I’m back from my self induced sabbatical…

Ok, I feel a bit guilty for taking the summer off and then a bit of a procrastinater for not restarting this blog when school started. But alas, I forgive myself as I’ve spent lots of time thinking, daydreaming and creating.  One thing I’ve thought about was saving time.  By saving time I can create time to do the things I want to do. As teachers and therapists we often spend lots of hours prepping and planning. Of course there are many day to day things we can do to make our life more streamlined such as…filing things away once we are done with them, handling mail just once (I often pull out the trash as I go through the mail now,  in my house Obama and Romney are wasting megabucks with their flyers) or allotting time for emailing versus on a catch as catch can basis.  From that I also am back to practicing a habit of penning in my droid some fun stuff I look forward to. It doesn’t have to be a weekend getaway (although that would be nice) but things like a free hour to read, watch a program (I’m loving Doc Martin right now) or whatever suits my fancy at that moment. Ok maybe I’ve convinced you to do that for yourself or perhaps you already do.  However, what about our kids in a classroom all day??? Are there moments to be creative, to kick back, to daydream?  Most classroom teachers don’t think to schedule those moments (and in reality, that’s all they have to be). By adding some lightness to the curriculum teachers may see an overall improvement in wellness. Less stress provides for better learning and reflection on what has been taught. I am currently working with a teacher that provides a few minutes of “me time” daily. I love the concept which really allows for that reflection but also gives permission for the student to just be in a moment of non-demand…a mini sabbatical if you will. Is it possible to provide sometime in  “a hammock”  in school?  Any thoughts???

Daydreaming…mindfulness or just plain lazy???

I’ve had some wonderful, well deserved time off. It was wonderful to not have an agenda everyday, to follow my nose that led me to a variety of experiences including time to daydream.  To my amazement, I read an article yesterday via Scientific Daily that said daydreaming can actually be beneficial.

The article was published in the July issue of Perspective on Psychological Science. Immordino-Yang studied what it means when our brains are at rest.

“In recent years, researchers have explored the idea of rest by looking at the so-called ‘default mode’ network of the brain, a network that is noticeably active when we are resting and focused inward. Findings from these studies suggest that individual differences in brain activity during rest are correlated with components of socioemotional functioning, such as self-awareness and moral judgment, as well as different aspects of learning and memory. Immordino-Yang and her colleagues believe that research on the brain at rest can yield important insights into the importance of reflection and quiet time for learning.”

“We focus on the outside world in education and don’t look much at inwardly focused reflective skills and attentions, but inward focus impacts the way we build memories, make meaning and transfer that learning into new contexts,” says Immordino-Yang, a professor of education, psychology and neuroscience at the University of Southern California. “What are we doing in schools to support kids turning inward?”

I know in myself if I spend all my time on what Yang calls outward attention, I can lose my bearings and my performance declines. Having time like I’ve experienced in the last couple of weeks reflecting and imagining has certainly cleared my thinking, reduced my pace and prepped me to embark on the outward attention that my work will require when I go back on Monday. I can’t help but think of how this research could be put to use in the classroom and beyond. The article addresses that the idea of idle time is not detrimental, but rather essential for students to internalize their learning, decrease stress and plan ahead.

Immordino-Yang also says:

“And mindful reflection is not just important in an academic context — it’s also essential to our ability to make meaning of the world around us. Inward attention is an important contributor to the development of moral thinking and reasoning and is linked with overall socioemotional well-being.”

She eludes todays technology based world does not promote introspection. I’m certainly with her on that…consider our work days… the emails, the reports and other demands via, phones, faxes or voicemails that demand our outward attention. I came home after vacation to over 1000 emails….aghghgh!

In summary  the last paragraph of the article was my favorite:

“According to the authors, perhaps the most important conclusion to be drawn from research on the brain at rest is the fact that all rest is not idleness. While some might be inclined to view rest as a wasted opportunity for productivity, the authors suggest that constructive internal reflection is critical for learning from past experiences and appreciating their value for future choices, allowing us to understand and manage ourselves in the social world.”

So if you feel refreshed from a vacation, that idleness, change of pace or getaway has helped you cope with the social world and how to manage the demands your work has on you.

So educators, lets not get rid of vacations, recess, or expect 100% activity and attention throughout a day in a classroom.

Opening Limbic Systems or Catch that Kid and Reel Them In!

Fishing reel

Fishing reel (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

—”Attention comes last, your brain will look at relevance and then attend….”  Martha Burns

It struck me yesterday how tired I was at the end of the day and as I reviewed how many students I connected with, I realized that I was opening limbic systems all day long. As the quote states… this is the way to attention and focus.  As therapists, teachers or parents we attempt to engage children in focusing and attending. Many of us intuitively attempt to connect with our students through inroads that we think will engage them in our tasks. “Oh Sam you are going to like this activity today, we will be driving our letters on this rope road with matchbox cars”. “What’s your favorite animal Charles, lets pretend to walk like that bear”, Alexa, I know you like history, why don’t we practice your typing skills as you copy this paragraph on the Incas?”From doing that, we create the bridge of social connection which in reality will be relevant to the child and therefore the attention will come. Unfortunately many classrooms today are filled to the brim with students. Teachers are often overworked and overwhelmed. Do all teachers get a chance nowadays to connect with each child everyday? We all have our moments of automatic pilot, but now knowing this tidbit about the brain and attention that comes from opening that limbic system,  my plan is that I’m going to bait my hook and go fishing! Here are some simple tips to gain information about your kids. If handwriting is the goal, do a quick-write where kids practice list making based on your questions. What is your favorite ice cream flavor? What do you want to be when you grow up?  If you had to stay home what would you be doing today? You end up with your writing sample but you also get the big fish of limbic system information! Think of yourself in a social situation where you don’t know someone, you are more apt to chat with people about your interests because that helps keep that connection. We know school work isn’t of interest to all kids, now your challenge is to engage them by making some kind to connection to their limbic systems! Get out your pole, know what bait you’re using and go catch a child in learning!