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School Readiness: How Can We Help PLAY a Role in Our Childrens’ Success

In beginning a new school year we want to help our little ones adjust and succeed, whether they are starting at a new school, or returning to a familiar classroom.

WHAT SKILLS DOES YOUR CHILD NEED TO RECEIVE THE MOST BENEFITS SOCIALLY AND ACADEMICALLY WHEN BEGINNING SCHOOL?  In writing this post I interviewed a local teacher to ask what she views as the most important skills for children entering kindergarten.  Her response included academic skills, but in addition focused on social-emotional skills as well.

We can think of our children’s minds as buckets we want to fill.  In order to fill their buckets and increase confidence and enjoyment of learning we need to “plug the foundational holes” in their buckets.  Having solid skills prior to beginning school enables our children to regulate, learn, and thrive.

Some pre-academic skills to consider included:

Number Recognition

Letter Recognition

Letter Sounds and Blends

Simple Sight Words

Following 1-3 Step Simple Directions

Zipping a Coat

Some Social Emotional skills to consider included:

Sharing

Taking Turns

Learning to Raise Your Hand in a Group

Actively Listening while Someone Else is Speaking

Self-Awareness

Self-Regulation

Mimicking

Taking Turns Speaking

Sitting in a Spot for an Extended Period of Time

 Children’s Academic Skills are impacted by their Social Competencies and vice versa.

For Example: Being able to sit and attend impacts your ability to remember and integrate concepts; identifying one’s own emotions and the emotional cues of others impacts: picking up on teacher’s non-verbal cues for following directions, and managing peer relationships; and linking actions with thoughts and emotions impacts reading comprehension and personal narrative development.

Children who have difficulty interpreting social situations may have underlying lagging skills such as: comprehending the new information or situation, organizing the information into the desired response, retrieving language to express that response.

https://childmind.org/article/social-challenges-kids-learning-problems/

The Focus Point: So how can we help our children connect? 

How Can We Help Our Children Connect Using Emotional & Logic Learning

  • Learning Through Play: Engage in pretend play, use emotional vocabulary, incorporate numbers, incorporate letters, BUT in a way that involves engaging higher level thought processes
    • Ex: Playing Kitchen “I really want this food…but I forgot the name! It starts with an E…it has a shell….,etc.”
    • This engages children in Big Picture Thinking: Pulling Salient Detail Together
    • It also targets sound awareness
    • AND/OR “I want more than three eggs…but less than four…how would that look?”

Another Tool is Using Real Time Situations and Play Based Learning: Ex: “Mom, Can I have a juice?”, “Why do you need a juice?”

  • Teaching Reasoning, Expressing/Identifying Emotions, and Advocacy.
  • Taking pictures on family outings and placing them on a table, but out of order. Have your child arrange the photos in order, and tell you the sequence of events.
  • Shared Reading: Acting out scenes in a book, mimicking character emotion, having them predict the next part of the story (and act it out!)  *This practice has also been linked to increased comfort levels of public speaking.
  • Play pretend school: Have child sit for circle time, then you be the student.  Model HOW to sit and listen in play! Your child’s mind is typically great at generalizing play skills to learning skills (Albert Einstein knew this!)
  • MOVEMENT helps integrate the brain! Learn outside, learn through movement!
  • Go outside and HUNT for categories, hunt for objects that begin with ‘B’, or specific colors.
  • Turn Questions Around!
    • “Mom or Dad, why are the street lights red, yellow, and green?” ASK your child “Why do you think they are?” ENCOURAGE guessing, predictions, and any chances to develop and discuss logic!
    • In the morning go over the weather, and have your child pick their clothes.  Step outside quickly, and talk about whether it’s hot, cold, rainy, sunny, and what clothes go with certain weather.  (They may not match BUT they have engaged higher level thinking!)
  • Encourage story telling!  Have them repeat, pause, etc.
  • Play “What would you do?” games.  Give hypothetical situations or problems, and talk about what they would do.
  • Acknowledge and explain emotions physically and mentally, talk about what it looks like to listen!
  • Resources
    • Whole Body Listening Larry
    • The Whole-Brain Child
    • The Explosive Child

Finally, You Are Your Child’s Greatest Model

  • Talk about everything and anything! Talk about what you’re doing, how you’re feeling, what your child is doing, what you see, etc.
  • Your child is watching HOW you listen.  If you are multi-tasking, looking away, moving around, your child is going to observe that as actively listening.
  • Give them time to respond.  Children learn conversational rules from us! If we interrupt or rush, they model the same!  Show signs of actively listening (more obvious than usual): nodding, smiling, verbal acknowledgement, eye contact.
  • Teach Delayed Gratification (this skill is a very large indicator of future successes and persistence during education and in relationships.)
  • Teach Positive Self Talk: the things you tell your child about themselves, will begin to be how they see themselves.
  • Schedule mind wondering time into your routine!  Leave educational materials out, let them explore their interests in down time.

 

 

Summer Self-Care

Practicing self-care is filling your own cup.

It is important to remember that you cannot fill someone else’s cup without first filling your own.

Every time we fly the flight attendants provide a friendly reminder “Please put your oxygen mask on first.” In every day living how do we do this?

Is there enough time? Short answer…..yes.

Self-care can be as small as reading 10 pages of a book you’ve been wanting to read, walking past your favorite courtyard at work, treating yourself to a coffee, calling up a good friend.

In essence….reaching out.

Practicing self-care professionally and personally helps us to continue with our drive and focus. Thinking about what we need throughout our day (which is often different every day) helps us to become more self-aware reflective, and capable of regulating our emotions. What do you need before a big meeting? What do you need before going home to your family? It can be as simple as a 5 minute break listening to a favorite song, or even sitting in silence, reflecting on a powerfully positive memory.

Fill your cup throughout the day….all day.

Some days we need more brain breaks than others….

This is true for people of all ages.

We can teach our children self-care and self-reflection by teaching them things they can do or ask for to help fill their own cups. We can also provide verbal feedback that helps them fill their own cups.

  1. Have healthy snacks where they can reach. Helping them to understand that when they are feeling hungry or tired they can solve that feeling (in a healthy way) on their own.
  2. Children thrive on structure, but also need down time to help them to regulate their ever changing systems. Schedule unstructured down time. Have an impromptu dance party, act out a favorite book, paint, build a fort, share a book. Give them time to exercise their imagination.
  3. When your child has excess energy avoid telling them to stop, and give them strategies for calming down instead. Go for a walk or scooter ride, incorporate movement breaks into homework, have them help you carry things while at the store.
  4. Point out the positive! When your child tries something new, shares, or works through a problem help them fill their cup! Give them specific compliments, “You worked really hard and stuck with it to finish that puzzle!”, “You are so caring and thoughtful of others when you share.” Give them words that they can identify themselves as in their self talk and identity. “I am hard working, I am kind.”

Big picture: take time for self-care! The time you spend on yourself is your most important investment. Schedule 5-10 minutes 5 to 10 times a day to practice self-care, or take 30 minutes to yourself 2 times a day. The little moments that we allow ourselves to meet our needs, and fill our cups, result in a larger appreciation of ourselves, and a greater ability to help others.

 

Saying Yes to Saying No

“No” is not a negative word.

The word “no” from a very young age can be difficult to hear. Especially as children develop language as a form of communication, and realize the power it has. As adults we can get so excited that our children are talking, requesting, and commenting that we get caught up in the “yes” moment. We also, as human beings, would rather cultivate happiness in others than disappointment (and maybe a tantrum or two). Enter the “no” stigma. At work we may struggle to say no to a boss, out of concern that one “no” could change their perception of us for the rest of our career. At home we may struggle to say “No” to a child or partner out of fear of an argument. However, what if our negative perception of “no” is actually costing us? Over committing, unable to deliver, personal stress, professional stress…

“No” is not about taking away or losing….

“No” is about CREATING and RESPECTING boundaries.

Learning to accept the word “no” and setting boundaries from an early age helps build delayed gratification, problem solving, and the ability to ask for help. Social Emotional Competencies that are strong indicators for future career and relationship successes.

When you HEAR the word “No” how do you feel physically? How do you feel mentally? How do you feel emotionally?

When you SAY the word “No” how do you feel physically? How do you feel mentally? How do you feel emotionally?

Eliminating the negative emotions around “No” (if you have them) means changing your definition or perception of the word.

Using the word “no” means you are setting clear boundaries, you are saying “yes” to what you know you can do at your highest level, you are learning to delegate, you are learning to admit what you do not know, what you want to learn, you are helping a child learn realistic expectations.

You are being respectful of yourself and others.

Teaching children to accept and use “No” is important for their emotional and intellectual growth. It helps them manage relationships, accept direction, and increase their ability to stick with the things that may be difficult for them in order to receive the ultimate reward at the end. It is an element that leads them to develop perseverance and the ability to understand another person’s perspective. People have different thoughts and expectations. You will not always hear “Yes”. In fact, “Yes” will not always be best.

If you have a child who constantly uses “No”, start asking them “Why?” Then take it a step further. Ask them how they feel, how they are making others feel. Ask if there are any other options you could use to meet both of your expectations. Reflect on how often you tell them “No”. Is it all the time? Are we asking the child to be flexible when we are not? In certain instances “No” is not an option. In these cases it can be helpful to give children a choice of two things you want them to do, where either is acceptable. Not starting with “Do you want…”, but a statement “Should we put on your shoes first or your coat?” Practicing hearing “No” in play, as a problem solving game, can also be helpful. For example, painting with different colors and having your child request them. When they ask for orange you can say “No. We can’t use the orange today, but we could see if two colors make orange!” Then let your child mix the paint colors and take guesses! They are practicing hearing and accepting “No”, as well as learning logic!

Saying and hearing “No” is not about highlighting denial or negativity. Its acceptance represents positive growth. It encompasses the ability to set boundaries. It provides the opportunity to practice flexibility and perseverance in navigating road blocks to success. It is a valuable tool in cultivating respect in ourselves and others.

 

 

Freedoms of Choice

Learning to make decisions begins with learning to recognize and respond to provided choices.  As parents and mentors we can cultivate decision making skills, as well as leadership mentalities from a young age.

Confidence in your choices.

Trust in your decisions.

Learning that you are capable of making competent and successful choices results in FREEDOMS.  Freedom to explore new interests, freedom to solve new problems, freedom to grow through the uncomfortable and into successes. 

For young children, even toddlers, we can provide them with opportunities to make choices, while still providing parental or adult guidance.  This may require us to step out of our own comfort zones or add time into our routines (relinquishing control so that our children can exert some in a productive way).  We can lay out different clothing in the morning, and allow them to choose what they want to wear.  When we pack lunch we can lay different snacks out, and ask them which they would like to have.  If it’s family movie night allowing our children to select the movie, and explain WHY they think it’s the best choice for the FAMILY, not just for them.  With my older students, we work on decision making in accordance with time management.  We make a list of what needs to be done, but they can choose the order we complete the tasks.  We trial doing what is harder for us first, or starting with what is easy for us first.  We have a motto in our sessions that “the choice is yours…and the consequence is yours.”

As an adult, and with my older students I am a big fan of the 3 Cs.

CHOICE. CONSEQUENCE. CONTROL.

Reflecting on our actions and decisions.  What was your Choice?  What was the Consequence?  How could and couldn’t you have Controlled it?  Journaling using these can be helpful for children or adults.  Would you make the same decision again for a similar problem OR are you thinking of another decision that you will use for a similar problem next time?  With children, you can talk about the 3 Cs right after they make a choice, whether that choice was expected (had a pretty good outcome) or unexpected (didn’t really work out as planned).

This kind of mapping or connection helps teach that making decisions is an important skill, but we also need to understand the outcomes, and take ownership of our actions.  How great that we as people get to own our actions!  It is a FREEDOM.  We have the opportunity to grow and learn from our consequences, failures, and successes!

As adults we model decision making skills for our childrenWe also model our reactions to our decisions.  Do we make excuses OR do we make connections and corrections?  Do we stress over every little choice OR do we model positive dialogue and self-trust?

We all need structure and guidance in all stages of life.  Moreover, teaching our next generation that there is time for choices, and that they are capable of great ones, helps light the minds of our next great leaders.   

Surfing the Mind

This Summer….Surf’s Up: Brain Beach

 Thoughts……

 They are a lot like waves.  They go in and out of your brain.  Some deliver you calmly to shore, and help you learn how to navigate the mental ocean a little more. While others shake you up in mother nature’s washing machine and spit you out with your bathing suit half off.  In short, thoughts have power, power to change your mood, change your relationships, change your health, and change your goals.  What it can be hard to recognize is that you have power over your thoughts.  When the emotional portion of your brain takes over and tells you it’s hopeless (thanks a lot Amygdala) it is hard to re-connect and logically manage your expectations.   Practicing certain mental habits can help with gaining re-connection to our logical or controlled thought processes.  One of these is through scheduled mindfulness practices.

For example, meditation.  (For those who are already SMH) you do not necessarily need a mantra, or even to sit still.  The idea is to draw focus inward, and calm the mind.  During meditation thoughts are bound to pop into your head.  In these cases, you accept them, and let them exit just as they entered (like a wave)! 

Believe it or not, there is a neurological reason you do your best thinking when you’re in the shower or right before bed.  You have reduced competing stimuli that your brain has to focus on.  This enables the parts of your brain that communicate for complex problem solving to increase your attention and ability to channel a very important human gift: INTUITION and mental flexibility. 

I have a current podcast that I love for this called: Mindfulness in 8 Weeks: 20 Minutes a Day Program

For children, I like to use the term “Brain Break”.  When one of my children or teens is really stuck we take time to let their mind “wander off”, and then we come back to the problem.  There’s no technology involved….maybe drawing, “fidgeting”, or movement.  We specifically discuss what may help our brain “wander” (ex: movement, coloring, music, jokes, etc.)  Before we return to the problem we check in on how we are feeling (ex: relaxed, calm, still fidgety, stuck).  Creative problem solving is often cultivated during times of boredom or “down time”.

Another child friendly tool is a great book called “What is a Thought? A Thought is A Lot” by Amy Kahofer and Jack Pransky

Schedule brain breaks for you and your family this summer.  Allowing ourselves to be bored enables our minds to return to flexibility and creativity.  Both are valuable tools for success. 

What’s on Your Mental Plate?

What’s On Your Mental Plate?

Diet is a popular topic no matter what age we are.  We are consistently being reminded to be mindful of what we and our families eat.  It’s important and we know it!

“You are what you eat.”

But you are also what you THINK. 

Do you ever feel run down?  Like you have no time for yourself, let alone for others? So what is on your mental plate?  Are you mindful of the activities that fill, challenge, reward, or deplete your brain on a daily and weekly basis?  How much work is too much work?  How little play is too little play?  What are you doing to positively feed your brain as well as your body? We are all individuals, with individual minds and bodies, that require individual diets.  As adults it is easy to say “I’m just too busy…..”, but what that actually means is “I am choosing to focus my time and energy elsewhere”.  Ask yourself: do you know exactly where, and how much?  An activity that can help with increasing this level of self-awareness is actually tracking where and how you spend your time.   Portioning out your mental plate.  ALL of it! Move over leafy greens……time to chew on some mental game changers.

Taking a simple planner and jotting down the activities during your day and the time they took can help you have that Aha! Moment where you realize it is possible to exercise for 30 minutes! You do have time to do something that brings you JOY.  You are spending way too much time in an area that doesn’t need it, or too little in an area that does! Take that opening that you can now SEE in your calendar (there you are 15 extra minutes!) and schedule that goal you have had on your mind!

Throughout the day we need time to let our brains experience emotional learning through those things that make us feel good!  Your time is your most valuable asset, and you can make choices to make the most of it!

I teach this concept of time awareness and “giving back to your brain” to my students.  I want them to know they can choose to reward themselves with time, rather than simply spending it.  I have used an actual paper plate and I have also used a wall clock and different colored dry erase markers to teach this skill.  The students portion out the time they think it will take to complete activities, the time they need for “brain breaks”, and the time they would want to themselves. These visuals help my students see how much of their time is spent in different areas.  When they visually see what they need to get done, and set a time goal, they are typically excited to find out they have more time for themselves at the end of a session!  A double win: intrinsic motivation and learning executive functioning and organizational skills!

Today

Take a look at your mental plate and take time BACK for yourself.  Give your mind a healthy and BALANCED mental meal…..you deserve it!

 

What’s on Your Mental Plate?

Diet is a popular topic no matter what age we are.  We are consistently being reminded to be mindful of what we and our families eat.  It’s important and we know it!

“You are what you eat.”

But you are also what you THINK. 

Do you ever feel run down?  Like you have no time for yourself, let alone for others? So what is on your mental plate?  Are you mindful of the activities that fill, challenge, reward, or deplete your brain on a daily and weekly basis?  How much work is too much work?  How little play is too little play?  What are you doing to positively feed your brain as well as your body? We are all individuals, with individual minds and bodies, that require individual diets.  As adults it is easy to say “I’m just too busy…..”, but what that actually means is “I am choosing to focus my time and energy elsewhere”.  Ask yourself: do you know exactly where, and how much?  An activity that can help with increasing this level of self-awareness is actually tracking where and how you spend your time.   Portioning out your mental plate.  ALL of it! Move over leafy greens……time to chew on some mental game changers.

Taking a simple planner and jotting down the activities during your day and the time they took can help you have that Aha! Moment where you realize it is possible to exercise for 30 minutes! You do have time to do something that brings you JOY.  You are spending way too much time in an area that doesn’t need it, or too little in an area that does! Take that opening that you can now SEE in your calendar (there you are 15 extra minutes!) and schedule that goal you have had on your mind!

Throughout the day we need time to let our brains experience emotional learning through those things that make us feel good!  Your time is your most valuable asset, and you can make choices to make the most of it!

I teach this concept of time awareness and “giving back to your brain” to my students.  I want them to know they can choose to reward themselves with time, rather than simply spending it.  I have used an actual paper plate and I have also used a wall clock and different colored dry erase markers to teach this skill.  The students portion out the time they think it will take to complete activities, the time they need for “brain breaks”, and the time they would want to themselves. These visuals help my students see how much of their time is spent in different areas.  When they visually see what they need to get done, and set a time goal, they are typically excited to find out they have more time for themselves at the end of a session!  A double win: intrinsic motivation and learning executive functioning and organizational skills!

Today

Take a look at your mental plate and take time BACK for yourself.  Give your mind a healthy and BALANCED mental meal…..you deserve it!