Monday, August 22, 2011

Guest Blogger: Educator & Inventor Evelyn Christensen

School is beginning another year. It's a time of fresh starts, excitement, and high hopes. Parents are wondering, "What can we do to make this the best year yet for our kids education-wise?"

I'm an educator. I have a master's in mathematics and a doctorate in education. I've taught at lots of different levels, but my favorite is lower elementary, because the kids that age have such a sense of wonder and an eagerness to learn. My best advice to parents for the new school year, regardless of the age of your child, is to nurture that wonder, curiosity, and desire to learn. These are precious gifts, which can easily be lost in our high-speed, hurry-up-to-the-next-thing-on-our-schedule culture.

Take the time to listen to your children. Encourage them to ask questions. Share with them your own questions. "How do robins find worms hidden in the ground?" "Where do butterflies go in a storm?" "Why are children starving in the world?".... Some questions have answers. Help your child find them. Some questions don't have answers, but discussing them can still be worthwhile.

Encourage your children to view intellectual challenges as fun! I was on an internet discussion board recently where a parent posted a complaint about a math problem on her child's standardized test for identifying gifted students. The problem was something like "If the cost of an item is $3 plus half the cost, what is the cost?" (The answer, by the way, is not $4.50.) Numerous people responding to the post thought schools had no business asking such a challenging, tricky question. Most of them seemed to have a negative attitude about intellectual challenges and were probably passing that attitude on to their children.

But the fact of the matter is that our world is full of challenging problems, and we desperately need children to develop skills in using their minds to tackle them. If parents view intellectual challenges as fun and exciting, kids are likely to also. That's where Fat Brain Toys is such a wonderful resource. They offer countless products that are great for getting kids to stretch their minds, and do it in fun ways that kids will enjoy. Aba-Conundrums, which I developed, is one such example. It's an award-winning set of puzzles based on the abacus, and is a set that parents and kids can enjoy together.

Help your child find ways to make routine school assignments interesting. Let's face it--some of the things kids need to learn, like math facts and spelling words, may not seem very exciting. Try to find ways to turn the assignments into a game or fun activity for your child. Fat Brain Toys can again provide assistance. With learning math facts, for example, their Math Busters set of books can make what is sometimes an arduous task into an activity kids can look forward to.

Encourage your child's creativity. When children have an opportunity to express themselves creatively in the learning process, they're more likely to find the experience satisfying and rewarding. Writing and art are obviously great areas for creativity. But even in subjects like math, children can be creative. For example, with the Math Busters and Aba-Conundrums mentioned above, once your child has done several of the activities, you can suggest that they try creating one of the puzzles themselves. They'll exercise their brain in the process, and will love challenging you to solve their creation!

We all want the very best for our children, and education plays such an important role in their development and in who they will become. I'm praying for you as you try to help your child have the best learning experience possible this year!

About Evelyn...
Evelyn Christensen has a doctorate in education and has taught at levels from kindergarten to graduate school. Her favorite level is elementary. She loves to create resources to help kids stretch their minds and to make learning fun for them. More than 45 of her educational puzzle books and math games have been published. Her two most recent ones published by Fat Brain Toy Co. received awards: Aba-Conundrums a Parents' Choice Award, and Inchimals a Teachers' Choice Award and a NAPPA Gold. She is also the author of Fat Brain Toy Co.'s Math Busters book series. Evelyn also writes stories, poems, and puzzles for children's magazines. She has four grown children and lives in Lexington, KY with her husband Ralph. You may contact Evelyn at

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