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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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Sometimes it's easy to overlook this amazing work we are doing, my love. On the surface, our lives couldn't be less extraordinary. We work our jobs, we care for our children—we embody a simple life. (Though, don't get me wrong, we love every second of it!)

But especially when I think about the work you do for our family, work that largely goes unsung, I'm reminded that, really, it's my job to make sure you know how much it's appreciated.

We both came into this marriage so young, so untested, and so blissfully unaware of the hardships that would come our way through the years. As we grew up together, we weathered our own storms before finally realizing we were ready to expand from a party of two to a party of three.

You were more nervous than I was, but you stayed strong for me, making me feel stronger and shouldering my own moments of uncertainty like the hero I needed.

When our daughter was born, pink and sweet and impossibly small, I never felt safer than when I saw her in your arms. From her first breath, you were there, ready to give her the world if she asked. Your dedication to her, to me, and to this family we continue to build never wavered from that moment forward. From the first moments, you were an incredible parent.

But life has a way of distracting us—blinding us to the everyday heroism even when it's right under our noses. As Edna Mode sagely reminded us in The Incredibles 2, "Done properly, parenting is a heroic act", and I see your heroism.

So thank you, my love…you are incredible to me.

Thank you for stretching to pick up my slack, even when you’re just as tired as I am.

Somedays you walk through the door from work, and you were slammed all day and your commute took an hour longer than it should have, and you're immediately bombarded by a needy toddler and an (almost) equally needy wife. But when I watch you shake off the day in an instant and throw your arms around us both, ready to help, I don't think words can truly express how grateful I am.

Thank you for being strong in my moments of weakness, even if no one else ever knows about them.

I play it so strong all the time, but you know the truth. You know the moments I'm about to break or the days when I truly can't take on another thing. And how do you respond? You make it okay. You let me crumble, you let me whine, you let me cry when I need to. You make it a safe space where I don't have to be #supermom, if even just for a moment. You are my safe space, and I love you for that.

Thank you for the thousands of practical, “little” things you do every week.

From taking out the garbage to changing the lightbulbs to actually remembering to replace the toilet paper roll (something even I forget to do!), those little things don't go unnoticed—even if I often forget to thank you in the moment.

While I may take on the bulk of housework as the stay-at-home parent, you do your part in little ways I never forget. Those little things? To me, they are incredible feats, trust me.

Thank you for being the incredible father I always knew you would be.

I wouldn't have married you if I didn't think "Dad" was a mantle you could take on successfully, but it still makes my heart burst every time I see you excelling at this difficult role. You make our daughter feel supported, safe, and loved every single day, and I'm so, so happy that you are the person I chose to do this life with. Your instincts and commitment to our children amaze me every day.

So for all the million things you do—and for all the millions of times I forget to say it—I thank you. For all the million things you have yet to do for us—I thank you.

You're our hero, and you're pretty incredible.

This article is sponsored by Disney/Pixar's The Incredibles 2 on Digital October 23 and Blu-ray Nov 6. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

As I sit here and write this, I kind of feel like I'm just waking up from a newborn fog myself—like I had been living in a dream and a nightmare all at once. With all the highs and lows of newborn parenthood—I'm realizing that literally nothing could have prepared me mentally or emotionally for it. How could it have?

It's like—how do you prepare the sweet baby you're growing inside you for the warmth of the sunlight they'll feel on their cheeks or the sound of the birds chirping in the spring? Nothing you could ever say could prepare them for that kind of simple wonder.

And nothing I can tell you will prepare you for the simple wonder of being present in the first moments of your baby's precious and irreplaceable life.

Take a mental snapshot of your home as you leave for the hospital. It will never be the same again. Try to remember the way the light poured in through the windows, the way the air felt on your face. I'm thankful I was able to remember to do this myself. Months from that day when the light pours in and the air brushes against your face in a similar way you'll be filled to the brim with heartwarming nostalgia of the day your sweet baby was born.

There is nothing I can say to you that can prepare your body for the excitement, the nerves, the exhaustion, or the hard work that is giving birth. The inexplicable awestruck wonder of your baby's first breath, their first blink, their first cry. The first time you meet them—the only person in the world that knows your heart from the inside. You will be the most beautiful sight they have ever seen, as they will be yours.

There are no words for those moments. But there are actions.

Take a picture in the hospital holding that sweet soul—a picture that includes you. The postpartum you with no makeup on, your hair disheveled, your hospital gown draped over your tired body. Don't wait to be "ready."

Take the picture. I wish I had.

There aren't any words to describe your first night home and the first weeks to follow. They'll be some of the most emotional days of your entire life—highs and lows of epic proportions—waves of pride, frustration, invincibility and defeat. Take them all in and let them shape your experience.

Trust the process. I wish I had been more trusting.

Breastfeed if you want to. Formula feed if you want to. That is your choice. Make it for the right reasons. Don't do either because someone else wants you to.

Make the choice that makes you and your sweet baby happy, healthy and able to be present. I wish I had.

Don't let anyone pressure you into decisions. Don't let anyone make you feel less than for the first choices you'll make as a mother. There is no one on the earth that knows your son better than you. Yes, the diaper is on right. No, the swaddle isn't too tight.

Be confident in your abilities and instincts. I wish I had been more confident.

With that said, be open to support from those around you—particularly from the women in your life. Accept and embrace your vulnerability and surrender, at least for a little while, to the hands of your village.

My mother-in-law told me on the way home from the hospital that she was never more grateful for the presence of her mother than in the days and weeks after my husband was born. She said I would feel the same. And she was right.

Let your mom or mother-in-law or a mother figure of sorts come to your rescue. Let her put cream on your back after the shower and stroke your hair as you take a nap. Be her baby. Now you'll understand the depth of her love for you.

Try to enjoy the moments right from the start. Rock your baby to sleep. Smell their precious newborn scent. Snuggle them endlessly. Let them fall asleep on your chest and keep your skin touching theirs as much as you can. All of this will be pretty difficult as you run on likely very little sleep, so don't be hard on yourself when you feel overwhelmed (we all feel that way at times!).

But as you can— try to be there in those moments. I wish I had been more present.

Know that the first weeks and first months come with a lot more exhaustion than you could ever really imagine—but then they will end. They. Will. End. The sleepless nights eventually become more restful and your days a little more routine.

For many weeks, your nights and days will be mixed up and your schedule shot. Try your best to roll with it. Don't try to force a routine or a schedule—it will re-establish itself in time.

Have faith in those chaotic moments that things will settle. I wish I had had more faith.

Things started to get really fun for me and my son at three months and things seemed to feel like my "new normal," my body included, around five months.

In time, your sweet baby will let you put them down. They will eventually get the hang of eating. There will come a moment where your baby takes a nap in the crib. Life on this side of the womb takes a little practice. Your baby will get the hang of it, mama.

Don't worry about it. I wish I had worried a little less.

Cry with your partner when you have to. Laugh together when you can. Take too many pictures. Have patience with each other. Try to hug every single day—sneak quiet moments together when you can. Try to step back from it all and observe it quietly.

You'll be amazed at yourself, at your partner, at your new family. I wish I had stepped back more often.

…And then one morning you'll wake up from a good night's sleep. You'll wake up from that sleep and you'll sit down to HOT coffee again and you'll realize the fog has cleared a bit.

You'll see that your life is forever changed. You'll realize now that when you gave birth to your baby, you also gave birth to a mother and a father, too. You'll realize now the magnitude of what you've done.

When the fog clears and you realize the enormity of this accomplishment, I hope you reflect back on your experience and marvel at the gift you have been given and also at the gift you have given to the ones you love.

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A new mother looked at me recently during a conversation we were having about sleep deprivation during the beginning of baby's life.

As a postpartum advisor and doula, I talk to a lot of new mamas.

But I hear all the time from women in the midst of transition to motherhood who are struggling to get their little ones to sleep and to respond to the demands of infant life.

This mama looked at me in desperation and asked, “So do you just not get anything done then??"

Mamas, I want to tell you the truth. Here it is:

You will not get anything done when you are home with a baby.

And anyone who told you otherwise is not being very forthcoming (or perhaps they just have a lousy memory).

You might get yourself fed.

You might get yourself dressed (then again, you might not).

You might take a walk (it makes baby happy).

You might have a short phone conversation or start a load of laundry, neither of which you will finish.

This is your new-mom normal.

So what are you doing all day?

Not much that can be measured, really.

You're simply responding appropriately and with patience (through fatigue) to smiles, to tears, to hunger cues and to drowsiness, teaching your baby how to navigate this complex and (to a baby) highly emotional and raw world.

You are keeping your baby clean, which on some days involves more costume changes (for both of you) than any non-mother can begin to fathom.

You are teaching a tiny, helpless person all about the world—at least the important parts, like how we treat each other and what it means to be connected to a family.

You are creating a foundation of love and trust between you and your baby, one that will help you set your parenting compass, inform your future interactions, and provide a basis for the way your child relates to the larger world.

You may be breastfeeding your baby—another time-consuming task (though once established, it takes less time than bottle feeding) that reaches forward through time to heal and protect your child, and simultaneously reduces your risk of disease.

Oh, and you're becoming a mother.

It started the day your baby was conceived, and it continues beyond birth.

Your baby is stretching and growing into this new body, and you are too.

But that's about it, really. That's your day.

Our culture doesn't have a good way to measure what you are accomplishing.

Your baby will grow and meet milestones: check.

To the untrained eye, most of this work, at the end of the day, will look like nothing.

But we know better.

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There is no greater task than the "nothing" you did yesterday, the "nothing" you are doing today and the "nothing" you will do tomorrow.

Caring for a baby is all about the immediate experience, yet the first two years are all about investment.

It's give, give, give and give some more.

These are hard-fought, rough-and-tumble years that can cut us down to our core and take us soaring high above the clouds, all in the space of five minutes.

And yes, as you do the hardest work of your life, it will seem like you're not getting anything done at all. Crazy, huh?

But here's where it gets interesting...

As much as you need and want a break now (and you should take one whenever you can), no mother has ever looked back on this time and thought, I wish I had held my baby less.

You will not remember the dishes that didn't get done, the vacuuming that you just couldn't make happen or the dirty clothes you wore more often than you'd like to admit.

You will remember the first smile, the first belly laugh, the first words, the first steps.

You will remember the way you looked at your baby and the way your baby looked at you.

So the next time you find yourself wondering how another day is gone and nothing is done, stop.

Hold your baby—feel the way that tiny body strains to contain this giant soul—complete and full of potential all at the same time.

Take a deep, slow breath.

Close your eyes and measure your day not as tasks, but as feelings, as sounds, as colors.

Exhaustion is part of it.

And it's true, you will get "nothing" done.

But the hard parts will fade.

The intense, burning love is what remains, and it is yours to keep forever.

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