, however the general concept retention model has not been explained. This is particularly helpful to children with learning disabilities as some LD students may need additional cycles in the working memory loop. In this loop there are four parts; central executive, phonological, visual-spatial, and episodic buffer. The first part deals with general functions regarding processing content, phonological is a short term storage function like saying a list a number of times in one’s head in order to recall it later, the third is process where what is seen can be relegated to longer term mental storage, and episodic is short term storage. For children that have deficits in other parts of the working memory loop, additional chances to write information can help compensate by utilizing the visual-spatial portion of the loop. Likewise, if that is where the deficit is, additional work with this category is also helpful. This concept is basically the one of “if you write it, you are more likely to remember it.” To be fair the study did not assess if “you type it” what will happen.

Sheffield, B. (January 01, 1996). Handwriting: A neglected cornerstone of literacy. Annals of Dyslexia, 46, 1, 21-35.
Schlagal, Bob. “Best practices in spelling and handwriting.” Best practices in writing instruction (2007): 179-201.
Boyle, J. R. (May 01, 2012). Note-Taking and Secondary Students with Learning Disabilities: Challenges and Solutions. Learning Disabilities Research & Practice, 27, 2, 90-101.

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Benefits of Handwriting by Clarissa Jarem is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

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The Benefits of our Multi-lingual and Sensory Play Exposure Classes

This post is to address the benefits we believe children receive from our early language-sensory exposure classes. This early language exposure provides children with three primary benefits. First, the sensory benefit of keeping neuro-pathways open for future language acquisition, the second, an anti-bias approach to diversity that allows the child to assimilate other cultural norms into their own concept of deep culture, and third, a prime opportunity for deep caregiver bonding.

The primary difference of our program from others is that while we aspire to expose your child to language, we are not aiming to teach the child a new language. One might find themselves asking, “What is the point?” The point is that research suggests that children have the ability to hear far more sounds before the ages of 6 months, 3 years, and 7 years than adults. Our goal is to keep as many of those pathways open as possible. We aim to focus a 10 week sessions onto four different languages. In this way, we hope to expose families in such a way that they will hear the sounds repeated four times times and ideally take some words and phrases home to practice.
A sample schedule will appear to be like this:
Week 1 – Language A
Week 2 – Language B
Week 3 – Language C
Week 4 – Language D
Week 5 – Review of all four languages
and then another 5 weeks starting with language A and moving on until Week 10 is a four language review session.

During each class, we will focus on a handful of words in another language and use them synonymous with their English equivalents. We will enhance the effectiveness of the language use with stories, games, dances, songs, and toys that utilize the words in action.

Hearing the words in action is the platform through which we integrate our anti-bias diversity approach. The goal of this approach is to embed cultural elements into our curriculum. For example if we are learning Spanish words for animals. We will play with age-appropriate animal toys so that we can use our vocabulary with concrete models. We may learn a Spanish song that relates to an animal we discussed, such as Los Pollitos Dicen. We aim to incorporate traditional cultural props such as the inclusion of a castanets in our instruments basket that week. We will also read a book in Spanish or a story that includes cultural dress and/art such as

La noche que se cayo la luna by Pat Mora.

Bear in mind that we are aware that there are differences between countries like Mexico, Spain, Chile, etc. We do not intend that all Spanish culture is alike, but that we are integrating all of these cultures into our own home culture.

And lastly, we desire to encourage healthy bonding and attachment between caregiver and child. It is well known in the field of psychology that doing new things together and learning together helps create a bond. Also, in our space, caregiver/child interactions are encouraged. The focus is on the families, not the teacher. Our goal is to pass on some new songs to sing to your little one, some new games to play, and some dedicated time to focus on your child. We understand that life is full of “stuff to do”. The great thing is, that host of what to do’s is left at the doorstep when you walk into an OTB class. For one hour a week, you and baby can focus on playing together. What we have been excited to find in the past is that we learn more from our babies than they learn from us.

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Music and Curriculum

Music and curriculum – a “win-win” situation for all.

My favorite part of this post had to do with using music to steer appropriate class behavior. I have used this time and time again. For fast-paced lessons, pick up the bpm to above 150. Time for rest or test taking? Reduce the bpm down to 90. Our body’s rhythms want to sync with the music we are listening to.

If its time for serious thinking, play music that does not have lyrics or possesses lyrics in a language that is not understood. Also, adjust music for different transition times. I’ve effectively memorized playlists to pace my teaching to the track being played. This is much more effective than watching the clock and becomes second nature.

Teaching with music is a fluid art. Like all arts, the practice is necessary. Take the time to test out different forms, different artists, different methods.

We have probably all used music for memory devices, “50 Nifty” or “ABC’s” anyone? However, music can go far above and beyond that. We can use music to evaluate our gender bias…such as “Where is thumbkin?”
In the traditional version the song reads:

“Where is thumbkin, where is thumbkin
Here I am, here I am
How are you today, SIR?
Very well, I thank you
Run away, Run away”

Of course, we ignore the element of gender bias in this song most of the time. Its become ingrained in our memory, and we rarely think about those second nature habits. If you want to bring a sense of gender equality into your classroom, try this alternative version:

“”Where is thumbkin, where is thumbkin

Here I am, here I am
How are you today, FRIEND?
Very well, I thank you
Run away, Run away”

Music also offers a chance for much needed brain breaks. Here are some ways to incorporate brain breaks into your day:

Start your day with some yoga, just 5-10 minutes. Listen to some soothing music. Cheb I Sabbah is a good name to start with, if you’ve got Pandora, he’s a great artist station and so is Paramahansa Yogananda.

After focusing on a settled activity for a long period of time, such as reading, quiet play, puzzles, art use music to bring some movement into your day. Play some fast beats and get jumping around. I highly recommend the Tooty-ta for children under the age of 9. Its silly, but I’ve been known to pull this out on my phone while outside of an art music, while waiting for our bus to pick us back up for a field trip. There is nothing like dancing the tooty-ta in public to bring humility and a sense of joy to your life.

For babies, music for major transitions can also be helpful. Some parents find that consistent music or white noise used for sleep routines helps children adjust to the change in pace and environment. I have found that creating a silly diaper changing/potty song helps infants and toddlers with hygiene moments they might otherwise wish to avoid and wiggle-fight their way through.

Above all, use music as a way to connect with and bond with your children. As a parent or educator, attachment is crucial. Music is that element of environment that can link us, even when its difficult to find the words to say how we feel. Music and Curriculum–Win Win, is right!

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Whole Foods Seattle Whole Chicken on Sale

Whole Foods Seattle Whole Chicken on Sale

For one day only, Feb. 22, 2013. Whole Foods is having a $1.99/lb sale on whole, local raised, organic chickens. This is quite the deal!

We are not paid to promote this bargain, this is a PSA for our local community. This ad was featured at the Roosevelt location at 1026 NE 64th St Seattle, WA 98115

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Poll Me Maybe?

Poll Me Maybe?

Friends, OTB has a poll over on its Facebook page to identify what topic caregivers would prefer to address in a workshop. I am planning to begin offering workshops in late March or early April and would like to know what the most pressing concerns parents have are. 

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Baby, Let’s Get Cookin’

Some emergent lessons that are greatly supported by all of OTB’s inspirations, is cooking. Children usually LOVE cooking. The exceptions I have seen are when caregivers are a bit jumpy about it and are so concerned the child will get hurt that they don’t step back and let the child learn. This post holds some suggestions on ways to get your little one into the kitchen and how to maximize the learning potential while cooking.

Step one: Get the child in the kitchen! “But I have a baby,” you say, “my toddler is nothing but trouble,” you say, “my preschooler wants to help, but they aren’t really helping.” I know. I never suggested that this makes cooking easier or more fun for you (in the beginning) but I promise, it becomes easier and more fun. There is just a short time when there is a learning curve about the rules of the kitchen. This post is about getting your baby into the kitchen.

Careful its hot! But they knives cut.
These are essential lessons for little ones and one that parents are not likely to want to have their child learn by experience. Here are a few tactics for different ages on how to touch on what not to touch.

This is a very abstract concept for babies. But here is one that is NOT abstract…pain. All babies have felt some pain, they’ve all rolled over, crawled, or toddled around and fallen or bumped their head. They may have a pet or older sibling that has bitten, scratched, or pinched them. And please, don’t hide them from these mild injuries. Pain is a part of the learning process and it isn’t a negative thing, its a natural consequence, a lesson built into a circumstance. One way to get started on identifying pain in babies and toddlers is with the sign “hurt”. This sign is easy for babies to see and perform. It takes the two index fingers and brings them together. Head over to Signing Saavy to see it. Whenever your child gets hurt, touch what hurts and then sign hurt. This can also be of great benefit once your baby is teething considerably and you’ll know when to bring out the baby pain reliever.

Expand on the concept of hurt. When in the kitchen show the baby certain things that can hurt. Get down on their level and crawl around with them. Touch the oven and sign hurt and then add the sign for hot. This is a c under the chin and carried away from your body. For babies, I use just holding my hand above whatever the hot thing is. Some more info about the sign for hot is here. When working with a knife show your baby the knife and even guide their hand close but stop it fast and say “hurt” and perform the sign for hurt. This will associate a sense of necessary caution with the object. A good way to approach this with older babies that may have some verbal ability is to say, “This is a mommy/daddy/grandma/nanny job. This is not a baby job. This is a baby job.” and hand your little one an acceptable tool, such as a spoon or whisk. If they are bored with their old well known tools, try and find something new, like a ladle or turkey baster, you may have not introduced before. This may also be a good time to invest in a toy cutting set that has a wooden knife that is safe. Some gourmet kitchen stores may also sell very dull wooden cheese knives that can be alternatives to the sharp scary ones. Now that you’ve got some communication tools (and make sure you speak and sign at the same time) let’s add some ways to get off the floor with baby.


I advocate for baby wearing. Most experts recommend that you wait until they are old enough to ride on back and throw em back there. I am not recommending you follow suit with me, but I did not wait. Although this picture represents the “safe” way to have baby cook with you, I brought my daughter into the kitchen in a front hold at about 3 months old, once she was able to hold her head stable. You may notice that the baby here is holding a wooden spoon. A great tactic for introducing baby to the kitchen is to introduce them to the tools they’ll be using.

A Piaget inspired method may be to bring lots of tools down and spread them on the floor or on the tray of a high chair. This leaves the baby with a chance at open free play. Some ideas for what could be used beyond the wooden spoon and tupperware; whisk, metal spoons, plastic plates, plastic cups, and of the course the pots and pans. I know its loud, but gosh its satisfying to a baby.

Talk with your little one about what you are doing. If you are mixing sauce, you can incorporate a Waldorf inspired technique of signing what you are doing. Don’t worry if you aren’t singing well, your child doesn’t care. And if you don’t know how to make up tunes, don’t worry, use one you already know. To the tune of the farmer in the dell, “the cup adds the flour, the cup adds the flour, high ho, a dario, the cup adds the flour, the spoon stirs the batter, the spoon stirs the batter, nothing else matters, as the spoon stirs the batter” and so on. Get silly with, bring your baby into it. The baby pictured above is hold enough to help stir. Make sure you review hot and maybe even guide baby’s hand down low enough to feel some heat and then remind them that hot can hurt. Give em a spoon and help guide the stirring. “My baby’s name is stirring, my baby’s name is stirring, high-ho-a-dario, my baby’s name is stirring.”

Another angle:
Use this as an excuse to introduce foods. While cooking with a baby that is testing new foods, try ensuring that you are cooking yourself some of these foods too. Seeing you eat the same foods, will inspire baby to want to try it. Have you ever had that experience, “Why do I even serve my baby her own food, all she wants is mine?” (If you are a new parent and not to that stage yet…don’t worry, you will get there.)
So steam up some carrots, pull them off and use your fingers to squish them up and feed a little to your baby’s mouth. While you are cooking the carrots, give a cold one to your baby to gnaw on. Chances are they aren’t strong enough or have enough teeth to take a bite, but they will have a chance to soothe those gums with a flavored chew toy.

Last step – Bring the kitchen out of the kitchen. Melissa and Doug make a great series of play food. These are typically rated for 3 and up. It used to be that Melissa and Doug were dedicated to using safe paints, but that may have changed as manufacturing may have moved out of the United States. This may be one reason for the 3+ rating. Another reason may be that the foods, being wood, are heavy and could definitely result in injury if tossed across the room. This toy may best be supervised with babies but is a good way to bring the tools of the kitchen down to their level. Of course, you don’t need to buy much, just bringing down those same supplies listed above, your baby will find a way to make it entertaining. And if they are engaged, they are learning.

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The Very Hungry Caterpillar Sandwich

The Very Hungry Caterpillar Sandwich

My daughter loves Eric Carle and his delightful and well illustrated stories. This is from one of her birthday parties when she requested Very Hungry Caterpillar food.

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Our Educational Philosophy

Education is more than curriculum and academic success. Children begin school with an inherent wisdom that tells them anything is possible. It is a teacher’s responsibility to offer opportunities to expand that imagination. Creativity is what allows students to realize their dreams. To actualize each individual to the highest potential, teachers must focus on educating artists. And the art is learning.

At Out of the Box, we focus on developing the art of learning. What is learning? Learning as defined by is “The acquisition of knowledge or skills through experience, practice, or study, or by being taught.” Here, at Out of the Box, learning is not just knowledge, but also wisdom. How do young children, toddlers, even infants gain wisdom? They are just as capable of being wise and in our experience just as wise or wiser than many adults. Children have no filter instructing them to disregard their feelings. A newborn has inborn wisdom of how to elicit caregiver responses so that its needs are met. (1) A baby or toddler has a natural ability to test a variety of hypotheses and determine a solution faster than a super computer. (2) These are just a few in a host of examples illustrating how children are gifted with acquisition of knowledge and wisdom and why we need to be building a child’s educational foundations in this belief.
Additionally, it is our belief that every child has a unique range of individual potential. This potential may be partially assessed in the framework of identifying multiple intelligence. Even as young as three months old, we have seen babies with affinities for some forms of intelligence (as defined by Howard Gardner) over others. Some children may favor musical learning over sequential learning, others may tune into verbal skills long before they pick up kinesthetic, and still more will have a combination of any set of the ten different intelligences. Our aim is to be tuned into to each individual child and find a way to maximize their learning potential by using their intelligence strengths to advance both existing strengths and places where they exhibit room for growth.
How? Primarily through a collection of skills derived from Piaget, Montessori, and Steiner philosophical models. Piaget believed strongly in different developmental stages and we agree that at the earliest stages that children need to be engaged in play with concrete materials. Steiner has inspired our program with the importance of rigor, relationship, and relevance. Combined with the other approaches, these necessary components of childhood embody the answer to the age old childhood question, “WHY?”. Maria Montessori believed it was important that children get opportunities to experience the real world and thus came the Montessori term, “going out”. This “going out” is the basis for the “acquisition of culture” Where Montessori believed this stage began at age 6, we believe that this stage begins at birth, when language acquisition begins. Thus, our program aims to bring much of the learning out of a box-like classroom and into the world.

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