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The Brain Chase Challenge keeps kids engaged with summer learning

Brain Chase is a five-week summer online treasure hunt competition for kids ages 6-16. This summer’s competition starts on June 22. Brain Chase partners with education programs online to provide math, reading, writing and foreign language support.


Certified teachers provide daily feedback on writing, and kids must meet certain daily goals in order to unlock clues, riddles and animated videos to solve their way to a real-life treasure worth $10,000. Kids also receive mail, such as letters from characters, seeds to plant with clues that grow on them or tools like a sundial.

We interviewed Neylan McBaine, Chief Marketing Officer for Brain Chase.

Parent Co: I’ve seen a lot of excitement building with parents online, as they sign their kids up for Brain Chase. What makes Brain Chase different from other summer online learning programs?

Neylan: I think the big difference is that we have this motivational platform built in to the online work. Not only have we curated and partnered with the best online curriculum providers that the web has to offer currently, but we’ve created this really fun motivation for the kids to do the work that is usually lacking in summer workbooks, online classes or summer school.

That motivation is just enough to keep the kids excited and let them feel like they’re on a real summer long adventure, without it sort of overshadowing the rest of their summer fun.

The kids get to follow along with our kid archeology team. They’re looking for lost treasure. Then we take the adventure offline as well, and the treasure is actually a real treasure hunt. So the kids feel like they’re participating in something online, but they know that there’s also something real buried in the earth that they potentially could be working towards.

It’s hard and riddled during the whole five weeks of the animated series, but it’s solvable and someone’s going to win $10,000 and this very cool golden mechanical trophy that looks like the ancient lost treasure found by Cortez.

It looks like the parents on your site have great things to say about the program. You also enrolled your children in the program last summer before you started working with Brain Chase. What was your family’s experience with the program?

One of the things that worked best for my kids was simply becoming familiar with some of the resources. My kids don’t do a lot of stuff online. They’re not big gamers or anything like that, so they’re young enough that they sort of aren’t already online for other purposes.

My oldest was ten last year, so I had my ten-year-old and my eight-year-old do it last year. It was really cool to have them become familiar with Khan Academy and see them start navigating their way around it.

My kids particularly liked the writing exercises. They felt like it was really neat to have a real teacher on the other end of it that was giving them feedback on their writing in a fun, but productive way.

I think for me, the experience was really about having my kids become familiar with these really great, sort of super foods of the internet, like our curriculum providers are, and become comfortable and get to know their way around them.

Absolutely! I’m an educator in a school with one-to-one technology, and our kids use Khan Academy. It’s amazing, so I thought that was fantastic that you’re partnering with some stellar education companies like Khan Academy and Rosetta Stone.

What languages are offered through Rosetta Stone when kids sign up with Brain Chase?

They can actually choose from 30.

Wow!

The entire Rosetta Stone offering. That’s a big addition for us this year.

Our vision is to have a full curated library of these partners, so that parents don’t have to go and study up on all the different offerings themselves, but they can drag and drop the options that they want their kids to take every summer.

Next year maybe we’ll add a coding module or something else that the parents can select from. The core is always probably going to be reading and math with other modules built. Maybe we’ll have a science module.

We’ve talked about wanting to do a physical education module where maybe they upload activities from a pedometer that we give them, or something like that. Then they have to do a certain amount of physical exercise each week.

There’s a huge range that we can do in being this platform for a library of curated partners.

That’s incredible. The program seems like it’s really grown in three years. It’s great that it allows for more personalized learning, and that’s a growing movement in education right now. It’s also excellent for homeschooling.

Do you see Brain Chase ever being offered during the school year or other school breaks?

Definitely. In fact, we’re looking for partners right now with which to create after school partnerships, so that we can create a program for any number of students in an after school setting very easily.

We have content from our past year that we could be repurposed and sort of rewrite the clues. We’re looking for partners to do that right now, so if you have any recommendations or if any of your readers know of actual programs, we’re looking!

We do group rates and we can scale, so the per child cost of doing an actual program is actually very manageable for groups that are used to getting grants and funding for much more expensive programs.

I know that students are working with academic skills like math, reading and writing, but what kind of social skills do you think this program helps kids develop as they work through the competition?

I think the academic work is entirely intended to be done by the child, but the riddles, watching the videos, deciphering the clues and learning together about where these clues might be pointing…that could potentially and is very likely to be a family activity.

The winners from last year said it was really a family event for them. We heard that a lot last year, that the parents would get involved with their kids and help them understand riddles and clues. They would kind of work together.

From all of the accounts last year, it was really a positive family activity that lasted the course of the five weeks. Not too heavy-handed, just fun. So parental support is definitely encouraged with the treasure hunt. The family collaboration was really powerful.

That’s amazing. I think what often happens is kids are learning at school, but when they come home parents don’t always know the right questions to ask about their day, and they get the same vague answer – “School was good.”

So I think that is what’s great about this program. They’re learning at home, and they sometimes need to rely on their parents or siblings to help them with riddles or accessing different technologies. It probably gives some great talking points for families about learning and technology.

Exactly.

Is there anything else that you think is important for our readers to know about Brain Chase?

One question we always get, is about the price. I think if people are comparing Brain Chase to an app that they can download from the Apple Store, it seems expensive. But if you’re comparing it to five weeks of a summer school or five weeks of a camp, 85% of our parents from last year said that they would’ve paid the same price or more for Brain Chase.

The value of it and everything that’s included in the program is a little bit hard to communicate because there really is nothing out there like it. The value we’re bringing is this curated library of content providers. We’re providing the whole motivational platform. We’re providing easy, all inclusive access to all of those partners. So you don’t have to buy your own Rosetta Stone subscription.

Then there’s the whole offline components. There’s the animations, the adventure tools that we send through the mail to help kids each week with the bonus challenges and deciphering the clues. And of course there’s the treasure at the end.

It’s a complex program with a lot of motivating factors. Once they’ve tried it and understand the full scope of it, parents overwhelmingly feel like it’s a really great value.

I definitely think so. I can already see the value because it’s less than the cost of a week of summer camp, or even the cost of Rosetta Stone. I was impressed with the price actually.

Oh cool. We’re very happy to hear that!

Absolutely. I plan to sign my daughter up this summer!

 

 

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When we consider all the skills our kids will need to succeed in the future, what comes to mind? Perhaps creativity, tech skills, or an excellent understanding of math might be at the top of many parents' lists. Social-emotional skills, like empathy, compassion, or the ability to understand another person's viewpoint may not be the ones you thought of right away, but deep down you know they matter.

We've all had those co-workers who didn't know how to listen to our ideas or friends who couldn't compromise with others. We know that in the work world and in our personal life, emotional skills are key to developing and maintaining healthy relationships.

If you are the parent of a toddler, you know that young children are inherently self-centered. It's not some faulty aspect of their character or a misstep of parenting skills. Young children simply do not have the brain maturity to consider another person's perspective or needs just yet—their brain physically is not ready to handle that kind of mental work.

However, child development research shows us that we can do a few things along the developmental path to help foster social-emotional skills in our kids. With a little help from us, our kids' brains can develop with meaningful connections that tune them into the feelings of others.

Here's how:

1. Treat others how you want your kids to treat others.

How we talk to our kids becomes their internal dialogue. We know from research that this goes for emotional skills as well. A recent study showed that when parents talk to their kids more about how other people might be feeling, the kids had better perspective-taking abilities—the ability to see a situation from another person's point of view.

This, of course, is the basis of many emotional skills, especially empathy. Just by talking about another person's feelings, kids begin to develop those crucial brain connections that help them develop empathy.

It's worth pointing out that very young children under ages 3-4 do not have the brain maturity to really understand another person's perspective. They lack a crucial skill that psychologists call Theory of Mind, meaning they can't understand the mind of another person.

However, our urgings and thoughtful phrasing to point out how another person might be feeling can only help them down this developmental path. Then, once their little brain matures, they will be in the habit of hearing and understanding the feelings of others.

2. Model positive emotional behavior in daily life.

It's probably not surprising to learn that how we react to our kids' feelings influences their emotional development. When your child gets upset, do you get angry or ruffled by their big emotions? We are all human, of course, so sometimes our kids' emotions are the exact triggers that fuel our big feelings, too. However, if we can remain the calm in the emotional storm for our kids, their development will benefit. Through modeling emotional regulation, over time our kids will learn how to self-regulate as well.

One study, in fact, showed that toddlers whose parents exhibited anger or over-reacted to tantrums were likely to have more tantrums and negative emotionality by the end of the study. However, the opposite dynamic can happen, too. Parents who model firm, but calm emotional regulation help their kids learn these skills as well.

3. Don’t be afraid to show your emotions.

Many times, we feel that one of our main jobs as a parent is to protect our children from the big, often overwhelming emotions of adults. For instance, we try not to break down crying or become red-faced with anger in front of our kids. It just feels too big for them to handle and perhaps not developmentally appropriate.

As they mature, however, older kids are able to handle a bit more discussion and expression of honest emotions. Have you noticed that kids usually pick up on the fact that you are upset even if you try to hide it? Kids are naturally curious and, many times, very sensitive to the emotional tenor at home. If they are developmentally ready, this can be a good time to have more discussions about emotions and how to handle them.

For example, my 9-year-old is playing a lot of baseball this summer and always wants me to pitch to him so he can practice batting. Now, I am not a very skilled player so my pitches often go off course or are too weak. He had gotten in the habit of correcting my pitching or (more likely) complaining about it every time we played.

After repeated experiences with this, I was not only annoyed but it also sort of hurt my feelings—so I finally told him how I felt. Guess what? His behavior at practice time changed dramatically! The mere fact of him realizing that his mom has feelings too really made him think about his words more carefully.

These types of interaction can become part of your "emotion coaching." It may sound silly but it can make a big impact for kids, especially as they grow older and are more able to really understand the emotional lesson. On some level, it's nice that our kids think we are superheroes, but it's also crucial that they understand that we are still human, with real feelings.

The magic of helping our kids develop empathy doesn't happen in well-planned lessons or elaborate activities. The real magic happens in the small, simple interactions and discussions we have with our kids each day.

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In the moments after we give birth, we desperately want to hear our baby cry. In the middle of the night a few months later it's no longer exactly music to our ears, but those cries aren't just telling us that baby needs a night feeding: They're also giving us a hint at what our children may sound like as kindergarteners, and adults.

New research published in the journal Biology Letters suggests the pitch of a 4-month-old's cry predicts the pitch they'll use to ask for more cookies at age five and maybe even later on as adults.

The study saw 2 to 5-month olds recorded while crying. Five years later, the researchers hit record again and chatted with the now speaking children. Their findings, combined with previous work on the subject, suggest it's possible to figure out what a baby's voice will sound like later in life, and that the pitch of our adult voices may be traceable back to the time we spend in utero. Further studies are needed, but scientists are very interested in how factors before birth can impact decades later.

"In utero, you have a lot of different things that can alter and impact your life — not only as a baby, but also at an adult stage," one of the authors of the study, Nicolas Mathevon, told the New York Times.

The New York Times also spoke with Carolyn Hodges, an assistant professor of anthropology at Boston University who was not involved in the study. According to Hodges, while voice pitch may not seem like a big deal, it impacts how we perceive people in very real ways.

Voice pitch is a factor in how attractive we think people are, how trustworthy. But why we find certain pitches more or less appealing isn't known. "There aren't many studies that address these questions, so that makes this research especially intriguing," Hodges said, adding that it "suggests that individual differences in voice pitch may have their origins very, very early in development."

So the pitch of that midnight cry may have been determined months ago, and it may determine part of your child's future, too. There are still so many things we don't know, but as parents we do know one thing: Our babies cries (as much as we don't want to hear them all the time) really are something special.

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Sometimes it can feel like you never get a minute to even finish a thought—let alone a to-do list. When your day is packed with caretaking, your own needs get pushed back. So when you finally get to lie down at the end of the day, all those thoughts are waiting for you. While we haven't figured out the secret to keeping you from over-analyzing every.single.thing. (sorry, mama!), we do believe you must carve out time for you. Because that rest is just as important—and you've certainly earned it.

XO,

#TeamMotherly

PS: We spoke to Jessica Alba and she gave us the lowdown on why she stopped breastfeeding, and Nordstrom is having their anniversary sale until August 5th. Here's everything we want!

My Instagram feed has been full of pictures of friends that their kids to the beach. I get it, I like the beach a lot. But the forest and the mountains are my real loves.

The way the damp leaves smell in the morning. The peace of walking underneath a canopy of trees. The sound of firewood crackling at night. Sigh, heaven.

I also grew up camping with my family and have done some intense hiking, backpacking and search and rescue. So it's kind of in my blood—I wear my frostbite scars with honor.

So I couldn't wait to get my future kids out into nature (minus the frostbite). I had visions of us hiking to a stream, swimming and splashing all day, then cooking a big meal over a campfire as we sing songs and laugh.

Then, I actually became a parent. Of three kids, actually, all of whom are still very young… and a dog… and a husband who doesn't really like camping.

Despite the realization that it wouldn't be exactly as I planned, this summer we finally decided to take our first camping trip as a family.

Here is what I learned:

1. Set the bar low

I had to remind myself over and over again that this trip would not live up to my expectations. I know this sounds like a bummer way to start a trip, but it really helped. I have the tendency to over-plan and get really (really) excited about things. This is not a bad quality, but it can lend itself to disappointment when things don't go as hoped. I didn't want us to leave the trip feeling like it was a failure in any way.

This trip was a success, and a big moment for our family, no matter how it turned out.

Instead of forcing activities or memories, I forced myself to just… be. Not expecting the trip to be magical opened us up to appreciate the unexpected moments of magic as they occurred naturally, without being forced.

This got harder, of course, when our car got stuck in the mud (true story), and we had to wait three hours for AAA to arrive. But when our kids talk about the camping trip now they still squeal with delight as they recount the story of the tow truck coming. You're welcome (I guess)?

2. We made it really easy

I put my camping ego aside, and we took a lot of shortcuts on this first trip. We didn't stay in a tent but rented a barebones cabin instead. For dinner, we ordered a pizza. And we let the kids play on our phones for a little bit in the evening.

Those things didn't make for a truly authentic experience, but goodness, they really helped. I have started to realize that there is no shame in making things easy, especially when you have little kids. And they didn't know any different. As far as they are concerned, we hiked the Appalachian Trail and gathered all our own food from the earth.

This was a lazy camping trip, for sure—and that was exactly what we needed.

3. I over-prepped for safety so I could calm down

I have hiked and camped in the White Mountains of New Hampshire in February—this was not that. At any given moment on our trip, an ambulance could have easily reached us, and we were only a few minutes away from a hospital at any point. But it made me feel much better to know that we were safe and ready for anything that should happen.

We bought a first aid kit, a survival kit, too many flashlights and bottled water. I was really big on everyone wearing good footwear and teaching them how to walk carefully on uneven terrain.

We also used the opportunity to teach about other areas, like water safety. Rita Goldberg of the British Swim School recommends "[teaching kids] to avoid water hazards and to not approach a fountain, river, pool or lake without an adult's supervision and permission."

We also incorporated their "Water Watcher" program, which assigns a "badge of responsibility" to one adult at all times, who maintains a constant watch over the kids while they are near water.

These easy steps, that we decided on ahead of time, made me feel much more relaxed, and therefore better able to enjoy our time.

This trip took some emotional adjustments on my part. It wasn't glamorous, or particularly exciting. But that was exactly what it needed to be. Emily Glover wrote that "by getting away from the distractions of home and focusing on each other...we're reminded of what really matters."

We found that in the woods—together.

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