8 Traits

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The past few posts have focused on defining family but in a broader sense, this blog is about what we model and instill with the children in our lives and the lessons we learn from each other. A huge part of raising and working with kids is keeping in mind the end game.  That doesn’t mean being wedded to a certain outcome (soccer star, valedictorian, Ivy-League college) but more a general sense of the values you want to instill and the kind of person you hope this little person is and becomes.  While much of development is dependent on temperament, health, experiences outside the home, parents and caregivers are the first teachers and often, the most significant role models.  

 

It’s important to spend time thinking about what you want to model and instill, and to know that this may change over time.Each family will grow to have it’s own unique blend of values and priorities. This may include a range of other big and small ideas, such as:

Joy

Compassion

Accountability

Courage

Faith

The foundation for building a connected family and children who learn to navigate their world with confidence, empathy and a willingness to accept challenges are based on eight traits explored on the blog.  They are:

Creativity

Empathy

Listening

Love of literature/communication

Perseverance

Play

Problem solving

Resilience & resourcefulness

 

These are eight traits, among many, that are the foundation upon which strong families are based.  It also shares stories of a wide range of children in the classroom where these traits are nurtured and contribute to both the child’s development and the school community.  Each of these traits helps give rise to confident, caring and engaged children who learn to advocate for themselves and people and issues important to them, as they learn to be self-reliant and motivated thinkers and do-ers in an increasingly complex world.

With two emerging adults – kids that are late teens and early twenties but not yet fully adults – it’s easier now to look back on how we raised them.  There were definitely periods we were far too bleary-eyed or stressed to consider the big picture! Over the past twenty years, our ideals and values have shifted as circumstances and needs changed.  We faced challenges and many joys, but throughout these halos and hiccups, there are many values and traits that we clung to and strived to model and instill.

 

Over these same years, as I worked with children from ages three through thirteen, I was fortunate enough to work alongside dedicated colleagues who shared similar values and commitment to what we modeled and expected from our students. Beyond my own two offspring, I saw hundreds of kids from various backgrounds learn to navigate school and life with courage and integrity, learning from their mistakes and growing.  What’s most important to me as a person and my family can be summarized:

 

  • We must have the courage to be both creative and empathetic in our lives. We must listen to our hearts and the people around us. Everyone and every situation have something to teach us when we listen.  
  • Communicating with others orally, in writing, in our body language and our actions are essential in this world.
  • Literature has much to teach us, as well as an ability to help us escape from the world, explore new ideas, and connect with others.  
  • Life isn’t just about work; it’s about play and joy, too. Play is essential for big people, little people and all people, so we need time for authentic play that allows us to do something we love with no  purpose.  
  • Whether in play or work, we will need to problem solve, often. This requires looking carefully at the situation and trying new things. We will fail, and we will succeed, and we will learn.
  • To navigate our relationship and our world, we will be called upon, again to be brave, as we develop resilience and resourcefulness. Life will be complicated and messy and rewarding. We have to jump in the game and give it our all.  
  • As a family, we need to support each other as we take this journey, honoring each other, being open to the possibilities, holding each other accountable as we celebrate the failures and successes of our individual and collective growth and contributions to the world.

Our most important job as parents and caregivers is to raise children who learn to be self-sufficient, competent, caring and willing to contribute to the world – a world we cannot know right now, but can only give our very best effort to raising good kids who will go out and do good in their own ways.

What’s most important to your family or for you to model and instill in the children you work with?

9 Reasons Yoga is For Kids

photo courtesy of St. Anne's School of Annapolis
photo courtesy of St. Anne’s School of Annapolis
This week students from preschool through eighth grade at St. Anne’s School of Annapolis are celebrating “Mind Body Spirit Week” with five days of events and learning about the essential connections between what we do with our bodies, how we interact with ourselves and the world and how we take care of ourselves and others.  I was lucky enough to be asked back to teach a few yoga classes with some of their young friends and then later for teachers.
Like classroom teaching, practicing yoga with children is a curious mix of joy, laughter and the unexpected.  It always makes me a better person and teacher. I  came armed with some lessons plans, but those were promptly pushed aside as we just responded to the energy and interests that arrived.  We explored of our physical bodies on the mat  and some frank discussion on mind-wandering and what it feels like to have all those big and little thoughts in our head. Oh, yes…and they eagerly shared the  things that make them feel stressed (you’d be surprised!).  Our brief chats concluded with some breath awareness and the immediate feedback that breathing deeply is, in their words:
  • calming
  • peaceful
  • feels like you’re floating
  • make me more me
From teetering tree pose to fierce planks, their asanas revealed determination, a true sense of play, friendship, and a willingness to take risks. I’m quite certain these traits carry over into other aspects of their lives. After spending several hours with these little yogis, here are 9 reasons yoga is for kids, too.
1. Yoga is for everybody because everybody has a body and everybody can breathe.
2. Yoga is about self-care.  It’s incredibly useful to learn how to care for yourself. Knowing your body and what you can do with it, along with when  you can challenge yourself, is a life lesson.
3. Yoga helps you recharge and become clear-minded.  Kids, like adults, report they feel better after doing yoga and that they are then,“very calm.” The experience of relaxation that comes with a good physical yoga practice can be very profound.
4. Yoga helps you cope with things like anxiety, depression, ADHD, anger, jealousy.  I always feel grateful after I practice yoga. It’s also the perfect time to smile and have fun!
5. Yoga is a workout, too!  It really is.  It helps regulate metabolism and increase self-awareness.  You’re also likely to feel better about yourself. 
6.  You can get better at the poses just like you can get better at a sport, As long as you are operating from a place of knowledge and respect for how your body works, expect improvement for yourself as you get stronger, your coordination improves, and your muscles lengthen.
7. You’re so lucky to be doing yoga now.  So many people say they wish they had known about yoga earlier in life.  It’s really a gift to have the time and place to practice yoga.  It’s a sacred time to acknowledge the blessings of our life, including our body and breath.
8. The point of yoga is to remain curious about what you can do.  Yoga helps you improve your mental outlook so if you’re feeling jealous, self-defeated, or envious, yoga gives you the chance to forget those methods of thinking and instead to observe and engage in your own experience.
9. Seek things to do that will empower your strength of mind, body and character like yoga and not things that will disempower you (unkind friends, things that might harm you).
Take care,
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Lisa Dewey Wells

So Few of Me and So Much To Do


This fall has cleverly disguised itself to me as Super Storm Sandy. I knew there were wicked forces on the horizon capable of  unsettling things, but I was overly confident I could weather this storm.  Unlike Super Storm Sandy, it didn’t come on suddenly.  After a series of weeks, it was clear that there was a wide-swath of  life was disheveled or dislocated as a result of these forces, and honestly, my failure to keep an eye on the horizon.

The good news is, human beings are remarkable resilient and we (umm…let’s own this – I) am capable of putting back the pieces once I recognize the fall out.  Life is full of ups and downs, unpredictable surf and stuff that spins out of control.  It can be touch to walk the middle-ground and equanimity is something that takes a lot of practice. It was time to draw upon a bit more equanimity and balance.

Conventional wisdom tells us not to make too many changes all at once but I did. A couple of weeks back, I read Jonathan Fields piece When No Means Go bringing clarity to why the guy is an entrepreneurial mastermind and why I sometimes feel like a novice juggler. I totally agree with his criteria for saying “yes” being based on alignment with values and goals and your own personal bandwidth.  That seems pretty obvious, right? But how many of us actually do that? I had neglected to say “no” to a few things and lost sight of priorities.  And now I was paying the price, thrashing around in the sea.

After feeling that doubt and frustration, it was time for action.  Taming the schedule and managing the expectations shifted gears.

The shifted in part due to a sweet and striking picture book by Peter Reynolds (illustrator of the Judy Moody series and the wildly popular “Ish” and “The Dot” and owner of  The Blue Bunny Bookstore in Dedham, MA).  I love when a good children’s book is the force that calibrates me back to a more productive, sane, and mature life!

If you don’t know “So Few of Me,” here’s a glimpse:


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So Few of Me is a tale of an over-scheduled, multi- list-making, over-worked boy on a journey to get it all done. Of course, that’s not just a tall order, it’s a tall tale. Life’s list never really ends, but we have the power to be ruled by the list… Or to put it down — and dream.

From Peter Reynolds, author of So Few of Me

Once I got a revived handle on managing my workload and schedule, it was clear that I could do a better job helping my students. Tweens who are developing the self-governing skills necessary to manage their work and schedule need our support and encouragement to do so.  If I thought my transition to new work settings and responsibility was a challenge, what about these kids – those new to middle school and all the many facets that come with a ginormous step into adolescence?   Ego had to be set aside. Ahisma, empathy, compassion came first, followed by modeling, practice and reflection  to help these busy workers manage their work, stress and schedules.  I had to be a better model for them and coach them on the skills and strategies they need.

How do you schedule your time to accomplish your tasks and goals?  Do you schedule some time to dream and be like Leo in So Few of Me?   Stop back next time to read how this translates to work with adolescents.

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Lisa Dewey Wells

 

Finding the School Groove

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In the itty-bitty world on virtual life, three internet readers wrote to me this week about the same post.   As Leroy Jethro Gibbs says, “I don’t believe in coincidences.” Neither do I in this case.  They wrote to me about an oldie but a goodie.

We’re all in the back to school frenzy, riding the wave of a long weekend and feeling like the next weekend is a long time a-coming.  But at my school, we’re  on day six. That’s less than fifty hours of school. No wonder the new routines and schedule feel new.

It takes time to settle in to a routine.

And practice.

And patience.

And stamina.

And a sense of humor.

And good fuel in the form of food and water.

And ice cream.

And rest.

And exercise.

And rest.

I don’t see it as coincidence that three readers stumbled upon my post Stretching into the First Six Weeks of School   (originally published on a sixth day of school – coincidence again?) We’re all feeling it right about now and we’ll continue feeling it for a few more weeks. Routines will settle, connections will be forged and a community of learners will take shape.  Rome wasn’t built in a day, nor six.  Believe me, it takes about 30 school days to really find that groove in your own little Rome.

That groovy path to a classroom community takes a lot of energy and compassion, even from those who are not directly marching on that road. It’s not smooth nor can any of us clear all the rough patches for each other, especially our little folks.  Hopefully, school is fun and engaging, but it should also be challenging.  It’s in the difficult  places that we grow.  Our kids will grow if and when we allow them the space to feel a bit uncomfortable.  Then they’ll develop the skills to work themselves out of the bumps so they sail through the smooth patches and have skills for the next bump.  Besides, who wants to be a snowplow parent anyway?

Help your child face the minor bumps of the first days with a sense of purpose and determination.  Remind them it takes time and that it gets easier. Be the coach and cheerleader.  Help them find home routines for school work and relaxation.  Point out what is working and where you see growth. And make time to just have some fun. Oh, and be sure to follow an age-appropriate bedtime routine so their brains can consolidate learning and be prepared for more learning and growth.

Next thing you know, it’ll be Halloween and the start of school will seem like ages ago. We’ll get our groove, you’ll see.  Enjoy the ride – bumps and joys all the same!

Looking Ahead – Eight Tips for Successful Closure to the School Year

photo: ManoAfrica

In case you’re living under a rock, I’m here to let you know –  It’s the end of the school year!

Change is good.  Change is hard, especially when we think it is not hard.

Soon our schedules, faces, and routines will change. Our sense of identity and community will be challenged. All the work we invested in getting to know each other, building trust, taking risks, learning and sharing, will fold into the fabric of our being to nest deep inside until we need to draw upon those experiences or until something triggers our memory. Look inside any classroom and you can see it. Perhaps it’s masquerading as excess energy, giggles, negative-attention seeking behavior, a lower frustration threshold, apathy, irritability, or challenging well-established rules and guidelines. End-of-the-year angst can strike kids at any age – adults, too.

What’s we’ve come to expect is going to shift.  We may be feeling sadness or disappointment that the friends we’ve come to respect and crave will not be daily fixtures in our lives. We may wonder who will fill that void over the summer and beyond. Is there any wonder behavior begins to change as the year comes to a close?

Romantic and nostalgic images of summer may or may not bring lazy days of berry picking, swimming, lounging in pjs, road trips to gramma’s or the beach. The reality the transition from the end of school to whatever summer actual is, can be difficult for children even if they are excited for summer fun.  They’ve worked hard and it’s been a productive year – and hopefully have grown in numerous ways.  So it may feel like all that progress is slipping away.

Successful navigation of change builds confidence and resiliency and it’s a life-skill all of our children need.  Like any other skill, it needs to be modeled, practiced, reinforced and celebrated.  The security and “known-ness” doesn’t have to slip away if all the pieces have been put into place throughout the year and remain in place until the final hours.  The building blocks of knowing each child, fostering a community where responsibility and care are valued, and empowering children to solve problems and share ideas, will make children stronger, more resilient, and ready to take on the challenges of summer and next school year.

How to help children bring closure to the end of the school year? Here are 8 things you can do in the classroom or in the family room.

  1. Look back – Literally, look back at photos, documentation, class books and journals. Notice what things looked like and sounded like earlier in the year. children often notice the physical growth they see in pictures or how the arrangement of the room has changed. Dig deeper as you inquire about what they remember, how they felt, how they might tackle the same project or question now.
  2. Make notes – What greetings, activities, songs have you done as a group? Keep the list running for a few days to see how many you can come up with. Vote or graph your favorites. Revisit those during the last few weeks. At home, make a list of your family’s top 10 events or accomplishments of the year.  Make a poster, a list or a video to share and plan a small celebration!
  3. Name and listen to the experts – As the class gets to know each other, the strengths of each individual become evident. Call out those strengths and have each person share based on their expertise. Chances are, the kids can recognize what each classmate is an expert about. How cool is it to hear the children affirming friends they know so well?
  4. Leave a guide or letter to the next class – Have children make notes or drawings about their year to leave for the next class. Tell them about your experiences and what to expect.  At home, write a letter to teachers that tells them what you liked, what you learned or what you will miss.
  5. Go for a visit – Even if not all the  children will be moving to the next grade in your school, go for a visit to see the next classroom. Reinforce the idea that as the year wraps up, children grow and move to a new room, new teachers, new friends who will get to know them and learn alongside them.
  6. Keep it consistent – Change will come soon enough. Keep the same classroom routine and expectations. Ditto or after school schedules, dinner and bedtime routines.  There will be plenty of days to be “slushy” about routines and sticking to what provided the  structure and boundaries all year and will stabilize things if they are starting to unravel.
  7. Pledge to  keep in touch – It doesn’t take long to drop children a postcard or short note. For those who seem particularly anxious or who have really connected to a teacher, a brief, personal note affirms the growth and connections made over the school year and gives them a reminder that you’ll still be a part of them even if you don’t spend each day together.
  8. Celebrate – Most importantly, take time often to celebrate both the community of learners and the progress each person has made over the year. No matter how grand or how small, recognition of hard work and growth will help children recognize their progress and demonstrate compassion for others.  At home, set aside small blocks of time to celebrate accomplishments by sharing work, making a special meal, or having a family party that recognizes the hard work over the year and looks ahead to a summer of reading, adventure and fun!

Make the most of the last few days of school – no doubt it’s been a busy, productive and positive year. The work you’ve done every day will provide the foundation for a smooth change that will do children (adults) good as they move to the next chapter of life!

NOTE: Chip Wood wrote an eloquent and beautiful piece, The Hummingbird Comes With Poised Attention and a more pragmatic and actionable post, Helping Students Make the Transition to the Next Grade on his blog. Check them both out!