Reconnecting With Joy

August can be a time of big transitions. The days are getting shorter and in many families, the first preparations for school are beginning.  It can be really busy!  Sometimes when there is a lot to be accomplished, adults in the family take their responsibilities seriously and focus on getting things done. Many of us show up as “human doings” instead of “human beings”. This is an invitation to make sure there is time each day to pause and connect with your children and what is really important. You can fit connection into your day pretty easily – but it requires paying attention. Here are some ideas:

  • Be in the moment. When you hug your child be there. Really. Not on the way to something else.
  • Let some spontaneity in to your schedule. Are you listening to the radio while you are getting ready for dinner and hear a song that makes you want to stop and dance? Do it. Invite your children to do it with you.
  • Share some of your story. Our children love to hear stories about how life was like back when we were little. What was your favorite summer memory from then? What is theirs?
  • Share gratitude. “I feel really grateful that I had time to snuggle with you this morning before we started our day.” “I feel joyful when our family is outside playing together”.
  • Have fun. What is fun for your family? Playing catch? Shooting hoops? Charades? Card games? I spy while you are on a car trip?

Play is good for the human brain. Play can:

  • Relieve stress. Play can stimulate the release of the bodies natural “feel good” hormones, endorphins.
  • Improve brain function. Solving puzzles or doing fun activities that challenge the brain improves brain function.
  • Boost creativity and mental flexibility. We all learn a new tasks better when we are safe, relaxed and the activity is fun. Play can also stimulate imagination and problem solving.

Enjoy the last days of summer!

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Joy In Learning

August is a wonderful time for reflection. The new school year is on the horizon and the past school year is now fading a bit in the distance. As a teacher or administrator, you face tremendous pressure to support students to achieve significant academic progress. Under this pressure, it can seem like every minute counts and academic learning must be packed into every nook and cranny.

Yet most of us did not get into education to fill brains. We are here because we get satisfaction and joy when we see the light in a child’s eyes when they “get it”, or discover something new, or get curious. We enjoy the process of learning together, of sharing new ideas, or a sense of wonder. Learning can be really fun!iStock_000006627044Small

We also know that play is good for the human brain. Play can:

  • Relieve stress. Play can stimulate the release of the bodies natural “feel good” hormones, endorphins.
  • Improve brain function. Solving puzzles or doing fun activities that challenge the brain improves brain function.
  • Boost creativity and mental flexibility. We all learn new tasks better when we are safe, relaxed and the activity is fun. Play can also stimulate imagination and promote problem solving.

Now is a great time to make a plan to bring a little more joy and playfulness into your classroom. This is not about making students happy, but rather being able to be spontaneous and joyful at appropriate times.  Here are some ideas:

  • Be “in the moment”. When you greet each student, make sure you are there “with” them for that few seconds.
  • Share what makes learning fun for you. This isn’t a mini lecture, but rather one or two sentences here and there. “You know, sometimes when I solve a really tough math problem, I just feel accomplished afterwards.” “One thing I love about reading stories is that it helps me think about things differently.” “Seeing a movie about a different country makes me want to learn more and wonder what it would be like to be there.” “Isn’t it interesting how all of our science groups came up with slightly different answers to the same problem?”
  • Be willing to laugh with (but not at) your students. Sometimes things happen in the classroom that really are funny. It might be a mistake you made, or something that surprises all of you.
  • Reflect and celebrate. Pause occasionally during the day and invite your students to reflect on one thing they learned. What have you learned?
  • Be you. You are a teacher for a reason. What will help you keep that alive when the going gets rough? Your students will notice and appreciate your passion.
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Self-Care for Educators

It’s important for teachers to remember that taking care of yourself isn’t a luxury; it’s a conscious, mindful strategy that results in being more energetic and present. This makes teaching more enjoyable and frankly, more survivable. Summer is a great time to reflect on the ways to take care of yourself and begin self-care routines for the school year. Here are some ideas:

  • Make time for friends and family.
  • Relax and have fun. That might involve spending time outside or swallowed up by a great novel.
  • Make exercise a regular part of your schedule – walk, bicycle, dance, do yoga regularly.
  • Connect with others. Before the school year begins, reflect on who your ‘go to’ people are. Who can you count on to listen deeply, see the humor in a situation, or exercise with you?
  • Store your inspiration. When the new school year starts, keep a folder or journal of inspirational quotes and/or the positive comments students, parents, colleagues make to or about you.
  • Gratitude practice. Spend time each day noticing what you are grateful for. Research shows that this changes your brain.
  • Anchor yourself. Think of small ways to stay grounded during the school day. Make a list of ‘pick-me-up’ items you can keep in your desk (protein boost – granola bars, nuts, stress ball, herb tea). Create a box of some of these items for your desk. You could even make one for a colleague.
  • Create a transition routine. Now is a good time to plan for ways to unwind or relax after each school day. Be creative: call a friend, take a walk, play with your pet, watch a show, dance, sing, take a bath, draw, cuddle with your children, knit, eat a healthy meal.
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Parents and Self-Care

Parents spend a lot of time and energy helping their children learn and grow. By the end of the day of meeting the needs of others (children, partner, colleagues, neighbors) you may not have much energy left for yourself. Taking care of yourself is not a luxury. It is a necessary, conscious, mindful strategy. In the busy-ness of your life it is more likely to  happen if it is planned and scheduled up front. Filling your own cup first leaves you with more love and energy for yourself, your children and the other important people in your life.  Some ideas:

  • What do you already do? Think about the ways that you already take care of yourself. Do you walk, meditate, listen to music? Or do you try to deny or ignore stress, procrastinate and avoid situations that are challenging? Reflect on what you might want to add or change.
  • Go for variety. Realize that self-care activity will work for all stressors. Find and practice a variety of tools. Plan for self-care that nurtures your body, mind and spirit: paint, do a craft, join a yoga or Zumba class, listen to music, connect with nature, walk your dog, watch a game, join a sports team, fix something.
  • IMG_0662Gratitude practice. Spend time each day noticing what you are grateful for. Research shows that this changes your brain.
  • Notice strengths. Make a list of your child’s strengths and what you love about your child. On those days when your children are pushing your buttons, go back to that list. Remember who they really are when they are feeling better.
  • Ask for and accept help when you need it.
  • Pay attention to your own needs. Practice saying ‘no’ when appropriate.
  • Pay attention to your body’s needs. Get at least 7-8 hours of sleep each night, hydrate and eat healthy foods. Allow yourself a treat now and then.
  • Be gentle with yourself. Ease up on expectations, especially of yourself.
  • Be aware of your self-talk. Make sure it includes noticing what you did well. “I helped my neighbor”, “I handled that well”, or “I did my best”. Ask your inner critic to not work overtime.

A final thought. If you find yourself shouting, maybe you are shouting for help. Take care of yourself!

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Moving Into A Strong Finish

As the end of the school year approaches, students of all ages become more anxious and excited. It is a big transition as the rhythm of the school routine will not be there. They will not be with all of their friends and a teacher they care about. Many students also face uncertainty with their families. This is a hard time of year for teachers, too. Teaching is hard work! Most teachers are pretty tired by now, and you have to pack up your classroom and write report cards. You’ve connected and cared about your students, and you are sending them off. We invite you to look at the end of year as an opportunity to strengthen the skills you’ve worked hard to build in your students and to support them and yourself in the transition into summer. Some ideas:

  • Stay with your well established routines (even reteach if necessary). Routine will help your students and you stay connected.
  • Have realistic expectations of yourself. This is a good time to make sure you invest in self-care. Keep things in perspective – don’t sweat the small stuff.
  • This is a great time to review and practice self regulation. Join your students in the practice. If you haven’t seen it yet, try out mindyeti.com. It is free and offers simple practices that students can continue over the summer.
  • If you are using class meetings, you can use the structure of the class meeting to talk about the transitions and hopes and dreams for the fall.
  • Take time for reflection and small celebrations. Help your students notice how far they have come. They can do this by comparing work samples or group sharing. What did they enjoy most this year? What was their biggest challenge? If they were to write a letter to a future student in your class, what would they say?
  • Instead of big end of year parties, think about a goodbye ritual or practice that you might do with your students. Some classrooms use the ball of yarn activity. Others write appreciations for each other.
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Here Comes Summer!

Summer is almost upon us. Parents and children look forward to summer and it also creates some stress and anxiety with the shift from the rhythm and routines of the school year. Doing some preparation for this unique part of the year can increase everyone’s fun and decrease stress. It is important for children to have a balance of structured and unstructured time and a balance of active and quiet time.  Spend time at least a little time outside with your children every day. Here are some more ideas:

  • Spend some time now with your children creating a list of things that you and your children would like to do this summer. It can include things like: projects, exploration, learning, playtime, how you will handle family work together and time to connect with friends and family.
  • Talk about the summer schedule. Are your children in summer school? Day care? Camp? Hanging out with friends? Doing things together as a family? Mark these on the calendar.iStock_000010613159Small_2
  • Talk about the daily routine. When your children are in school, there is a helpful rhythm and routine to their day. What will the routine be in the summer? What time will you go to bed? Get up? Eat meals? When will you spend time outside?
  • Have your children look for toys or games that may be forgotten in the back of their closets. Are they more interesting now? Can they be repurposed or donated to another family?
  • Visit the library regularly to take out books. Join the summer reading program or find time to read or listen to audio books together as a family. Keeping reading as a regular activity will help children stay on track for school in the fall.
  • Have your children set up a space where they can make projects, do art or puzzles or write in a summer journal.
  • Do activities with your children: plant a garden, make a picnic lunch to eat outside, redecorate a room, cook meals, visit parks, take a walk, toss a ball. Cooking and shopping with your child can be great math activities.
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Building “Empathy Muscles” with your Child

Empathy is a skill and an awareness that we can build – in ourselves and our children. Empathy is the ability to step into someone else’s shoes and connect to their feelings or to take their perspective. It is also the ability to regulate our own emotions and be able to separate our own feelings from the feelings of others.

Here are some ways to teach empathy to your children:

* Address your child’s needs without dismissing or minimizing. Research tells us that children whose emotional and physical needs are met at home are much more likely to show empathy and help others in distressiStock_000006427332Small

* Talk to children about feelings: yours and theirs. This helps children recognize their emotions in challenging situations.

* Help children explore others’ perspectives. You can use real life situations or take advantage of movies you see together or books you are reading. What is the character feeling? Why might he or she be doing what he/she is doing? What does the person or character want or believe?

* Help your children understand what they have in common with others. Research supports the idea that children are more empathetic with others they perceive to be similar/familiar to them.

*Help your children understand that each person is also unique. Differences don’t make one person “right” and the other person “wrong.” When we understand what the other person is thinking or what they may be afraid of we can connect with that person more easily.

* Use discipline that is based on developing inner self-control. Studies have shown that children are less likely to help others if they are given material rewards for doing so.

* Look for the joy in parenting. Spend quality time with your children, listen to them,  and show them affection.

 

 

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