Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Brain Smart Connection Activities: What I Love About You!

As you may have read in my last post, connection is the key to cooperation...

BUT it's so much MORE than that!

The connections we build with children through loving rituals and traditions help us set aside a sacred space to create a climate of love and acceptance--A time to focus on what really matters!

When I was a child my mom had a way of making even the smallest "holiday" special in some way.

Two of my favorites were Valentine's Day and St. Patrick's Day.

There was heart-shaped cakes, love notes, and everything pink on Valentine's Day.

And it wouldn't be St. Patrick's day if that pesky little leprechaun didn't turn the milk green!  We also had the traditional green eggs and ham and wore as much green as we could so we wouldn't get pinched on St. Patties Day!  Even when we were TEENAGERS!

Is it any surprise that when I became a teacher and eventually a mom, I carried those traditions into my teaching and parenting practices?

Every year we still have heart-shaped food, love notes, and as much pink as possible on Valentine's Day!  And that sneaky little leprechaun still manages to turn something green in our house!

These rituals still hold a very special place in my heart!

I'm reading the NAEYC publication titled Rituals and Traditions:  Fostering a Sense of Community in Preschool by Jacky Howell and Kimberly Reinhard.  Although it is focused on the classroom, the same principles apply to the home.  In the book it states, "Rituals and traditions are part of everyday life.  A ritual can be reading a book in a special chair before bed.  A tradition can be a special food that is served only at celebrations.  Rituals and traditions have the power to shape classroom routines into times that build meaningful connections and bonds among children, families, and teachers, creating and strengthening a sense of community in early childhood settings."

That's what my mom did!  She took the ordinary and made it extraordinary through meaningful and fun rituals and traditions!

During the month of February I am going to be sharing various activities that could help you focus on building rituals and traditions into your family, whether at home or school!

A couple of years ago I found myself very frustrated with the environment in our home.

My children were growing up and I it was very challenging to figure out ways to connect with them.  I was a pro at connecting with preschoolers, toddlers, and infants, but not so much with these "teeny boppers" that were now living under my roof.

There was an increase in the amount of conflict in our home and I knew it was because we weren't connecting.  I wanted to find ways to connect with and encourage my family that would be age appropriate and meaningful.

I needed something to help me shift my focus from the frustration I felt to being more encouraging to myself and my family.

Since it was February, I decided we all needed a bit more love and intentionality!

I cut out some heart-shaped notes and wrote something different that I noticed about them every day for the whole month!

Each morning before they got up, I would hang a new note on their door so they could start their day off with some encouraging words.

The phrase I like to use is:  "You _____ so _____.  That was ____!"

It is helpful language that we teach in Conscious Discipline because it is 100% focused on the beauty you see in the child and their actions.  I try to avoid phrases such as, "I like the way you..."  or "You did a good job with..."  Those phrases make it more about me and can be about approval rather than the qualities in the child that are valuable.

I also got my husband in on the fun and made sure there were plenty of hearts so everyone could share the love!

It might be helpful if you number each of your hearts as you add them!  By the end of the month you'll have 28 (unless it's a Leap Year like this year)!

It amazing me how quickly the whole climate in our home/classroom changes when we shift from focusing our what's missing to seeing the beauty that's right in front of us!

Not only did I experience more joy, so did they!  They couldn't wait to get out of bed and see what I noticed that day!  It raises everyone's awareness of the impact they have on others!

Since today is only February 2nd we are just on our second day, but it has made a difference already!  My husband wanted to know where the "stash" of hearts was so he could write me some notes too!  And my son went out of his way to tell me thank you for the kindness he saw expressed on his door today!

Whether you are in the classroom or home I hope this idea inspires you to remember what you love about those around you and not just remember, but express it to them too!


Sunday, January 31, 2016

Conscious Discipline Book Club 2016

I've had a great response to the 2016 Conscious Discipline Book Club that I will be leading here at Ignite Learning!

Since I had such a big response, I decided to wait until February to start the Book Club to give me more time to organize the details.

If you would like to join this 10 month journey please follow this link to fill out a quick form so I will know who is reading along.

This Book Club is going to be very informal.  

As I mentioned in my previous post, this is a personal commitment.  One that I hope you will choose to make because of the personal reward of life transformation.  

There aren't any "assignments" other than to read one chapter each month and work through the questions and additional resources provided on the Conscious Discipline website.  I will guide you along the way.  :) 

Each month, I will post on the blog about my personal journey and how this book is impacting my life experience.  

My hope is that you will also share.  At the end of each blog post you will see that there is a space where you can comment.  Please take the time to comment and share with this community about what you learned that month and how it impacted your daily life.  

You can also email me or connect with me through various social media sites such as Facebook.

Here's the plan:

STEP 1:  Follow this link to submit your information registering you for the book club.
STEP 2:  If you haven't already done so, order the NEW Conscious Discipline book by Dr. Becky                     Bailey.  
STEP 3:  Read one chapter a month and interact on the Book Club posts to share your experience
  1. February:  Chapter 1 Introduction to Conscious Discipline
  2. March:  Chapter 2 Conscious Discipline Brain State Model
  3. April:  Chapter 3 School Family
  4. May:  Chapter 4 Composure
  5. June:  Chapter 5 Assertiveness
  6. July:  Chapter 6 Encouragement
  7. August: Chapter 7 Choices
  8. September:  Chapter 8 Empathy
  9. October:  Chapter 9 Positive Intent
  10. November:  Chapter 10:  Consequences
STEP 4:  Join me and some of my friends on BLAB (download the app or find it on the web) for a LIVE conversation about our Book Club journey on February 26th at 8:30 Eastern Time.  More information to come!

Looking forward to a rich experience!  Hope you'll join me!

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Brain Smart Transition Tips that Work: Motivation

Think about the last time you went to Walmart or your local department store.  

Did you get a warmer greeting from the people there than you do when you enter your home, classroom, or office?

I know for myself that I have to be very intentional about getting up from my desk or whatever task I am doing when my family comes home and go to them and make an meaningful connection.  Whether it's a simple hello and sticking around long enough to hear about their day or chatting while I make them a snack it makes a huge difference in our relationship when I do!

This is the last in a three part series about how to create Brain Smart transitions in your classroom or home.  If you haven't read the other two posts you can find them here.

So you've tried everything in the first two posts and you are STILL having trouble at certain times of day or with a particular child.  What to do now?

As you might have guessed by the looks of our introduction, it has something to do with relationships.  

The motivation to behave comes from being in relationship.  Traditionally, we thought that rules governed behavior.  What we know now is that it is actually relationships that cause a person to have the motivation to pay attention, follow directions, or control their impulses enough to inhibit the drive to push someone in line or continue playing when it is time to clean up.  

How many of you know the rule about the speed limit on the interstate near you?  Maybe the speed limit is 70 mph.  How many of you actually drive it?  BUT, when do you slow down?  About the time you see a cop sitting in the median or closing in behind you.  Why do you slow down?  Because you are afraid you'll get caught.  I have met very few people who actually drive the speed limit all the time just because it is the RULE.

I bet you've had an experience where a child behaves one way for school and differently at home.  Perhaps they behave differently for mom than they do for dad.  Don't even get me started on grandma.  If you're a grandma you know what I mean.  ;)

As we develop relationships with children by providing regular opportunities for eye contact, appropriate touch, playfulness, and presence we are actually wiring their brains for cooperation, impulse control, and attention.  You are literally creating neural connections in the brain!  How cool is that?  You're building BRAINS!

You may already have some rituals in your classroom or home where you make purposeful connections with your children.  Maybe you could use a few more ideas?

Dr. Becky Bailey has provides a book FULL of ideas to build these meaningful connections.  In her book, "I Love You Rituals" she shares a variety of songs, games, and finger plays that can help you get started.  

Watch this short video to help you understand that our need for connection never changes.  All ages, all stages, and everything in between...we were made for relationship!

As you see from the video, each little snip-it included those four essential ingredients:  eye contact, touch, presence, and playfulness.

Imagine that building these connections is like baking a cake.  If you bake a cake and leave out the eggs, you will get a product when you pull it out of the oven, but it certainly won't be as good as it would if the eggs were there!  The same is true with connecting activities!  When you make sure you get in all four ingredients you will get a much better product in the end!  Just remember that the goal is creating authentic relationships with children and you can't go wrong!   

Our goal as adults is to get to know our children well enough that we know how to connect with them in an attuned way.  Some connections could be done with a whole group of children.  Others will happen on an individual basis. You will find that some children need far more connection that their peers.  When a child has had their needs for safety and connection met at home, they come to school ready for learn.  They don't require the intensity as a child who has a history of trauma or disconnect in their home.

So when you consider how to transition your children throughout the day make sure you remember to take the time to connect!  You may think you don't have the time to connect, but I would say you don't have the time not to!

I have done I Love You Rituals with many children and one of their all time favorites is "Round and Round the Garden."  It is super sweet and fun!

I'm going to share two examples of how I use this I Love You Ritual to help with transitions, but the possibilities are only limited by your creativity and imagination!

The first example involves a time when the children are asked to make a transition to a large group or family activity such as story time.  
1. Once all the children arrive in the group have them stand up in a circle and hold hands.
2. Ask them if they've ever seen a garden.  If so, what grows in a garden?
3. Once they are done describing gardens, tell them you are going to pretend that there is a garden in the middle of the circle.
4. As you hold hands and say the chant you are going to walk slowly in a circle around the garden.
5. When you say, "One step, two steps..."  Slow down and really exaggerate your steps.  
6. Then tickle as many children as you can under the arm.  They may also tickle those around them gently.  Make sure you help them understand how to tickle gently.

They usually want to do it again and again!  It is a great way to get everyone organized into a circle and wire their brains for success!

The second example of how I use this ritual for a transition has to do with the end of a group activity.  Perhaps the children are finished with circle time and they need to go wash their hands for lunch.  You don't want to send all the children to the sink at the same time so you could use rituals to help you slowly release them to wash their hands.  
1.  Call up one child at a time and hold out both of your hands.  One hand represents the "bear" and the other hand represents the "mouse" (another I Love You Ritual).  Of course you could also use visuals of these animals as well.  
2.  Ask the child, "Do you want the bear or the mouse?
3.  Once they choose, you will do the ritual one time. 
  •   Hold the child's hand in your hand palm facing up.
  • Use your index finger to gently circle their palm while saying, "Round and round the garden goes the teddy bear."
  • As you say, "One step, two step..." slowly walk your fingers up their arm.
  • When it says, "Tickle under there!" you will tickle the child under the arm.  
  • Giggles and love abound!
4.  After the ritual, you may want the child to take a deep breath with you to relax their body.
4.  If you even want to take it a step further, you could ask the child to repeat back to you what they are going to go do.  (Go wash my hands and sit down at the table)
5.  It works like a charm!

You may have a hard time imagining that the children will sit and wait their turn, but you would be surprised!  If you are a safe and loving adult, they want nothing more than a "moment" with you!  You are making BIG investments when you take time to create those moments throughout your day!  It will pay big dividends in the long run!

Remember, when you do a ritual with a child and it comes from your heart you are throwing them a lifeline.  If they were sailors adrift at sea you could pull them safely back to the shore!

I hope you have found some helpful tips in this series about transitions that are Brain Smart.  If you have questions or would like to know more about Conscious Discipline get connected!  You can find me on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter!  You are also welcome to email me directly through the blog for further information.  

As always, I wish you well!

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Brain Smart Transition Tips that Work: Using Visual Supports

Stopping is hard.

Think about it.  Have you ever tried to stop smoking, stop eating chocolate, stop watching Netflix, stop speeding, or stop drinking coffee?

It's just not easy is it?!?

I think one of the biggest mistakes we make when we are making transitions with children is that we forget what it is like to be 2, 3, or even 8 years old!

We forget how hard it is to stop doing something you love and transition to something else, possibly even something you really don't like doing like going to bed.  

Not only do we forget how hard it is to stop, we also forget to prepare children for the transition and then help them get to the next activity successfully.  

Last week, in the first post in this series, I shared the M.A.P. technique that can help you and your child think through these steps and be more intentional about making transitions successful.  Click this link to read the full post and learn what the M.A.P. technique is all about.  

The M.A.P. technique helps us focus our attention as well as the attention of our children on what we WANT them TO DO rather than what we want them to STOP doing.

Recently, I was in a classroom coaching a preschool teacher and she said something that made a huge difference for her children.  Just a simple shift in her language and focus helped the whole class shift too.

Instead of turning off the lights at clean-up time and telling the children they had 5 more minutes before they had to clean-up she shifted it to, "You have 5 more minutes to play."  She said this was a game changer for her little ones!  

Once you've shifted your focus on what you get to do rather than what you have to stop doing then it's time to take it to the next level!    

The A in the M.A.P. technique stands for add visuals.

Children under the age of 8 think in pictures.  They don't have the same type of mature inner speech that older children and adults do.  This doesn't just apply to children on the Autism Spectrum or with communication delays.  All children under the age of 8 (and many adults I might add) benefit from the use of images.  If you've put any furniture together lately you will know what I'm talking about.

I'm going to share a couple of Brain Smart strategies you can use to add the necessary visual component to successful transitions.

The first strategy includes an intentional pause in the transition to create an optimal learning state.  This is called the Brain Smart Start.

Steps to implement a Brain Smart Start transition after play time:
1.  Provide a visual signal such as turning off the lights or raising your hand.
2.  Provide auditory signal to get everyone's attention such as a chime or rain stick.
3.  Have everyone stop and put their hands on their head.  This way you know you have their attention.
4.  Lead everyone in a deep breathing strategy such as S.T.A.R.  (Smile, take a deep breath, and relax).
5.  Now that you have their attention and they are calm, you can help them make commitments for what they will do next.  If they have more time to play you could remind them that they have 5 more minutes to play so they can finish what they are doing.  If it is time to clean up you could say, "Jenny, you start by cleaning up the blocks."  
6.  Make sure the children know what to do when they are done cleaning up.  In my classroom, they knew they could help someone else or they could go on over to circle where there were books to look at, calming creams, and quiet activities they could do until everyone was done.  

Once you figure out your routine for cleaning up, you want to make sure you practice it with the children and encourage them when you see that they are doing it successfully.  If they are having difficulty then you need to take a look at what skills are missing and make sure you are teaching those skills!  

This quick video gives you a glimpse of the Brain Smart Start transition that we used in my preschool classroom with children who have special needs.  This was SO much better than when we began.  Before we taught the children this Brain Smart transition strategy, there were children screaming, running to the safe place, and throwing toys.  By intentionally shifting everyone with this strategy it made a huge difference and everyone was much more successful.  As you can see, it's not perfect, but my goal isn't perfection.  My goal is to help the children develop the ability to control the impulse to keep playing or throw toys when the world doesn't go their way.  My goal is to help them focus their attention and follow directions.  I don't want to use behavior charts to make them do that.  I want them to have the internal resources to choose to do it (with my help) so they can be more successful throughout life.  


The next strategy to help you smooth out your transitions is one of my all time FAVORITE tools!  This handy and oh so helpful tool is called the Time Timer. (affiliate link)  It is basically a visual timer.  It helps children have a visual tool to show them how much time is left.  Young children really have no concept of what you mean when you say five more minutes, but if you show them it is much more helpful!

This beauty is the 12 inch timer. (affiliate link)  It hangs nicely on a command hook on the wall.  It also as an audible signal that you can use to signal that the time is all done.

I used it at various times throughout the day to help with transitions.  It was an integral part of the cleaning-up routine as it gave the children an indication of how much more time they had to play before we were going to turn off the lights and begin the Brain Smart Start transition mentioned above.

I had it hanging on the wall just above the reach of children, but low enough that they could see it from almost anywhere in the classroom.  I also hung our visual schedule just below the timer so we could use it as an added tool to help with transitions.

You can use pictures from Boardmaker, Google Images, photographs, and student drawings to help you gather images that are meaningful and appropriate for your children.  Old school resource catalogs are also a great resource for images that are useful in the classroom.  

Whether you are working with your own children in the home or children in the classroom, you want to make sure the visuals are clear and well organized.  They also need to be at eye level for the children.  

Visuals can be posted on the wall or made into books much like the ones I shared in my previous post about transition tips.

You can also use your body, another child, or objects and materials from around the classroom as visuals too!  I had a TON of extra bulletin board borders in my classroom.  I laminated them and put the hard side of the Velcro on the back and they made a perfect visual for the children to stand on while they prepared to leave the classroom.

I had a little boy in my classroom who had a really hard time with the transition to leave the classroom.  He was overwhelmed by the number of children at the coat closet and with too many people standing by him in line.  

He LOVED Angry Birds!  So, we used some visuals to help him have a "landing pad" whenever we needed to line up to leave the room.  His space was away from the other children and it helped everyone feel more safe when they were lining up.  As you can see from the smile on his face he felt happy when he could line up successfully!  For him, success looked a little different than it did for the other children.  

Here are a couple of my favorite websites for ideas and printables for various visuals for the classroom or home:

If you've done all this and you still have children that are resistant to transitions then it could be a relationship issue.  That will be our topic for next week!  Stay tuned to learn what to do when you've MAP-ed it out and really reinforced the routines and expectations with lots of practice and visuals, but it's still not working!

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Brain Smart Transition Tips that Work

Whether you're a teacher or parent you'll agree that your day is full of transitions.  Parents and teachers alike have told me over the years how challenging transitions can be whether in the classroom or home.

This post is the first of a series of posts about strategies you can use regardless of your environment to help you and your children be more successful with transitions.

Did you know that the most difficult transition of the day is the transition from home to work or school?  I would add that an equally challenging transition can be at the end of the day when you return home.

Today, we are going to begin the series by learning a skill called the M.A.P. technique.  If you can add this basic tool from Dr. Becky Bailey's Conscious Discipline to your toolbox you will discover pretty quickly that your transitions are transformed!

The M.A.P. technique is an assertiveness tool that will help you think through the transitions that occur throughout your day.  It will help you develop a road map for SUCCESS!  If you were traveling from Indianapolis to Orlando you would plan out your trip and hopefully look at a map to help you get there successfully.  Of course there are always a few bumps in the road, but the whole trip goes smoother if you plan ahead.  The M.A.P. technique works the same way.  It helps you plan ahead so everyone feels more successful in the end!  :)

The first basic question to ask yourself is, "What do I want this time of day to look like, sound like, feel like?"  The answer to that question will be your "destination".  It will help you and your children figure out where you're going.

If you have older children you could even get them involved in the planning process.  The answer to this basic question will guide you as you M.A.P. out the routine.  This is how you will get to your destination!

What does M.A.P. Stand for?

M=Model your procedures and expectations
A=Add Visuals
P=Practice, practice, practice

I remember when I first began learning about Conscious Discipline and dinnertime  in our home meant CHAOS!  I returned from a Conscious Discipline training inspired to use these strategies to figure out a different way to do dinnertime.

I began by having a conversation with my husband to help us figure out what our "destination" as a family for dinnertime would be.  His dinner experience was very different than mine as a child.  He was an only child and his dad worked at night.  He and his mom would usually eat dinner in front of the TV while watching recorded soaps form the day.

I came from a family of five.  My mom and dad felt that dinnertime at the table together was very important.  We had specific seats to sit in, we said prayer, asked to have the food passed while using good manners, and asked to be excused when we were finished.

As you can see, we came from very different experiences.  Our destinations looked a little different.  This conversation helped us figure out what we wanted the dinnertime experience in our home to look like, feel like, and sound like.  It was so helpful to get on the same page.

Next, I worked with  my children who were about 5 and 7 at the time to make a book about dinner in our home.  First, I talked to them about the routine we would follow at dinner.  I modeled what their dad and I wanted it to look like, feel like, and sound like.  They agreed to be my models while I took pictures of them completing each part of our dinnertime routine.  I turned the pictures into a very simple book that showed step by step what we would do at dinner.  We practiced the routine by reading the book and acting it out.

The book was so helpful at the time.  We used it frequently to help us remember how to make the transition from playtime to dinnertime without yelling and resistance.  It was also helpful to follow-up with encouragement when people did what I wanted them to do.  Learn more about that here .

One of the difficult transitions in my classroom happened after snack time every day.  Meals present a different dilemma because children get done various rates.

We used the M.A.P. technique and came up with a routine to help ease the transition from snack to the next activity.  We called the next activity "Book Buddies".  Here are some of the pictures and steps we used to teach and practice this routine with the children so everyone would be successful!


I hope you find some inspiration here to help you think through your transitions and develop a plan that will help you and your children feel more successful!  In our next post in this series will focus on some visuals you can use to help with transitions.  I will also be sharing some free visuals that you could print out so you'll have a tool to use right away!  Stay tuned!