Category Archives: Resources

Getting in the Zone

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Now that we have established an understanding of our brain’s limbic system which is in charge of our emotions and behaviour, it is time to become familiar with the range of emotions we may feel throughout the day and what we can do to help manage them, or self-regulate.

I have introduced the classes to the Zones of Regulation Curriculum. To be honest, when I first learnt about this program I wasn’t ‘moved’ by it in any life changing way. It seemed to be a rather rigid way of identifying emotions with too many categories and boxes. I am not very good at putting things in boxes, I am usually trying to take things out. However, a dear colleague of mine tested the program in her class for a few years and recommended that I give it another look. I guess this was a personal test in approaching something more mindfully.

Upon further investigation, I realized that the ‘heart’ of the program spoke to the ‘hows’ and ‘whys’ of self-regulation in the classroom. The goal is to have students be able to identify their emotional state or ‘zone’ independently throughout their day, and then with the introduction of a variety of tools and strategies be able to choose one that will help them regulate their feelings and be ready to face their day in a more optimal state.

Here is how it works:

There are four zones, often represented with these four road signs:

Zones traffic signs

The blue zone is represented by the rest area sign, as it is when our energy is low and we need to stop to re-energize ourselves.

The green zone is represented by the green light as it is the ‘good to go’ zone.

The yellow zone is represented by the slow sign as it is when we need to exercise caution or slow down. Our energy is usually heightened in this state.

The red zone is represented by the stop sign as it is when we have lost control and need to pause or stop what we are doing.

The program offers a list of basic emotions attached to each zone:

Zones Emotions Poster

One of my struggles with this program was that I know kids have a much wider range of emotion and what if they don’t identify with any of those in a particular moment?

So with each class, after introducing the basic ‘feeling’ attached to each zone, we brainstormed a more extensive list on how else you may be feeling in that zone. Here is what they came up with:

The Blue Zone: Students described this zone as feeling tired, sad, bored, sick, lonely, unhappy, slow, hungry, depressed, lethargic, emotional, drained, lazy, played out, out of it, confused, need a friend, low energy, annoyed, grumpy, forgetful, uncomfortable, shy and not ready to learn.

The Green Zone: Students described this zone as feeling happy, good, ready to learn, strong, comfortable, kind, nice, helpful, well rested, confident, awake, focused, in the zone, up beat, patient, proud, mindful and calm.

The Yellow Zone: Students described this zone as feeling frustrated, anxious, over-excited, about to blow up, nervous, irritated, stressed, hyper, fidgety, twitchy, grumpy, unable, tense, unfocused, ready to burst, on edge, impatient, ecstatic, caution, needing relief.

The Red zone: Students described this zone as feeling mad, angry, explosive, extreme, elevated, at your witts end, fed up, short tempered, violent, aggressive, want to be alone, isolated, out of control and had enough.

I was very impressed how the students articulated their feelings in each zone and deepened their understanding of the range of emotions we might feel throughout our day. This brainstorming session helped me take the zones out of the box and make it come alive for the students. Looking at the lists they generated, they could identify with how it feels when our energy is low, elevated, balanced, or out of control.

I wanted to make sure that students weren’t casting a negative or positive tone on any of the feelings. It was important for them to understand that throughout our days we all go through a range of emotions and that it’s OK to feel frustrated, angry, or sad sometimes. I really wanted students to get comfortable with the idea that the zones are here to help them identify how they are feeling so that we can help them through those feelings and give them tools and strategies to work towards knowing what they personally need to regulate their emotions. But the first step is to simply be able to identify and be aware of our emotions.

What zone are you in?

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3 Ways to be Mindful with Your Kids in the New Year

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happy-new-year-new-year-resolutions

I have been reading many articles about why New Year’s resolutions don’t work. Often times we think of what we ‘wish’ for rather than setting specific goals with the exact steps we need to take to achieve them. It is sometimes easier to set these goals and reach them if you have someone to support you. So, if you are a teacher reading this, guess what? You have a class of bright-eyed students who are there for you! If you are a parent or caregiver, try setting a goal with the kids in your life…it could turn out to be a wonderful way to connect and share a thoughtful experience this year.

habitI thought about the things I do in my life everyday which are what I would call a ‘healthy habit’. Things like brushing my teeth, drinking water, telling my family I love them before I go to sleep…little things that make me feel good and that I have done so many times I don’t even have to ‘think’ about doing them anymore.

So I decided to make a simple list of 3 ways we can develop some new ‘healthy habits’ with our kids this year, be it in the classroom or at home. These are ‘habits’ that I am working on developing in my own life, and things that I find help me stay mindful throughout my day. You don’t have to try to do all 3 at once. Do what works for you. Often as teachers and parents we are in a ‘time crunch’, balancing schedules and trying to fit it all in. Sometimes we are so busy filling timetables that we forget to take a moment to just stop and breathe. That is what these 3 suggestions are for- and you only need to take a few minutes in your day to do them! Take a moment to be reflective, giving yourself and the kids in your life some time to re-focus and work on developing ways to weave being ‘mindful’ through different parts of your day.

Creating healthy habits means we have to ‘practice’ this new habit everyday. When we practice something everyday, we actually strengthen our brain by creating new neural connections. Soon these connections will be so strong that this new practice will be like second nature to us. This is part of what we call neuroplasticity.

neuroplacicity

So here is my list, enjoy!

3 Ways to be Mindful with Your Kids in New Year:

breathe

1. One minute of mindful breathing.

Check out my post Just Breathe to get all the ins and outs of mindful breathing. One minute of mindful breathing can be a powerful way calm our minds and settle our emotions. Deep breathing sends a message to our brains that we are OK and gives us time to think clearly and make better decisions. If we practice this daily with our kids this will become a ‘healthy habit’  to use whenever they need a moment to calm down or re-focus their attention (it might work for the adults too!).

   

                                                                      

Gratitude-journal-112. Start a gratitude journal.

A great way to start your day- simply write down 3 things you are grateful for in that moment. It doesn’t have to be anything life changing, maybe just that your favourite song came on the radio or you were on time for the bus. When we pay attention to and write about positive experiences everyday, we will soon start becoming more     aware of the positive things that are constantly occurring all around us. We are shifting our mindset to have a more optimistic outlook and learning how to be more mindful of every moment.

kindness

3. Perform a random act of kindness everyday.

I once had the privilege to hear Shawn Achor speak, author of The Happiness Advantage. He talked about the 7 Second Smile Experiment where if you smile at someone within 7 seconds they will almost always smile back at you. What causes this are mirror neurons firing in the brain. When we see someone smile, our brain fires neurons to mirror this well before our face will. A single positive change can create a ripple effect outward.

Challenge your kids or students to try and perform one act of kindness at some point in their day. Whether it is a simple smile at someone in the hall, holding the door for someone, or letting someone go ahead of you in the lunch line. These small acts are the ripple effect, creating deeper empathy and compassion for others and being aware of how our actions truly to have the power to affect change.

Book Review: A Walk in the Rain with a Brain

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brain book cover

To enrich our understanding of self-regulation, mindfulness and growth mindset my staff has begun collecting appropriate picture books. Through guided or shared reading activities these thought-provoking books can generate meaningful classroom discussions about these important topics. Some time ago a dear friend lent me A Walk in the Rain with a Brain by Edward Hallowell. I have since shared this book with my staff and now it proudly resides among our ‘Mindful Books’.

On a rainy day Lucy meets a brain named Fred who has lost his head. She takes a walk with him and asks if he can make her ‘smart’. Fred helps Lucy understand the idea that ‘no brain is the same’. In the end Fred helps Lucy reflect on what it means to be ‘smart’ and cheerfully explains: “We have the ability to strengthen our brains, we just have to use them!” With bright, playful pictures and simple prose this book echos some of the essential messages of mindfulness. This book could easily be shared with both primary and junior classes. Enjoy!

 Here’s a peek inside:

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DIY Fidget ‘Tools’

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*Note these are ‘tools’ not ‘toys’…very important when introducing such items to a class full of wide eyed children.

I am new to the world of ‘fidgets’. The psychology of calling them ‘tools’ rather than ‘toys’ has won me over and I am beginning to recognize that these tools can be helpful to calm our student’s unique sensory processing challenges in the classroom.

I like Mrs. Griffin’s Mantra:

Griffin Mantra

Setting up access to these tools for your students comes with some training. Be sure to let them have a go at it and try them all out so they can practice some self control when they see these tools in the classroom.

Here are some savy ideas for how to make your own…teacher and thrifty go together very well.

I like Brenda’s playdough filled balloons. Roll out the dough into snakes and stuff them in the balloon.

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Pipe cleaner and yarn ideas from this blog. I like the idea of attaching these to student’s backpacks.

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I love how this one is called the accidental fidget toy:

pipe cleaner stick

Mrs. Griffin‘s has the pipe cleaner thing figured out too.

pipe cleaner finger

I love these jars. It’s amazing to watch kids (and adults) become mesmerized by these.

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OK, this school counselor wins the thrify award.

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Here’s a great tool you could make with your students.

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Thanks to all the great blogger out there for your ideas and posts!

More to come…

This is your brain. This is your brain on…

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I was excited to start the MindUP curriculum with my students. After attending the Heart and Mind Conference at the Dalai Lama Center in 2012 where we got to listen to Goldie talk about this program she created, I knew it was somehow going to be a strong part of my practice as a teacher. Now I get to share this program across four schools. How fun.

Why I like MindUP:

It is a brain-based program that focuses on the social and emotional development and well-being of children.

It is based on neuroscience and the concept of mindfulness.

It is well laid out in 15 lessons that are easy to follow with lots of ideas to extend into other subject areas.

It empowers students to take control of their feelings and actions by understanding what is happening in their brains.

It creates a positive and optimistic classroom and school community.