Book Review: The Day the Crayons Quit

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As mentioned in a previous blog post (https://pathwaystrust.wordpress.com/type/aside/) using stories to discuss feelings with children is a great way to teach social and emotional skills, as well as build resilience. A new book that has quickly become a favourite at Pathways Trust and amongst children, is: “The Day the Crayons Quit” by Drew Daywalt and illustrated by Oliver Jeffers.

Duncan just wants to draw a picture, but when he opens up his box of crayons, he finds that they have all quit leaving behind letters for him. Each crayon writes about their feelings: Beige is quite dejected as he doesn’t feel he is as popular as brown and no one gets excited about colouring with him: grey is exhausted from colouring all those large animals; Green is quite happy being Duncan’s favourite colour, however he is worried about yellow and Orange. Orange and Yellow are no longer speaking, each think they are the correct colour for the sun.

For social and emotional learning it describes ways in which problems and complaints can be expressed. This is something that younger children often have never had the opportunity to learn. In addition the book can be used to facilitate discussion on how to resolve the problems. What should they say or what can be done to bring the crayons back to finish Duncan’s drawing.

Book Review: How Puzzles Improve Your Brain by Richard Restak

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Richard Restak is not just a world leading Neuroscientist, he is motivated to find ways to “keep my brain working at its best.” He describes his studies in this area as his “personal odyssey” and has written several books on this topic. How Puzzles Improve Your Brain: The Surprising Science of the Playful Brain explores both the underlying neuroscience along with practical methods utilizing puzzles to develop your brain.

Are puzzles something you loved as a kid or, like some of us at Pathways to Resilience Trust, you still love to do them? Did you go through mazes, tell riddles, solve crosswords, do Sudoku or engage in creative problem solving? Puzzles can be fun and we generally understand that puzzles should be somehow improving our brains.

Leading neuroscientist and puzzle maker Scott Tim team up to not only present a great range of fascinating puzzles but also look at how different puzzles improve specific areas of brain function.

Did you know that Sudoku can improve our logic, you can develop your creative problem solving skills with nothing more than a box of matches, and emoticons such as 🙂 and 😦 can help us develop our emotional understand of other people. Also learn how to improve your visual skills so you can perceive rather than just look and try various exercises to make your memory better.

This informative book will not only teach you more about how the brain works, it will also provide you with many fun and practical ways to improve both you and your student’s brains.

Mindfulness and Self-Regulation

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How aware are you of what is going on around you? How aware are you of yourself at this moment? How aware are you of the things you have done today? We are so distracted by our constant access to technology and sources of instant entertainment and communication that many people rarely have any time to be truly aware of themselves or the world around them.

Let me give you a little challenge. Try and remember exactly what your favourite food tastes like. What about the smell or the texture? Chances are that you can’t.

To expand your awareness try this lovely little exercise you can do by yourself or in groups. Get various foods and eat them slowly, savouring everything about them. It is best to choose a range of foods to include foods you like, feel ambivalent about and also don’t really like. This can really change your perception of these foods. Some people we have done this with, who had eaten chocolate all their life decided they didn’t like chocolate anymore. Other people learnt to appreciate foods they have always avoided.

The term mindfulness has been borrowed from Buddhism. It refers in general to the “attentive awareness of reality, both external and internal.” When we are being mindful we have a “Clear comprehension of what is taking place.”

Since the 1970s the term has been adopted within psychology to describe techniques and methodologies that encourage awareness and self-regulation as means to deal with stress, depression and other psychological issues. Numerous studies have shown these techniques to be successful with adults and recently attention has been paid to applying these techniques to children and adolescents where they have also been found to reduce anxiety and increase academic performance.

There is a strong relationship between mindfulness and self-regulation. When you relax and focus not only does this reduce anxiety and stress but allows better responses to your own feelings and self management of behaviour. Researchers believe it is this self-regulation that leads to improved academic performance.

If you are thinking that mindfulness involves sitting around meditating and so it is not for kids, especially the young ones, Pathways to Resilience Trust staff have many techniques and exercises that work with all ages.

Mind in a Bottle/Mind in a Jar

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We have previously blogged about this method. Have a bottle filled with water and

glitter, shake the bottle and it becomes cloudy. Put the bottle down the glitter will settle. Kids will watch the glitter while relaxing and gathering their thoughts. It is also a fun craft project for kids to do as well. Read more about this in our blog https://pathwaystrust.wordpress.com/2013/09/10/helping-kids-also-helps-families/

Concentration beads

beadsIf you ask younger the kids to lie down and relax they will quickly start to wriggle, fidget or worse . However if you give them something to concentrate on it is much easier for them to sit or lie still. Give them a glass bead, the bigger the better. Have them hold it in their hand or even put it on their forehead. Simply ask them to concentrate and focus their attention on their bead.

Observe objects

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Have students observe an object, either something you bring into the classroom or an item that is already there. Take them through different aspects of the object. What is the objects shape, what is the subject’s colour, is it heavy or light, what is special about this item, how does it feel when you touch, how do you feel about it and so on?

Observe yourself

How do you feel when you listen to this poem, song or sound? Not only do students learn to become aware of their feelings, but also learn to label and talk about them.

Left hand (non-dominant hand)

We do so many things without really thinking about how we do them. If you ask students to do something they often do but with their non-dominant hand you will firstly provoke lots of giggles. You can then ask students to concentrate and be aware of all the little steps it takes to do something like write the word cat or draw a dog. You can also tie this into step plans which will we look at in a future blog.

Favourite Personal Mindfulness Exercises

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At Pathways to Resilience Trust we believe that teachers are also leaders. To lead others to be more mindful and self aware we also must find ways to practice our own self awareness. Here are some of ours.

Anne (Executive Officer):  Likes to take time out from work at her desk. She focuses her attention on what is happening out of the office window, watching the wind sway the trees or the sun reflect on various objects (she is the boss so she can get away with staring out the window).

Kate: Takes a timeout for herself to relax, she particularly likes to sit and watch the ocean waves.

James: Simply concentrates on breathing to anchor himself into the present moment.

Roy (Blog Editor): Can’t beat long walks for reflection and self awareness.

Helping kids also helps families

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Sometimes we can get so focused on helping children become more resilient and capable in their life that we forget that by helping children we can help others around them. James Ryan found this out recently with one the kids that he taught the Mind in a Bottle techniques to.

For those who are not familiar with Mind in a Bottle (also called Mind Jar) it uses a bottle or jar filled with water, glue (to make the water thicker) and glitter. If you shake the bottle the water looks like it is completely filled with the glitter floating around. The glitter represents our thoughts when we are agitated, anxious or angry. However if you we put the bottle down, wait and watch, then the glitter will settle down to the bottom of the bottle leaving the water clear, just like our mind when we relax.

The core technique taught with Mind in a Bottle are four relaxation steps.

  1. Stopping
  2. Watching the bottle
  3. Breathing
  4. Shifting attention to other things

One of the kids James taught this technique loved it because she took her bottle home and when her father became upset and agitated, she would said “Dad, look at the bottle, it is your mind. Watch the bottle until the water is clear”.

This blog provides more information on how to make a mind in a jar or bottle http://www.herewearetogether.com/2011/06/27/another-mind-jar/

Practical Skills for student wellbeing: Our placement student gives her opinion on the Trust

Pathways to Resilience Trust relies on the help of a range of volunteers and students doing work experience placements to help our already hard working staff. Currently we have a student – Lisa Gazan from Griffith University – undertaking her practical placement with us. She is currently studying a double degree in Education and Child and Family Studies. I asked Lisa about what she has learnt from her time here.

While she has learnt classroom management techniques from her studies and through practical placements in schools, she was impressed by the different approach used by Pathways to Resilience Trust to achieve better outcomes through social and emotional learning. Lisa appreciated the way these programs looked deeper into “Why” children act-out, as opposed to just the simplistic controlling and managing approaches that make children appear like robots.

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One thing she has taken from the Pathways to Resilience Trust is that the goal of teachers and schools is not just education, but the students’ general wellbeing. While teacher education in universities supports this ideal, she felt her studies have lacked practical methods and strategies to achieve student welfare. Lisa felt academics dominated Australian school curriculum and left little time or mind-space for important life skills. She felt that she will take away a lot of useful and valuable knowledge and skills from the evidence based programs used at Pathways to Resilience Trust that she can apply in her career to assist learners become resilient individuals.

Lisa feels the most important lesson she has learnt is leading through the power of mirror neurons. She advised “If we want students to display certain skills, we must model those traits to the children by re-examining ourselves first. We must take part in life-long learning with the children”.