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In this 3-part series we will explore how more play, creative expression, and movement can lead to more cognitive development. The link from body to brain is powerful, so getting kids to move more and study a little less throughout the day may seem counterintuitive, but it may actually lead to better grades and even improve behavior!

In part 2 we will explore the mechanisms behind the power of movement to improve the brain. If you missed Part 1, click here. 

So how is it possible that more time spent moving and less time spent "learning" results in better grades?

You see, movement is never just a physical act; it is a physical expression, or outcome, of cognitive strategies to solve problems. When learning fundamental or complex movements in the context of physical education, sports, recreation, or free play, it "...is an active learning process intricately interrelated with cognition. Movement skill learning cannot occur without the benefit of higher thought processes" (Gallahue, 2003, p. 104).

Learning is a process that involves the integration of both sensory and motor skills (Gallahue, 2003). Children, therefore, learn best when more of their senses are involved. When kids play, explore and solve problems, especially when outdoors in nature, they are forced to use all their senses to navigate this unpredictable and ever changing environment.

Kid on lawn Craig V

In a review of research on the acquisition of intellectual and perceptual-motor skills, Rosenbaum et al., (2001) concluded that all knowledge is "performatory" and that the 'skills of mind' and 'skills of eye, ear, and muscle' are fundamentally similar" (p. 454).
A finding Rosenbaum cites to support this fact is that coordination and timing seem to be required for intellectual as well as perceptual-motor skills (p. 464). Rosenbaum also points to the evidence that across animal species, more advanced intellect is associated with a greater facility of motor behaviors such as tool making. This fact has led to the hypothesis that, "...the evolution of brain areas credited with the development of language (e.g. Broca's area) may have paved the way for complex behavioral sequencing" (p. 465)

Current research points to the fact that exercise directly impacts the ability of the brain to process and retain new information (Ratey & Hagerman, 2008). A common concern in schools today, with the emphasis on learning the academic basics and passing standardized tests, is that physical education classes would take away valuable time from the teacher's already limited time to prep their students to pass the tests.

Kid w hands in hair Craig V

Classroom teachers are understandably concerned as they are also judged by how well their students do on these tests. Any time taken from an already tight schedule is therefore, seen as a threat. In a study reported by Graham et al., (2013) it was found that doubling the amount of physical education time allocated in the course of a school week did not interfere with standardized reading or math scores (p. 680).

Tony Schwartz discussed the basic human needs that must be satisfied in order to maximize performance in all realms of life in his book, The Way We're Working isn't Working (2010). He talks about the importance of renewal with the four key factors being, nutrition, fitness, sleep, and rest.

Schwartz asserts that, "Our physical capacity is foundational, because every other source of energy depends on it." (p. 11) He highlights exercise for its importance in increasing work capacity and as a means of calming emotions and quieting the mind, especially in the middle of a workday, and in our case, school day. Schwartz believes therefore, that exercise in the middle of a day, especially after a period of intense work, is a powerful form of rejuvenation.

In part 3 we will discuss how specific forms of exercise effect brain development.

For brekafast we had the same as last time (I hate to sound boring, but in case youm issed it).  We have 2 eggs over medium with salt, pepper, and turmeric, sweet potato hash, 1 slice of bacon, sautéed baby kale, chard, and spinach, sautéed cherry tomatoes & fresh avocado – all drizzled with olive oil. Coffee is mandatory, though not for my son, and we all look forward to our spoon of cod liver oil to finish off our breakfast of champions.

References
Ericsson, I., & Karlsson, M. K. (2012). Motor skills and school performance in children with daily physical education in school - a 9-year intervention study. Scand J Med Sci Sports, 24(2), 273-278. doi:10.1111/j.1600-0838.2012.01458.x

Gallahue, D., & Cleland Donnelly, F. (2003). Developmental Physical education for all children (Fourth ed.). Champaign, Illinois: Human Kinetics.

Graham, G., Holt/Hale, S. A., & Parker, M. (2013). Children moving: A reflective approach to teaching physical education (9th ed.). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.

Musolf, D. (2014, February 19). Does outdoor play make kids smarter? - San Jose Mercury News. Retrieved from http://www.mercurynews.com/bay-area-living/ci_25181071/does-outdoor-play-make-kids-smarter?source=infinite-up

Ratey, J., & Hagerman, E. (2008). Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain (First ed.). New York, New York: Little, Brown and Company, Hachette Book Group.

Rosenbaum, D. A., Carlson, R. A., & Gilmore, R. O. (2001). Acquisition of intellectual and perceptual-motor skills. Annual Review of Psychology, 52(1), 453-470. doi:10.1146/annurev.psych.52.1.453

Schwartz, T., Gomes, J., & McCarthy, C. (2010). The way we're working isn't working: The four forgotten needs that energize great performance. New York, NY: Free Press.

Published in Breakfast Club

Imagine if we, above all else, prioritized creating a more connected world. If we blend and integrate our passions, what innovations will we discover? What challenges would we overcome?

To celebrate National Nutrition Month, this article explores how local agriculture can help foster social connectedness.

To do this, I spoke with youth and adults representing urban and rural communities, non-profits, business and government and education agencies. Each brings a perspective that explores linkages to the built environment, education, youth engagement, workforce and inclusion.
I hope you find this exploration inspiring and enlightening. Perhaps you will identify a new partner or a new connection for your work.

BUILT ENVIRONMENT

My first two questions were for Lindsey Piant-Perez, Senior Architect and Southeast Sustainability Leader at DLR Group. Lindsey has been with DLR Group for 12 years and recently received a DLR Group Professional Development Grant to implement a garden-to-table project at Trinity Lutheran School in Orlando.

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As both a parent of a young child and an accomplished architect, why do you think designing experiences that bring people together in nature is essential?

Lindsey: It always amazes me how much children naturally want to explore their environment. They like touching dirt, bugs, they look up to the sky often and truly notice the world around them. Architects focus on "what can be" about the built environment and how spaces can foster personalized learning. When we integrate indoor and outdoor environments and allow educators to bring learning concepts to life, there is a profound impact on performance.

How can the built environment create stronger families and communities?

Lindsey: A personal goal I have for my garden-to-table project is to explore how the school garden finds its way home. Will the garden influence kids in their eating habits? Will kids ask their parents to start a windowsill or backyard garden? I would love to see parents get involved with our garden; imagine if parents tended the garden with their child prior to heading home. Would that that experience reduce stress for the caregiver? Would it bring the parent and child closer?

EDUCATION
My next two questions were for Erica Walther, Farm to School Specialist with the District of Columbia Office of the State Superintendent of Education.

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Tell me more about Farm to School efforts in DC and what excites you about your work.

Erica: Farm field trips are a big push for us right now and we provide grant funding to schools and community organizations to take students on trips to farms in DC, Maryland and Virginia. The DC Farm to School Network is working to create opportunities to convene champions and promote dialogue. We also actively celebrate our achievements in getting local food into school meals. We are in our fourth year of collecting data from schools on the local foods they are purchasing and serving. This allows us to track trends in local food procurement and expands our network of farmers and distributors that grow and sell locally sourced items to schools.

What role do you think connecting children with local agriculture plays in educating them about global issues like health, safety and food insecurity?

A huge one and it's one of the reasons I love coming to work every day! Children are the future of our country; we cannot wait to help them build healthy habits and play a role in our community. I see local agriculture as a way to get children excited about eating healthy because they can connect directly with where their food comes from. They can pull a carrot from their school garden, harvest kale at a DC-based farm and meet a herd of cattle in Maryland. We see students react positively when they taste those items on-site, get to ask questions and learn about different agriculture practices.

To learn more about both farm to school as well as farm to afterschool, I turned to the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC). According to Clarissa Hayes, Child Nutrition Policy Analyst at FRAC, using local foods in summer and afterschool programming not only improves the quality of meals served but also strengthens connections to the farming community.

FRAC's Fresh from the Farm Guide explains that locally based agriculture marketing not only helps local economies by providing jobs and keeping farm sales within communities, but keeps working agricultural land open and gives local farmers an opportunity to play a role in nutrition enrichment.

YOUTH ENGAGEMENT

To explore the linkage to youth leadership and service-learning, I had the opportunity to speak with two student officers for Minnesota Family, Career and Community Leaders of America (FCCLA) and their advisor.

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FCCLA Advisor Tammy Borman has been involved with FCCLA for 15 years. Tammy states she "highly encourages teachers to look for opportunities to engage students in service-learning based on community needs children themselves have identified."

Mya Christensen, State President Elect has been involved for six years. She shared how being part of FCCLA has given her an opportunity to learn advocacy skills, make new friends and get out of her comfort zone by speaking in public.

When I asked Mya why she and other students should be involved in service-learning, she shared, "I think that it is important for students to be actively involved in service-learning projects because it helps them learn skills that are important to not only provide a positive impact on themselves, but also provide a positive impact on their communities."

Mya also shared two programs of FCCLA focused on health, wellness and food insecurity. Student Body, a program that helps members develop healthy living skills and Lead2Feed, FCCLA's national outreach program that teaches students how to help with hunger locally and globally.

I also spoke with the Minnesota FCCLA State Secretary, Johannah Nielsen for advice on involving students. Johannah shared, "Be persistent and patient because it can sometimes be a challenge to get students involved, but it all pays off greatly in the end... Every student has different interests, so planning diverse service projects that are fun and engaging is always a good idea."

LOCAL GOVERNMENT AND WORKFORCE DEVELOPMENT

Creating opportunities to link children to local agriculture takes political champions, including local government. My next two questions went to Nancy Thellman, who works for Douglas County, Kansas as a County Commissioner.

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Workforce development is a critical issue in our country. In your experience, how can connecting children with nature and local agriculture encourage them to pursue careers in farming and food production?

Nancy: Meeting farmers, especially young farmers, opens kids' eyes to a variety of careers that most have never thought of. There is a whole world of food-related work that doesn't necessarily require owning land or planting a single seed, including marketing, processing and distributing, culinary arts, food system planning and policy work. Food and agriculture offer a remarkable job sector that can be low-tech or high-tech, rural or urban, part-time or full-time, first career or second, third or fourth!

Do you think this linkage helps foster greater understanding of global issues like food insecurity, safety and health?

Nancy: Kids have a natural sense of what's fair and what's not fair. They know people shouldn't go hungry. Kids know people would rather be well than sick. Helping them understand how access to healthy food is part of the equation for solving hunger and improving health. Wouldn't it be great if our local farmers could be heroes in kids' eyes?

Providing a more urban perspective, I asked Sean Madden, Transition Coordinator for St. Louis YouthBuild: Workforce development is a critical issue in our country. In your experience, how can connecting children with nature and local agriculture encourage them to pursue trade school or higher education?

Sean: Connecting children with nature and local agriculture goes a long way towards reinforcing energy conservation, a need for a greener economy and nurturing a greater understanding of global issues. Teaching young people how to be urban farmers has been one of the many focuses of two local St. Louis organizations called Gateway Greening and Earth Dance Farms in Ferguson, Missouri. Introducing more students to aspects of a green economy allows them to see a different career pipeline after high school.

INCLUSION AND DIVERSITY

Ultimately, outdoor experiences and linkages to nature are only as impactful as they are inclusive. To round out the conversation with tips on inclusion, I spoke with Lori Watkins, Coordinator of Recreation for the Lakeshore Foundation in Birmingham, Alabama who regularly coordinates hunting camps for individuals with disabilities.

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Acknowledging that making outdoor activities inclusive can be intimidating, Lori offered the following recommendations:

  1. Don't assume that just because something is labelled "accessible" that it really is.
  2. Take a field trip to the area before an event to make sure it fits the needs of all individuals.
  3. Seek out others who have been before and ask for their feedback.
  4. Change your perspective. Disability doesn't mean limited fun. Find ways to adapt so everyone benefits.
  5. Relax, have fun and get support from Lakeshore and the National Center on Physical Activity, Health and Disability.

Thank you to everyone who contributed to this discussion. It is my hope that these diverse perspectives help you identify additional partnerships and resources through which you can leverage local agriculture to create a more connected world.

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To read extended interviews and join the conversation, visit the Alliance for a Healthier Generation's Healthy Out-of-School Time blog.

For breakfast I had coffee, yogurt, berries and granola.

Published in Breakfast Club

In this 3-part series we will explore how more play, creative expression, and movement can lead to more cognitive development. The link from body to brain is powerful, so getting kids to move more and study a little less throughout the day may seem counterintuitive, but it may actually lead to better grades and even improve behavior!

Today in part 1 we'll showcase some surprising studies and real world examples of how this focus on movement has created dramatic results in learning and behavior.

"Let's move!"

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For the last few years we have been imploring kids to put down the gadgets, get active, move more, and eat less. Rising childhood obesity rates and plummeting youth fitness levels have raised the alarm. The solution seems simple enough.

But there's a dilemma...

Schools are so focused on standardized testing and academic success that physical education and recess have been put on the back burner.

The irony, however, is that more time spent moving, playing, and exercising has actually been shown to improve attention, behavior, and the ability to learn and retain knowledge – not to mention the side benefit of improved fitness and health!

Finland is a great example of the success of this counter-intuitive strategy. Finland mandates 15 minutes of outdoor play for every 45 minutes of classroom time, with students getting at least 75 minutes of outdoor play per day. Additionally, the amount of academic testing and homework has been greatly reduced.

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Many US schools, on the other hand, mandate 100 minutes of physical education... per week! Homework, classroom time, and academic testing have been increased in an effort to help close the achievement gap and make our kids more competitive in the information age.

The result: In 2014 the US ranked 26th out of 34 countries in math, 17th in reading and 21st in science. During this same time period, Finland was ranked #1 in science, and #2 in both Math & reading (Musolf, 2014).

Graham, Holt/Hale, and Parker authors of Children Moving: A Reflective Approach to Teaching Physical Education (2013) discuss numerous studies showing the connection between physical activity and increased academic performance. A few prominent examples include:

  •  A study on third graders, which concludes that integrating physical activity within the school day led to increases in academic achievement (p. 679).
  •  A study where after just 20 minutes of moderate treadmill walking versus no exercise for 20 minutes, preadolescents scored a grade level higher in a reading comprehension test (p. 680).
  •  And finally, a study where children who increased physical activity four-fold with a 14-week physical education program demonstrated improvements in fitness, academic performance, and behavior (p. 680).

A 9-year prospective intervention study from Sweden showed that daily physical education in school improved both motor skills and school academic performance (Ericsson & Karlsson, 2012). This longitudinal study compared two groups of children from the time they were 7 years old until 16 years old when they left compulsory school.

The control group of 91 students engaged in the normal amount of physical education in school, which was comparable to U.S. standards, of 2 days per week for 45 minutes per session. The intervention group of 129 students participated in PE class 5 days per week for 45 minutes per session, and for those students with motor skill deficits one hour per week of adapted motor skill training was added. The students were all assessed based on a validated motor skills test as well as on their grades in Swedish, English, math, PE, and the proportion of students who qualified for upper secondary school.

At the end of 9 years there were no motor skill deficits in 93% of students in the intervention group compared to 53% in the control group! The average acceptance rate for Swedish students to secondary schools is 88% and decreasing each year. The control group achieved a similar rate of acceptance at 89%. The intervention group, however, had a 96% rate of acceptance, despite the fact that the control group had better reading ability scores at the start of the study.

 

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In part 2 we will explore the mechanisms behind the power of movement to improve the brain. Look out for part 2 on April 4th! 

For Breakfast I cooked for my wife and very hungry 3 year old, we have 2 eggs over medium with salt, pepper, and turmeric, sweet potato hash, 1 slice of bacon, sautéed baby kale, chard, and spinach, sautéed cherry tomatoes & fresh avocado – all drizzled with olive oil. Coffee is mandatory, though not for my son, and we all look forward to our spoon of cod liver oil to finish off our breakfast of champions.

References
Ericsson, I., & Karlsson, M. K. (2012). Motor skills and school performance in children with daily physical education in school - a 9-year intervention study. Scand J Med Sci Sports, 24(2), 273-278. doi:10.1111/j.1600-0838.2012.01458.x

Gallahue, D., & Cleland Donnelly, F. (2003). Developmental Physical education for all children (Fourth ed.). Champaign, Illinois: Human Kinetics.

Graham, G., Holt/Hale, S. A., & Parker, M. (2013). Children moving: A reflective approach to teaching physical education (9th ed.). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.

Musolf, D. (2014, February 19). Does outdoor play make kids smarter? - San Jose Mercury News. Retrieved from http://www.mercurynews.com/bay-area-living/ci_25181071/does-outdoor-play-make-kids-smarter?source=infinite-up

Ratey, J., & Hagerman, E. (2008). Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain (First ed.). New York, New York: Little, Brown and Company, Hachette Book Group.

Rosenbaum, D. A., Carlson, R. A., & Gilmore, R. O. (2001). Acquisition of intellectual and perceptual-motor skills. Annual Review of Psychology, 52(1), 453-470. doi:10.1146/annurev.psych.52.1.453

Schwartz, T., Gomes, J., & McCarthy, C. (2010). The way we're working isn't working: The four forgotten needs that energize great performance. New York, NY: Free Press.

Published in Breakfast Club

My husband and his team put on amazing festivals, and one of them is called The Festival Of Machines. Sprawling over several acres of property, festival-goers can look at (and climb on) cement mixers, tractors, old time steam engines, old time fire engines, classic cars, race cars, army helicopters, and more. They can ride on a mars “rover” bike made by a competitive high school team, race each other on kid-sized motorized vehicles, take flight on a “hover chair,” go on a thrilling ride in an actual two-seater go-cart, spray water from an actual firehose attached to a hydrant, go down a ramp in a soap box derby car, go on a hayride, and more. It’s tons of fun, with lots to experience.

As any “experiential” place will have you do before entering, this festival asked participants to sign a standard waiver releasing them of liability. The kind we all sign before we go in a jump house or on a trampoline or up in a hot air balloon or basically anywhere we’re going to engage not just our minds but our bodies in some kind of fun.

So the first day I took the kids and was standing at the waiver table, signing away, when a man walks up next to me, tosses the waiver down, and says to the poor, sweet young bright-eyed worker man behind the table: “So what happens if I don’t sign it?” His stance was aggressive and his voice trembled a bit with the nervous/excited adrenaline of someone who has come to pick a fight.

The poor, sweet worker started to reply with some version of “well that basically means you can’t participate in any of the hands-on activities etc and so on” and then paused and asked “so why wouldn’t you want to sign it?”  

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Which was all the man needed to hear.

“Why wouldn’t I sign it? Are you kidding me? Why wouldn’t I SIGN IT? This basically says that if you guys screw anything up or if an engine blows up there’s nothing I can do about it. Are Americans really THAT STUPID that they don’t READ ANYTHING ANYMORE?!?!”  

He said. Loudly. To the “stupid American” standing right next to him currently signing the darn thing (me).

I tossed a sympathetic smile and eye roll to the poor, sweet, and now growingly awkward, worker behind the table, finished signing the waiver, and walked away.

I thought about saying any number of things to that man, but I didn’t. And I’ve been thinking about that choice to stay silent—whether I should have somehow intervened. But my kids were standing right there with me. My 8- and 5-year-olds. They weren’t paying attention to the man because they were too busy eyeballing all of the activities that awaited them. But if I had engaged in the conversation, they definitely would have started to pay attention. And I’m not sure anything productive would have come of it.

Because he was So. Sure. of his Rightness. He was so sure of his rightness that he grabbed his “right” flag and went searching for someone to stab with it.   And a person that dead-set on their rightness is not usually someone open to a dialogue.

Still. I struggle with this one, because what about the poor, sweet worker man? I just left him to deal with Right Man all on his own.

When to engage?

What would you have done?

While I grapple with this one, I will say this: watching Right Man reminded me what happens to people when they get hung up on being right. When they don’t want any other resolution than affirmation that they are RIGHT.

Whether we care to admit it or not, I think we all have moments where this comes out in us. Whether at work or at home—moments that make us say “Hey, I’M RIGHT! Now let me go prove it so that people will affirm it and generally acknowledge and revere my RIGHTNESS! I’m So Right!”

So here’s the thing: sometimes you might actually be right. But that’s not the point. The point is what happens to you when suddenly all you can see or care about is that those around you also understand and acknowledge that you are right. It becomes less about the thing itself and more about personal validation.

white flag

So—are you currently holding a “right” flag? Let Right Man be a cautionary tale for you. Put down the flag, friend. Put it down.

How can you let go of the “right” flag today?

 

For breakfast, I had a cup of coffee and an egg sandwich with bacon. Mmmm…bacon.

Published in Breakfast Club

The impact of yoga and mindfulness for children has become a topic of research and discussion. The findings in many studies are that yoga supports children with focus, concentration, self-regulation and coping with stress. Children and adolescents are faced with more stressors than ever before such as the pressures of standardized tests, social relationships and peer pressures, less time for physical activity, more time in front of technology devices (which can agitate the nervous system) and an overwhelming amount of sensory stimulus in the world around them. Yoga is being incorporated into school and after school programming for children in order to create a calmer and peaceful environment for learning. While there is no question that the practice of mindfulness for children has great benefits, what about the educators who work with children in the school and after school settings? Educators face the pressures of standardized testing, compliance with Common Core standards, managing children with challenging behaviors without the proper training and support, limited staffing, high expectations from parents and/or administration and overwhelming amounts of paperwork. Often times educators have a tremendous amount of dedication and commitment to the children they work with but become burnt out from high levels of stress, little recognition for their tireless efforts and a feeling of being overwhelmed with the many challenges and frustrations they face as educators. What happens to educators when they become overstressed and how does that impact the children they work with? The impacts of stress not only affect our physiological state but they also impact our mood, behavior and overall functioning in life.

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When we are in a constant state of stress we can develop health issues to include digestive disorders, autoimmune conditions, heart conditions or a general sense of a lack of well-being. We can become agitated, angry frustrated, depressed or anxious and may be triggered more easily. Often times high levels of stress can lead to more impulsive or destructive behaviors such as over-eating, drinking, isolating from others, developing unhealthy relationships, inconsistent sleep patterns and a lack of self-care.

In order to teach healthy minded children, we must have healthy minded teachers. As educators we create the space for our students. If we are in a stressed or agitated state, this is the energy we bring to our students and this is the overall tone we set for our classroom or program environment. In reality, we have very little control over the "system" in which we work in and more often than not we may not be able to change the people or circumstance we are in but we can change the way in which we react to the stressors in our lives.

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Here are 5 Stress Management Techniques for Educators to bring more peace and calm to themselves and the students they work with.

1. Begin and end the day with the mantra – "I am grateful for"

We can often get caught up in all of the injustices of our life or the things that are going wrong and causing frustration. When we remind ourselves of what we have to be grateful for it shifts our attention from what is lacking to what we have to be thankful for. Even the smallest statement of gratitude can shift the energy from negative to positive. Practice this mantra as you are driving to work and before bed each day. There is always something to be grateful for! Celebrating even the smallest accomplishments of your students or the children you work with can be a reminder to you of just how important the work you do is.

2. Check in with your BODY and focus your attention on your BREATHING

When we become stressed we can tend to move into more of a chest breathing which can escalate the sympathetic response or fight/flight/freeze response. Although we do not have control over circumstances in life, we can control our breath. When you start to feel a sense of agitation or anxiety, check in with the sensations in your body, then take 3 deep breaths, in through the nose and out through the nose (or out through the mouth if that is more accessible). When you breathe in feel a sense of expansion in the diaphragm and the areas of your body where you feel tension, when you exhale release the tension with your breath.

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3. "Check In" and Do a simple Yoga Pose

Doing yoga does not mean that you have to take an hour to go to a yoga class. One or two poses a day can keep us in tune to the tensions in our bodies. When we become stressed our bodies are often the first to respond to the stress by tensing or holding stress in certain areas of the body. Often times due to a combination of stress and poor physical posture from working at a computer or sitting at a desk, many educators experience back pain, neck and shoulder pain and/or tension headaches. Here is a simple yoga pose that can help alleviate tension in the body, release stress and soothe the nervous system.

Seated forward bend: Sit on the edge of your chair in front of a table or desk. Make sure feet have contact with the floor and knees are at a 90-degree angle (if not place a book underneath your feet). Lengthen your spine as you lean forward and place your head on your desk/table (a folded hand towel under the forehead is suggested). Make sure the back of your neck is long. Bring awareness to the space between your shoulder blades and breathe your breath deeply into the backside of your body between your shoulder blades (breathe in through nose and out through nose or out through mouth if that is more accessible). With the inhalation, think of expansion and with the exhalation release tension and worry with the breath. Stay here for at least 5 breaths.

4. Take your breaks!

Each system is different in terms of how many breaks you are allotted in a day and for how long but the reality is that often educators choose to work through their breaks, including their lunch breaks. The reasoning often being, "I have too much work to do". The truth is, no one is going to tell you to take your breaks so it is in your hands to take that time to reset. Leave your classroom or program environment and have your lunch outside or in another space away from your "work space". These moments of "resetting" are crucial to the restoration of the body and the nervous system. Taking a break away from your workspace for lunch or snacks also supports a more mindful experience with eating which supports healthier digestion.

5. Ground Yourself

This may sound funny but it can be quite effective in reducing stress. Make a commitment to set aside 5 minutes a day to take your shoes off and stand in the grass or on the earth barefoot. There is a reason why we call the earth the ground and why we use the word "grounded" to describe a feeling. Anxiety and stress is what we call Vata energy. Vata energy has an airy quality, which is in constant motion. By taking our shoes off and connecting to the earth it creates a greater sense of grounding, provides proprioceptive feedback to the nervous system and literally "roots" us and offers a more stable and grounded sense of being.

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Try to make these activities and integral part of your day and practice them daily. It takes time to establish a routine but continual practice will eventually make your routine a habit. Notice how you are feeling before starting your routine and check in with yourself a week later to see if there is a difference in your mood and energy. Then notice if this daily routine has affected your interactions with the kids you work with or others in your work environment. Notice if this calmer, less stressed version of you has a more calming effect on the children around you. Better yet – teach your students or the children you work with some calming activities and practice them together! You'll be amazed what a difference it makes!


For breakfast I ate an Acai bowl with fresh strawberries, blueberries, gluten-free granola and shredded coconut for breakfast!

Photo credit: Tim Hardy

Published in Breakfast Club

My two driving passions are youth development and access to fresh food, so the idea of incorporating gardening into youth programs gets me very fired up. There are a lot of great garden resources out there including this previous Breakfast Club Blog: Garden-Based Learning. Truth be told I could chat about gardening plans and show you pictures of my little urban garden all day. But first we should talk about how gardening fits in to your bigger, grander program plan. Because gardening fits into every program plan.

A garden is the ideal spot to grow your program, regardless of the ages you serve, regardless of your focus, regardless of the amount of space you have. I believe every youth program can and should have a garden. Maybe it will just be some pots of lettuce grown on a shady balcony, an old kiddie pool transformed into a butterfly garden, or maybe it will be a grand space that engages the whole community. Either way, a garden will make your program stronger.

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Let's dig in to this idea a bit, shall we? (Sorry no more garden puns, I promise.) Here are my top tips on how to connect your garden and other program components.

Art and Gardening – Admit it, gardens are beautiful! Why not use them as a point of inspiration?

Tip 1: Decorate your garden with hand crafted crop markers, pinwheels and sculptures. 
Tip 2: Use produce scraps and seconds to create natural tie-dye.
Tip 3: Pick a medium, (sketching, watercolors, digital photography, etc.) and then create images of the garden during different seasons.
Tip 4: Let kids re-decorate old pots (ask for donations from your neighborhood home improvement store) and then take a small part of the garden home. Better yet, take the finished pots filled with flowers to a local nursing home.

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Basic Skills and Gardening – For some of our kids reading and/or math are brutally hard and the thought of enrichment can and does result in frustration. Gardening can provide a peaceful space to subtly work on these skills.

Tip 1: Ask students to read seed package instructions out loud.
Tip 2: Have rules and tape measures on hand so students can properly space plants for maximum harvest
Tip 3: Install a rain gauge and have students track the water changes over time.
Tip 4: Have a garden-based spelling bee or poetry contest. Host it in your garden and serve your harvest as snacks.
Tip 5: Add a writing corner/ bench/table in the garden and encourage kids to take a break and reflect on their gardening experience in a journal.

Character Development and Gardening – Successful gardens require many of the same soft skills that kids need to be successful in school and work.

Tip 1: Create a garden chore chart and ensure that every kid experiences all the tasks.
Tip 2: Establish group agreements/garden rules as a team and post them so everyone can enjoy the garden.
Tip 3: ALWAYS clean your garden tools after each use and store them appropriately.
Tip 4: Allow for some quite time in the garden every week and teach kids ways to meditate, reflect and recharge internally.

Nutrition and Gardening – Ok, so these seems like a no-brainer. Let's be honest, what is the use of having fresh food if kids don't eat it?

Tip 1: Instead of asking if kids like the taste of vegetables, ask them to describe the taste. Is it crunchy, bitter, sour, squishy or snappy? Would it taste better with a dash of salt, a pinch of pepper or maybe a tiny squirt of honey?
Tip 2: Pair fruits and veggies together (spinach and strawberry salad, oranges and roasted beets) to increase appeal and expand the healthiness of the dish.
Tip 3: Try it with them. Yep, if you want kids to try a bite of watermelon radish, you need to try it too. (Oh and watermelon radishes are soooo good, by the way!)
Tip 4: Conduct a taste test of different varieties of the same fruit or veggie. Let kids rank the items. Keep track of the kids' favorites too and you will have an easier time selecting varieties for next year.

garden blog 1

STEM and Gardening – Another no brainer, perhaps. Yet, a lot of STEM activities fail to include agriculture. Whether you want to explore biology by watching a seed transform into a plant or you want to use technology to create a crop rotation plan, a garden can be your own personal STEM lab.

Tip 1: Include your garden plans into STEM funding requests.
Tip 2: Engage food scientists, farmers and processors as volunteers and speakers. (I still hear from students about the time that a tomato processor explained how spaghetti sauce was made)
Tip 3: Have students explore the impact of droughts, climate change, temperature fluctuation on harvests.
Tip 4: Let students design and build unique raised beds to maximize space and/or improve growing conditions.

 

For breakfast this morning I had a banana, peanut butter toast and lavender tea.

Published in Breakfast Club

I live in a small town.

Our county has about 3600 residents in the town proper, with another 7000 scattered throughout the County (a County which includes two First Nations reserves and two Metis settlements). We have two grocery stores, a few gas stations, four schools, a post office, some shops, plenty of industry and farming operations, and a pretty nice community centre for our size. If you're looking for small-town Canadiana, look no further. We've got it all.

Only... we don't.

Like any other isolated community, we have a health centre but not a full-fledged hospital; we have a free mental health clinic, but its resources are limited; and we have one or two private counsellors who run a fee-for-service practice, but the standard rate is $180/hour. For a town battling a slumping economy, those are big bucks to shell out when rent has to be paid for and food put on the table.

candleLike any other isolated community, our people struggle with similar issues that larger centres do: depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, addictions, family breakdown, bullying, domestic violence, human trafficking, grief and loss, and loneliness. While it's certainly true that we can be lonely in the midst of thousands, geographic isolation has its own peculiar form of loneliness. When a crisis hits, there is no help for hundreds of miles. The closest hospital with a mental health ward is an hour and a half away; and the capital city is at least two hours away. If our local resources struggle, we all struggle.

More and more private counsellors are offering services via Skype or Google Hangout. Not everyone can afford fuel costs associated with driving to a needed support, but it's either that or keep quiet. The wait time for the free mental health clinic at present is about two months. Some triage work is done, so people deemed in severe crisis are bumped to the top of the list, but that just makes the list longer for others needing someone to talk to.

Not everyone owns their own personal device to connect online. Even if they do, not everyone can afford the data to maintain an online presence. Barrier upon Barrier upon barrier. How can after school programs assist families needing professional counselling?

Here are a few ideas that have seen some great success here:

• Churches or larger denominations creating funds to pay for private therapists in order to subsidize counselling fees for low-income families
• Creating private space for kids, parents and whole families to meet with accredited counsellors online at drop-in centres, hospitals or churches
• Developing training teams for after-school care workers to learn "Mental Health First Aid"—signs to look for, immediate assistance to offer, and an sound plan to connect a child and that child's family with a counsellor within a prompt space of time

Face-to-face counselling will always be the best. But rural and isolated communities experience extreme gaps in service on a long-term basis. Creative approaches need to be brought forward. Developing a fund within your after-school program to assist families with mental and emotional support using online communication is a good way to strengthen the web. Creating safer spaces for families to 'meet' with their counsellors assures them that their needs are being taken seriously. The more we can partner together to bring costs down for needed supports in remote locations, the stronger our communities will be. And, by extension, the stronger our children will be when they know there are supports out there to access.

For breakfast, I had Coconut Chia Seed Granola, a McIntosh apple, and a glass of water.

Published in Breakfast Club

Our minds are incredibly powerful. They have the ability to help us create amazing things; or, they can us! The perfect example is worrying.

We've all experienced worry — it's a natural human phenomenon. Worry happens when we have thoughts or emotions about a potential threat or problem in the future — something going wrong or something bad happening.

Worry can serve a purpose if we use it to help us identify issues that we can get prepared for. However, it can be detrimental, and an energy drain, if it leads to rumination (to think about it over and over) and anxiety. And most people, especially kids, are never taught how to break through the worry cycle!

The key to alleviating the worry cycle is to shift worry from anxiety and rumination to concern and preparation.

In this article we will look at a process you can use to step through your worries and several strategies you can use to ease your mind. And this process works for kids too!

worried boy dreaming1. The first step is to acknowledge your worries – give them time. The more you try to resist something the more it will persist. It's like trying not to imagine a green monkey wearing a big orange cowboy hat sitting on a purple giraffe in the middle of your kitchen...you just can't help it. The best way to stop rumination is to write it down and then go to step two.

2. Second, put boundaries around your worries. Set aside a specific time to focus on your worries. During this time, write down anything that you're worried about. If something comes up later in the day...just add it to the list and tell yourself that you can think about it tomorrow during your allotted time. The process of writing the worry down lets your mind rest because it knows you've got it on the agenda.

3. Third, change your language. Language is a very powerful tool – it creates our experience. Instead of using the word "worried" which automatically triggers a feeling of anxiety in most people, use the word "concerned" followed by the word "prepared". For example instead of saying, "I am worried about the economy and losing my job" you could say, "I am concerned about the economy and losing my job. To get prepare I am going to examine my budget and add to my emergency savings fund. I might also consider a part time job."

(How might you use this with a child? If you hear a child say, "I'm worried I'm going to fail this test". You can help her shift her language to something like, "I'm concerned about this test. To get prepared I'm going to ask the teacher for an extra practice sheet.")

4. Fourth, shift you worry into action. Tell your mind what you are going to do about the situation. For each concern, map out a plan. Put it in writing so that each time that concern comes up you can ease your mind by reviewing your plan.

5. Fifth, focus on what you want, not on what you don't want. Your mind is very powerful. Your thoughts trigger both your conscious mind and your subconscious mind to create whatever you focus on. Supportive self-talk and visualization are powerful tools to help you stay focused on what you want.

6. Sixth, focus on what is working in your life, not on what is not working. Shifting thoughts of worry to thoughts of gratitude can help ease your mind and create positive energy throughout your body. Did you know that multiple research studies have shown that practicing gratitude actually creates happiness? Positive energy and positive thoughts are essential for creating what you want in your life.

7. Seventh, look at what you can control versus what you can't control. If the thing you are worried about is something you can control, such as building up your savings account, then take action on that. However, if it's is something that you have no control over, such as when someone dies, then worrying about it only creates negative energy that doesn't serve you. Depending on your spiritual beliefs, you may want to create a "ritual" or personal practice where you turn over your worries to that which is greater than you.

8. Eight, adopt a personal practice that can help you relax. Many people find that meditation, exercise, or journaling can help them ease their mind. A daily practice of relaxation can help neutralize the impact of worrying

Finally, remember that worrying and rumination doesn't serve you – it steals the beauty of the present moment and can rob you of your happiness. Learning to focus on what you can do versus focusing on things outside of your control can lead to a feeling of personal power versus feeling like a victim of the future.

As I mentioned, worry is a phenomena that our kids will also experience. One of the greatest gifts you can give them is to teach them how to turn worry into action.

For more information about how you can use stories to empower kids Adventures in Wisdom to check out a free story.

 

For breakfast, I had an egg white and turkey sausage breakfast taco and a hug from my hubby and kids!

Published in Breakfast Club

We are going to start with a little game. I am going to quiz you to see how well you know social issue awareness colors. I will provide you with a single color and I would like you to identify all of the social issue that color represents.

Here we go: Red.

 

How many social issues were you able to identify?

At this point you are probably asking yourself, "Why is he asking such a question?" or "How does this possibly relate to me and what I do?" The answer is the substance abuse prevention.

From October 23rd through the 31st, millions of students will walk into their schools and will be handed a red ribbon in celebration of Red Ribbon Week. This red ribbon will not represent HIV awareness, epidermolysis bullosa awareness or heart disease awareness, but substance-abuse awareness.

2015 Red Ribbon ThemeThe first National Red Ribbon Celebration was held in 1988 and was sponsored by the National Family Partnership in response to the murder of DEA Agent Enrique Camarena in 1985 by the drug cartel. The community united after this tragic event and began wearing red ribbons to raise awareness of the killing and the destruction caused by drugs within their community. Now 30 years later, an estimated 80 million people will participate in Red Ribbon Week activities this year.

Red Ribbon Week can be and should be so much more than simply wearing a ribbon. This celebration is an opportunity to bring better awareness to both youth and adults about the importance of preventing young people from substance abuse and addiction. Substance abuse prevention has one primary goal: to delay the first use of alcohol or other drugs. Research has indicated that early substance use increases a person's chance of developing an addiction. Substance abuse prevention works to empower youth to make healthy and positive choices concerning use of alcohol, tobacco and other drugs.

So, what is it that you are doing to make this celebration more than just wearing a ribbon? One way to have a greater impact on preventing youth substance use is to have youth developed and lead alcohol, tobacco, and other drug prevention activities. Since now is the time to start planning for Red Ribbon Week, take this opportunity to allow youth to step up and take an active role in the planning. For prevention activities to be successful youth have to be engaged and who better knows what activities are engaging for youth than youth? Here is one way for you to have youth assist in planning Red Ribbon Week activities:

• Visit the Red Ribbon Campaign's website and download the free "2015 Red Ribbon Planning Guide." This guide provides different ideas for activities ranging from poster contests and chalk walks to pledges and parent phone messages.
• Have the student consider activity ideas. In small groups, ask the youth to write down or draw ideas that they have for Red Ribbon Activities.
• Next, have the student identify the steps necessary to make this activity a reality, including considering who needs to be involved, and what supplies or materials are needed. This is when the planning takes place.
• Last, have the students step up as peer leaders and engage each other in the activity. Utilizing this peer-to-peer model will help strengthen leadership skills as well as assist in engaging more youth in activities.

With Red Ribbon Week coming up in a little over a month, it is important that every student and youth know the significance behind this substance abuse prevention campaign. Together, we can all work to keep children, families, and communities safe, healthy, and drug free.

 

For breakfast I had, Sausage, Egg, and Cheese Breakfast Sandwich with a tall coffee.

Published in Breakfast Club

Think about all of the meals that you ate today. Did you have to think about:

1. Did you eat today?
2. Did you have enough to eat today?
3. What would you like to eat today?
4. Or did you not even think about food as you may eat whatever you like whenever you like?

Many of the students that we serve in our Expanded Learning programs answer to different questions than the ones we probably answered. More and more students rely on the food that is being served in school cafeterias all across the nation for food security. Many of the students in our after school and summer programs eat breakfast, lunch, and a snack and/or meal during our care with many of them not having anything else to eat when they go home at the end of our programs. Think about the needs of your own community and the opportunities for us to play a vital role in the food security of the students that we serve each and every day.

fruits-and-vegetables-on-table-healthy-eating-e1406124943891I remember running a local program with 385 students and at that time, we were only implementing a snack program because the Child and Adult Care Food Program Supper/Meal program was not available to us yet at that time. I recall this one particular Friday afternoon when my staff member came to me with a 3rd grade child during the snack portion of the program and my staff informed me that she caught the student stuffing multiple snacks from our goodie box into her backpack. Obviously this was against the snack program's regulations and as I sat down with the student I remember not asking her, "Why did you steal the snack?" but instead asking her, "Tell me what's happening?" In retrospect I am so glad that I took this approach because that day I learned a very valuable lesson on why I do what I do and how I run and implement programs. The student told me that the snack was not for her, but instead it was for her little brother who unfortunately was stuck on our waiting list due not having enough space in his grade level. She continued to tell me that this snack which consisted of 6 oz of juice and goldfish crackers often was the last thing she had to eat until she came back to school on Monday morning for the breakfast program. Her little brother was not as fortunate as the lunch that he received during school which is served at around 11:30 a.m. was often his last meal. When these kids woke up on Saturday morning they looked forward to the snack that she had gathered during the week to make it through breakfast during Saturday mornings.

The Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) Meal program launched in 2010. Since then I have made it my mission to let as many people know about this amazing opportunity to serve students a heartier meal during their after school program and the importance that this meal could play in the food security of the students that we serve each and every day. Since 2010 we have seen the number of sites in California that serve the meal program increase to currently about 2,600 sites which serve approximately 4 million meals per month. There is still a lot of work left to do.

Our programs represent yet another opportunity to complement the school day in contributing to academic enrichment and food security. The meal program represents another opportunity to have a conversation about healthy foods, offer nutrition education, create positive relationships with caring adults and their peers and more importantly give our students another opportunity to eat so they can remain healthy and ready to learn.

My call to action is for you to continue the conversation in your own community about your role in the food security of your students and how food security can help your students achieve the goals and vision your program has identified to help address the needs of your community.

 

For breakfast I had a protein shake and a teaspoon of apple cider vinegar.

Published in Breakfast Club
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