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    Ten ways to protect your child against bad experiences

    Adversity, such as abuse, neglect, and poverty, damages children. But protective experiences can build resilience against adversity and promote positive development.
    We identified 10 relationships and resources proven to counter the impact of adverse experiences. They have hidden magic that can transform an otherwise miserable childhood. Perhaps a child has been abused and has an alcoholic or depressed parent – or both. Down the street lives a grandmother who provides safe harbor. Maybe a caring teacher or an athletics coach takes the child under her wing. These are just a few of many protective antidotes that can diminish the toxicity of adverse experiences. They mean that a child’s outcomes may turn out to be much better than expected in the face of difficult circumstances.
    This list of PACEs – Protective and Compensatory Experiences – is based on more than common sense. The impact of such experiences is often identifiable through changes to the brain and in behaviors. For example, experiments with mice graphically demonstrate what can happen when a PACE repairs some of the damage caused by bad early experiences.
    PACEs and genetic changes
     A new mother mouse placed after the she gives birth in an unfamiliar environment with inadequate bedding typically becomes abusive to her pups. She may step on her young, and stop licking or grooming them because she is stressed. These pups grow up and act in a depressed manner, and are more likely to be harsh and fail to nurture their own pups. However, when the pups are fostered by non-stressed, nurturing mothers, over time, the epigenetic change driving their abusive behaviors can be reversed.

    “When children experience multiple forms of adversity, the impacts are magnified. Multiple protective experiences may also have a cumulative effect.”

    We do not yet have data for humans on the epigenetic impact of switching from an adverse to a protective experience. However, infants raised initially in Romanian orphanages who were later fostered in nurturing homes showed developmental benefits that likely mirrored the neurobiological improvements observed in mice.
    Our colleague, David Bard, professor of pediatrics at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center, has demonstrated how positive parenting practices in thousands of U.S. families have buffered children against the impacts of adversity. Activities such as reading to children; ensuring they have routines; and taking them to shops, museums, and playgrounds were associated with better learning in preschool and fewer behavioral problems at school than would otherwise have been expected.
    Top 10 protective and compensatory experiences
    From research evidence, we have assembled a list of the top 10 types of relationships and resources that provide the PACEs that bolster children against adversity. These are detailed more extensively in our new book, Adverse and Protective Childhood Experiences: A Developmental Perspective.

    Receiving unconditional love: Not only do children need to be nurtured and loved, that love should feel unconditional. This does not mean that children never get in trouble or parents never get mad. The crucial point is that whatever a child does, the parent stays on the child’s side. As an infant, it means that when you cry, you get a response; your parents make eye contact with you and cherish you; and they sing, play, and talk with you. As a child, you can count on your parent’s eyes lighting up when you walk into the room; mom or dad always has your back. And when you grow older, it means that your parent sets limits and explains how things are done. There are many ways to express unconditional love.
    Having a best friend: Close friendship offers protection from peer rejection, bullying, and victimization. This happens not just because a child has someone to talk to, but because it helps the child learn how to deal with conflict and grow a relationship over time. Children have a sense of being important and they have someone to go to.
    Volunteering in the community: Volunteering helps children learn about the needs of others and gives them the opportunity to see a world outside their own. When they understand that helping is not done out of pity, it allows them to accept help from others when they need it.
    Being part of a group: Being in a group gives children a sense of belonging outside the family. It allows children and teenagers to learn about themselves in different contexts, and provides opportunities for friendship and leadership. Taking part in school clubs and sports is linked to academic success, psychological well-being, and lower rates of substance abuse.
    Having a mentor: Having an adult other than a parent who can be trusted and counted on for help and advice helps protect against psychological distress and academic difficulties, and reduces the incidence of high-risk activities. Even if children have exemplary parents, an adult outside the home can be an alternative role model to whom children can aspire and is a reminder that someone else loves them.
    Living in a clean, safe home with enough food: These primary needs are crucial. Good, regular nutrition is important for brain development and protects against health problems; eating dinner regularly with your family reduces the risk of weight problems. Chaotic, unpredictable home environments are associated with harsh and inconsistent parenting. Children who live in unclean, cluttered homes have worse outcomes than those living in clean, organized homes.
    Getting an education: Just like living in a clean, safe home, the opportunity to learn and be educated in an environment with boundaries and rules also protects children from risk. High-quality early childhood programs make a lasting difference to outcomes for children from low-income families.
    Having a hobby: Whether it is playing an instrument, dancing, doing judo, reading, or playing chess, any recreational activity helps teach self-discipline and self-regulation, and can provide children and youth with a routine and a sense of mastery, competence, and self-esteem.
    Engaging in physical activity: Being physically active helps children handle the physiological effects of stress on the body, and improves mood and mental health. In so doing, it reduces the likelihood that children will grab a bag of chips or lash out to relieve stress.
    Having rules and routines: Security comes when children know what to expect and when caregivers enforce clear rules and limits. Children cannot parent themselves; they need high expectations, consistency, and parents’ involvement. In early childhood, this means that parents should establish and enforce bedtime and other routines, redirect children when they misbehave, and as children grow up, explain the effects of their behavior on others.

    Photo: Anna Earl. Unsplash.
    We know that when children experience multiple forms of adversity, the impacts are magnified. Likewise, multiple protective experiences may have a cumulative effect for children, though the power of this accumulation requires further study.
    PACEs matter for all children
    Adverse experiences can happen anywhere to anyone — the rich as well as the poor. All children should have access to experiences that bolster and protect them. Children from more well-to-do families who face adverse experiences, such as family break-up, mental illness, and substance abuse, are more likely to have compensatory experiences. These might be opportunities to participate in clubs, have tutors, go to drama classes, choose to play an instrument, and have teachers and coaches who really care about them.

    “Down the street lives a grandmother who provides safe harbor. Maybe a caring teacher or athletics coach takes the child under her wing. These are just a few of many protective antidotes that can diminish the toxicity of adverse experiences.”

    In contrast, children in families living in high-crime and high-poverty neighborhoods might lack access to protective experiences because their families have insufficient money or time. These children face a double jeopardy – more adversity and less compensatory protection. Their difficulties have increased in recent decades as many PACE resources, such as youth sports and activities, have become increasingly expensive.
    The COVID-19 pandemic has emphasized how alone many parents are as they try to help their children gain access to PACEs. Parents have struggled to support their children’s learning at home, grappling with isolation; lack of routines; inadequate opportunities for exercise and hobbies; and in some cases, lack of enough food to keep children healthy.
    The pandemic reminds us that promoting childhood development is about much more than preventing adversity. We need to think more about how to ensure that children have the good things in life so they are less likely to be hindered by what can go wrong.
    Header photo: Anna Samoylova. Unsplash.  More

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    Seafood Paella

    By Bobbie Ames

    Ingredients:Yields 4 to 6 servings

    Non-stick vegetable cooking spray1 cup short-grain rice (such as Arborio)1 3/4 cups low-sodium chicken broth (or use vegetable broth and/or white wine if serving vegetarians)1 bay leaf1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper3/4 teaspoon smoked paprika1/8 teaspoon saffron1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt, divided1 shallot, thinly sliced1/2 pound medium shrimp, peeled, deveined, tails left intact1/2 pound langoustines or scallops1 pound mussels1 pound cherrystone clams3/4 cup canned chopped tomatoes1/2 cup sliced roasted red peppers1/4 cup green olives (such as Cerignola or Castelvetrano), pitted, sliced1/4 cup coarsely chopped fresh parsley1 preserved Meyer lemon, chopped or grilled slices from one lemon


    Arrange rack in center of oven and preheat to 350 degrees. Coat rimmed baking sheet or *cazuela with cooking spray. Spread rice on the bottom and put into oven to toast for 5 minutes.Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan bring broth, bay leaf, pepper, paprika, saffron, and 1 tsp. salt to a low boil over medium heat.Remove rice from oven and stir. Arrange shallots evenly over rice and pour broth mixture carefully over. Cover baking sheet or cazuela with foil and bake 20 minutes. Carefully remove foil, stir rice mixture, and continue to bake uncovered, 5 minutes more.Combine shrimp with remaining 1/2 tsp. salt in a medium bowl. Remove baking sheet from oven, discard bay leaf, and stir rice mixture again. Scatter shrimp, mussels, langoustines or scallops, tomatoes, red peppers, and olives over rice. Continue baking until rice is tender, shrimp is opaque and pink, and mussels have opened, about 8 minutes more. Transfer mixture to a serving bowl and toss with parsley and preserved Meyer lemon.

    *Cazuela: a Spanish dish that can be used to serve and cook food in the oven or on top of the stove. More

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    Midnight Meatballs

    By Chef Kenny Bowers
    Ingredients:Yields 6 to 10 servings
    12 ounces (3/4 of a loaf) white bread
    3 cups whole milk
    salt, iodized, to taste
    black pepper, table grind, to taste
    1 cup parmesan cheese
    1 ounce basil, fresh, chopped 3/8” no stem
    2 1/2 pounds ground beef
    1 1/2 pounds ground pork
    Tear bread into small pieces approximately 1”.  In a large bowl, combine milk and bread.  MIX TOGETHER BY HAND, making sure bread is completely dissolved in milk to form a soupy paste-like consistency. Add salt, pepper, cheese, basil and mix.  REFRIGERATE FOR AT LEAST 1 HOUR BEFORE NEXT STEP.
    Gently mix in meat making sure everything is evenly mixed.
    With slightly wet hands form 4 oz. wt. balls (approximately 20).
    Place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and bake at 400 degrees for approximately 20 minutes until medium brown and an internal temperature of 160.
    Place meatballs in oven-proof dish, top with favorite marinara sauce, cover with mozzarella cheese, and bake until cheese is brown & bubbly.  Approx. 3 minutes at 450 degrees.
    Kenny Bowers is owner and executive chef of Kenny’s Wood Fired Grill (Dallas), Kenny’s Burger Joint (Plano and Frisco), Kenny’s Italian Kitchen (Dallas) and Kenny’s Authentic East Coast Pizza (Plano). More

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    Care for children by caring for parents, says neuroscience

    Early emotional experiences leave children with much more than memories. Neuroscience suggests how these experiences can literally shape the ways in which children – and the adults they become – think. These early experiences contribute to the development of the biological mechanisms that process and interpret past and future experiences. They can influence brain circuitry that makes meaning from what has happened and predictions for what happens next, sometimes throughout children’s lives.
    These insights from neuroscience place parents – not only their actions but also their well-being — at the heart of children’s brain development for two reasons.
    First, parents are usually the source of their children’s earliest experiences and those who are likely to influence brain development. The nature of this relationship highlights the importance of understanding these experiences.
    Second, parents also provide a buffer between the world and young children’s brain development. If parents can manage the stresses the world throws at them, then children may learn how to manage challenges better. Children are also more likely to be protected from biological responses to adverse events. In contrast, when parents are overtaxed and have difficulty regulating themselves, children may be more vulnerable to external stressors.
    This understanding of how moms and dads influence children’s brain development makes a fresh and compelling case for supporting parenting. It also demands action to help ensure that parents are supported and buffered. It means that, if we care about children, then we as a society should care a lot for their parents.

    “A parent is an extension of a child’s developing neurobiology – like an interpersonal scaffolding that affords a long childhood.”

    This understanding of children’s neural development springs from observing how the brain functions. My colleagues and I have looked at a key communication inside a particular part of the brain — between the subcortical brain regions and the medial prefrontal cortex. These areas support and link emotional learning with subsequent emotional behaviors.
    Subcortical brain regions learn at a deep level about positive and negative events, and they create emotional memories. Meanwhile, the medial prefrontal cortex is involved in managing behaviors, as well as in planning and decision making. These two areas are connected and therefore, communicate with each other. The patterns individuals establish in making meaning seem to influence how they interpret what happens and how they make decisions.
    We have observed how these regions of the brain are influenced by early experiences. We can also see how they are then used in later life. This helps us understand how childhood experiences may play out and influence subsequent adult behaviors.
    Forming the neurobiology of the childhood brain
    What happens in the early building of these brain regions? They develop rapidly during early childhood so they are very vulnerable to environmental influences, whether nurturing or maltreating. These areas of the brain learn about security and threat, create emotional memories, and are involved in managing behavior and decision making. Intriguingly, we have also found that these areas are very sensitive to parents and to the messages or cues parents send to children.
    Photo: NeONBRAND. Unsplash.

    Why does it serve human welfare to be so heavily influenced by these early experiences? Because, as a species, humans have evolved to learn from our early environments so we are ready for what we encounter once we reach maturity. The human brain develops very slowly compared with other species – it’s on a “slow cook” setting. This is a great adaptation that gives us a lot of time to learn from our environments.
    Some have said that childhood is a dress rehearsal for the performance of adulthood. The longer the dress rehearsal, the longer we get to stay immature, and the more efficient and powerful the adult brain becomes to help us tackle the drama on life’s stage.
    A child’s brain is primed to learn from its closest environment, especially early in life. That makes family and parents a big influence on emotional development. Human children spend a very long time with their parents, compared with other species. This time affords them a lengthy period of brain plasticity — the first two decades of life — during which they can do the massive amount of learning required for the sophisticated set of behaviors human adults need.
    The role of parents’ neurobiology
    Although parents are not the sole source of input, they provide the bulk of that learning. Part of that learning, especially early in life, springs from the way parents regulate their children’s stress biology (consciously or not). The neurobiology involved in social and emotional behavior is enriched with stress hormone receptors that prompt the body to respond biologically to what is happening. However, the mere physical presence of a parent can reduce the release of these stress hormones in a child.
    Mom or dad can also decrease the firing of a child’s amygdala, one of the brain’s subcortical structures that is involved in learning about fear. A parent is an extension of a child’s developing neurobiology –like an interpersonal scaffolding that affords a long childhood. However, this scaffolding can also create a perilous situation when it is difficult for a caregiving environment to be an effective buffer of threat or may even be a source of threat, rather than security, to the child.

    “[We must] ensure that parents are supported and buffered. It means that, if we care about children, then we as a society should care a lot for their parents.”

    The power of parents as buffers has been demonstrated in studies with rodents. In an experiment that associated a meaningless stimulus – such as peppermint odor – with a mild shock to the foot, young rats learned to dislike the odor (as you and I would) and their amygdala responded to that learning. However, when the rat’s parent was present, the developing rodent, despite smelling the scent and experiencing the shock, did not avoid the smell. Functionally, the presence of the parent blocked the young rodent’s amygdala from reacting. Indeed, the rodent actually showed a preference for the odor. This sounds bizarre, but we have duplicated these findings in experiments with preschool-age children.
    These reactions occur because early in life, humans are primed, as dependents on their parents, to form preferences for things associated with them – regardless of how pleasant or unpleasant the stimulus. For example, my father smoked cigars. I know the smell is unpleasant. However, that odor was learned in the context of my attachment to my father, so  I remain drawn to this stimulus. Most people can probably think of things associated with the home (“the nest”) to which they are attracted, regardless of whether they are pleasant or unpleasant. This response is part of a young animal’s survival strategy.
    Usually this system works well — it keeps us close to our parents, the nest, and the developmental benefits mom and dad bring. However, this system may also explain why, even in the context of harsh early environments, children still form attachments to their parents and things associated with them. This understanding helps explain why children often resist being separated from a parent even where there is maltreatment. It highlights the difficult and complex issues involved in separating any child from his or her parent.
    The adult brain and its inheritance from childhood
    Next, let us think about the adult brain: How do these brain circuits, shaped by early experiences during childhood, work later in life? Studies show that these neural circuits are activated when adults are trying to manage strong emotions, say, after a really bad day at work or when someone needs to calm down. The same neurobiology – between the prefrontal cortex and the subcortical regions – is involved when we lack complete information and need to fill in the gaps to understand fully what is happening.
    Taken together, these observations of the brain suggest that early experiences may influence future behavior by providing a template for understanding how the world works. One person’s templates differ from another’s. Such templates are presumably supported, at least in part, by subcortical regions and the medial prefrontal cortex.
    In situations of incomplete knowledge, a template influences an individual’s predictions of what a situation means and guides the response. Thus, matching what behavioral psychologists described more than 60 years ago, neuroscience can provide a biological model of how early experiences with parents and other caregivers form templates that influence how adults operate socially and emotionally, sometimes throughout their lives.
    To care for children, care for their parents
    All this demonstrates how important it is that parents themselves feel supported and are well-regulated. When parents are overly distressed, they may find it difficult to effectively buffer their children’s stress biology. However, when parents themselves are well and feel relatively secure, they are probably more effective than any other intervention in managing their children’s emotional reactions.
    Parents are powerful; they are the conduits of the emotional world to their children. This is easy to see in everyday life: If parents react well to something, their child often will do the same. If parents respond in a calm way, their child will likely follow that lead. In certain senses, parents are an extension of their children’s developing brain. For that reason, we should consider: How can we support families so parents regulate themselves well to help their children become well-regulated?
    Certain policies around parenting place children’s mental health at risk. For example, imagine the problems caused by the policy of separating children from parents who tried to cross from Mexico to the United States without visas. There are other areas of policy to consider. For example, how should we shape employment practices to ensure that mothers and fathers are sufficiently present in their children’s lives to provide a calm buffer against adverse experiences? How can we ensure parents’ mental, physical, and economic well-being so their wellness protects their children?
    Childhood adversity is the leading environmental risk factor for mental health problems. Many of these problems are preventable – they are not genetically determined from birth. That’s why, if we are serious about caring for children, we must care for parents.
    Parents ask me, “What is the best parenting advice you can offer?” I tell them, “Do what you can to take care of your well-being, to make sure you are feeling safe, and to manage your own emotions in a healthy way. When you feel this way, that gets translated to your children in a powerful way.”
    Header photo: Gita Krishnamurti. Unsplash.  More

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    Sweet Potato and Andouille Soup

    By Chef Tim Byres and Chef Josh Trunnell
    Ingredients:Yields 8 quarts
    1/4 cup butter
    2 onions, medium diced
    1/2 bunch of celery, small dice
    1/2 cup garlic, minced
    4 quarts chicken stock
    5 pounds sweet potatoes, peeled, large dice
    3 pounds Andouille sausage, small dice
    1/2 cup Tabasco sauce
    1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
    1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
    1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
    2 tablespoons salt
    ground pepper to taste
    fresh sage, fine chiffonade, to taste
    Melt butter in a 12-quart soup pot over medium heat.  Add onion, celery, and garlic. Sauté until vegetables are tender. Add stock and sweet potatoes. Bring soup to a simmer and cook until sweet potatoes fall apart, about 1 hour.
    Pan-fry sausage in 1/2 cup oil until done and lightly caramelized. Drain.
    Remove soup from the stove and puree with immersion blender. Return soup to the stove and bring to a simmer.
    Add sausage, spices, and 2 tbsp. of salt. Mix well and bring to a simmer. Season to taste with salt, pepper, and Tabasco sauce.
    Hot hold soup, covered, for service. Garnish each serving with fresh sage.
    James Beard award-winner, Tim Byres, is co-owner and food mastermind behind Smoke (Dallas and Plano), Chicken Scratch (Dallas), The Theodore (Dallas), Spork (Dallas), Bolsa (Dallas), and The Foundry (Dallas). He is the author of Smoke, New Firewood Cooking. Josh Trunnell is the executive chef of Seventeen51 Restaurant & Bistro At Panorama (Washington). More

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    Nurturing curiosity and invention: How parents can put their children on the path to innovation

    In December 2020, Gitanjali Rao, a 15-year-old inventor from Colorado, was named Kid of the Year by Newsweek. Showered with accolades, children like Rao are often treated as if they are unicorns, completely different than others their age. But that need not be the case. Virtually everyone begins life with the necessary building blocks to construct new ideas (defined here as a solution to a problem or an explanation for phenomena). However, by age five, only some children are still on a path to become adept at such thinking, while most leave it farther and farther behind. But such a fate is not inevitable.
    What would it take to help all children be able and eager to pursue ideas? The answer lies in two processes that begin during the early years: inquiry and invention. If you have ever watched three-year-olds at play, you have seen how children first pursue ideas. It usually begins with a problem: A child wants to fashion a tent out of blankets and pillows, understand why some bugs fly and others do not, or figure out how far the stars extend in the sky. Parents and teachers can fan the flames of children’s natural drive to think things through. To do so, adults should give children plenty of opportunities to solve the problems that grab them, spend time talking with them about the intellectual puzzles that haunt them, and guide them to test their speculations and revise their ideas. Parents and teachers should also be willing to talk with children about things that are unfamiliar, unknown, and perhaps even uncomfortable. By building on children’s powerful drive to inquire, invent, and mull over complex problems, adults can help them become avid, supple, and astute thinkers.

    “What would it take to help all children be able and eager to pursue ideas?  The answer lies in two processes that begin during the early years: inquiry and invention.”

    Eager to learn from the start
    Babies are born curious, equipped with antenna for detecting novelty. From early on, they notice when a new object or event comes within view or earshot. Research suggests that infants become familiar with their mothers’ tone and cadence while in utero. Soon after birth, most babies respond differently when someone other than their caregiver talks to them. Within months, whenever they see something different from what they have seen before, their heartbeat slows, their breath quickens, and their skin produces more moisture — all signs that they have taken notice.
    Watching visual patterns or images projected onto a screen, babies look longer at the one they have never seen before. They absorb the new phenomena, looking and listening until they see something that is no longer surprising. But they quickly go beyond using just their ears and eyes. Soon enough, babies expand their investigative repertoire to include touching, grasping, licking, and mouthing. By two-and-a-half years, they have acquired an explosively more powerful tool for investigating the world: questions. Toddlers can ask about items around them, but also about the past, the future, and the unseen. Since so much of their daily lives brings them face to face with new sights and sounds, their novelty detectors go off all day long, leading to a day crammed with investigation.

    “Adults should give children plenty of opportunities to solve the problems that grab them, spend time talking with them about the intellectual puzzles that haunt them, and guide them to test their speculations and revise their ideas.”

    Compared to other mammals, human newborns seem helpless; after all, other mammals walk and nourish themselves within hours of life. Yet by their third year, humans have learned a dazzling array of information and skills never available to the smartest dog, horse, or pig. The newborn cries and makes vegetative noises, but the three-year-old talks in full sentences; can carry on complex conversations; refers to the past and the future; and can tell intricate stories that include characters, plots, and surprise endings. Children’s urge to investigate explains how helpless infants, who merely burp, gurgle, kick, and cry, become savvy members of the community in just three years. Curiosity is the psychological foundation that explains the vast terrain of knowledge and skills acquired, apparently effortlessly, by all typically developing children.
    Photo: Difei Li. Creative Commons.

     The power of specific interests
    But the endless barrage of surprises and mysteries does not last forever. By the time children are three, they have a huge working knowledge of their everyday routines and environments. They know what will be on the breakfast table, the kinds of things their family members typically do and say, and what will happen on a trip to the grocery store. The everyday world becomes the familiar background to more distinctive events and objects, which call out for further explanation and mastery.
    At this point, children are ready to be somewhat choosier. They begin to play a more active role in deciding what aspects of daily life they can skim over and which to zero in on. While virtually all 18-month-olds seem inquisitive most of their waking days, four-year-olds are likely to seem blasé about many aspects of daily life: the trip to school, a visit from a neighbor, or the pigeons out the window. During this period, when daily life becomes mundane, most children develop specific interests. One becomes fascinated with bugs, another intent on watching to see what makes people laugh, and a third absorbed by small gadgets. But not all children focus on objects or creatures. Some collect information about the invisible or ungraspable, for instance, god, death, or infinity. In an examination of a large database of two-five year olds talking at home, children often asked many questions about such topics across relatively long periods.

    “Helping children become capable of and interested in developing ideas requires concerted effort from adults. And here the pandemic has, ironically, provided an opportunity.”

    For example, in the following exchange, a mother had just explained to her four-year-old daughter Laura that their pet bird had died. “He took his nest down and he knew he was dying and he got himself ready,” the mother said. At various points throughout the day, Laura said:
    “He knew he was dying?”
    “How did he know he was dying?”“I don’t want to die.”“I wonder what it feels like to be dead.”
    To sum up, although it is often invisible to adults, young children collect information about a wide variety of topics, and such knowledge lays the groundwork for future ideas. However, inquiry tells only part of the story.
    The role of invention
    Spend 15 minutes watching four-year-olds at play and you quickly notice that they don’t spend all their time investigating. Just as often, they are devising new objects out of various small items (e.g., string, silverware, blocks), planning imaginary scenarios, or mapping out the rules for new games. In other words, they are busy inventing. Just think of the child who fashions an airplane out of a small cardboard box, uses shoelaces to lock a sibling inside the bathroom as a prank, or lays bath towels over an upside-down chair to create a fort. All these actions are simple inventions. Meanwhile, children are engaging in other more intangible inventions — stories that recreate an upsetting experience, charts of made-up superheroes, and explanations of zero. These, too, involve new combinations of familiar elements to achieve a goal. But that is just the first stage of inventing.
    The road that leads from the earliest and simplest constructions to the more complex solutions of older children and adults is somewhat circuitous. Research has shown that very young children are stumped by some aspects of innovation. In one study, young children were invited to retrieve an attractive sticker from a small basket placed far down a narrow plastic tube. Offered various materials, including pipe cleaners, to reach the sticker, four-years-olds did not think to bend the pipe cleaner and use it as a hook. They could perform all the requisite actions, such as bending the pipe cleaner or selecting the correction solution when asked to choose from several options. But they could not seem to coordinate all the elements needed to solve the problem.
    Researchers describe this as a difficulty with ill-defined problems, a skill essential for more sophisticated thinking. Some new data suggest that young children are more adept than previously thought when solving problems that they find imaginatively compelling. In our lab, when children had to get a small character across some water to rescue another character, even four-year-olds readily used available materials to devise bridges, catapults, air balloons, and stilts.
    Meanwhile, just as children get better at orchestrating many elements of invention, they appear to lose a valuable asset. They become more rigid at using familiar objects in new ways, often stuck on whatever purpose they think an object was intended for. While the developmental picture of invention is complex, it points to one clear conclusion: When children invent, whether a fort, a story, or a new game, they use most of the tools required for more sophisticated problem solving; they use or combine familiar elements in new ways, thinking of different ways to achieve a goal, imagining future outcomes, and revising their plans.
    Understanding the idea of ideas
    During the early years, inquiry and invention develop separately. Before these concepts can be harnessed together to pursue more formal ideas and solve challenging problems, children need one more thing: the ability to treat one’s thoughts as an object — a mental representation that can be examined, revised, or reconsidered. We now have evidence that between the ages of five and six, children begin to understand the idea of ideas. When experimenters asked children to explain what an idea is, four-year-olds cast it in concrete terms: a plan of action or an object they made. For example:
    Child: “You could make anything you want, if you have one [an idea].”
    Experimenter: “So, what is your idea?”Child:  “To make a knot and it close.” [sic]
    But by the time children are six, most understand that an idea is a product of the mind and that there are many kinds of ideas. For example:
    Child: “Oh, an idea is something that you think!”Experimenter: “It’s something that you think?”
    Child: “It’s amazing, or it can be kind of scary.”
    The skills required to come up with illuminating explanations of puzzling phenomena and novel solutions to knotty problems are within reach of most children. But this capacity is not inevitable, nor is it simply the natural result of learning to spell, add, or write book reports. Helping children become capable of and interested in developing ideas requires concerted effort from adults. And here the pandemic has, ironically, provided an opportunity. Thrust into extended proximity with their children while they play, do school work, and even attend classes remotely, parents are in a good position to notice what and how children are thinking. When children gather information to answer their own questions (however unacademic or odd those questions may seem), mull over perplexing mysteries, speculate, outline probable or impossible outcomes, or consider alternative perspectives, they are practicing the skills essential to forming ideas. If parents and teachers learn to deliberately foster curiosity and invention, many more children than Gitanjali Rao will be on the path to innovation.
    Header photo: Jay Hsu. Creative Commons.  More

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    Chicken “Zoodle” Lo Mein

    By The American Heart Association
    This restaurant favorite can be mastered at home—with even more flavor, less sodium, and a lot less calories with zucchini subbing for regular noodles.
    Servings: 6 | Serving Size: 1 1/3 cups
    4 medium zucchini
    1 1/2 pound skinless, boneless, thinly sliced chicken breast (cut into 1-inch strips)
    2 teaspoons garlic powder (divided)
    2 teaspoons ground ginger
    1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper (divided)
    1/8 teaspoon salt (divided)
    3 teaspoons canola oil (divided)
    1 (14.4-ounce) bag frozen broccoli stir-fry vegetables, thawed
    2 tablespoon low-sodium soy sauce
    1/2 cup low-sodium chicken broth
    1 tablespoon cornstarch
    1/4 teaspoons red hot chile flakes (optional)
    1/2 cup chopped green onion
    2 cups fresh bean sprouts
    1 1/2 teaspoons sesame seeds
    Place the shredder blade onto the spiralizer to cut zucchini into spaghetti-like threads. Spiralize each zucchini, and cut threads into 6- or 8-inch pieces so they are easier to eat. Add all the zucchini into a large bowl and reserve.
    Place the chicken breast lengthwise onto a cutting board and cut 1-inch strips of chicken. Add to a bowl and continue slicing remaining chicken. Season with 1 teaspoon garlic powder, 1 teaspoon ginger, ⅛ teaspoon black pepper, and ⅛ teaspoon salt.
    Warm a large nonstick pan with 1 teaspoon oil over high heat. Add chicken; stirring frequently, saute until chicken is fully-cooked, about 5 to 7 minutes depending on thickness. Remove from heat, transfer chicken to a plate, and cover with foil to keep warm.
    Again warm 1 teaspoon oil in the large nonstick pan over high heat. Add thawed stir-fry vegetables, stirring constantly and cooking until vegetables are cooked and all the water has evaporated, around 6 to 8 minutes. Remove from heat and transfer to a bowl to reserve.
    Make the sauce: In a small bowl, add soy sauce, chicken broth, cornstarch, 1 teaspoon garlic powder, 1 teaspoon ginger, ⅛ teaspoon black pepper, ⅛ teaspoon salt, and (optional) chile flakes. Stir together with a fork until cornstarch is dissolved. Also, chop the scallions.
    Warm 1 teaspoon oil in the large nonstick pan over high heat. Add half the zucchini, using tongs to stir constantly, until zucchini is somewhat wilted, about 1 to 2 minutes. Stir in remaining zucchini along with the sauce, again using tongs to cook the zucchini and let it absorb the sauce. Cook until all the zucchini is tender, about 2 more minutes.
    Quickly stir in reserved chicken and vegetables. Cook another minute. Remove from heat and add bean sprouts, scallions, and sesame seeds. Serve.
    Quick Tips:
    Cooking Tip: A wok can also be used instead of a large nonstick pan. In fact, woks are an excellent piece of cooking equipment to own. Between its large round surface and its nonstick quality, it’s a great way to cook nutritious vegetables.
    Keep it Healthy: Frozen stir-fry veggies—whether using in a stir-fry recipe or not—are a convenient way to get a variety of vegetables into a dish without the work of chopping.
    Tip: Don’t have a spiralizer? Grate the zucchini on a box grater or buy about 12 cups of packaged spiralized zucchini in the grocery aisle.
    Nutritional Information:
     Calories: 226 Per Serving
     Protein: 29g Per Serving
     Fiber: 4g Per Serving
    To learn more about the Chicken “Zoodle” Lo Mein recipe from the American Heart Association, click here. More

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    Chicken Tortilla Soup

    By The American Heart Association
    A garnish of avocado bits, thinly sliced red bell pepper, and crisp tortilla strips adds texture and color to this popular soup.
    Servings: 4 | Serving Size: 1 1/2 cups
    1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts (all visible fat discarded, cut into 1/2-inch cubes)
    2 cups frozen whole kernel corn (thawed)
    2 cups fat-free, no-salt-added chicken broth
    14.5 ounces canned, no-salt-added, diced tomatoes (undrained)
    1/4 cup finely chopped onion
    1 teaspoon sugar
    1 teaspoon ancho powder
    2 medium garlic cloves (minced)
    1/4 teaspoon salt
    2 6- inch corn tortillas (cut into 1/4-inch-wide strips, plus)
    1 6- inch corn tortilla (torn into pieces)
    2 to 4 tablespoon snipped, fresh cilantro
    1/4 cup finely chopped avocado
    1/4 medium red bell pepper (cut into matchstick-size strips)
    In a 3-4 1/2-quart round or oval slow cooker, stir together the chicken, corn, broth, tomatoes with liquid, onion, sugar, ancho powder, garlic, and salt. Cook, covered, on low for 6 to 8 hours or on high for 3 to 4 hours.
    Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
    Arrange the tortilla strips in a single layer on a baking sheet. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes, or until crisp. Transfer the baking sheet to a cooling rack. Let the strips stand for about 15 minutes, or until cool. Transfer to an airtight container and set aside.
    When the soup is ready, transfer 1 cup to a food processor or blender. Stir in the tortilla pieces. Let the mixture stand for 1 minute so the tortilla pieces soften. Process until smooth. Stir the mixture into the soup. Stir in the cilantro.
    Ladle the soup into bowls. Sprinkle with the avocado, bell pepper, and reserved baked tortilla strips.
    Quick Tips:
    Cooking Tip: Adding the processed soup and tortilla mixture to the rest of the soup gives the finished product more body and distributes the tortilla flavor.
    Nutritional Information:
     Calories: 292 Per Serving
     Protein: 30g Per Serving
     Fiber: 5g Per Serving
    To learn more about the Chicken Tortilla Soup Recipe from the American Heart Association, click here. More