In the summertime…where the stress should be less

“Summer is the time when one sheds one’s tensions with one’s clothes, and the right kind of day is jeweled balm for the battered spirit. A few of those days and you can become drunk with the belief that all’s right with the world.” — Ada Louise Huxtable

Ok, I’m going to take you back to an earlier time in your life when school let out for the summer. No matter who you were or where you lived this signified a shift in how you spent your time. As I kid I went to a day camp, was a fish in the water, played “kick the can” until it was dark and enjoyed a later bedtime as well as family from “far away” visiting for some fun in the sun. As a teenager, I worked at a variety of jobs and spent my evenings hanging out with friends, eating lots of ice cream and enjoying the “down time”. As a school based therapist, I’m like a kid as the last day approaches anticipating, sleeping in a bit later, reading more novels, spending time with friends and family and just chilling out. Todays child experiences lots of stress in terms of both academic and social demands. I hear them speak of attending summer school, camps, lessons from computers to baking to Legos and the list goes on….If you are a parent, caregiver or a teacher encourage the kids you know to recognize that summer is a time to have fun but also a time to rest, rejuvenate and rekindle the spirit.  Introduce them to the fun you had as a kid.  Your assignment if you decide to accept it is…make S’mores, catch some fireflies, have ice cream for dinner, watch fireworks on the 4th of July, run through the sprinkler and take that hurried, harried child with you. As Ms. Huxtable implies you’ll soon feel all is right with the world.

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Chores…or being more responsiball!

With all the focus on the academic curriculum today, I salute the teachers that continue to assign and expect students to do simple classroom chores. Dr. Robert Brooks did research on school memories and found that most of our school memories are not about whether we got an A or a B on a test, but rather about the service duties we did in the classroom. Being a line leader, watering plants, taking a note to the office to name just a few give students a sense of responsibility, a task that needs to be initiated, sustained and completed. I can’t help but wonder if more services duties were available throughout a school day, if students attitude and activity level would improve. Sometimes to reach my toughest students I ask them if they will help me with a problem such as fixing a toy, carrying items etc. Rarely am I turned down, and even the most oppositional child will rise to the occasion to help this old lady. I worked with a teacher once that had the chores last 2 weeks. She believed that 2 students should be assigned to the same chore, share the work, materials and responsibility. Kids loved it because they had a buddy to share with (don’t you remember enjoying some time with a classmate that was less structured? I personally would always volunteer to clap the erasers if Colleen was the other student! She and I would chat away as we worked in the yellow chalk dust outside the classroom window. One morning when I was in the classroom prior to school starting the phone rang, the teacher took the call, hung up and laughingly said “That was Sarah’s mother, Sarah is going to be out with the chicken pox this week and wanted her mom to call so Katy knows she’ll have to water the plants alone for the week”. As I remember it, I still am amazed that a six or seven-year old would be that committed to her job and her classmate. Sometimes I use chores as part of my interventions, for movement breaks, executive skill practice and fine motor enhancement. So if you are a teacher already doing chores, keep it up…it builds character for your youngsters and if you are not, consider revisiting this idea to engage, encourage and create a sense of  service duties for your classroom community. As I was looking through some writing samples today (they were persuasion letters written by 1st graders), there was one child trying to convince her parents to get a dog. She talked about walking it, feeding it, playing with it and brushing it. There was one sentence that hit my funny bone. The sentence summarized the title of this blog…”I want to be more responsiball”. And isn’t that one of the most important traits that a student needs to succeed?

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!

Being in the Moment

Aberdeen Library Snapshot Day 2012--A preschoo...

Aberdeen Library Snapshot Day 2012–A preschooler explores color vision during block play at Family Storytime. (Photo credit: Timberland Regional Library)

Yesterday was one of those days when I truly felt like a therapist. I was working with 3 and 4 year olds in their preschool. We were spontaneously playing with blocks. A structure was put up 2ft by 3ft with an opening in the middle. When I asked them to tell me about it I was told it was a TV. Two boys brandishing 8 inch long blocks pretended to play video games on the “TV”. It hit me at that moment that they truly were playing from their perspective and relishing in generalizing knowledge of activities they enjoyed. I would have never nor would have ever thought of this scenario! From a tutoring point of  view I encouraged them to pretend to be the characters in the video game and crawl into the “TV”. That is all it took and I watched as they angled their lithe little bodies into the mock TV. We then gathered a crowd of others who also liked the idea of being on TV and proceeded to enter through the block built TV. Sometimes it was knocked down, but quickly patched together. I broke into an off tune song “The Ants go Marching into the TV” and all took turns, adjusted their movements and experimenting with different approaches independently. From that, a group started trying to walk on flat blocks and we began to create a long balance beam. Those who were true pioneers of the activity decided to make it more challenging having others step over larger blocks on top of the balance beam. As a therapist, I was witnessing play in its own spontaneous, kid directed and developmentally appropriate way. Mind you… they included me, looking for reassurance, facilitation and kudos for a job well done. I thank them for that and I am grateful that I was able to witness the learning that occured.