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Child Vaccinations – The Facts: Keeping Our Children Healthy

Both the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the World Health Organization (WHO) list vaccination as the greatest, and most cost-effective, public health achievement of the 20th century. The WHO estimates that immunization and child vaccinations currently avert an estimated 2 to 3 million deaths every year, but if global vaccination rates improve, an additional 1.5 million deaths could be avoided. However, the rate of global child vaccinations coverage, which is the proportion of the world’s children who receive recommended vaccines, has remained constant for the past few years.

Child vaccinations have saved many lives all over the world

Child vaccinations

In 2015, about 116 million children worldwide under the age of 1 received their recommended doses of the diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis vaccine. This and other vaccines protect these children against serious illnesses or disabilities, with some diseases even being fatal. Vaccination is one of the best ways parents can protect infants, children, and teens from serious, and potentially harmful diseases. Vaccines basically work by helping the body’s natural defenses to help it safely develop immunity to disease, and reducing the risk of infection. Vaccines help the body develop that immunity by imitating the bacteria or virus, without causing actual illness. The vaccine causes the immune system to develop the same response as it does to a real infection so the body can recognize and fight the germs in the future.

Child vaccinations: What is a vaccine?

A vaccine is a biological preparation that improves immunity to a particular disease. A vaccine is made from or contains an agent that resembles a disease-causing microorganism. This agent is made from weakened or killed form of the microbe, its toxins, or one of its surface proteins. The active agent stimulates the body’s immune system to recognize the agent as foreign, destroy it, and then “remember” it, so that the immune system can easily recognize and destroy any of these microorganisms that may enter the body later.
The CDC and other physicians work to update the vaccine recommendations and schedules every year based on the latest research and science. Immunizations have had a very large impact on improving the health of everyone in the United States. Vaccine-preventable diseases can be very serious, or even deadly, especially in infants and young children.

Child vaccinations: What is the purpose of a vaccine?

Child vaccination rates are holding steady globally

Every year, thousands of Americans get sick from diseases that could be prevented by vaccines. Some of these people are hospitalized, or may even die. However, vaccines have greatly reduced the occurrence of diseases that once infected or killed many infants, children, and adults regularly, and with severe consequences. And, since the germs that cause this vaccine-preventable disease still exist, and can be spread to people who are not protected by vaccines, getting immunized is the best protection against these diseases. The recommended vaccines and the vaccine schedules for children, teens, and adults are based on factors such as age, previous health conditions, lifestyle, jobs, and travel.
Recently, there have been measles outbreaks in several states. The number of measles cases in 2008 nearly tripled to a total of 140 cases. Most of these cases were linked to a just few unvaccinated children who had traveled out of the United States. The number of measles outbreaks continues to rise, and this brings up another point: unvaccinated children can put others, even vaccinated children at risk for getting a vaccine-preventable disease. This can be because they were too young to receive the vaccination, could not be vaccinated, or because the vaccine they received did not work. Vaccination is important because it protects not only the person or child who gets the vaccine, but it also helps to keep diseases, like measles, from spreading to other children and adults.

Child vaccination schedule

According to the CDC, these are the vaccines that are routinely given to children up to 18 years old, which are all on the latest immunization schedule to protect them against 15 vaccine-preventable illnesses. Unlike diseases such as smallpox, none of these illnesses has been eradicated, even with the available vaccines against these viruses and bacteria:

  • Hepatitis B1 (HepB) – Hepatitis B is a viral infection that attacks the liver.
    Rotavirus – Rotavirus is the most common cause of severe diarrhoeal disease in young children in the world.
  • Diphtheria, tetanus, & acellular pertussis (DTaP) – Diphtheria produces a toxin when in the respiratory system, and produces a toxin that destroys the healthy tissues and may spread to the bloodstream and affect the heart, kidney, and nerves. Tetanus is caused by a bacteria that also produces a toxin in the body that causes painful muscle contractions and lockjaw. Pertussis, or whooping cough, causes uncontrollable, violent coughing which often makes it hard to breathe.
  • Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib) – Haemophilus influenzae causes meningitis and pneumonia.
  • Pneumococcal conjugate – This vaccine protects against Streptococcus pneumoniae, which causes pneumonia and meningitis, and other types of pneumococcal infections. This includes bronchitis, rhinitis, acute sinusitis, conjunctivitis, sepsis, septic arthritis, endocarditis, pericarditis, and brain abscess.
  • Inactivated poliovirus – Polio is highly contagious and can cause irreversible paralysis.
  • Influenza – The flu is caused by a rapidly evolving virus, and so the vaccine must evolve right along with it.
  • Measles, mumps, rubella (MMR) – Measles usually results in a high fever and rash and can lead to blindness, encephalitis or death. Mumps causes painful swelling at the side of the face under the ears (the parotid glands), fever, headache, and muscle aches, and can lead to viral meningitis. Rubella can lead to defects of the brain, heart, eyes and ears.
  • Varicella (VAR) – Varicella, otherwise known as chickenpox, can cause complications such as pneumonia, inflammation of the brain, or bacterial infections of the skin. It is more severe in adults.
  • Hepatitis A (HepA) – Hepatitis A is an infectious disease of the liver caused by a virus and causes nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, jaundice, fever, and abdominal pain.
  • Meningococcal A – Meningitis is an acute inflammation of the protective membranes covering the brain and spinal cord. It can cause permanent severe brain damage and is often deadly.
  • Tetanus, diphtheria, & acellular pertussis (Tdap) – This vaccine is similar to the DTaP vaccine, but has different concentrations of the dosage.
  • Human papillomavirus (HPV) – the most common viral infection of the reproductive tract, and can cause cervical cancer, other types of cancer, and genital warts in both men and women.
  • Meningococcal B – This vaccine protects against serotype B meningococcal disease, a different form of meningitis.
  • Pneumococcal polysaccharide (PPSV23) – This vaccine is recommended for children and adults in high-risk groups, such as those with heart conditions, lung conditions, HIV, or some cancers.

Although not a part of the routine child vaccination schedule, vaccines are available to protect against a number of other vaccine-preventable diseases, including cholera, yellow fever, typhoid, rabies, and tuberculosis.
There has been so much progress made in vaccine research and development during recent years, and also in several countries. Just last year in 2016, WHO declared that the world is closer than ever to eradicating polio, and the virus is restricted to just a few areas of Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Nigeria. The Global Vaccine Action Plan (GVAP) is working to provide more equitable access to vaccines and aiming to achieve adult and child vaccinations coverage of at least 90% nationally and at least 80% in every district by 2020. It also works to stimulate research and development for the next generation of vaccines. Currently, more than 80 vaccines are in the late stages of clinical testing, including vaccines for malaria and dengue fever.
With new research and information emerging constantly, educating yourself and avoiding vaccine misinformation can help make sure that you and your children are fully vaccinated and safe from vaccine-preventable diseases.

If you have any questions, leave me a comment below and I’ll answer as quickly as possible 🙂

References:

CDC. Recommended Immunization Schedule for Children and Adolescents Aged 18 Years or Younger, UNITED STATES, 2017. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/schedules/hcp/child-adolescent.html.

American Academy of Pediatrics Policy Statement. Recommended Childhood and Adolescent Immunization Schedule. Pediatrics. 2011;127;387-388.

American Academy of Pediatrics Policy Statement. Increasing Immunization Coverage, 2011. Pediatrics. 2010;125(6);1295-1304.

WHO. Immunization Coverage. 2017. Retrieved from http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs378/en/

15 Ways to Train Your Brain Before School Starts

Summer is coming to a close soon for many of us. Going back to school can be exciting for those of us who love to work our minds to the fullest every single day. However, the majority of us tend to suffer from “Summer Brain Drain,” where our brains become lazy due to severe learning loss after the school year finishes. This feeling of inner lethargy overtakes most of us as we spend our vacation months in full relaxation mode. If you feel you have suffered from the pains of summer brain drain for the past few months, then don’t worry! There’s still plenty of time to train your brain before school starts so that we can enter into the new school year with a productive attitude and a strong brain ready for success!

1. How long is the normal summer vacation?
  • In the US, most schools have a 3 month summer vacation
2. How long does it take students to forget almost all of the information they've learned?
  • We start forgetting information as soon as 1 day after learning new information, but after 30 days we only remember about 2-3% of what we've learned!
3. When students return back to school after summer vacation, how long does it take them (on average) to re-learn all the material they were taught the previous school year?
  • According to Dr. Harris Cooper, a psychology professor at the University of Missouri-Columbia, students lose about 1-3 months of learning during summer break. This means that teachers must invest at least 4-6 weeks in order to re-teach past material that students should already know coming into the new school year. Therefore, if students return to school at the beginning of September, they might be spending all their school days re-learning old material until Halloween.
4. Which of the following activities DOESN'T keep your brain sharp?
  • Watching TV is a passive activity and requires very little work on our brain's part. Do something that makes your brain work!
5. Is sleep good or bad for our memory?
  • Sleep is always good, as long as it's restorative and not out of boredom. Our bodies need sleep to help us integrate all of the new information we've learned!

One great point to note is that anyone can strengthen his or her brain power at any age! Many people have the misconception that only adolescents and adults in their 20s to 30s have the potential to increase their brain stamina, but this is not true. Due to neuroplasticity, where the brain gradually forms new neural pathways and reacts to changing circumstances, our brains have the ability to adapt to any situation, even in old age.

Neuroplasticity is what will guide our brains to reach its ultimate manpower. Once you build positive learning habits and regularly engage in beneficial activities for your brain, the neurons in your brain will increase and the pre-existing ones will be strengthened even more than before. This will help you to improve in your cognitive abilities, enhance your learning potential, and widen your field of memory.

Here are 15 Tips to Train Your Brain Before School Starts:

1. Exercise

Probably one of the most important ways to keep your brain in tip-top shape is to exercise! Working out your body will increase the levels of oxygen flowing to your brain and will reduce your risk for disorders that lead to memory loss, like Alzheimer’s disease or dementia. It can even prevent diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Usually, for patients suffering from many physical and mental illnesses, their first suggestion for wellness is to exercise. Even if you’re not really into cardio or heavy-weight training, a simple 30-minute jog will do just the trick!

Exercising regularly enhances the release of special neurotransmitters called endorphins. These include dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin, which contribute to your overall mood and reduce your stress and anxiety levels.

Also, exercise contributes to neuroplasticity by boosting growth factors and stimulating new interneuron connections.

2. Read

If you want to improve your brain functioning on multiple levels, then you should read more in your spare time. Whether it be from fictional novels to real-life narratives to articles in your favorite magazine, reading is one of the best ways to strengthen the higher-order thinking processes of your brain. Plus, reading allows you to become more creative in your thoughts, your actions, and your conversations with others!

In a study performed at Emory University titled, “Short and Long-Term Effects of a Novel on Connectivity in the Brain,” researchers found that becoming immersed in a fictional novel enhances connections of neurons in the brain and improves overall brain function. Also, they found that reading fiction was found to strengthen a reader’s ability to put himself in another person’s shoes, empathize, and imagine in a way similar to actual visualization (meaning, the readers were able to imagine the stories read as though they were actual movies being watched).

To find out more about how reading enhances brain functioning, check out this article: “Reading Fiction Improves Brain Connectivity and Functioning,” by Christopher Bergland.

3. Learn a new language

It doesn’t matter how old you are. It is never too late to diversify your tongue with a new language! In a study led by Dr. Thomas Bak at Edinburgh’s School of Philosophy, Psychology, and Language Sciences, he found that young adults proficient in a second language performed significantly better on attention and concentration tests than their counterparts who only knew one language, irrespective of whether they had learned that language during infancy, childhood, or adolescence.

If you feel it might be difficult to learn a new language, then there are plenty of easy resources available today. Programs like Duolingo, Rosetta Stone, Mondly by ATi Studios and more offer apps that can be downloaded on your smartphone so you can gradually work your way into different languages. You can tune-in to videos on the Internet with instructors who specialize in various languages. Also, foreign films are great to watch if you really want to pick up a second language like a pro! Try watching a foreign film with the subtitles on once or twice, then watch it again a few times without the subtitles and see how many phrases and expressions you understand.

4. Old-Fashioned Puzzles

If you want to increase your cognitive abilities, then regular puzzles are great! They train your brain so that you become better in problem-solving skills and recognition of minor details. To get working, you should try your hand at jigsaw puzzles, Sudoku, crossword puzzles, word searches, and even games of “Where’s Waldo?”

5. Get involved in a brain training program

Many companies today have developed amazing resources for you to use to boost your brain power. To cater to your convenience, CogniFit brain games offers personalized brain training programs that will target your specific cognitive needs. They also have programs available to help with some learning disorders that may affect your little ones!

6. Challenge your learning capabilities!

Find a subject you are really interested in or a topic that you want to learn more about. Immerse yourself fully into the subject by utilizing all the free assets available at your fingertip. If you register with Coursera.org, they provide many college-level courses that you can follow in a variety of fields, either free of charge or for a small fee. You can follow special channels on social media pages like Crash Course or TedEd to gain plenty of useful knowledge. Also, subscribe to magazines and online newspapers that specialize in your favorite fields, like Psychology Today, Live Science, The New Yorker, and more.

7. Find an artsy way to express yourself

Dig deep down into your inner feelings and look for a means of bringing out your unique soul. Try a hand at drawing, painting, poetry, writing short stories/prose/spoken word, or just vent away in a journal! It will help to boost your creativity levels and diversify your brain wave patterns

8. Visit as many museums and live performances as you can

Museums and exhibits increase our exposure to different forms of art, innovative ideas, and great skills of fellow human beings. Do some research on local museums and try to devote a few hours in your free time to see what is available. Whether it be from fine art to photography, anatomy, feelings, or poetry, there are so many sites to visit. Museums, spoken word café nights, operas, or even high school orchestras are great to awaken the mind and get your creative juices flowing.

9. Recreational outdoor activities

Work your body in ways you have never done before. Become more in-tuned with nature or just try new activities. This will stimulate neuroplasticity in your brain so that you can adapt to new environments and enjoy yourself in the process. Try hiking, rafting, canoeing, rock-climbing, skiing, jet-surfing, and any other fun activity you can think of!

10. Memorize

One of the best ways to increase your brain’s potential is to learn how to memorize. Whether it be from a religious text, any special author’s quotes, song lyrics, poetry verses, you name it, try to memorize. That way, you will gain experience in what methods are best for you in retaining information. Some practical ways of memorizing particular statements, concepts, or ideas are:

a. Rote rehearsal

This involves repeating a phrase over and over again till you can recite it fluently without the help of others

b. Writing

Some people learn better when they copy information over repetitively!

c. Mnemonic devices

Come up with acronyms, cool and catchy phrases, or special tricks to try to remember special material

11. Take on a new hobby/learn a new skill

Challenge your brain so that it really works its neuroplasticity features by doing something that you either have never done before or you’re not so great at. Some suggestions are cooking, baking, gardening, sewing, weight-lifting, getting involved in a sport, writing, drawing, and more. The list is endless!

12. Eat healthy

Of course, your diet impacts the way your body functions, especially your brain! The right foods will impact how much energy you have and how much command your brain has over you. Eating a diet full of healthy nutrients such as those rich in greens, vegetables, fruits, nuts, and seeds can support mental acuity and alertness.

Certain foods have shown to increase brain strength. For example, foods filled with Omega-3 Fatty Acids like salmon can improve brain function by increasing activity in your prefrontal cortex (which is associated with your working memory).

13. Get enough sleep

Sleep is extremely important to maintain a strong brain. Research suggests that the average adult needs 7.5 to 9 hours of sleep in order to avoid sleep deprivation. If this amount is not reached, then creativity, problem-solving abilities, and critical thinking skills are all compromised!

Studies have shown that even missing one night of sleep will increase the concentration of NSE and S-100B in the blood. These are biomarkers that are released as an alert signal that your brain is in an injurious condition and cannot function properly. When the blood is consumed with these substances, then this means that a severe amount of brain tissue has deteriorated.

14. Spend time with loved ones

Humans are social beings. We thrive on the relationships we have because they keep us well-grounded and motivated to be productive. Research shows that having meaningful friendships and a strong support system are vital to brain health. Studies from the Harvard School of Public Health found that senior citizens with the most social lives had the slowest rate of memory decline.

15. Be happy!

In our fast-paced society, one key factor that many of us forget to take care of is our emotional health. Stress, anger, worry, and anxiety are the brain’s worst enemies, yet many of us fail to realize that. Over time, chronic stress and anxiety destroys brain cells and damages the hippocampus, which is the part of the brain involved with forming new memories and retrieving old ones. To prevent stress from conquering your life, let go of all the major stressors in your life and just be happy! Positive and humanistic psychologists emphasize keeping an uplifting spirit as a way to reach one’s full potential (This was mainly emphasized in the works of Carl Rogers). If you want to stay happy and content with your lifestyle, then smile and laugh more. This will increase your levels of oxytocin secreted, which contributes to your overall feeling of satisfaction. Spend time with fun, carefree, and interesting people. Surround yourself with positive reminders to help lighten up your difficult days. Keep a list of all the things you are thankful for and don’t sweat the small things!

Sources: Source 1, Source 2, CogniFit

Caregiver And Child Relationship: Attachment

Caregiver And Child Relationship: Attachment

A relationship between a child and their respective caregiver is a very special one. Because of its specialty it has been investigated by many researchers and scientists. They try to figure out how does that relationship form and how it’s maintained, what reasons are there for that attachment of the child and the person that takes care of them? What they have figured out so far is that it is very important for the child and their caregiver to form that relationship. The critical period of development of every human being is, not surprisingly, in early childhood and caregivers play a crucial role in helping the child develop properly and hit all the vital developmental milestones. The caregiver and the child form an emotional bond with one another, an attachment of sorts. It develops very early on but it is not present when the baby is born. At such an early stage of a child’s development he cannot talk, however, that doesn’t stop him from communicating. Children at an early age communicate and share their emotions and needs in various ways and that communication is crucial in the development of the attachment bond between them and their caregiver(s).

How Do Children Express Their Needs?

  • Interactional Synchrony: infants will coordinate their body movements according to their caregiver’s language.
  • Bodily contact: of course any type of physical contact helps to form the attachment between the caregiver and the infant. This is especially vital in the periods right after birth.
  • Reciprocity: the way caregivers and infants produce similar behaviors and responses to one another.
  • Mimicking: imitation of facial expressions
  • Caregiverese: a ‘language’ of the infants that adults used which includes high-pitched sounds.

All of these form and strengthen the attachment bond between the caregiver and the child. Children are able to form attachments with multiple people but do experience stranger anxiety which is one of the most crucial things scientists study when they try to research attachment. Stranger anxiety includes the distress that the infants show when they are in the presence of people they do not know.

So why does attachment form?

Caregiver And Child Relationship: Attachment

There have been a lot of theories trying to decipher the origin of attachment and why do infants need the attachment bond? Many scientists say that it is due to the fact that children cannot provide for themselves so they use their caregivers as their primary providers and as a result develop an attachment bond with them.

Because the caregivers are able to provide children with food which the children cannot obtain themselves, these theorists believe that the infants are conditioned to attach themselves to their caregivers in order to get their reward, in this case it being the food. The theory does make a lot of sense, however, there has been a lot of dispute about it and many scientists argue that there must be something more to it than just the provision of food. In fact, studies have been done to show that the attachment between the children and the caregivers goes way beyond the food factor.

In one popular study done by Harry Harlow (a highly unethical study), he tested rhesus monkeys (infant monkeys that were separated from their mothers and they were raised in isolation and in cages) who were presented with a ‘surrogate mother’ that was made purely of wire and another one that was made with a soft blanket. He found out that the monkeys preferred the ‘mother’ with the blanket to the wired one when the blanketed mother was available and if not, the monkeys showed very serious signs of distress. This experiment showed that food is not the only reason infants (monkey infants in this case) form attachments with their caregivers.

11 Tips For Developing Emotional Intelligence In Your Kids

Emotional intelligence is the ability to understand and control our emotions. It allows us to interpret our own feelings, as well as the feelings of those around us. It’s important to learn how to use emotional intelligence from a young age, so we can interact with others with confidence, and be comfortable with ourselves. To help your kids develop and improve emotional intelligence, we’re going to give you a list of 11 tips to help your child develop their emotional intelligence.

Tips for developing emotional intelligence in your kids

Tips for developing emotional intelligence

1. Help them express their emotions

Many times, children don’t know how to control their emotions and they end up lashing out and yelling. It’s important that we teach them other ways to express their emotions, and that it is better to talk things through than to throw a tantrum.

Help them learn how to better express themselves. Maybe have them write in a journal, sing a song, hit a pillow, or draw. If they’re able to express their emotions, they’ll have a better possibility of understanding other people’s emotions.

2. Show them how to set goals

Help your children make their own goals and teach them to be responsible to be able to reach them.

3. Cultivate empathy

Doing this requires lots of questions on your part. Make them think about other people’s feelings. Ask them things like “why do you think your sister is sad?” or, “Do you think this would make mom happy?”

4. Develop good communication

It’s important to teach children to express themselves and ask when they don’t understand something. Learning to talk about things is a basic pillar in childhood education.

5. Control their anger

Children need love and affection until they reach 18 months. This will give them a sense of safety and help them adapt to their environment, control themselves and their fears. You should know, however, that after 6 months they will start developing emotions like rage, which is why it is so important to teach them to control their actions and correct their bad behavior. It is important to establish limits and talk to your child about how to control their anger.

6. Teach them how to recognize their emotions

Children start to interact more openly when they’re about 2 years old. This is when it becomes really important that they are able to recognize basic emotions, like happiness and anger. To do this, you can show them pictures or drawings of faces, and ask them to identify what emotions each face is showing. This will improve their empathy and help them relate to others.

7. Teach them how to listen

Make your children learn to listen without interrupting when others are talking. Teach them active listening, talking to them calmly and asking them if they understood what you said.

8. Show them secondary actions

Once a child reaches 10, they start to experience secondary emotions, like embarrassment and love. You need to be open and talk about these things to keep an open relationship between parents and children.

9. Try to keep the dialogue democratic

You have to teach your children to suck it up and admit when someone else was right. Learning how to get along with others is very important for both family and adult lives.

10. Try to get them interested in other people

Get them to think about other people and what they may be feeling. Try to make them interested in their family members so that they will learn how to be empathetic.

11. Make sure they are comfortable expressing their emotions

You have to make sure that the children know they can talk about their feelings and what’s bothering them. This will help them do better in school and excel in their adult life.

Challenge Your Child’s Brain: How To Raise Smart Kids

A child’s brain development is very closely related to experience and external stimuli that they receive from birth. The different senses stimulate the connections that exist between neurons, which helps create new connections. The more connections we have, the more intelligent we believe the child to be, which is why it is important to keep their brain stimulated and challenged during their development. We’ll give you some tips on how to challenge your child’s brain so they’ll be more intelligent.

How to raise smart kids

How to raise smart kids: tips and ideas

-Interact with your kid: Children that don’t play and don’t receive enough affection when they are young have more problems when their brain is developing. Interacting and playing with your kids will show them social skills and affection, and help them develop their intelligence.

-Talk to your child: Even though they can’t express themselves well, talk and listen to them. Doing this will motivate them to develop their communication and language skills. It will also help the child express themselves through writing, which will further develop their intelligence.

-Get them used to exercising: Physical activity and exercise don’t only help the child physically, but they also improve blood flow to the brain, which helps create new brain cells.

-Encourage them to listen to music: Music can have positive effects on the brain. It improves memory, concentration, and learning ability. It can also help combat stress, which damages healthy brain cells. Learning to play an instrument can also be very helpful for brain development.

-Be a good example for your child: If they see you reading and being creative, they will also want to read and be creative. Children learn by imitating their parents…for better or for worse.

-Give your child educational games: There are a ton of games to help your child improve their memory and brain abilities. There are also letter, math, spelling, etc. games. Playing these games can help the child stimulate their brain and keep them entertained.

-Make sure they eat well: Giving your child healthy food will help their brain and body develop. Proteins help improve attention, while carbohydrates found in whole-wheat foods and fruit will give their brain energy. Try to avoid processed foods, which can actually reduce attention and brain activity.

-Bring your child to do things outside: Go on trips to see museums, parks, or anything else they may be interested in. Going out and being exposed to new and educative places can be both fun and useful for their development!

Brain changes in kids learning math

Brain changes in kids learning math

Many kids ask their math teacher why learning a particular mathematical concept or skill is important. When helping kids out with their homework, many parents may wonder the same thing. Now scientists are unraveling the earliest building blocks of math — and what children know about numbers as they begin elementary school seems to play a big role in how well they do everyday calculations later on.

The findings from the National Institutes of Health have specialists considering steps that parents might take to spur math abilities, just like they do to try to raise a good reader. This is not only about trying to improve the nation’s math scores and attract kids to become engineers. It is far more basic, such as how rapidly can you calculate a tip? Do the fractions to double a recipe? Know how many quarters and dimes the cashier should hand back as your change?

About 1 in 5 adults in the U.S. lacks the math competence expected of a middle-schooler, meaning they have trouble with those ordinary tasks and are not qualified for many of today’s jobs. “Experience really does matter,” said Dr. Kathy Mann Koepke of the National Institutes of Health, which funded the research.

Healthy children start making that switch between counting to what is called fact retrieval when they are 8 years old to 9 years old, when they are still working on fundamental addition and subtraction. How well kids make that shift to memory-based problem-solving is known to predict their ultimate math achievement. Those who fall behind “are impairing or slowing down their math learning later on,” Mann Koepke says.

But why do some kids make the transition easier than others? To start finding out, Stanford University researchers first peeked into the brains of 28 children as they solved a series of simple addition problems inside a brain-scanning MRI machine.

Kids from seven to nine years old saw a calculation flash on a screen (e.g. 3+4=7) and pushed a button to say if the answer was right or wrong. Scientists recorded how quickly they responded and what regions of their brain became active as they did.

In a separate session, they also tested the kids face to face, watching if they moved their lips or counted on their fingers, for comparison with the brain data. The children were tested twice, approximately a year apart. As the children grew up, their answers relied more on memory and became faster and more accurate, and it showed in the brain. There was less activity in the prefrontal and parietal brain parts associated with counting and more in the hippocampus.

Next, the team put 20 adolescents and 20 adults into the MRI machines and gave them the same simple addition problems. It turns out that adults do not use their memory-crunching hippocampus in the same way. Instead of using a lot of effort, retrieving six plus four equals 10 from long-term storage was almost automatic, the team said.

In other words, over time the brain became increasingly efficient at retrieving facts. Think of it like a bumpy, grassy field, NIH’s Mann Koepke explains. Walk over the same spot enough and a smooth, grass-free path forms, making it easier to get from start to end.

If your brain does not have to work as hard on simple math, it has more working memory free to process the teacher’s brand-new lesson on more complex math.

While schools tend to focus on math problems around third grade, and math learning disabilities often are diagnosed by fifth grade, the new findings suggest “the need to intervene is much earlier than we ever used to think,” Mann Koepke adds and even offers some tips:

Don’t teach your toddler to count solely by reciting numbers. Attach numbers to a noun — “Here are five crayons: One crayon, two crayons…” or say “I need to buy two yogurts” as you pick them from the store shelf — so they’ll absorb the quantity concept.

Talk about distance: How many steps to your ball? The swing is farther away; it takes more steps.

Describe shapes: The ellipse is round like a circle but flatter.

As they grow, show children how math is part of daily life, as you make change, or measure ingredients, or decide how soon to leave for a destination 10 miles away,

“We should be talking to our children about magnitude, numbers, distance, shapes as soon as they’re born,” she contends. “More than likely, this is a positive influence on their brain function.”

CogniFit offers you an online platform to assess and train the cognitive abilities of children such as their concentration, memory and attention: CogniFit for Families. CogniFit personalized brain training program helps boost reading skills and cognitive functions. The program also includes a specific training for mental arithmetic.