The First Five Years: Ground Zero For Learning

Academic Preschool

Little Newtons was founded with the belief that kids can learn anything. Five languages, math, science, encyclopedic knowledge. Nothing is off-limits in our classrooms, because there’s no limit to what a child can comprehend.

I searched for this kind of education when my oldest daughter, Franchessca, was born. When I couldn’t find it, I decided to open my own center with an intensive academic curriculum. Eight years later, we’ve helped hundreds of kids get a head start on their education.

That’s why I was thrilled to hear about a new national study that confirms what we at Little Newtons have believed and practiced since day one. The study found kids who attend what they call “academic-oriented” preschools are two-and-a-half months ahead of their peers in literacy and math by the time they graduate kindergarten.

“Academic-oriented” programs spend time nearly every day on skills, including increasing vocabulary, sounding out words, counting, measuring and telling time. We focus on that and so much more at Little Newtons. Our kids learn the Periodic Table of Elements. They can name the presidents and tell you facts about them. Many are reading by the time they graduate and head to kindergarten.

Some parents who read this study may be concerned about such a rigorous curriculum. They’ll argue that “kids need to be kids.” But I can tell you that our kids are having fun while they learn! They’re not sitting at a desk being drilled with flashcards; our teachers are incorporating all sorts of ways to learn, from art projects to science experiments, even yoga poses based on the theme of the week!

I truly believe we are doing a disservice to the next generation if we wait until kindergarten to focus on education. By the age of five, 90% of a child’s brain has already developed. We need to take advantage of this crucial time in order to set them up for academic success.


Food Allergy Awareness

Allergy Awareness

No kid wants to be “that kid.” The one who can’t do the things other kids do. The one who’s different. The one who’s always left out.

Nearly six million kids are “that kid.” Not because they pick their nose or they wear funny outfits. It’s something they’re likely born with: a food allergy.

Food allergies are on the rise. Peanut and tree nut allergies, for example, tripled in the decade leading up to 2008. One in 13 kids now has a food allergy. That’s about two in every classroom.

This week (May 14th – 20th) is Food Allergy Awareness Week, and parents of kids with or without allergies can use this as an opportunity to make those allergy sufferers feel more comfortable, more safe, more normal.

Arm yourself with information. While there are hundreds of foods that have triggered allergic reactions in people, only eight foods are responsible for the majority of allergies:

  • Milk
  • Eggs
  • Peanuts
  • Tree nuts
  • Wheat
  • Soy
  • Fish
  • Crustacean shellfish

Be considerate. When hosting a playdate or a birthday party, ask parents if their kids have any dietary restrictions. You don’t have to change the entire menu, but having an option that everyone can eat will go a long way in making kiddos feel welcomed and included.

Learn to read labels. Kids have different levels of allergic reactions. Some have a mild allergy and can tolerate some exposure. Others have severe allergies and can’t risk eating anything made in the same facility or on the same equipment as their allergen. If you don’t know the level of the allergy, it’s best to assume it’s severe. Check the entire box or bag for warnings, and keep the labels so the parents can double-check.

Be prepared for an emergency. When a parent drops off a child with a food allergy, make sure you know what to do in case of an emergency. What’s the best way to reach the parents? When should you call 911? Do they have an EpiPen? It may seem overwhelming and scary, but you can prepare by watching this video showing how to use an EpiPen.

Explain the situation to your kids. One-third of kids with a food allergy say they’ve been bullied because of it. Some kids may think it’s funny to smear peanut butter on a child with allergies or try to force them to drink milk, but it’s anything but funny. It can cause a life-threatening reaction. Talk to your kids about how serious food allergies can be. You can start the conversation by showing them this moving public service announcement.

There’s no cure for food allergies, and many kids will never outgrow them. A little understanding and acceptance from others can make a difference for the rest of their lives.

Mother’s Day Around The World

All of the world-class moms out there deserve a special display of love for Mother’s Day! I talked with WCCO about ways kids can tell their mom they love her, while learning new language skills at the same time:

Spanish: Te amo, mamá

French: Je t’aime, maman

Italian: Ti amo, mamma

Click here to watch the interview

5.11.17 Alise on WCCO
Check out these links for more information on celebrating Mother’s Day around the world:

Huffington Post

Warwick Daily News

Why do I have to go to bed when the sun is still up?

MVC Screenshot 5.1

Most of us dream of Minnesota’s late sunsets, but it’s a nightmare for parents trying to put their kids to bed. During the spring and summer months, the sun often doesn’t set until long after bedtime for many youngsters.

I talked with KSTP about how much sleep kids should get and gave tips for parents on how to help their kids develop a good nighttime routine, even when the sun’s still shining.

Click here to see the interview!

Teacher Appreciation Week

“It is easier to build strong children than repair broken men.”
-Frederick Douglass


Teachers take on the important task of building strong children every day. They dedicate their careers to shaping the lives of young people.

Teachers do more than explain reading, writing and arithmetic. Their support and understanding can push kids to be the best they can be. In fact, a recent study out of England shows encouragement from teachers has the greatest impact on whether kids stay in school. Even some of the most successful billionaires have credited their success to their teachers.

Bill Gates wrote about his fourth grade teacher, “Mrs. Caffiere took me under her wing and helped make it okay for me to be a messy, nerdy boy who was reading lots of books… It’s remarkable how much power one good person can have in shaping the life of a child.”

When Oprah Winfrey signed off for the last time, she thanked one person above all others, her fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Duncan. Oprah called her “my first true liberator who made me feel that I mattered.”

Despite those celebrity shout outs, teachers often don’t get the thanks that they deserve. May 1 – 5 is Teacher Appreciation Week, and a chance to correct that. It’s a week dedicated to saying thank you to the people who nurture and care for your children day in and day out. Some parents will give little gifts, but you don’t have to spend money – just a simple thank you will go a long way in making a teacher feel appreciated.

If you feel like you want to do a little more, teachers always love getting hand-drawn pictures from their students! Getting the kids involved has the added bonus of teaching them to be gracious and how to show their appreciation.

Thank you to all the teachers out there for everything you do!


The Ever-Elusive Dream: A Full Night’s Sleep


When you’re pregnant, you dream of your new baby. Who will he look like? Will she have blue eyes or brown? What will his favorite lullaby be? But, after the first of what will be many, many all-nighters, parents start to dream of one thing above almost anything else: a full night’s sleep.

I’m going to say that phrase that all expecting parents hate to hear, but it’s still true: You can’t understand it until you’ve lived through it. You may think you’re ready for the 24-hour demands of parenthood because you’ve raised a puppy, or you’ve had a job with odd hours, or heartburn is keeping you up at night during pregnancy. But take it from me, none of those will prepare you for the cries, shrieks and screams that keep you from your bed night after night.

Parents all come up with their own ways to cope. They’ll try to find the perfect combination of rocking, bouncing, singing, shushing, bottles, pacifiers and, of course, caffeine (for themselves!) I wish I could share that perfect combination, but unfortunately, it doesn’t exist. For every book that says you should swaddle your baby, there’s another book that says to let them sleep with their arms free.

For expecting parents, or parents who are just starting out, there are a few tried and true methods to explore:

Back is Best

This is non-negotiable. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends all babies be put on their backs every time they go to sleep – both for naps and nighttime – to reduce the risk of SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome). If your baby can roll over both ways (back to front and front to back), you should still place him on his back, but you do not have to flip him over if he rolls onto his stomach. Parents should always put babies on their backs until their first birthday.


Wrapping babies up tight can help them sleep longer through the night. The swaddle simulates the mother’s womb and is cozy for the baby. If you do swaddle your baby, remember not to have any loose blankets or other objects in the crib, because they can be a strangulation hazard. You should typically stop swaddling around two months of age, so the baby can learn to roll on her own.

Pick a Pacifier

Pacifiers help soothe babies through sucking. Be mindful of when you give your baby a pacifier, and don’t use it when the baby actually needs to be fed. There are dozens of types of pacifiers, and even pacifier attachments, so picking out the right one can be tricky. Really the only way to find out if your baby will like the pacifier is to try it. If that one doesn’t work, pick a different one and give it a shot.

It may seem like an uphill battle, but it’s a journey countless parents have been on before you. Keep a positive attitude and a little perspective, knowing someday sleep will return to you. And it will be everything you dreamed of.

Helping Kids Understand Autism

63% of children with autism say they’ve been victims of bullying. Let that sink in. That’s almost two-thirds of children with autism who are bullied either verbally or physically, and often “triggered” into meltdowns by other kids.

April is Autism Awareness month, a time to fight back against statistics like this one. It starts with education, which leads to understanding and then acceptance.

Let’s start with 3 facts about autism you may not know:

Autism Is Common
According to the latest research, one in 68 children in the United States has autism, according to the CDC. As little as 15 years ago, that number was one in 150. Chances are, there is a child with autism in your kid’s grade level, which is why it’s important to help them understand.


Autism Isn’t The Same
Autism is a spectrum; there is a wide range of challenges, and also opportunities, for each person with autism. Some children are nonverbal, meaning they don’t speak. Others may struggle in social situations or when a routine is disrupted. Each person with autism is unique, and so are the ways to approach and interact with them.


Autism is Lifelong
There is no cure for autism; those who have autism will have it for life. The signs can appear early on, even before a child’s first birthday. However, most children aren’t diagnosed until age four. Every year, some 50,000 teens with autism become adults and lose the support they get from school settings. There are few support groups for adults with autism, and the need is growing for more.

How can parents help their children understand autism and grow in acceptance of their peers? This is by no means a comprehensive list, but it’s a place to start:

Teach “Different is Okay”
Talk to your kids about the all the ways we are different, whether it’s our eye color, our favorite toy or whether we have a disorder like autism. And then also teach them how we’re the same. It’s important to reinforce with our children that we are all unique, and that’s more than okay.

Introduce Julia
Sesame Street recently introduced Julia, a muppet with autism. You can watch the videos online with your kids. The other Sesame Street characters explain how Julia is different, and also how much they have in common. The ways they interact with Julia are great lessons in the different ways to engage with someone with autism.

Find Ways to Include
Some children with autism are sensitive to bright lights and loud noises. An arcade or amusement park may be too much stimulation for them. Parents and kids can keep this in mind when planning birthday parties and playdates. Holding these events in places where everyone is comfortable will make a huge difference in making them feel relaxed and included.