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Social and Emotional Functioning

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Social and Emotional Functioning refers to the ability to develop and apply self-awareness, self-management, social awareness and relationship management skills which enable people to understand and manage their own and others’ emotions in social settings. Optimal functioning allows for individuals to better handle stress, make decisions (emotional and logical), form and sustain positive relationships, explore and engage with the environment, display empathy, feel confident and succeed in school and work environments.

Enhancing Social and Emotional Functioning

Being aware of controllable and non-controllable factors is a good starting place. Controllable factors such as what you eat, how much you sleep, if you exercise and how much, if managed well can greatly improve your ability to self-regulate.  Another concept worth understanding is Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and how emotions play a role in learning.

Ignite clients work on this skill before every session.  It allows them to choose the appropriate levels of intensity of the physical task and difficulty of the cognitive task to make every session as productive as possible.  We teach coaches how to use this skill in our Ignite 101 course for one on one clients and even groups.

Managing the Controllable Factors

We can gather some very important information surrounding these factors just by talking to the parent, client, teacher, health care professional etc.  You will want to ask some questions that give you information about sleep patterns, stress management strategies already in place, nutritional habits, how often they exercise and if they take time to stretch.


The 6 controllable factors that can hinder or improve cognitive functioning are:

Stress, Nutrition, Sleep, Exercise, Energy Level and Mobility.

On a scale from 1 – 5, we can constantly monitor the effect these factors have on our cognitive performance.


Stress                   1 2 3 4 5       (1 being you are unable to cope, 5 you can take on anything)

Nutrition              1 2 3 4 5        (1 being did not eat, 5 being ate a complete meal including veggies)

Sleep                    1 2 3 4 5       (1 little to no sleep, 5 slept like a baby and feel rested)

Exercise               1 2 3 4 5        (1 rainy day on the couch, 5 haven’t stopped moving)

Mobility               1 2 3 4 5         (1 too sore to think, 5 feeling limber)

Energy Level       1 2 3 4 5        (1 nap time, 5 let’s run 2 miles and wrestle a bear)


If we have a poor sleep the night before, we have to make sure the other factors are as close to perfect in order to maintain balance. Or to prevent a snowball effect of bad things.   Not every day are each one of these factors going to be perfect but the closer they are to 5, the better the chance you will have optimal cognitive functions. When we assign a number to rate our day we’re much more aware of how we’re doing and then have more control over certain circumstances.


Using Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, it’s easy to see how difficult it can be to access higher order thinking needed to overcome a difficult math problem or complete a challenging 15 minute workout.  The brain’s priority system will allow us to access certain levels, only if the more important levels have been taken care of (per say).  This particular prioritizing system is the same for everyone however management of the higher priority levels differs allowing the individual to gain access to higher order thinking.



Other activities that boost social and emotional functioning:

1.) Meditation or Mindfulness – setting time aside to allow thoughts, any thoughts, to come into consciousness for a brief moment then letting them pass as another one comes along.

2. Yoga or Warrior Yoga

3. Coloring books

4. Answering easy questions, as fast as you can for 3 minutes.

Computation and Calculation

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The ability to select and apply basic arithmetic operations (addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division problems) quickly and accurately require well developed computational skills. Calculating skills then are the techniques and methods in which we carry out these operations using mental methods, paper-and-pencil, and other counting tools to help us arrive at the answer.


Enhancing Computation and Calculation skills

Math continues to be one of those skills perceived as ‘fixed at birth’ and is one of the most avoided brain functions, often outsourced to a calculator or computer.  Like reading, it’s a subject that requires time, patience and perseverance in order to become proficient and even grow to love it.   Those that have well rounded computation and calculation skills spend time using a variety of calculating tools, especially mental methods and expose themselves to a wide variety of problems involving numbers.

Love it or hate it, basic numeracy skills are a vital part to everyday life.  Whether comparing prices, calculating tax, reading a statistic, splitting a pizza between 6 friends or trying to decide if you can jump over that puddle, computing and calculating are life-saving and life changing cognitive skills.

Try this Number Search activity to challenge your computation skills by selecting addition or subtraction to make the equations true.

Work on your calculating skills using a variety of methods, mental, pen and paper, objects, abacus, etc. in this Mixed Operations work sheet from www.math-aids.com


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Motivation explains what we do and why we do it.  Its role in the learning process is so paramount that it outweighs IQ scores when measuring future academic and economic success.  It has been demonstrated that hard work or ‘one’s desire to do well’ can carry them far beyond the limitations of their natural ‘intelligence’.  The higher the motivation, the more favorable the outcome.  By this definition, motivation is a cognitive skill that can be enhanced.

Every behavior can be traced back to a certain type of motivation, which can be intrinsic (driven by personal fulfillment such as curiosity or joy) or extrinsic (driven by the removal or addition of an external condition or reward)

The different types of motivation are:

  • Attention – to seek approval or be noticed by peers, family, teachers, boss or media scale recognition
  • Sensory – to experience a pleasant sensory response or seek out desirable responses from the five senses as well as our feelings and emotions (Ie. The desire to be right.)
  • Tangible – to seek an external material gain or incentive
  • Avoidance – to avoid danger or a threat, real or perceived from our 5 senses and emotions

Enhancing Motivation

The goal should be to develop mature motivation within your class, program or team.  Essential to mature motivation is ‘Big Picture’ thinking from the coach, teacher, parent and student.  Big picture thinking is realizing that mistakes will happen and are necessary for growth. This will promote mature motivation while immature motivation is shaped if emphasis is place on result over effort.

The following links offer research on motivation and what might be the key ingredient for success and intelligence, or at the very least help us understand how to get individuals participating in activities that can improve cognitive and physical fitness.

Growth Mindset


How Children Succeed

Immature/Mature Motivation Theory


Sensory Processing and Perception: Part 3

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In Part 3 of this series we take a look at another important skill involving vision called Visual Spatial Processing.  The affect that this system has on learning is quite profound. Students who struggle with visual spatial processing may have:

  • difficulty making visual images to “see something in the mind’s eye” or “get the picture”
  • difficulty remembering and differentiating left and right
  • difficulty in combining disconnected, vague or partially hidden visual information patterns into a meaningful whole
  • difficulty manipulating simple visual patterns or maintaining their orientation to see things in space
  • difficulty mentally manipulating objects or visual patterns to see how they would appear if altered or rotated in space
  • difficulty finding a path through a spatial field or pattern
  • difficulty in estimating or comparing visual lengths and distances without measuring them
  • difficulty understanding mathematics concepts in geometry, calculus and other higher math
  • difficulty in remembering letter formations and letter patterns
  • difficulty in reading charts, maps and blueprints and extracting the needed information
  • difficulty arranging materials in space, such as in their desks or lockers or rooms at home
  • difficulty catching all visual details
  • difficulty copying information from far point, like the blackboard or from near point, like texts


Enhancing these skills vs. reducing their use

When designing instructional strategies around visual spatial processing, a common approach is to reduce the use of visual spatial processing opting for more language based processing so that the student can keep up with the flow of the lesson.

Rather, create opportunities for students to strengthen their visual spatial skills because they much more capable of solving problems in the future having worked on this skill.

Physical challenges that focus on body awareness is a fun and easy place to start building this skill as well as sharpen executive functions like planning, organization and evaluating.

Here’s one example of a “comparing” workout:

10 meter Bear crawl forward

5 narrow stance squats

5 wide stance squats

5 toes out squats

5 natural stance squats

10 meter Bear crawl backward

3 rounds for time followed by reflection questions like “Which type of squat did you feel the most stable?  Which bear crawl was faster?”

Take this activity one step further and develop a challenge with a specific goal.  This will get the individual to Visualize, Plan, Verbalize, Execute then Reflect how they will complete the task.

Example of a “goal setting” workout:

Get over the box then, broad jump to the wall 5 Rounds.

Rule: You must get over the box a different way each round (record how) and estimate the number of jumps it will take you to get to the other side before you begin each round.  

It’s important for each individual to have a written copy of their plan for reflection and tracking.  Individuals who have difficulty writing should doodle or make some kind of shorthand visual representation of their box jump tactics followed by their broad jump estimations. For example, a student may use their left foot first so they would write the letter L and draw a foot.

Again, this is a way to DEVELOP the visual spatial skills not reduce the use.

Try out some other Visual Spatial Activities here.



Sensory Processing and Perception: Part 2

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The visual system occupies over 30% of the brains mass and is the only sense that has an entire lobe dedicated to its functional processing called the occipital lobe.

Enhancing the Visual System 

One of most interesting client programs I’ve put together was for a gentlemen who had fallen off a ladder, hitting the back of his head where the occipital lobe resides.  The concussion had affected his visual system and his drivers license was suspended until he was able to pass the eye exam.  Since the eyes are muscles, they will respond to specialized training so in addition to balance and coordination exercises our sessions included eye tracking activities such as Brock Strings and Pencil Push ups (research) to help with convergence. I was fortunate to receive guidance from optometrist Dr. Lynda Myles when it came to evaluating the client’s progress.  After 3 months of training, the gentlemen passed his eye exam and got his license back.

Complete as many pencil push ups in 2 minutes as possible.  Go!

Visual spatial skills start with the mechanical functions of the eyes (convergence, scanning and jumping) to send information to the visual system then hands over the responsibility of recognizing and organizing the information (high order functions) to other parts of the brain.

Try these extremely addicting visual spatial puzzles called Tangrams.

answers to yesterday’s sound quiz

1)F  2)J  3)E  4)N  5)i  6)K  7)M  8)C  9)A  10)H  11)D  12)G  13)B  14)L  15)Q  16)P  17)O

Sensory Processing and Perception

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The five senses – vision, smell, hearing, touch and taste – are the messengers for everything that happens around us. Out of the five, the most valuable to the brain is the visual system.  The visual system occupies over 30% of the brains mass and is the only sense that has an entire lobe dedicated to its functional processing called the occipital lobe.

Enhancing Sensory Processing and Perception

The brain is an amazing machine, capable of overcoming sensory deficiencies like hearing and sight. To enhance each sense, the brain needs to experience new tastes, smells, textures, sights and sounds in a variety of environments.  One can improve sensory memory by purposely limiting one sense (ie limiting sight with a blindfold) and guessing what is making a certain sound, or what object might have that texture.


Try this puzzle from The Playful Brain by Richard Restak and Scott Kim to challenge your ability to imagine sounds created by everyday objects.

SOUND EFFECT                                                                                              SOUND SOURCE

___1. Block of ice sliding on the floor                                                                  a. Balloon

___2. Bone Crushing                                                                                           b. Pen caps floating in glass

___3. Body stabbing                                                                                            c. Luggage cart

___4. Horse’s hooves                                                                                          d. Creaky floor

___5. Brain surgery                                                                                             e. Knife in a watermelon

___6. Dog collar                                                                                                  f. Bowling ball on floor

___7. Clothes rubbing against oneself                                                                g. Newspaper being crunched up

___8. Bicycle                                                                                                       h. Squeaky chair

___9. Rubber gloves                                                                                           i. Wet chamois cloth

___10. Car suspension                                                                                        j. Celery

___11. Boat                                                                                                         k. Set of keys

___12. Fire                                                                                                          l. Leather purse

___13. Ice cubes                                                                                                m. Pillowcase

___14. Car seat                                                                                                   n. Coconut shells

___15. Walking on leaves                                                                                    o. Walking on grass mat

___16. Walking on snow                                                                                      p. Walking on cornstarch

___17. Walking on grass                                                                                     q. Walking on quarter-inch recording tape


Answers to be posted in Sensory Processing and Perception: Part 2



How Adult Coloring Books Improve Cognition

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While in a case conference with a team of experts discussing future therapy goals for a TBI (traumatic brain injury) client, coloring books for adults made its way onto the list. The conversation sparked excitement in the team as we recognized this activity could solve a number of problems we were facing at this stage of therapy.

1.  How can we minimize the amount of hours the client spends out of the home attending different therapies? With 2 small children at home during the summer, this was important for the family.

2.  What activities can the whole family do together that still count as therapy homework?

3. How do we teach this client to relax when the client perceives yoga, meditation and even sleep to be activities that get in the way of their to-do list.

In addition to these goals, we’re always on the look out for fresh, cognitively stimulating activities and research is demonstrating adult coloring books can provide just that.

“The practice generates wellness, quietness and also stimulates brain areas related to motor skills, the senses and creativity”, sites an article published in the Huffington Post.

Beyond Motor Skills, Sensory Processing and Perception and Creativity and Imagination, which are 3 out of 10 Cognitive Domains, other cognitive benefits can include Attention, Logic, Organization and Planning, Motivation, and Social and Emotional Functioning.

A recent article published in the New Yorker, outlines some other interesting applications for adult coloring books, from enrichment to “preventing murders”.

Go here to print off some very cool coloring sheets





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This is one of the most complex processes in the brain because it involves many different parts of the brain.  We can break memory down into three responsibilities; 1. Absorption of information 2. Storage of information and 3. Retrieval of information.

Absorbing and then storing information is called “encoding” which calls upon the brain’s pattern recognition system to identify the stimulus then classify it.  The third responsibility, retrieval, operates on three different time lines; immediate recall (a few seconds), delayed recall, (minutes or hours) and finally remote memory (years).

Enhancing Memory

Play around with different memory techniques such as Story retell, Person Action Object and Memory Palace, using a variety of stimuli (words, numbers, pictures, names and faces or a deck of cards).  Practice memory retrieval without cues to strengthen memory.  For example a common studying strategy is to read a page of notes over and over until it feels familiar.  This gives the brain a false sense of owning the knowledge because the brain has learned to predict what comes next while reading.  So when called upon to produce the information on that page of notes without a visual cue, the brain is lost (for most individuals).  Retrieving information that hasn’t been stored through ‘free recall’ practice is like trying to find your keys when someone else has put them away.

Memorizing digits of Pi


Numbers themselves carry little meaning however meaning can be given to numbers so that they are easier to understand.

Try chunking this long string of numbers into meaningful images.  For example the first 5 digits can be looked at as a pattern 31415, so give that pattern a name.  Try using dates (ie 92 was the year you got married) or an athlete’s numbers (ie. 35 is Justin Verlander). Think of hotel room numbers you have stayed in, the price of a significant purchase, an address, or a phone number. The more detailed the abstract, the more emotions attached to it, the easier it will be to retrieve.  Once you have broken down 54 digits of Pi into 10,15 or 20 meaningful images, the next step is to practice associating your meaningful images to their corresponding digits.  Caution, the more items you have the more demanding it will be to keep them all in order!

Your task is to be able to recall all 54 digits after a 2 minute delay.  Keep a log of your encoding sessions (record which numbers, on what day and how long you spent turning chunks into meaning) and your retrieval sessions (record the number of attempts and the number of digits you were able to successfully recall after a 2 minute delay).

Here’s an example of a training log for this activity:

Day 1 Sequence – 314159265

Encoding time: 8 minutes

Retrieval after 2 minute delay: 9 digits after 4 attempts


Day 2 Sequence – 314159265  358979323

Encoding time: 7 minutes

Retrieval after 2 minute delay: 18 digits after 6 attempts.


Complete an intense combination of exercises during the 2 minute delay for even more brain benefits!

Post results to comments

Logic, Organization and Planning

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Logic, Organization and Planning are referred to as “higher order” brain functions which means they are dependent on other processes to be effective. Organization for instance relies on working memory to juggle multiple pieces of information while trying to place them in a specified order.  All three functions have to work together to carry out definitive actions in response to specific situations.

It’s logical for a grocery store to organize similar foods in one aisle to help shoppers plan their route and get all the items on the list.  Like an organized grocery store, finely tuned higher order functions improve the decision making process by decreasing the time it takes to retrieve relevant information and to come to an accurate conclusion based on the appropriate type of thinking for the situation, either emotional or logical.

Enhancing Logic, Organization and Planning

Invest your time in creating systematic procedures before starting any project or task.  Chunking a large project into smaller more manageable pieces is a valuable approach and can decrease the stress that often comes with feeling overwhelmed by the size of a task.  One of the most widely used and effective procedural systems is the Scientific Method. A problem doesn’t have to be a science experiment for this procedure to be used.

1.) Ask a question. When you become skilled with the Scientific Method you’ll know how to ask the RIGHT questions.

2.) Do a background search.  A little knowledge can be a dangerous thing.  Look out for ‘sexy’ facts and eliminate as much uncertainty as possible.

3.) Construct a hypothesis. This is your action statement, keep it simple and clear.

4.) Experiment. Play around but above all see your experiment through to the end before making an evaluation.  

5.) Reflect on the findings. Immature minds use a pass/fail evaluation.  (I can do a pull up or I can’t do a pull up.)  Be a mature thinker and search for bright spots, lagging skills and next steps.

Try the following logic, organization and planning puzzles

For kids

Test yourself



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The brain uses two separate processes to piece together language; Encoding and Retrieval.  Encoding starts with letter recognition such as shape and sound which is then used to develop word recognition and ultimately ending in meaning and understanding.  This can also include encoding verbal, non-verbal and body language from others.  Retrieval on the other hand, also termed ‘Expressive language’, is the brain’s ability to express thoughts into words, name things, and execute word finding.

Enhancing Language

Increasing the time spent with words and exposure to a variety of words develops associations and connections within the brain. Individual attention with each process is needed in order to improve one’s language skills.

To improve encoding one should read, learn new words, learn a new language, use mind maps to attach details to a main idea, and play word search puzzles to mention a few.

To improve retrieval skills one should retell a story, name pictures, play crossword puzzles, play categories or any other activity that requires the individual to retrieve previously stored information using associations or free recall.  An example of retrieval using associations would be asking an individual to name or classify a picture seen on a flash card.  For free recall, remove any visual, auditory or kinesthetic clue to help them retrieve the right information.  An example being the verbal fluency activity which asks the individual to name as many items from a particular category.

Try these language puzzles during your workout today.

1.) Encoding Word List

2.) Retrieval: Every minute on the minute, name as many items from each category as possible. 1 point per word, discount repeats and plurals.

1st minute: Farm Animals

2nd minute: Zoo Animals

3rd minute: School Supplies

4th minute: Gym Equipment

5th minute: Food

*Mix in a round of your favorite movement during one or more of the minutes for maximum brain benefits!