I get it! Our integrated movement and mindfulness curriculum can feel overwhelming or even daunting for educators who have never participated in any form of intentional movement or meditative practice.
We teach who we are, right? So to teach mindfulness, we have to practice mindfulness. To reap the benefits of active play, yoga, creative and intentional movement, we have to do these things. If you have never done them, then you’ll need to make the time to start. You’ll also need to justify that time as well spent. This is a lifestyle shift – and essential to being able to teach and integrate movement and mindfulness into your own way of doing things.
It’s the regular practice of intentional movement such as yoga that actually changes you. As you work with yourself from the inside out, you experience becoming more aware, less reactive, more fluid, less rigid, more present, less controlling, more curious, less judgmental. You start to understand in your body how movement and mindfulness resource you to not just feel better but also do better… as in be a better person. You feel organically motivated to organize your day around well-being rather than what you get done. This is a paradigm shift. It’s radical to prioritize your self-care and self-regulation because you know that being the person and teacher you want to be depends on it. You can’t go back to stressing or pushing through and you certainly don’t want to do that to your students.
It’s from this embodied understanding of movement and mindfulness that our curriculum and materials really make sense as a road map for addressing standards while nurturing physically fit, emotionally stable, socially intelligent, and learning able kids. I understand this now because it is our embodiment of these practices adapted for children that created the curriculum. Though we designed and encourage the resources to be used by anyone, with no additional training, which they are; I also want to acknowledge how challenging it can be for those with no previous experience.
That’s why we offer support any time you call or email and why we hope to inspire you with the variety of activities in the curriculum to start a mindful movement and meditation practice of your own. Practice is your best teacher – ever bringing you wisely and compassionately back to your optimal self.
What is self-care? The definition varies depending on who you’re asking, but essentially it means taking care of yourself physically and mentally. In recent years the concept of mental health has come to the forefront of societal conversation, so much so that May has been designated Mental Health Awareness Month. Dedicating a month to awareness and support for those living with mental illness is a great step in the right direction, still, it is not enough. The stigma associated with mental health can still halt conversation and make people feel embarrassed for talking about their struggle.
How prevalent is mental illness? Over 45 million adults live with mental illness. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), half of all chronic mental illness begins by age 14. While these numbers are alarming, they shed insight into where more work can be done. The fact that mental illness often begins in childhood emphasizes the critical need for social-emotional education (SEL) to begin at a young age. As early as February 2011 research cited in the publication Child Development shows that when children are taught emotional intelligence, stress management, self-compassion, and empathy (all aspects of self-care), they demonstrate significantly improved resilience, affecting social and emotional skills, attitudes, behavior, and an academic performance change that reflected an 11‐percentile‐point gain in achievement. (https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-8624.2010.01564.x). “The findings add to the growing empirical evidence regarding the positive impact of SEL programs. Policy makers, educators, and the public can contribute to healthy development of children by supporting the incorporation of evidence‐based SEL programming into standard educational practice.” (Durlak, Weissberg) The positive impact imparted by the use of self-care skills carries on into adulthood and lays a foundation for not just happier adults, but also a healthier society.
Discuss and Educate
First things first, in order to have productive conversation and break stigma we must be better educated. What is mental health? This may seem like an obvious question, but ask yourself and ask your kids. You’ll be surprised by the different perspectives. By definition, mental health encompasses our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. Mental health disorders are disturbingly common among children and adolescents and with the most familiar mental health issues being: Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Anxiety, Depression, and Suicide.
Fortunately, many informative mental health materials can be found online. This is a great place to start to learn about mental-emotional health. Educate yourself first and then include the children in your life by modeling and sharing with them what you’ve learned and what you are doing as a result to better self-care mentally, emotionally and physically. Encourage them to be active, eat well, and talk about how they feel. Make sure they learn tools and techniques that support them in calming, managing, and focusing themselves in healthy ways when events in their life weigh so heavily that they, or you, fear they are tipping. Stress, fear, frustration, and the subsequent anger and anguish are real, regardless if from an outside perspective the emotions seem unwarranted. Get dug in, it’s important. Find out what your child’s school is doing to teach and support SEL. Organizations such as SEL4CA.org and CASEL.org can help you.
Starting a conversation with your kids about mental health is challenging, look for discussion guides, podcasts, and even comic books, that can give you questions to get the ball rolling, or at the least give you questions to ask your doctor about a child who may be at risk. These resources can also suggest activities that demonstrate to your child how their thoughts and emotions are linked and that can explain conditions in terms children will understand. Becoming more comfortable with these kinds of conversations will make kids and teens feel less isolated and will encourage them to share their true feelings.
You can read more about the benefits of mental health here.
Encourage Physical Activity
It’s widely known that exercise is good for your physical health, but it’s also one of the best ways to improve your mental health. It’s a great outlet to reduce stress, exude excess energy, and even give yourself a healthy sense of well-being. Those who exercise are more likely to feel more energetic throughout the day, get a better night’s rest, relax and be more positive. Exercise has been known to aid in the treatment of depression, anxiety, stress, ADHD and trauma.
The best physical activities are ones that include friends and family. Whether it’s taking the dog for a walk every day, joining a kickball league or swimming in the pool, any chance to get out and get moving will have significant health effects. When you cannot get outside, play-along videos are a fun and bonding way to exercise inside at home or at school. From the many exercise videos there are to choose from, the one for young children, ages 3-9 years that we want to highlight is the, Movement & Mindfulness Bundle from Move with Me Yoga Adventures. It has 9 yoga videos that combine acting out stories with movement and learning discrete, specific health & self-regulation skills that can be reinforced during your daily life through the use of physical flash cards. The skills taught are not just for kids, they can be used by adults and children alike.
Embrace the Arts
Having a creative outlet is another essential component of self- care. There are instances in which words do not suffice, or perhaps they’re too hard to say. Finding a creative way to express feelings is a healthy alternative to keeping them internalized. Painting, drawing, or coloring are great ways to depict feelings through colors and portraying scenes. Writing, playing, and listening to music is another outlet. Finding music that relates to the way you’re feeling can be a release of emotion. Music can also translate into a feeling of camaraderie. When people are expressing the same feelings you feel, you’re more likely to open up.
For you and your children’s mental health, it’s essential to stop the cycle of stress and the accompanying emotions of helplessness and anger. It is time to start prioritizing your well-being by taking time throughout the day to self-care. When you take the time to learn the skills you need, that intention and action translates to positive growth for your family as well. “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” – Mahatma Gandhi
Written by: Wendy Piret, Program Director, Move with Me Yoga Adventures
Last April, Janine Harper, Director of the Family Advocacy Program (FAP) for the Army Community Service (ACS) Center in Yongsan, South Korea, a province of Seoul, contacted us regarding resources and training. She wanted MwMYA to come out and work with the staff and family members of the U.S. Army Garrison (USAG) Yongsan. For myself, with 13 military moves (7 with children) in 24 years of active duty service, including 8 years of active duty myself and 16 more as a spouse, it was an incredible opportunity. Intimately familiar with the stress that multiple moves puts on children, coupled with what can often be tough assignments which include family separation, I can think of few communities who can appreciate and benefit from the stabilizing and centering effects of playful movement and creatively incorporated mindfulness and self-regulation skills.
We readily agreed to come out and last week, August 21-24th, 2017, I traveled to Seoul to train the staff and community members at USAG Yongsan. I worked with social workers, OTs, PTs, Speech Therapists, preschool and early elementary teachers, soldiers, and parents. Twenty (20) dedicated professionals attended the full 2 day 16-hour Certification Training for the Movement and Mindfulness curriculum, and 25 more received our 4-hour Introductory to Mindfulness and Self-Regulation Skills for Focused, Fit, and Healthy kids at home and in the classroom. In hindsight, after reading the mission of ACS, we should not have been surprised by the call:
“To assist commands in maintaining the readiness of individuals, families, and communities by providing a world of education, opportunity and discovery to promote self-reliance, resilience, and stability.”
I am deeply grateful for the opportunity to interact with the family members who attended our workshops, and to be able to train the staff of the ACS Center to support them with concrete, accessible skills from simple breathing techniques to the easily achieved brain activating and stress reducing movements we call Adventures Skills. The level of professionalism and forward thinking I witnessed among the staff members was the highlight of the trip. There is no shortage of crisis situations, heartache, and strife when it comes to juggling the challenges that living overseas, working full time, and raising a family. To hold the space for soldiers, sailors, airmen and their families takes an incredible amount of personal resilience, dedication, and commitment.
ACS Yongsan you are the rugged soldiers, realistic, grounded, and unafraid to do whatever you need to do to achieve the best results possible for your families. Janine Harper and the staff of the Yongsan ACS, we sincerely thank you for the opportunity to serve your community.
From Janine Harper, Family Advocacy Program Manager, Army Community Service
“The Family Advocacy Program Manager for USAG-Yongsan, recently hosted a Move with Me Yoga Adventures workshop for both professionals and community members. The Family Advocacy Program focus on healthy ways to decrease child abuse and domestic violence by increasing opportunities for military families to come together. Providing our community training in movement and mindfulness fulfills so many of the goals we are trying to achieve in our community. Many of our families are looking for new healthy ways to share time with their families, and this meets that mission.
Over the last few days both our military professionals (social workers, occupational therapist, teachers, child care professional and counselors) and community members received invaluable training. This training provided a great balance between understanding the science and learning practical skills for implementation. We have already incorporated it in our Back to School Bash and are excited about educating the larger audience with our upcoming events.”
SEL Teaches Character
In 1995, New York Times science reporter Daniel Goleman published the book, Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ, which launched the SEL movement. The case he presents and validates with preliminary evidence is that:
- Character matters
- Character can be taught
- Character improves academic, social, and professional achievement
Since then, all subsequent research shows that SEL does, in fact, enhance children’s academic success while preventing problems such as mental health disorders and violence. Social-emotional competencies, as defined by the list below, empower kids to grow self-aware and confident, to manage difficult emotions and impulses, and to embody empathy, which translates to not only improved behavior but also test scores.
Daniel Goleman’s 5 Social Emotional Learning Skills:
- Emotional self-awareness — knowing what one is feeling at any given time and understanding the impact those moods have on others
- Self-regulation — controlling or redirecting one’s emotions; anticipating consequences before acting on impulse
- Motivation — utilizing emotional factors to achieve goals, enjoy the learning process and persevere in the face of obstacles
- Empathy — sensing the emotions of others
- Social skills — managing relationships, inspiring others and inducing desired responses from them
To understand how these 5 components of social-emotional intelligence (aka: EQ), affect learning, we must also look at brain-based research. SEL is all about developing neutral awareness and thoughtful choices (aka: mindfulness). To be able to respond rather than react, children need to cultivate the executive functions of their neocortex (frontal lobe of the brain) as well as the heart-centered intelligence of their mid-brain limbic system, which houses meaning making and memories. SEL helps children move out of their lower, automatic “reptilian brain” thinking and into higher, rational thinking and regulation, by establishing rules and activities that promote safety – physical, emotional and social – and teach respectful, kind and compassionate ways to think and behave.
SEL Shapes the Brain
Classrooms that include SEL are organized around the principles of respect, kindness, and empathy. SEL teachers and lessons engage students in learning and practicing how to embody those qualities. This kind of environment encourages optimal brain development as well as social connection and collaboration. In other words, SEL affects learning by shaping children’s developing neural circuitry, particularly the executive functions. As children feel safe and learn how to inhibit disruptive emotional impulses, they exhibit greater self-confidence, better behavior and enhanced memory. They enjoy the learning process and thus, readily engage and fully immerse themselves in gaining new information and skills.
We don’t learn from experience. We learn from reflecting on experience. –John Dewey
How to teach social emotional learning
To teach social-emotional skills, educators and parents need to build in time for children to imagine, experiment, and reflect on their experiences and choices, just like any other subject matter. This includes:
- Discussing conflicts and trying out different ways to resolve them
- Naming and being with feelings/emotions inside oneself & expressed by others
- Playing with how to manage big emotions and have compassion for self & others
- Experimenting with sharing, negotiation & collaboration
- Practicing how to be neutral and curious enough to really let in the thoughts, beliefs and values of others without having to defend your own
- Reflecting on the results and feelings from all of the above before, during & after
Being a Mindful Model
To learn social-emotional skills, young children must be safe and encouraged to explore, make mistakes, and viscerally feel. They need a safe, empathetic, and playful environment that provides them with strategies, tools, and reflection around the development of self & emotional awareness, self-care & regulation, social awareness, empathy, and cooperation. You, teacher or parent, make this possible by being a mindful model & compassionate mirror:
- Emotionally honest, self-regulating, available, curious, and responsive
- Clear with expectations and guidelines. Consistent with appropriate consequences.
- Calm when angry. Caring when frustrated. Compassionate with everyone including yourself.
- Supportive with instruction & acknowledging of efforts. Never mock or shame.
- Give choices and respect wishes. Reflect on results. Don’t micro-manage.
- Ask questions that help children solve problems and self-regulate on their own.
- Be culturally aware and respectful.
The Movement & Mindfulness Curriculum gives you everything you need to teach SEL and fulfill most other standards.
Practicing meditation enhances your ability to be the mindful model & compassionate mirror. When you practice focusing your attention, rather than letting it jump around, you move into in your higher neocortex brain and your para-sympathetic (rest and digest) nervous system, and out of your lower survival, automatic brain and sympathetic (fight or flight) nervous system. You reset your mind-body into an optimal state.
Most of us are programmed to do, act, accomplish. We do not value being, reflecting, processing. Even in the face of all the research that tells us the value of mindfulness practices, it’s hard for most of us to choose to take the time. We have too many things to do! But if you want to improve your capacity to teach SEL, it’s a requirement.
Social Emotional Learning is about developing the ability to:
- set and achieve goals
- feel and show empathy
- establish and maintain relationships
- make responsible decisions
- understand and manage emotions
Social Emotional Learning (SEL) Standards list the intrapersonal, interpersonal, and cognitive skills woven into and necessary for functioning well in everyday life – at home, at work, and at school – for everyone.
Though they differ slightly from state to state, these standards define social-emotional intelligence, which is really just the academic and neuroscientific breakdown of the attitudes, behaviors, and actions that make someone good to themselves, nice to know, and pleasant to work with. Because all the research shows that social and emotional competence is fundamental to academic and personal success, SEL is an essential and integrated part of every pre and primary school curriculum.
CASEL, the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning, supports educators and parents in understanding and cultivating SEL standards through these 5 competencies:
- Self-awareness – the ability to
- Identify one’s own emotions
- Accurately perceive oneself
- Recognize one’s strengths & limitations
- Embody a confident, positive, growth mindset
- Self-management – the ability to
- Control impulses
- Manage stress
- Set goals
- Organize one’s thinking and tasks
- Social awareness – the ability to
- Understand other perspectives and values
- Be empathic & kind
- Appreciate diversity
- Respect others
- Relationship skills – the ability to
- Communicate clearly & listen fully
- Engage & cooperate with others
- Build healthy relationships
- Negotiate & resolve conflicts
- Responsible decision-making – the ability to
- Identify & solve problems
- Analyze & evaluate situations
- Receive feedback, self-reflect & self-correct
- Embody ethical standards, safety concerns, and social norms
How do movement & mindfulness activities support SEL?
1.Reinforce Mind-Body Balance & Integration
In The Whole-Brain Child, Dan Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson, encourage lots of active movement and sensory play for children. Why? Because the body is constantly providing useful information to the brain. They define being emotionally intelligent as knowing how to listen to and to use that information to both self-care and connect with innate wisdom. All child development experts agree that it is through play that children start to understand their thoughts and feelings as well as to practice how to appropriately interact with others.
In combining active play with self- reflection and self-care, the Movement & Mindfulness Bundle helps kids be more cooperative and resilient. The yoga adventures and self-regulation techniques enable them to understand their feelings, embody ways to control impulses, and manage stress to do their best.
2. Reset the Nervous System to Optimal State
The body and the mind are inextricably linked and our mind-body state dictates how available and/or able we are. Movement & mindfulness activities enable kids to regularly destress and reset their nervous systems such that they can connect, learn, and make smart choices. The more children move and play, the less stressed and more cooperative and learning ready they are. The more children learn how to slow down, relax, self-reflect, and self-care, the more they learn how to shift their own body-mind state.
In his book Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain, John Ratey, M.D. describes research showing that physical activity sparks biological changes that increase the brain’s ability to learn, adapt, and perform other cognitive tasks. Exercise builds brain cells, lifts mood, and ameliorates the detrimental effects of stress.
3. Explores the Range of Emotions
Playful exercise and sensory awareness encourage children to explore their natural reactions and impulses. In the Movement & Mindfulness Bundle, the yoga stories invite children to move, pretend to be other animals and objects, try on a variety of emotions, and experiment with specific mind-body activities as self-regulation and social skills. The process of being everything in and acting out the story helps kids develop an awareness of the range of human experience. By naming these feelings and working with shifting them, kids start to be able to tame the bigger emotions that can sometimes overwhelm their young systems. Practicing self-care and regulation as play at a young age lays a foundation for social-emotional competence.
Health, Academic, and Social-Emotional Competence starts at home with daily play and exercise.
My interview with Marcia Washington reaffirmed some basic truths about child development that I want to passionately re-iterate!
1. Physical coordination precedes and lays the foundation for cognitive coordination.
In other words, if you want to develop the mind, you must develop the body. That means multiple sessions daily of movement, play, and exercise. Per Marcia’s testimonial as a parent and a pediatric OT, it was doing the yoga story DVDs twice daily that enabled her son to build the motor skills, focus, and self-control needed for kindergarten. My point here is that regardless of your child’s challenges or strengths, if s/he is difficult, stressed, crabby, withdrawn, anxious, etc., s/he probably needs more physical play. Fun movement is the biologically built-in developer of body-mind-feelings awareness and management. At school, make sure students enjoy 90 to 120 minutes of supervised, instructional gross motor activity as well as outside time. At home, my recommendation is 20-30 minutes minimum every day – just you and your child, one-on-one, whatever s/he wants to do.
2. Mindfulness is a sensory-motor skill.
Impulse control, emotional intelligence, self-regulation and executive function develop as children become aware of and understand what happens inside their own bodies. It is through interactive activity such as exercise instruction and pretend play that they build the inner sensory-emotional awareness necessary for self-control. Per the work of Catherine Rosasco Mitchell and others in embodied, sensory-motor education, we know that children can only access and understand their own perception, character, and relationships by using the feelings/sensations of the body. Play and intentional movement help them grow mindful as well as socially – emotionally competent.
3. To get the benefits, you have to do the practice.
Exercise is a natural mind-body regulator and integrator. Active play causes kids to be less impulsive and more primed to learn by literally building brain cells, turning on the attention system, and firing up the executive functions — sequencing, working memory, prioritizing, inhibiting, and sustaining attention. To realize these effects means you’ve got to actually prioritize and spend more time playing and exercising and less time sitting and on screens. Why? Because intentional movement and playful instructional exercise promote and improve:
- Creative problem solving
- Language skills
- Focus, Attention and Sustained Concentration
- Impulse control
- Balance and coordination
- Anxiety and Hyper-Activity
Marcia Washington, OTR/L, has been practicing pediatric occupational therapy for 20 years. In 2009, in her hometown of Pontotoc, MS, she launched KidSense, a clinic that specializes in pediatric therapy, includes a sensory motor gym, and serves clients from over a 70 mile radius.
Marcia and her husband, David, have 2 biological daughters, Mattie – 14 and Ella – 10. In 2014, they adopted a 2 year old boy from Poland. Marcia helped Gehrig improve his language and overall motor skills using Rhythmic Movement, Integrated Listening, NeuroNet Learning program and the Alert Program “How Does Your Engine Run.” Yet core strength, posture control and unintegrated reflexes persisted to the point of causing inattentive/impulsive behavior in preschool.
That’s when she started to use Move With Me Yoga Adventure DVDs and flash cards daily. She was so impressed with the results that she wrote us a thank you note. We were so touched that we invited her to speak about her experience so we could share it with all of you.
The free Embodied Mindfulness Video by Wellness Through Movement is an 8-minute animated story (see below for video), designed to be presented to children in 4 two-minute sections. It shows how two children who get in trouble for not listening come to understand what happened for them and how they can use a centering breath technique called, Home, to develop their ability to be mindful and to better direct their attention so that they can listen.
The program is the culmination of 30 years of work and research with children by co-creator, Catherine Rosasco Mitchell. She sent it to me recently after testing it for thirteen years in elementary schools. I was impressed with the simplicity, clarity, and accessibility of the video and with her accompanying User and Teacher Guides. I enthusiastically recommend the program to anyone working with children. What I love about this resource is that it’s free – thank you Catherine! – and that it directly addresses the fact that children are 90% more in their bodies than in their minds.
Children are full of energy, emotion, and sensation inside so they feel more than they think. To develop self-regulation, parents and teachers need to understand that children have to become aware of and understand what happens inside them when they don’t or can’t, hear, think, or pay attention in order to manage it better. They also need both encouragement to self-reflect and time to practice sensory – somatic tools or techniques to reset. When this process is offered and even modeled by their teachers and parents, kids can learn to work with themselves brilliantly. As Catherine explains eloquently: It is only by using the feelings of the body that you can truly help children access and understand their own perception, character, and relationship to others.
In addition to her scientifically designed sequences of movements and proprioception to increase self- awareness and support the development of both internal and external attention, I also admire Catherine’s advocacy for embodied education. She not only understands the vital role of embodiment in development, she also creates lesson plans that integrate sensory self-awareness and shows educators as well as professionals in the psychology, development, and neuroscience how to teach it. Check out her Teaching Embodiment is Crucial Poster presented at conferences on health and movement including the Society for Research in Child Development (SRCD) and American Association of Health, Physical Education and Dance (AAPERD).
To access and utilize this awesome free resource click here.
In the video below, Rafe Kelley, founder of Evolve Move Play, presents a valuable distinction between that which fills our attention and feeds our monkey minds and that which nourishes our humanity and fuels our personal development. It’s a valuable lens through which to assess our own lives.
How is the stimulation of a plugged in life affecting me?
How do I spend my time? Am I filling my life with fluff or with meaning?
Are my choices aligned with my values? Do I feel full and enriched or empty and depleted?
Are there parts of me that are starving… for connection, expression, integration?
Am I so busy that I’ve disconnected from myself, my health, my relationships, my dreams? Are my passions being replaced with addictions?
What am I modeling for my children? What are my rules around technology for them?
As an educator and a parent, I believe distinguishing stimulation from nourishment is an essential lens through which to assess the lives and development of our children. Given the technologizing of childhood, it’s imperative that we protect the growing brain from the proven negative consequences of over-stimulation and inappropriate stimulation. We need to understand what is truly nourishing for the whole child or we risk a generation of kids who are dysregulated, out of synch with their own natures, and regulating through consumption.
In his TED Talk, Media and Children, pediatrician and researcher Dr. Dimitri Christakis, explains how over-stimulation from fast-paced and/or violent TV watching or other screen time actually damages the developing brain’s ability to pay attention and learn. He advocates for the nourishment of cognitive stimulation in early childhood instead. Cognitive stimulation comes from whole child engaging activities such as block play, reading, singing, dancing, cooking, etc. with parents and care-givers. Children who spend plenty of time getting nourished in these ways have very few attention or self-regulation issues later in life. Conversely, children, especially those under the age of 3, who watch lots of non-educational, inappropriately paced TV, have much higher rates of attention, regulation, and learning issues.