Monthly Archive: November 2014

The holidays are upon us and the frenzied gift-giving chaos is in full swing! Today I want to pass along some great toy ideas for your children that will build their brains. These are toys and games that get your children thinking and moving creatively while building brain cells.  When I was a kid, my favorite toy were my blocks. I spent hours building and creating things with those blocks. Did you know that parents rarely purchase blocks anymore for their kids? In fact, cultural critic Roland Barthes lamented in the 1970s that the wooden blocks children used to play with were in decline, and it was sad because now children were taught to be users and not creators. Childhood is a time to help our children learn to express their inner-self so those creative juices will continue into their adult lives.  How to do this?–supply them with toys that nurture their creativity…

 The toys listed below will stimulate your children’s imaginations and teach them to be creators and not just users.

 I talked with educational therapist Alene Villaneda (Integrated Learning Strategies) regarding the best toys for children that will build their brains, enhance their ability to think and encourage interactive play. Here is a list of toys and games that she suggests.

(I would also suggest that you get the CD, Baby Dance to play while your child is engrossed in these toys—it is the perfect musical addition!)

 Note: here are 7 toys and next week I will add another 6 toys to this list

Toy #1: Kidoozie Super Skipper (Musical Skipper)

This skipper makes a pretty cool playmate on a day when your child is alone or with a friend. The electronic base has 2 telescoping poles that rotate in 3 different speeds for jumping in tandem. Try to keep up with the spinning poles and accompanying music by jumping in time and avoiding them. It includes an acceleration mode that gradually gets faster. Poles fold up for easy storage.

 Ages: 3 years and up

How it builds the brain: increases timing, rhythm, balance, and coordination. Have your child jump over it to a rhythm. You can adjust the bars and the speed (think old-fashioned jump-roping).


Toy #2: Boomwhackers

Boomwhackers 1

Boomwhackers are eight musically tuned percussion tubes. To play, each person holds one or two of these perfectly tuned percussion tubes and whacks them against his arm, thigh, or any hard surface to produce a sound. The harder the surface, the brighter the sound will be. The tubes are various lengths and will produce various tones. They are available in diatonic and chromatic scales as well as treble extension, bass diatonic, pentatonic, and with octavator caps.

 Ages: Learning to play these instruments is amazingly fun for children of all ages. They can be played individually, but it is recommended that the tubes are played as a group, which means they are great for families and classroom settings.

How it builds the brain: They take some practice, but they are perfect for building a sense of rhythm and timing which in turn organizes the brain.


Toy #3: Perplexus


Master the challenge of the crazy, fun world of Perplexus! Inside the Perplexus Original you’ll face 22 feet worth of challenging twists, turns and obstacles! Flip, twist, and spin Perplexus to move the ball along the numbered path. When you fall off the track, head back to the start and try again. There are multiple levels of difficulty to master! Try the Perplexus Rookie, Perplexus Epic and Perplexus Twist. They’re easy to play, but hard to master. It’s a bendy, trendy, can’t put it down challenge!

 Ages: Recommended for five and up.

How it builds the brain: Helps with visual tracking


Toy #4: Qwirkle


Qwirkle is as simple as matching colors and shapes, but this game also requires tactical maneuvers and well-planned strategy. Earn points by building rows and columns of blocks that share a common shape or color. Look for opportunities to score big by placing a tile that touches multiple pieces with matching attributes. The player with the most points wins! 108 wooden blocks.

 Ages: Two to four players; ages 6 and up

How it builds the brain: These help with patterning; associating symbols—like scrabble, but rather than using letters, your child connects with shapes and colors


Toy #5: Ankle Skipper (also called: Geospace Sparkler LED Whip ‘N Skip Ankle Skip Rope)


An oldie-but-goodie for good reason, the Skipper has kept up with on-the-go kids for generations! This is a fun way to build coordination and balance (and to burn energy). This updated version’s built-in revolution counter and six flashing LEDs kick the fun up a notch, so kids can cook up friendly competitions with themselves or other kids. Takes 2 AAA batteries (not included); cord is 30″ long.

 Ages: For ages 5 and up

How it builds the brain: About coordination and timing—gross motor


Toy #6: Infinite Loop


Grip the two handles to open and close the track; and have the ball run through the tracks without having the ball fall off the track.

 Ages: 4 and up

How it builds the brain: This toy is great for coordination and hand-eye movement—visual tracking—uses the figure 8 to do it


Toy #7: Picasso Tiles


60 piece set Magnet Building Tiles Clear 3D color Magnetic Building Blocks – Creativity beyond Imagination!
Inspirational: Fun and entertaining, perfect educational presents for school age children that will never go out of style
Recreational: Entertaining for single or multiple parties, great for parent-to-child bonding with hours of fun quality time. Easy to construct and easy to put away for storage.
 Unconventional: Unlike typical toys, each piece of tiles can be replaced and more tiles can always be added to build objects as big as desired.

 Ages: 2 and up

How it builds the brain: Increases the visual/spatial areas of the brain. Picasso Tiles inspire youngsters learning by playing, children will acquire a strong sense of colors, geometrical shapes including 3D forms, number counts, magnetic polars, as well as the creativity which is the key factor to success in today’s ever changing environment.

Stay tuned for six more brain-building toy suggestions next Monday


Sharlene 2014


child profile looking in fthe camera while playing piano

(Note: this is the last blogpost in a series of three that I’ve published over the last month)

Today we are discussing another important part of the brain that music strengthens—the motor areas of the brain.

 Brain-builder #3: Music strengthens the motor areas for brain organization and memory skills…

 Learning a musical instrument and being engaged in music develops the motor areas of our brain—which is important for the development and organization of the entire neurological system. “Let’s Play Music” as well as other music programs use both the Orff-Shulwerk and Dalcroze programs—both of which strengthen the motor areas of the brain.  Here’s how:

 When a young child pounds on rhythm instruments, claps her hands, stamps her feet, snaps her fingers or marches around the room—it is similar to a baby learning to crawl—and all these activities organize the brain; helps the child to remain focused, and increases memorization skills. These specific body movements are found in the Orff-Schulwerk program.


 Dalcroze incorporates the use of specific movements called eurhythmics.  Children move their bodies to the beat of the music and the body is trained like an instrument. Many different senses come together in the Dalcroze experience: seeing, hearing, feeling and moving.


Scientists say that movement is an indispensable part of learning and thinking. Dancing and moving to the music, marching, singing, whistling melodies, humming tunes all boost a child’s language, listening and motor skills. They also help develop physical coordination, timing and memory.


 So there you have it. If you want to build a bigger, better brain; one that functions at a higher level; one that helps children to read; increases language development; boosts memory; aids in the learning of math and science; and enhances motor skills—then start learning a musical instrument. It will be the best thing you do for your brain—and your overall feeling of well-being! Plus, it is just plain fun!


Sharlene 2014


Chicken coming out of a brown egg

I don’t know about you, but I really do dislike eggs! In fact, I’ve disliked them since I was a kid. I will only eat them scrambled, deviled or in an omelet– and even that is pushing it. In the movie, “Julie & Julia,” (about the girl that takes Julia Child’s cookbook and cooks/bakes every recipe in the book in one year) Julie says that when she tried an egg for the first time, she thought they were wonderful; they had an amazing smooth texture, and she loved them. “Yum” she said. I almost gagged! That is NOT my experience with eggs.

 But, here’s the rub about eggs—they are good for you. In fact, they are extremely good for you. They contain so many important amino acids and vitamins that whether you like them or not—you need to eat them. I force myself to have them at least 3-4x per week.


 Here are half-dozen reasons why you need eggs—and I added a 7th for good measure:

Reason #1: Full of Protein: eggs have 6 grams of high quality protein. Eggs are called “brain food” because they sustain mental and physical energy!

 Reason #2: Have 9 Essential Amino Acids: Amino acids are the building blocks of protein and eggs have all 9 essential amino acids—including leucine, histidine, valine, threonine, isoleucine, phenylalaine, tryptophan, methionine, and lysine. Every amino acid is important and helps the body in some way.


 Reason #3: Rich in Choline: Eggs are rich in choline—one of the B vitamins that supports normal cell activity, liver function and the transportation of nutrients throughout the body.

 Reason #4: High in cholesterol: A single egg contains 212 mg, which is over half of the recommended daily intake of 300 mg. However… it’s important to keep in mind that cholesterol in the diet doesn’t necessarily raise cholesterol in the blood. And 70% of the people who eat eggs do not see a difference in their cholesterol—at all!

 Reason #5: No Gluten: since most of the flours today are made from genetically modified wheat and contain 40x the amount of gluten—no wonder people are having gluten issues! So, if you are going gluten-free—you can still eat eggs without any worries!


 Reason #6: Contain Lutein and Zeaxanthin–Antioxidants that Benefit the Eyes: eggs contain all of these nutrients/antioxidants and they all contribute to eye health. They also counteract some of the degenerative processes that can affect our eyes. But you need to eat the yolk—this is where most of these antioxidants are found!

 Reason #7: Vitamin B12: it is difficult to get B12 if you are a vegetarian because some of the best sources of B12 are found in red meat. And forget about taking a B12 pill—the body can’t absorb them. The best way to get B12 is from a shot. However, if you are eating eggs—you are getting the elusive B12—and absorbing it! So, that is why you feel a shot of energy without the shot!


 Bottom line: Eggs are a Perfect Food—so get eating them! I’ll be posting a great recipe for fall and it uses 6 eggs. It’s called: Apple Puff Pancake—watch for it!


Sharlene 2014


These Nachos are great for any occasion, but they are extra fun to make around different holidays–such as Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Super Bowl Sunday, etc.  My family loves them and they do not think Christmas Eve or the Super Bowl is complete without them. They are tasty and although considered an appetizer, they are filling enough to include with the main dish. The filling can be made a day ahead as well as the fried tortillas. If you do make them in advance, make certain you put the fried tortillas in a plastic bag and the filling in the fridge. These are so good, there are usually no leftovers. They are a little labor intensive, but definitely worth it!




8 corn tortillas

Vegetable Oil for frying

2 Tablespoons butter

1 can (17 oz) refried beans

2 cups sharp Cheddar cheese, shredded

1 bunch green onions, chopped

1 clove garlic, chopped

2 cans (4 oz., each) diced green chilies (mild)

Salt & Pepper to taste

1 cup Jack Cheese, shredded


Directions for the Tortillas:

Cut the tortillas into quarters.

Place on the kitchen drain and allow to dry out overnight.

Pour enough vegetable oil into a large skillet to cover the bottom by ¼ inch.

Heat until hot (about 400 degrees) and fry tortillas in batches, turning with tongs until crisp

They will cook very fast!

Drain on paper towels.


Directions for the topping:

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees

Melt the butter in a saucepan

Stir in the beans, 1 cup Cheddar cheese, the green onions, garlic, and chilies

Cook, stirring until the mixture is heated through and the cheese is melted

Season to taste with the salt & pepper


Directions for both tortilla and topping:

Spread each tortilla wedge with some of the bean mixture

Sprinkle with the remaining Cheddar and Jack cheeses

Place them on a baking sheet

Bake at 400 degrees for 6-8 minutes or until the cheese is melted

Serve hot



Sharlene 2014

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