Family Rituals and Family Routines: Easy 'Presence-hacks' to Elevate Your Family Time

Family Rituals are those activities, interactions or behaviours that you intentionally choose, mindfully engage in and mark as symbolically meaningful or sacred for you as a family.

Family Routines, also an important function of family life, include those activities, interactions or behaviours that we engage in that have a predictable structure and rhythm that serve a specific function in family life.

Here are 2 examples:

Family Ritual: Sunday dinner with good china, extended relatives and a special meal. The gathering may commence with a speech or prayer or other ritual marking the occasion as sacred; perhaps lighting a special candle, saying a communal prayer or mantra, or each person saying something that is important to them.

Family Routine: Eating at the kitchen table each night at 6pm with all available members of the immediate family.

Rituals tend to be practiced on special occasions, whereas routines are daily practices. Rituals also tend to be fondly anticipated because they are ‘special’, whereas routines provide us with the comfort of structure. This structure helps children to regulate their own internal clocks, learning what ‘happens next’, ie. after bath each night there is a story, before dinner each night is grace, etc. According to Dr. Bailey (author of "I Love You Rituals”), the goal of routines is continuity, whereas the goal of rituals is connection.

While both are important in family life, I want to focus on Rituals, and in particular “I LOVE YOU Rituals” that promote love, acceptance, and attachment.

Here are four outcomes of performing “I LOVE YOU Rituals”: (Bailey, 2000)

I highly recommend this book if you are interested in learning about and fostering these practices with your family. This book is outstanding, both in its simplicity and practicality. I’m providing a few ‘factoids’ from the book, though I believe every family should own a copy (or borrow one from the library).

1) Optimize your child’s brain function for success at school and in life:

I love you rituals help your child’s brain to create dopamine, a neurotransmitter that helps with focus, motivation and positive emotions, in particular, connection to others. When children are unfocused or tuned out, dopamine levels lower, which can lead to ‘meandering behaviour problems'. Think of the child who wanders from thing to thing, unsatisfiable and bereft of positive feelings.

2) Increase learning potential and effectiveness through touch:

A very special chemical called ‘nerve growth factor’ is released through touch. This hormone is critical to neural function and learning. The brain and skin are developed from the same embryonic tissue, and are therefore inextricably linked. Children thrive with loving touch, and wither without it. Dr. Bailey believes these rituals are potent and powerful and she describes how using these I LOVE YOU Rituals with her grandmother who suffers from dementia awakened her through the use of loving touch.

3) Create loving rituals that hold families together even through the roughest times:

The power of noticing, describing and appreciating children shifts our attention from getting ahead to getting together with our families. These rituals can take but a few moments, though create a long lasting attitude of attachment, calm and connection. For example, imagine being a bit late to pick up your child from preschool. You arrive frazzled and greet your child with your ‘hurry up, we’re late’ attitude as you need to run a few more errands before supper. I think we can all relate to this energy. Imagine if instead, as Dr. Bailey suggests, you greet your child with this ritual: “There you are. I’ve been waiting all day to hug you. Let me see what you brought from school. You brought those brown eyes. You brought that cute little mole on your arm. You brought your backpack and coat. Let’s go”. You can see how infusing just a few well thought out sentences that focus on noticing, describing and appreciating your child can change the entire tenor of the rest of the day.

4) Strengthen the bond between adults and children that insulates children from drugs, violence and peer pressure, laying the foundation for mental and emotional health:

The bond between the parent and child is the child’s primary source of emotional health and gives your child the capacity to have satisfying and resourceful relationships the rest of their lives. A weak or anxious bond could reverberate throughout your child’s entire life in the form of low self esteem, impaired relationships or the inability to ask for help when needed. Secure attachment happens in small, subtle and consistent loving interactions, especially those that notice, describe and appreciate your child without criticism, judgement or bribes.

Hopefully I’ve borrowed enough persuasive facts from this wonderful book to convince you to give I LOVE YOU Rituals a try. I’ll provide you with a few activity ideas to perform with your child, though I urge you to consider finding this book and doing more than just a few.


I LOVE YOU RITUAL ACTIVITIES:

1) Changing the words of a popular children’s rhyme:

Consider how you feel when you hear this children’s rhyme:

There was an old woman who lived in a shoe, she had so many children she didn’t know what to do, she gave them broth without any bread, and whipped them all soundly and put them to bed.

Now, how might you feel if you perform this activity with your child:

Have your child sit in your lap. Wrap your arms around the child and hold onto one hand. Say the words that are in CAPITAL LETTERS:

THERE WAS A WOMAN WHO LIVED IN A SHOE

As you say the line, give your child’s hand a deep hand massage

SHE HAD SO MANY CHILDREN

Touch each finger on one hand as you say each word in the line.

SHE KNEW EXACTLY WHAT TO DO

Begin touching the fingers on the other hand

SHE HELD THEM

Hold your child’s hands lovingly

SHE ROCKED THEM

Rock your child’s hands from side to side

AND TUCKED THEM INTO BED

Press the child’s hand against her chest, in a slight hug

I LOVE YOU I LOVE YOU IS WHAT SHE SAID

Say these words lovingly to your child and give them a big hug


2) Good Night Elbow!

Tell your child “I’m going to say goodnight to your ears, your hair, your forehead, your eyebrows, your shoulders and your elbows”. Continue down the child’s body, saying goodnight to as many parts as you want to. Each time you say goodnight to a body part, touch that part. Each touch involves a gentle massage, helping your child to relax as well as emptying your mind of clutter and being totally present with your child.

In the morning, especially if you have a child that is slow to stir awake, repeat this activity with good morning. It will provide a loving way into the day, and truly only takes a few moments of time.


3) Walk and Stop

I’ve been folding this activity into Itty Bitty Yoga. This game will be familiar to your child already, so may be a great place to start. I’m sure you can think of your own variations. Be sure to have eye contact with your child, and animate your face. Both of these gestures help to create secure attachment.

Sing or chant the following words with any tune that works for you: “You walk and you walk and you walk and you walk and… STOP! When you say stop, bring your body to quick halt. Your child will follow. Now BREATHE. Take a deep full breath with your child. If they don’t breathe deeply, do it again until they do. They will.

Repeat with various movements that you and your child will enjoy.

Walk, Stop, Breathe.

Jump, Stop. Breathe.

Hop on 1 foot. Stop. Breathe.

Balance on 1 foot. Stop. Breathe.

Walk backwards. Stop. Breathe.

Etc.

Final thoughts… In-Joy.

The BEST present we can gift our children with is our PRESENCE..png




References:

Bailey, B. (2000). I love you rituals: Fun activities for parents and children. New York, NY: William Morrow

3 Rules of Engagement for Hugging Children

Photo Credit: https://pixabay.com/photos/baby-celebrate-celebration-child-2980940/

Photo Credit: https://pixabay.com/photos/baby-celebrate-celebration-child-2980940/

Everyone loves hugs! Hugs are vitally important in the bonding process, and hugs are also very soothing to the nervous system. Here is a brief offering on 3 rules of engagement for hugging children.

Rule of Engagement #1: ASK for a HUG

1) The first is to model asking for hugs, rather than simply taking them. This promotes consent for physical touch which is going to be very important in their later years. It doesn’t have to be awkward or hard, just simply say “May I give you a hug?” or “Would you like to share a hug?”, or even the simplest of requests with your arms open wide and ask “Hug?”.

Rule of Engagement #2: HUG for HEALTH

2) One of the biggest influences on my work has been the well respected and very physically demonstrative therapists of all time, the inimitable Virginia Satir. She had this great philosophy which has become a popular internet meme: “We need 4 hugs a day for survival. We need 8 hugs a day for maintenance. We need 12 hugs a day for our growth”. Hug liberally, hug generously, hug often. Try different types of hugs, bear hugs, gentle bug hugs, full body hugs, compassionate hugs, tender hearted hugs, apology hugs, happy to see you hugs, etc. You get the picture. Hug often, with permission.

Rule of Engagement #3: HUG LONGER

3) One of the best bits of advice I ever got was during a parenting class I took when my kids were very young. I’ve heard iterations of this frequently, and while I cannot corroborate it, I have a feeling it may have come from Dr. John Gottman. The rule is simple: When hugging your child, be the last to let go. Let them disengage from the hug first. This sends the message that you are willing, available and tenacious in your love for your child. It makes you the rock that they land upon for support, and then fly from when they are ready. Seriously, folks, this is the best advice I can give. I still practice this today with my grown sons. I always linger longer and let them let go when they are ready.

Now get out there and get your HUG on!

Helping Children to Regulate the Power of their Emotions

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Parents as Emotional Competence Coaches

Children can have BIG emotions that are challenging for us as adults to comprehend. I think we’ve all been perplexed as we observe a young child have a melt-down over seemingly insignificant or daily occurrences, such as crusts on their sandwiches, a dead fly on the window sill, or someone looked at them.

While it can be confusing to us as adults to understand why their responses seem so ‘over the top’ at times, we must remember that young children have to be coached to build emotional competence, or what is sometimes referred to as emotional intelligence. Personally, I prefer the word ‘competence’ because it signals skill building, whereas ‘intelligence’ is often used when talking about innate knowing or the learning potential that we are born with.

Strategies for Parents

Because children can be overwhelmed by their own emotions, it is very important that we as parents and adults who guide children that we are in a place of ‘calm, steady confidence’. Dr. Laura Markham suggests these strategies to help. I’ve built upon these suggestions based on my own experience in this field.

1) Calm yourself first: Just like that example of using the oxygen mask first on the plane, it is vitally important that you calm yourself first when dealing with children’s BIG emotions. Try not to take your child’s outburst personally, as it can be embarrassing when children erupt in public places. Even in the privacy of home environments, children can toss out those ‘I hate you’s that burn into our hearts, but know that these verbal eruptions come from an under-resourced and under-skilled place. You can also help avoid similar future outbursts of those oh-so hurtful words by not over reacting. Sometimes children learn our emotional buttons and use them as leverage. By not getting ruffled, you are also teaching your child to remain calm though example. Take a break if you need it. Step into another room if you need to regain composure before returning to help your child with a calm heart and quieter mind.

In short… do what you need to do to RESPOND rather than REACT. Become RESPONSE-ABLE. You may need to practice in order to build your own skill in this area. Be compassionate with yourself if you are just learning too.

2) Connect and create safety: Reach out and connect emotionally with your child, including being physically close. Touch your child as you speak calmly. Get on your child’s level by lowering yourself to the floor. Smile at your child as you speak so that they don’t misread your facial expressions as angry and become further triggered through fear. You can even say to your child “You are safe” and “You can handle this” or “I’m here to help you”. Reminding them of your role as a leader can help them to feel safe and secure. Ensure that you breathe deeply to help your child breathe more slowly. Teaching your child through modeling is much more resourceful than telling them. This is also profoundly self-regulating for the child, especially if they are crying or screaming. Their nervous system needs soothing first. Think of soothing first as emotional first aid.

Another skill that I use here is to tone with children. Toning is matching the sound without words. If your child is crying, begin making a pleasant sound in the same range as your child, and they may join you. Toning is one way to transform big emotions without saying a word. You both sing your way out of the emotional eruption.

Capsule: Help your child calm down with deep breathing, offer comfort at their level and shift the energy through vocalizations if possible.

3) Empathize: Showing children compassion when they have temper tantrums is one of the best ways to diffuse the situation, but even more importantly, it helps the child to feel safe in your presence which increases the bond and trust between you. We all mess up occasionally because we are human. Just try to ensure that you are adulting MOST of the time.

If your child has yelled directly at you, instead of defending yourself with a typical parenting quip like “Don’t you talk to me like that” or “Tone, young lady”, offer something that is not only more compassionate, but also helps them to build the skills they need to develop emotional competence. Try instead saying something like “You must be very upset to speak to me like that. What is happening?”. Dr. Markham suggests that if you don’t know the specific emotion your child is experiencing, using the word ‘upset’ is resourceful to capture all the BIG emotions that are upsetting, such as fear, anger, frustration, loneliness, and possessiveness. Later you can drill down to find out what emotion they were feeling.

And don’t forget that sometimes words are overrated. Sometimes all that is needed is your soft and safe proximity to a child to help them regulate. Sit with them, breathe with them and offer hugs if they want them. You can also help your anxious child by saying “You don’t have to talk right now if you don’t want. We can sit here together until you feel ready”. Remind them that they are safe, and then ensure that they feel that way by being compassionate rather than judgmental. Showing children that we can handle their big emotions helps them to feel safe and secure. Showing children that we understand their big emotions helps them to learn how to handle them because they feel seen, heard and known.

4) Check-in for understanding: Once you regains composure, check in with them to see how they were actually feeling. For very young children, you may coach them by saying something like “You looked very frustrated when you were screaming”. They will tell you if they are able whether you are correct or not. I’ve used this line with kids who immediately corrected me, saying “I’m very angry”. Knowing how a child is actually feeling is tremendously helpful in guiding them.

Your child may also say “I’m not mad” or “I’m not frustrated” when clearly they were feeling something BIG. Take this as a signal that your child may not feel safe telling you how they really feel. They may feel judged or analyzed rather than understood. If this is the case, you’ll need to work on building trust first, then come back to emotional competence.

You want your child to become AWARE and be able to EXPRESS how they are feeling in PROSOCIAL ways. Help them by noticing what they are feeling, checking in to see if that corresponds with their experience, and then help them to direct their feelings in appropriate ways. Often the process of acknowledging your child’s big emotions without any intervention is enough. Learn to be patient with the process before being so quick to offer a fix.

5) Deepen the conversation: Dr. Markham suggests ‘offering support and validating your child’s emotions” as profoundly helpful in building emotional competence. Remember that offering validation is not the same as condoning the behaviour. By saying to your child “You seemed very angry just now”, they may feel so relieved that this can often diffuse the situation right then. There is nothing quite so satisfying as feeling validated.

We can even say things like “I didn’t understand how important this is to you, let’s find a way to make this work for you”. This is so useful when helping a child learn to share, by acknowledging their strong preferences first, and then offering skill building tools after, such as “Would it work for you to play with this toy first, and then you can offer it to your friend when you are done?”. This is so much more respectful to the child’s level of development than just forcing your child to share.

Sanya Pelini suggests that a number of studies suggest that fear is the most difficult emotion for toddlers, so be sure to be especially tender with your toddler if you suspect they are afraid. First, make it safe to express fear and then help them to build skills to deal with their fears. If they are afraid of meeting new people, you can help them by remaining very close to them as they interact with people they don’t know.

Pelini also suggests looking for emotions in the environment and naming them as a way to help children learn what they are. For example “She sure looks angry… what do you think?”. Your child may see the situation differently, and that gives you some very valuable information into their emotional worlds. These are great conversation starters too, if you want to explore more emotions with your child. Be mindful. I once had one of my sons interrogate a cranky server in a restaurant. I heard all of my words come through him, and it was a marvelous thing to witness, the server brighten under the light of my son’s compassion.

Coping with Big Emotions

Dr. Azine Graff reminds us that our children have fewer tools in their toolbox than parents, so compassion, patience and practice are always a good ideas. Dr. Daniel Siegel says we have to “name it to tame it”. One of the best tools we have in helping children cope with BIG emotions is to name them, then help them to tame them.

Name:

  • “I’m wondering if you are angry right now”

  • “I see how proud you feel about making that huge tower, and how disappointed you were when it fell down”

  • “Do you feel sad when you see that dead fly?”

Tame:

After naming the emotion, you can then help them to tame it by offering suggestions for ‘next steps’.

  • “Do you know what made you so angry, or would you like some help in figuring that out”

  • “When you’re ready we can try to put the tower of blocks back together”

  • “Shall we take the fly outside and say a little prayer for it?”

Here are a few of Dr. Graff’s more sophisticated suggestions of things you can say to help your child to cope with big emotions:

  • “We can take some deep breaths together, so it can help you to feel better”

  • “I will move over to the couch and I am here for you when you want a hug”

  • “I can help you with your scratched knee”

  • “Would you like to ask her if you can play with that toy once she is done? We can play with this while you wait”.

By putting reflections, explanations and coping skills together, Dr. Graff believes that you are giving your child the foundational skills to manage emotions as they develop through life. One of the best tools I discovered with my own children was to apologize and explain if I lost my own temper. I’d say “If I could do this over again, I would do this…..” And I let them know that I learned from my own mistakes.

Demonstrating healthy coping with big emotions is vital, because as you well know, Children follow what you do more than what you say. Be mindful. And allow yourself the space, time and compassion to practice.

In-Joy.

Ms. Joani

References:

Pelini, S. (2017). An age-by-age guide to helping kids manage emotions. Mother-ly (On-line magazine). https://www.mother.ly/parenting/age-by-age-guide-to-helping-kids-manage-emotions

Markham, L. (2018). 6 strategies to help your small child process their big feelings. Mother-ly (On-line magaine). https://www.mother.ly/child/6-simple-steps-to-help-your-small-child-manage-their-big-feelings

Graff, A. (2018). 13 phrases to build your child’s emotional intelligence. Mother-ly (On-line magazine). https://www.mother.ly/child/13-phrases-to-build-your-childs-emotional-intelligence

GRACE: A Formula for Busy, Frazzled Parents

Parenting is a multitasking sport! There is always so much going on, and it seems like there is never enough time. A poverty of time can make life feel squeezy and contribute towards the frustration parents feel. Would you like to create a sensation of more time? I have a formula that may help.

As a yoga instructor, there is a lovely quote that I frequently share : “Yoga doesn’t take time, it gives time” (Ganga White).

Practicing yoga is an invitation into mindfulness. Mindfulness is a way to slow life down, creating a sense of spaciousness that makes time feel more ‘roomy’, and less ‘squeezy’.

This formula for busy parents is very much like practicing yoga or becoming more mindful. GRACE is an acronym for the steps involved.

  • G: Ground

  • R: Reframe

  • A: Attend & Attune

  • C: Centre

  • E: Experience

Imagine you are in the midst of a sticky parenting moment. It need not be the worst day ever, but something of the garden variety… maybe think about kids tussling in the back seat while you are driving, or a melt down in the grocery store, or even a ‘friend date gone rogue’ requiring you to intervene, yet again for the one thousandth time!!!!

Here is how GRACE can work for you:

G: The first step is to GROUND yourself.

I was reminded of the importance of this capacity to ground this summer when we got two puppies. I started watching Cesar Milan, and I know I’m not the first person to imagine how easily his ideas translate from pets to humans. Especially his notion of ‘calm, steady confidence’. Approaching our fur family with calm, steady confidence is so useful because it positions us as benevolent carers, and as leaders. It is our job to keep our fur family members safe. Likewise, one of our most important parenting jobs is to keep our children safe; safe from physical, emotional and spiritual threats. And each of us get to determine what those are.

The other element to this that I want to call forward is the importance of parents understanding that their leadership is as important as keeping their children safe. I hope to empower parents to understand that their benevolent leadership is a gift to their children, providing a safe container within which they can explore the world. I know it is an awesome responsibility, and it might feel easier to be their friends, but it is the work and practice of parenting requires us to be the family leaders. When you are able to ground yourself, you can both feel and exude calm, steady confidence. Just this step will help enormously, because it sets up a different energy for your children to respond to. They will take notice. And they will feel safe if you are grounded.

The quickest and most effective action you can take to ground yourself is to breathe. Breathe deeply, slowly and intentionally. Sense your weight. Feel the ground beneath you. Get outside for a moment if that is available to you. There is nothing like grounding on the ground.

R: The next step is to REFRAME:

This is a social work skill that I think every parent should know about. It is simply shifting our attitude and mindset by choice and necessity, because it makes life easier. Think about the stories that we develop about our children over time, and how they can become reduced to those stories, which also creates expectations. For example, our new puppies, Sherman and Oliver have personalities much like toddlers! Sherman is a regal dog, and while he has annoying puppy behaviours, like chewing every single blanket, towel or sock he can wrap his mouth around, he is so more than just a problem chewer. And Oliver is a smaller dog, so he has learned to be strategic about getting his needs met, and we can look at this as conniving or sneaky, or we can reframe his behaviour as strategic. He is physically smaller, and to ‘win’ at being a brother, he has to think about how to leverage his intelligence where his physicality is diminished as compared to his brother.

There are a million ways to reframe behaviour. And it is not about making excuses, but it may be about contextualizing our children’s behaviours. Our children may be acting out because they are tired, because they are underskilled, or under resourced in the moment. Reframing is compassionate. You can still hold your children accountable while reframing. If your little one has a melt down with a friend, you obviously will correct any behaviour that puts the other child at risk, but you can do this compassionately and with explanation. For example, you may say to your child “I know you are tired and feeling frustrated right now, but we use words with friends”. This helps your child to become skilled, and to begin to understand their own emotional tidal waves.

A: Attend and Attune

Just like you hear on every plane ride, you put the gas mask on yourself first, then you are strong and resourced enough to help those who need your help. Attend to yourself first. What do you need in this moment, that is reasonable, in order to be the best version of yourself with your child? Perhaps you may need a quick break… a little time in the bathroom or the back porch to air yourself out. Maybe you need to drink some water or eat something because you’ve neglected your own needs in caring for your littles.

Once you’ve attended to your own needs, it is easier to attune to the emotional needs of your child. And children have huge emotional needs because they are learning! They are developing their emotions and understanding the role they play in your family. How different might your day go if you were able to remember to sip some water, then to turn to your little and suggest a co-snack and chat about what just went down in a calm, steady and confident way. It is much easier to attune to the needs of others once you’ve met your own needs first.

C: Centre

Centering is mainly about staying close to yourself. We can lose ourselves during the course of a day when so much needs to be accomplished; we literally fracture ourselves in a million pieces with all that needs to be done. Centering is about taking a bit of time to be fully and completely with yourself so that you can be fully present to others.

I realize these are all variations on a theme, but I believe that is why this method is effective, because of the interrelatedness of the aspects of GRACE. Each of us will have different techniques to centre ourselves, such as the practice of mindfulness which keeps us rooted in the present moment. Some of us like to meditate, or go for hikes in the forest. Find ways to centre yourself that you can share more of your authentic self with your children. One of my favourite ways to centre myself with a child is to go beach combing. It is a win-win! I love collecting found objects for my craftivism, and children are natural scientist when let go on the ocean floor. They love to experience the many sensory pleasures, and are usually quite content for good lengths of time.

E: Experience

In this final step towards GRACE, I use experience as a way of knowing and trusting yourself. What I mean here is that I believe the greatest authority in life is experience, and that is what you should trust before any external authority. Trust yourself. And trust your experiences. They are informative specifically to you and your family. You know what is working, and you also know what is not. You may not know exactly what to do about it, but you know in the marrow of your bones if something is off and requires your attention. Especially if you are interested in GRACE and exploring life from a more grounded place with the relaxed nervous system to show for it.

Another way to view Experience as a metric of GRACE is to map and integrate your positive experiences through your senses. Take time to breathe in and enjoy the sensation of the sun on your face when you are at the beach. Take joy in dashing between rain drops with your little. Notice how water actually is thirst quenching when you slow down and feel it in your mouth. Slow down eating to be more mindful and let your little teach you, as they are notoriously slow eaters. They are mindful!

I hope this formula fits into your toolkit so that you may feel more resourced in approaching the awesome duty of parenting. Let yourself afford GRACE by investing in it every day. GRACE can feel really expensive if neglected. Put yourself on an installment plan! Pay a bit each day, and before you know it, GRACE will become your predominant experience in life. Yes, there will be snags, setbacks and even catastrophes now and again. But you will be better skilled, more experienced and coming from the sweet and divine place of strong, steady confidence.

Ah. That’s better.

In-Joy.

Chaos, Containment & Comfort: Reading Resistance & Inappropriate Behaviour from a Growth Perspective

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Parenting through Turbulent Developmental Stages

When our children are happy, calm, quiet and compliant, it is an absolute delight to be a parent. We may even feel successful at parenting. However, when we experience our children in distress, when they are ‘acting out’ (more on how healthy this is in a later post), when they are having and sharing BIG emotions, or when they are having tantrums, we may find ourselves in discomfort. Okay. Maybe even DEEP discomfort. This discomfort can lead us to believe in a false binary: that we are unsuccessful as parents, or worse, that our children are the source of the problem. We may tell ourselves stories about how others are viewing us and our children (grandparents, society, other mothers at the mall) and these stories may fuel our discontent with our children, rather then inspire us to approach parenting holistically and through a growth mindset.

Let’s unpack this discomfort a bit, because I believe it is a gateway that we can pass through if we know and remember a few important things about the nature of child development. I would like to normalize this feeling for parents, this messy sense of discomfort, because I have felt and seen it consistently both personally and professionally.

A hallmark of early childhood development is that children develop through stages. This starts with the study of embryology. First one cell, then two, then four, and so on until the baby is born. Likewise, their social, psychological and physical development progresses through stages. These stages are not like pie slices with clean edges, but rather more like dipping our ladles into a soup pot. Children do not tend to fit neatly into these stages, but rather, over time, meet the stages in a predictable way, but within time frames that have fuzzy edges. My oldest son walked at thirteen months, while my youngest walked at eleven months. The important part, is that both walked around a year old.

Though, this is not a discussion about any particular developmental stage, rather, I want to address what I refer to as the developmental stage ‘bunch up’.

Chaos

I am not sure why I always seemed to forget this, and perhaps it is because of the intensity of daily living with toddlers, but every single significant development that was achieved by my children was preceded by chaos. Every. Single. Time.

And the trick here is to remember that early childhood development happens across multiple domains, as mentioned earlier: physical, psychological, and social, as well as emotional, cognitive and spiritual. That is a lot of points of potential chaos! The ‘bunch up’ is how I refer to the carpet of child’s development bunching up and increasingly blocking the door way through. Then suddenly, almost magically, one day the carpet smooths out, and the child races through the open door to do an amazing new thing! It can happen right before speech, before walking, before moving from solitary play to social play, before understanding concepts, before learning to count or spell.

While each child is unique in their development, the one thing I believe you can count on is that your child will ‘bunch up’ at some stage of their development. And you will feel like you are living in chaos. You may despair. You may lose your own temper. Your internal carpet may also bunch up.

The reason I share this with you is to inspire you to be patient through the chaos, and know that something really wonderful is coming for your child. Just like they say the sky is darkest before dawn, your child will brighten after the bunch-up with a new skill, ability, thought or behaviour. Count on it!

Containment

Another part of this puzzle is addressing parent’s need to contain inappropriate behaviour. Absolutely! But the problem I experienced as a parent, and now see as a professional, is that parents try to contain the child even more than the behaviour and this is damaging for the child’s self esteem and may potentially strain your relationship and attachment with your child. Please, please, please do not use this as an excuse to beat yourself up for past parenting. Instead, use this information as a tool to help you understand that your child’s behaviour is trying to tell you something: They are currently under-skilled as they approach another developmental milestone, and need your help to achieve it.

My intention is to normalize inappropriate behaviour in the context of child development, but to also assure you that just because it is part of the developmental cycle, you can still address unresourceful behaviours (such as hitting, biting, tantruming, etc.) without believing that your child needs punishment. Rather, your child needs patient guidance and support to successfully develop. Here’s a meme that says this even more succinctly.

How thinking your child is behaving badly inspires punishment.jpg

Parenting from a place of empathy, understanding and through a mindset of growth will help you to reframe your experience with your child, and then you can meet the parenting challenge with calm confidence. Your ability to remain grounded and strong through your child’s intensity will be a gift for both of you.

Comfort

It can be uncomfortable to parent a child who is having big emotions and big behaviours, especially when they intensify right before a developmental stage is achieved. I wish for you to take comfort in this. You are not alone. If you are reading this, chances are your child is a student at Precious Seeds Montessori House (click link to school). The director Christine, and all of the staff are experts at guiding children through developmental stages. We as parents may not be, as unless we have studied child development we may not be aware of the stages, nor of the problematic ‘bunch up’. I encourage you to speak with myself and/or the staff in order to find comfort in the village helping you to raise your child. Raise is both literal and symbolic here.

Take heart. Here is another inspiring Meme:

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Perhaps instead of saying “Take Heart”, it would be more fitting to say “Give Heart”. Give your grounded compassion to your child during their next melt down, and try to see them as a being that is working their way towards growth. They need help and guidance along the way. And “Share Heart”. Help each other, have coffee with another parent when you feel yourself losing heart. Normalize the ‘bunch up’s as they happen, perhaps even draw excitement in knowing that after several weeks of increasing chaos, the clouds part, the storm quiets and the sun shines again.

Yours in solidarity,

Ms. Joani

Swing & Sway: How Rhythmic Movement Builds Children's Brains

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Brain Gains:

Swing and Sway Your Child to Sensory and Neural Integration

Here is a sweet and simple blog:

Rhythmic movement facilitates

neural-motor integration.

If you want to know more, read on…

Rhythmic movement is good for soothing the sympathetic branch of the nervous system; the branch that is responsible for fight, flight and freezing coping strategies and responses to stress and trauma.

Rhythmic movement invokes the parasympathetic branch of the nervous system; the branch that is responsible for rest and digesting, for calming, grounding and centering.

Rhythmic movements train the vestibular system; the branch of the sensory system that helps us to balance, understand our spatial orientation in order to coordinate movement with balance.

Rhythmic movements train the proprioceptive system; the branch of the sensory system that helps us to understand a ‘sense of self’ in relation to where we are in space. Proprioception orients us to where we are and helps us to get to where we want to go or do.

Even more simply, Rhythmic movement helps young children with:

  • Stimulation and organization of the whole brain

  • Increasing the connections between the major discreet areas of the brain (brain stem, cerebellum, limbic system and neocortex)

  • Integration of primary reflexes

  • Integration of nervous system functions

  • Integration of neuro-motor skills

  • Encourage the growth of nerve nets that connect the brain stem, cerebellum, and neocortex to proliferate

  • Improvement in body posture, breathing and endurance

  • Improvement of attention, focus and memory recall

  • Regulation of activity and sensory integration

  • Soothing sensations, feelings of well-being and interconnectedness

Do you remember when you first held your precious child in your arms, and do you also remember an imperceptible beckon to sway when holding your dear one? It is the most natural posture when holding a newborn, to rock back and forth. Without knowing why, we as parents are helping our children to build their brains through rhythmic movement. Children learn by moving. Children’s brains are built through movement and sensory processing.

So, if you want to keep this robust growth going with your toddler or preschooler, one of the simplest ways is to continue to rock that child! A lovely way to achieve this is for 2 adults to hold the short ends of a folded blanket, with the child lying in the middle, like a hammock. The adults lift the child up gently, and then begin a slow rock from side to side. Check in with your child, to adjust the swing tempo to their particular needs. You may have one child who wants to swing swiftly, while another may like to sway more slowly. And, please remember to ask each and every time, because your child may like to explore shifts in their preferences, as day to day these may change.

Because your child is very vulnerable in this activity, and they will have no control over the experience, it is crucially important that it is carried out with warmth, love and without any violations in their trust. Please do not ever play games with your child by swinging faster than they want to go, as it will negatively affect your bond with them. Instead, focus on the myriad benefits for you both by keeping the exchange gentle, warm and loving.

Ms. Christine and I have been swaying children with amazing results. We find that they are calmer and they enjoy the experience tremendously. We even notice that some children like to pull the blanket in and around themselves, recreating a womb-like cave.

This activity will have many blessed effects for your child and your family, increasing the bond between you through sharing an activity that is not only joyful but also resourceful. Just please be mindful of your own spinal health during this activity. For the adults or older children holding the younger child in the blanket, be sure to bend your knees slightly so that the effort is transferred to your legs, and not burdening your spine. And only a few minutes are most beneficial. In fact, it is preferable to do this for a short time more consistently, then to have long sessions occasionally.

If it is not possible for you to share this activity with your child, then a second best option would be to take your child to a park and share swinging with them. Sit beside them and swing away! Refamiliarize yourself with this incredible kid-sport. Your brain and your nervous system will thank me!

May you enjoy the sweet sensations of swinging and swaying with your child.

References:

H. Blomberg. (2015). The rhythmic movement method: A revolutionary approach to improved health and well-being. Morrisville, NC: Lulu Publishing.

H. Blomberg, & M. Dempsey. (2011). Movements that heal: Rhythmic movement training and primitive reflex integration. Melbourne, Australia. Beyond the Sea Squirt Publisher.

S. Goddard. (2005). Reflexes, learning and behaviour: A window into the child’s mind. Eugene, OR: Fern Ridge Press.

Celebrating the Cerebellum: The Tiny but Mighty Structure that Shapes Early Childhood Development

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Celebrating the Cerebellum:

The Brain Star of Early Childhood Development

A Little Historical Context for my Research

(If you just want the brain goodies,

then jump down to the next section!)

Here is my career trajectory in a nutshell (if only to provide some context for my current passion for neural development): While my very first ‘career’ was as a pharmacy technician, my work in social care began in early childhood education. After I had my own children, I decided to go back to school and earn a degree in child and youth care to expand my reach beyond childhood, to include work with youth and families. I worked for an Indigenous community in Enderby for 10 years, providing child protection, family reunification and counselling services. During this time I got a masters in social work, and then went on to teach early childhood education, social work and women’s studies for another 10 years while doing yet more graduate work in critical theory, midwifery and diverse families while also maintaining a clinical practice with children. Along the way I did a yoga teacher training, and shortly thereafter did another yoga teacher training that focused on children and youth.

One reason I find my career path so interesting is that I am happily back to where I started, focusing on early childhood education. Just like the hero’s journey, I have travelled out and back, changed by my experiences along the way. After all the higher education and years of both teaching and learning with adults, I return and remain passionate about working with ‘littles’, especially the 3 to 5 age range.

Fast forward to now, and my current studies in the field of dance and movement therapy, I find myself applying all that I learn into specializing in early childhood through the lenses of developmental psychology, embryology and neuroscience. While I am not an expert in any of these specific fields, they all contribute to the expertise I am gaining as a movement therapist. Currently, I am specifically researching how early reflexes shape early childhood development, especially neuro-motor development, and how this development informs behaviour. This leads me to…

Celebrate the Brain Star that is the Cerebellum!

(this is the brain goodies section)

While the above may cause you to think I must be super smart, please know that I am actually super humbled by my work with children. I find that the more I learn, the more I realize I don’t know, but the more curious I become. Children have always been my most profound teachers, especially my own children. Now I realize know I don’t know much at all, as my wise and sassy granddaughter reminds me frequently!

This brings us to the structure at hand, the Tiny but Mighty Cerebellum. I’ve been referring to this ‘tiny brain’ as the Brain Star of Early Childhood Development, so I wanted to share why with you, in hopes that you too will become passionate about supporting the growth of your child’s cerebellum in the most optimal, efficient, functional and resourceful ways.

Let’s begin with some Super Interesting Facts about the Whole Brain (which will make the cerebellum facts even MORE interesting!)

  • The average adult brain weighs about 3 pounds

  • As only 2% of the body’s total weight, the 3 pound brain draws 20% of the body’s resources (oxygen, glucose, energy)

  • The brain is 73% water and it only takes 2% dehydration to affect attention, memory and other cognitive skills (are you convinced to drink more water yet?)

Now, for some Super Interesting Facts about the Cerebellum:

  • The cerebellum is situated at the back of the brain, and sits atop the brain stem, just below the cerebral cortex (see arrow in above image)

  • The cerebellum is only a small portion of the overall brain size, but accounts for 11% of the brain’s weight because it is so densely packed

  • From birth to 4 years of age, the cerebellum grows at a faster rate than the cortex

  • The cerebellum reaches 80% of its full size by 2 years of age

  • The cerebellum completes a major period of mylenation by four years of age (Mylenation describes the ‘fatty sheaths’ that wrap around neurons to make transmissions smooth and super fast, and also points to the importance of including health fats in young children’s diets)

  • The cerebellum is best well known for the coordination of voluntary movement, balance and muscle tone, though current research is demonstrating that this ‘tiny brain’ area of the larger brain is crucially important in early childhood development

The cerebellum learns by DOING. Young children learn primarily through movement that is mediated through the cerebellum. As early motor patterns (movement) are learned and practiced, they are filed away in the cerebellum to be accessed when required. Children’s movements are literally building the motor or movement equivalent of building a language vocabulary. The cerebellum is particularly involved in the learning stages of a new skill or movement (Goddard, p. 46).

The cerebellum has many layers, each with their own purpose. I’ll highlight a few of the functions that inform my developmental movement work with children. I’m incorporating this knowledge into my yoga and movement programs.

  • Posture

  • Progressive movement, including walking, running, climbing

  • Fine muscle coordination, particularly of the hands and mouth

  • Word association

  • Mental imagery of movement sequence (think intention or planning)

  • Practice related learning (eg. dance lessons, gymnastics, yoga)

  • Error detection (the minute I read about this, I thought about the wisdom of Sesame Street’s iconic song “One of these things is not like the other, three of these things are kinda the same”… Sesame Street is helping to strengthen the cerebellum in children! Who knew!)

  • Judging time intervals and velocity of moving stimuli (eg. catching a ball)

  • Rapidly shifting attention between sensory modalities

  • (Goddard, p. 47)

A strong cerebellum supports the other areas of the brain, as the connections between the ‘main brain’ and the ‘tiny brain’ are the most dense of all brain connections.

This excites and challenges me to focus more attention on supporting children during this crucial time of brain development. I’m currently practicing skills and games with children to observe their engagement, reactions and behaviour. So far, so good. I am working very closely with Ms. Christine, Ms. Rhonda, and the staff to ensure that your children are given the very best movement program we can create.

I’m very curious about what you think? Did you learn some things about the brain you didn’t know before? Do you have any concerns or questions you’d like to ask me or the staff?

It is an absolute pleasure and privilege to be working with your children. I thank you for your kind attention and valuable time.

May you be healthy, happy and live with deep peace,

Ms. Joani

Reference:

Goddard, S. (2005). Reflexes, learning and behavour: A window into the child’s mind. Eugene,

OR; Fern Ridge Press.

The Calf Pump: Developmental Movement to Release Tendon Guard Reflex

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The Calf Pump:

Developmental Movement to Release Tendon Guard Reflex

Calf muscles can hold a lot of tension, especially if your little is inclined to toe walk. Tension can also build from movement that is not balanced, meaning there is a focus on using the muscle (walking, running, dancing, climbing) but that movement is not complimented by stretching as well. Most adults do not stretch, and it is even more rare for children to stretch without guidance and encouragement.

Children have an innate (meaning it is instilled in utero during their fetal development) reflex called the “Tendon Guard Reflex” (referred to hereafter as TGR). The TGR is one of many reflexes that children are born with that support their survival, and through normal learning and development become integrated into the nervous system.

Unless they don’t.

Sometimes, reflexes are ‘retained’, meaning, there was not sufficient opportunity for the child to fully express and integrate the reflex, or their developmental process was impacted by trauma (including birth trauma).

The TGR, like all reflexes, has important implications for survival, protection and development. The TGR, while the reflex is located in the gastrocnemius and soleus muscles in the calf, becomes a whole body reaction triggered by a message sent to the brain stem, because as you may suspect, everything is connected—the calf to the thigh, to the pelvis, to the spinal column, to the brain. This further triggers the survival oriented part of our brain to choose fight, flight or freeze.

If triggered by a sudden, unexpected sound, sight or sensation, the TGR can trigger a ‘freeze’ response, like hearing a loud thud in a room that you thought was unoccupied. The freeze keeps you safe by keeping you quiet and listening (hearing and vision are activated) for more information, though it also causes contraction in the abdominal, shoulder and neck muscles, effectively curling one into oneself, inhibiting free and easy movement. If this kind of reaction continues to happen without resolution, a child can adopt a narrow and over-focused sense of attention to ‘burn the excess energy’ in the visual field. Children who perseverate or shut-down may be experiencing the TGR in ‘freeze’ mode.

Some folks may react differently to threats—unknown, unpleasant or unfamiliar sensory input—and may experience the ‘fight’ or ‘flight’ responses, which then causes the spinal muscles to contact, lifting and extending the spine, making us appear larger and ready to move. In some children who live with ADD or ADHD, the TGR may be hyperactive, causing an excessive widening of the attention span which may result in chaotic, uncontrolled, impulsive behaviour. A clue if this is true for your child is that you notice them walking on their toes, and not extending the heel all the way to the ground.

regulating the tendon guard reflex (tgr)

When integrated, the TGR offers support to good posture, healthy movement, sensory integration, focussed attention, organization, comprehension and over all cognitive development. One of the most noticeable effects when fully integrated is an ability to expressively communicate.

The TGR can be regulated with an easy exercise that you can do at home with your children. When the muscles of the calf are lengthened, the reflex relaxes, invoking the parasympathetic branch of the nervous system associated with ‘rest and digestion’, the opposite of ‘fight, flight and freeze’ and helping the child to fully integrate the reflex.

Dr. Carla Hannaford (1995) offers a calf lengthening exercise that is appropriate for children. She suggests:

“the child lays on her back and the parents place both hands on the bottoms of her feet, gently pushing the ball of each foot (the rounded board part of the foot between the toes and arch) forward so that the calf lengthens. Many children love to push simultaneously with their feet against the parent’s applied gentle pressure, especially when goaded to ‘push me away’, or ‘push me really hard’. The contraction during the push (where the toes move forwards and the heel is higher than the toes) allows the calf to further lengthen in relaxation. This relaxation has an interesting link to verbal skills, and greatly facilitates communication in speech-impaired and autistic children” (pp. 127-128).

Another simple intervention that may feel wonderful for children’s leg muscles as well as their spines is to for parents to push rhythmically on the balls of the feet while the child is lying on the floor or bed. This activity initiates a gentle relaxing movement that rocks the entire body from head to toe. Parents can also massage the bottoms of their children’s feet after a bath or before bed, gently encouraging the foot into dorsiflexion (see image below). The foot should never be forced or coerced. Keep the dialogue going with your child, asking them how it feels along the way, and if they want more or less pressure. Let them determine the degree to which their foot flexes, and over time with practice, the calf muscles will extend and relax.

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The TGR is one of many reflexes that respond well to intervention. Calming the TGR can reset proprioceptors and reeducate muscle-tendon systems that habitually contract in unfamiliar circumstances (Rentschler, 2007, p. 6).

If this still feels unclear, or if you feel unsure, just ask one of the staff at Precious Seeds to demonstrate, as we have been working with this reflex for 2 weeks now. We hope that your child enjoys the extra attention, the comforting stretch and the links to more expressive communication.

Yours in health, comfort and care,

Ms. Joani

References:

Hannaford, C. (1995). Smart moves: Why learning is not all in your head. Arlington, VA: Great

Ocean Publishers.

Rentschler, M. (2007). The tendon guard reflex. New Developments, 12(4), 6.

What is Developmental Movement?

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What is Developmental Movement?

Developmental Movement is the phrase I’ve been using to describe the work that I am currently doing with children, which draws on my experience as a social worker, child therapist, children’s yoga educator and as a student of dance and movement therapy. In a recent training, I learned the phrase “Neurodevelopmental Movement”, which is actually more apt, but sounds a tad medical for my intentions. However, this medical sounding term highlights that the most important factors involved in Developmental Movement are the Brain and Spinal Cord. In this way, Developmental Movements include and encompass:

·         The Brain (the organ)

·         The Mind (the thinking and feeling ‘self’)

·         The Spinal Cord

·         The Body

·         The Nervous System

·         Primitive Reflexes

Here is a list that helps to describe and indicate the importance of Developmental Movement:

·         Movements that the child can perform individual to their own growth patterns and development

·         Movements that are appropriate to the child’s age, stage and placement on the developmental spectrum (sensitive to growth plates, motor coordination and capacity)

·         Movements that bridge the child’s current capacity with developmental milestones

·         Movements that help to integrate retained reflexes

·         Movements that facilitate self-regulation through energy management

·         Movements that support pro-social behavior

·         Movements that encourage self-knowing through coaching (where do you feel this stretch or movement in your body?)

·         Movements that calm the nervous system

·         Movements that help children to focus, pay attention and be ‘still’ (Stillness and balance are considered the Royal Moves in children’s development)

·         Movements that repair the effects of trauma

·         Movements that develop neural pathways that help to coordinate and mature sensory-motor pathways as well as enrich all three major areas of the brain (hindbrain and brainstem; mid-brain limbic system; and the neo-cortex)

·         Movements that are rhythmic and propulsive, helping to soothe and mature the nervous system

·         Movements that promote sensory integration and maturity in processing time

·         Movements that support memory and learning pathways in the brain

In short, Developmental Movements are holistic, and global in their effects. Developmental Movements help children to develop ‘normally’ on the spectrum of growth and development (in all areas) as well as help those children who may lag behind to ‘catch up’ with playful activities that they enjoy and are easy to perform.

In consultation with Ms. Christine and the staff at Precious Seeds, I am incorporating developmental movements into our Itty Bitty Yoga program. I will be sharing some of these with you through the WonderLab Movement blog, and I hope to be able to share some of these easy to learn and use movements with you directly in a workshop we are planning in the New Year.

Yours in health, comfort and connection,

Ms. Joani

Flexible Families: Fall Programming at Semiahmoo Family Place

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Flexible Families:

Fall Programming at Semiahmoo Family Place

I’m so excited to be offering Family Yoga at the Semiahmoo Family Place as part of their “Active Saturdays” here in South Surrey at the Kensington Prairie Community Centre.

Click HERE to link to their site for more detailed information.

Have you ever considered bringing your family to yoga?

Family yoga programs are emerging as a fun way for families to bond and play together, while also learning how to relax, renew and restore. In these busy times of hustle and bustle, moving through jam-packed days with school, work, after school activities, homework and mealtime preparation, many families are feeling stressed, exhausted and disconnected. Family Yoga is a wonderful way for a family to de-stress together. Many family members report increased relaxation and less stress in the household with regular yoga practice.

Yoga promotes holistic health because it involves both the body and the mind. There is a growing body of evidence-based research to demonstrate the many benefits of yoga for both physical and mental health from reliable medical sources, including the Mayo Clinic and the World Health Organization. Hatha yoga is becoming increasingly accepted by the medical community as a safe, gentle and healing practice when taught by qualified instructors and in collaboration with an integrated health team.  

Yoga is especially good for children. Among the physical benefits, yoga aids in building healthy, balanced brains. Neuro-muscular development is strengthened as connections and awareness between the brain and the body are consistently highlighted during a yoga class. This practice helps children develop functional control of their fine and gross motor skills, while also increasing coordination, balance and concentration. Yoga also promotes core strength which helps children to establish life-long healthful posture habits. Yoga also relaxes the body, promotes better sleep, increases immunity to guard against illness, improves digestion and elimination, and helps to manage sensory processing issues, as well as ADD and ADHD.

As childhood obesity becomes an increasing concern in North America, family yoga is a wonderful way for parents to promote physical activity in a way that fosters dignity for children who may struggle with weight issues. Yoga teaches self-compassion and thus promotes positive self-esteem, personal responsibility and supports students to become the best version of themselves. 

The mental and cognitive benefits of yoga, especially for children, include the reduction of stress and anxiety, promotion of critical thinking, and stimulation and strengthening of auditory processing and responsiveness. Yoga also helps children to expand their imaginations, express their creativity, to balance high and low energy levels, improve brainpower, boost memory, and to calm and quiet their busy minds. Yoga teaches children to value stillness and silence in their lives as they learn to self-regulate and self-soothe.

I love this saying: “Blessed are the Flexible, for they shall not be bent out of shape”. Let’s get together and promote flexible families.

May you be happy, healthy, safe and at peace.

The Metrics of Itty Bitty Yoga

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The Metrics of Itty Bitty Yoga

The Metrics of Itty Bitty Yoga is a fancy way of goal forecasting. It is my way of claiming: These are my intentions with your children this year; this is how we will measure success.

Beyond the meta-themes that I have previously described, including: Movement, Mindfulness & Wonder, as well as Ethics and Community (click HERE if you missed that blog), my intention is to provide these four elements in each of the upcoming Yoga Ethics Stories as I unpack the Yamas and Niyamas (click HERE if you missed that blog) throughout the Yogademic year.

I am poised to launch the “Itty Bitty Ethics Stories”, which are essentially a series of children’s books in progress. Each story will focus on one of the yamas (social ethics) or niyamas (self care ethics) and will contain each of these four elements: Planet Care, Peace Practices, Brain Gains & Social Care. Further, each story will be hosted and narrated by an animal character to help the children connect through the wonder of storytelling.

Let’s unpack the elements:

Planet Care

In keeping with the Montessori philosophy that children learn directly from their environment, I will offer opportunities to learn about the biggest container and widest environment within which our children are held: the planet. These conversations and skills acquisition will provide children with time to think about how much the planet supports them (providing food, shelter and natural challenges to overcome) as well as how we can in turn support the planet by taking care of our environments; both micro and macro, from our home yards to the oceans and rain forests. I will make connections between keeping an orderly work space, and how this serves the larger world by creating harmony, balance and waste reduction. I will also approach craftivism as a way to intersect art and activism, culminating in a big end of year project that will be on display at both centres. Stay tuned for the big end of year reveal!

Peace Practices

This element may be the most obvious and require the least explanation; however, it is also one of the most important in supporting your children towards self-regulation, self-reliance and self-confidence: contemplative practices that promote peace within and without, both internally and externally. We will be practicing a variety of meditation techniques, providing your children with a robust skill set that they can both share and practice at home along with you. In the very near future, I will be posting videos and podcasts that help you to share in peace practices with your child directly, drawing from the learning we do together in the classroom.

Brain Gains

There is a massive amount of research literature available that connects, correlates and demonstrates causality between movement and brain growth that I will be drawing on this year in order to provide the most efficient, functional and enjoyable movements for your children. I’m leaning into the science of movement, informed by yoga, embryology, ecology, biomechanics as well as the learning that I’m doing in dance and movement therapy to provide your children with movement opportunities that support optimal brain growth and development. Meditation has also been shown to have remarkable positive impacts on brains, including improving the areas of the brain responsible for executive functioning, such as planning, choice making, and understanding consequences.

Social Care

Prosocial behaviours are lauded in children, especially those behaviours that demonstrate and support connections to others within the range of developmental appropriateness. I hope to take this to deeper level, in concert with Christine’s focus on character education through virtues. And this is also where ethics come into play. There won’t be a formula for behaviour, but rather evolving and emergent conversations that are both planned and take advantage of learning opportunities as they arise. Collectively with the school staff, I hope to promote an attitude of community and care between and among the children. Rather than promoting ‘being nice’ as rhetoric, I will be focusing on helping children to make choices that are based in honesty, non-violence, compassion, and that are empathetic to their peers, as well as adults.

I hope that this provides you with a sense of the landscape in finer detail. This concludes the BIG explanations about what I am doing and hope to achieve this year. From now on, the posts are intended to be more useful and practical, less theoretical. I thank you for your interest and support and as always, am here to respond to any questions or concerns you may have. I realize it is an ambitious year I have planned, but I have reduced my private practice substantially to focus on this writing and curriculum development in order to provide the richest and most scientifically supported material and experiences for your children this year. I do hope you’ll check in with me to let me know what you think. And, please be sure to ask your children what they learned in Yoga and Movement each week.

In Peace, Care and the Joy of Movement!

Miss Joani

Exploring the 8 Limbs of Classical Yoga

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Exploring the 8 Limbs of Classical Yoga

This blog post is intended primarily for the families and care-providers of Precious Seeds students; however, it may also be useful for any person who is new to yoga and is interested in a very brief summary of the intentions of yoga as expressed by Patanjali, the sage who wrote one of yoga’s watershed texts: The Yoga Sutras.

The Sanskrit word “Sutra” means ‘to thread’ or ‘stitch together’, relaying the embedded nature and interconnectedness of yoga.

While the eight limbs will be explained here in a list fashion, it is useful to understand that they are not intended to be experienced as a hierarchy, but that one may flow through any of the limbs and any given time. Several of the limbs naturally ‘fit’ together, and in my own personal and professional experience, if you are new to these ideas, I would suggest making your way through the list in a linear fashion to understand the infrastructure of Classical Yoga. Then you are free to concentrate on any limb in any order as it serves.

The entirety of this framework is holistic, comprehensive, and is founded in science and philosophy; however there is also most certainly an ‘art’ to yoga, given the vast creativity that has been applied to the practice, especially here in the West.

Please remember that this is a brief explanation intended to provide a context for the Yogademic Year at Precious Seeds Montessori Schools.

It also feels important to point out that yoga is not a religion. Yoga is often referred to as a wisdom or contemplative practice; a comprehensive system that is based in science, philosophy and the lived experience of the practitioner. Yoga is not dogmatic, rather, provides suggestions or guidelines for living a life that is ethical and sustainable, built upon the discipline of practice in moving the body, breathing and focusing the mind towards joy.

THE ROOTS

The true roots of Classical Yoga are about ethical behaviour. The first two limbs are entitled Yamas and Niyamas, and they work very well together. In my mind, they are like two halves of a whole, and both must be present in order to live a balanced life.

Yamas:

Yamas are about social ethics. I appreciate that social care and community is the actual cornerstone of yoga as a practice. The Yamas are comprised of five discreet ethical guidelines that I will be explaining more fully in future posts, as my intention is to teach each one over the year. Briefly, the 5 yamas are:

Ahimsa: Non-Harming, or non-violence. I reframe this as compassion and kindness for children.

Satya: Truth or truth-telling, though it is critical to temper truth-telling with Ahimsa to ensure the truth does not cause undo harm.

Asteya: Non-stealing, or not taking without permission. I reframe this as taking only as much as you need, living simply and learning to not act on impulsive cravings.

Bramacharaya: Energy management, or restraint. This is another ethic about not giving in to impulses, including over-commitment, and/or being busy all the time. With children, I frame this as being mindful of your own thoughts, feelings and actions, and noticing how those impact others around you.

Aparigraha: means avoiding hording or compulsively collecting. With children, I reframe this as being generous, sharing and appreciating living simply.

Niyamas:

Niyamas are five guidelines that help us to be self-caring, to be mindful of treating ourselves with respect and dignity, about being responsible and accountable to ourselves, and then to others. Briefly, the 5 niyamas are:

Saucha: Purity and cleanliness in body, mind and soul. With children, I focus on thinking good thoughts, especially about yourself, and about the importance of cleanliness in the body for health, and cleanliness of work areas for organization.

Santosha: Contentment and being positive. Contentment can include the practice of being grateful for what you already have, for being happy with yourself and who you are, and for offering blessings for what you receive.

Tapas: is about applying heat to discipline, or fire to a task. With children, I talk about being disciplined in completing tasks, and then focus on how good that feels to complete something you started. We also discuss forming good habits as tapas.

Svadhayaya: Self study and education. This niyama intends for us to know ourselves well enough that we can meet our own needs, and is also about asking for help when we need it. Knowing the self well helps to ground us and acts as a wonderful prevention mechanism against peer pressure and temptations.

Ishvara Pranidhana: Devotion to something bigger than yourself. Traditionally this niyama is about surrendering to God, though in an effort to be non-secular as an educator in both private and public school systems, I reframe this as cultivating an appreciation for the natural world and honouring the religious and/or spiritual belief systems of your own family.

THE TRUNK:

Asana:

Asana is probably the most popular and well known limb of the yoga-tree. Asana refers to the poses or body shapes we enter during physical practice. Asana builds strength and flexibility in the body, which in turn, builds strength and flexibility in the mind, especially through practice. With children, asanas focus on safe alignment, building appropriate developmental gross and fine motor skills, and on having fun being in their bodies.

Pranayama:

Pranayama is another well known limb of the yoga-tree, as it refers to breath work, or breathing exercises. Prana means life, and in breathing, we are moving life force energy through our bodies which can have direct effects on our psychology and cognition. For example, breathing slowly and fully can help us to reduce anxiety and aid in clear thinking.

The Branches:

Pratyahara:

Pratyahara is a very important limb of the yoga tree because it is all about the senses. In Classical Yoga, pratyahara describes the process of turning away from external stimulation, guiding our energy, thoughts and senses inside with the goal of learning how we feel from the inside, without outside influence. With children, I talk about paying attention to their inner world: thoughts, feelings and behavioural motivations.

Dharana:

Dharana is about focusing the mind, specifically on a single point, like the breath. When the body has been warmed by movement, and the mind focused through informed breathing and intentional management of the senses, it becomes easier to focus the mind towards single mindedness, towards casting attention in an intentional way. With children, I talk about how movement prepares us and makes us better at focusing. This is a valuable lesson I’ve learned through my many years of working with children: if they are struggling to focus, get them moving first. Help them breath deeply and fully, and suddenly, focusing becomes much easier.

Dhyana:

Dhyana is about achieving the state of meditation, or flow. Children are especially skilled at moving meditations, such as twirling or soaring for no apparent reason, other than for the sheer joy of experiencing rhythmic movement. With the right preparations, I also find that children love stillness, quietude and silence. More about this in upcoming posts.

Samadhi:

Samadhi translates into bliss, and for many, this is the objective of yoga as a practice, to feel and experience bliss. Bliss can be described as transcendence, as open awareness without resistance, as joy that is unbound and limitless. As you well know, children can be much more adept at bliss than adults! Samadhi is not hard for children to achieve. However, we still talk bout the usefulness of joy and bliss in a balanced life, and how we might support it in others through good deeds, mindful attention to our teachers and parents, and through enjoying the natural world.

I hope you enjoyed learning more about yoga and how this incredible practice my help your children through the promotion of self-regulation, self-reliance, developmental movement, breathing and meditation. If you have any questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to connect with me directly, or with the Director, Miss Christine.

This service is provided to your children as a choice. Each child chooses for themselves if they wish to participate, to observe or to choose another activity. It is also common for children to join in for a portion of the session, and to decide to move on when it feels right for them. Parents are most welcome to observe. I teach on Wednesday mornings at both locations.

Try asking your children regularly about what they are learning in yoga. I’m certain they’d love to share their learning with you, and they’d probably love to teach you a thing or two!

Over the next few months, I will be providing more in depth material on the yamas and niyamas, a major focus of our yoga curriculum this year. Look for Children’s Ethics Stories, as well as ideas for living and learning each ethic.

In Peace,

Joani

Reference:

Iyengar, B.K.S. (2001). Light on yoga: The classic guide to yoga from the world’s foremost authority. London: Thorsons Publishing.

Precious Seeds Yogademic Year

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September 2018

Greetings Parents & Caregivers of Precious Seeds,

I am delighted to introduce you to some exciting programming I’ve developed for children and families of Precious Seeds this year.

While I have an ambitious curriculum this year, the essence of what I hope to accomplish can be summed up in three themes: Movement, Mindfulness & Wonder. These three themes are hugged and snugged by 2 meta categories: Ethics & Community. I refer to this as the “Table of Context”.

 

Itty Bitty Yoga Program Table of Context:

(See above poster for the Illustrated table)

 

My primary intention is to provide curriculum that is responsive, relevant, and educational for early childhood. To this end, I’d like to explain my overarching plan, and then provide you with updates to detail finer points each month in the Precious Seeds Newsletter.

The Itty Bitty Yoga program has evolved over the years at Precious Seeds to include dance and movement, as I am currently a student in a Dance & Movement Therapy post graduate program. I’m very excited to be sharing these practices with your children for a number of reasons. First and foremost, the children’s response guides me; as they engage easily and demonstrate signals of joy. Another reason this learning has been so important to me and significant to the program is the focus on child development in general and developmental movement specifically. One way that I am ensuring that this learning filters down to your children in the most profound way is through the practice of observation. I will be spending time at both sites this year observing your children in order to determine the most appropriate movement methodologies for them. My intention is to provide you with summaries of my observations and how those impact my plans, making this a true living and breathing document.

 

The Itty Bitty Yoga Table of Context Explained

Ethics:

I teach a style of yoga called Raja Yoga, sometimes referred to as Classical Yoga. This practice is defined by a special text that was written by a yoga scholar over 2500 years ago called the Yoga Sutras. In this text the author Patanjali outlined a system referred to as Ashtanga Yoga and the Eight Limbed Path. What this means for you is to know that Yoga is so much more than a system of exercise, in fact, the asanas (yoga poses) are only 1 of the 8 limbs, making this system extensive and comprehensive. I look forward to explaining more about this throughout the year, as I will focus on one limb at a time. Briefly, for now, the first 2 limbs are referred to as Yamas and Niyamas which comprise the ethical components of yoga practice. Yamas uphold Social Ethics, and Niyamas provide for ethical Self Care practices. These ethical guidelines outline principles for living that include non-violence, truth telling and contentment, to name a few of the ten ethics. They fit very well with the school’s focus on virtues and character education. If there is interest from parents, I’d be delighted to host a free workshop to explain them in more detail directly if needed beyond what is provided here in my newsletters and blogs.

Movement:

Movement will include yoga asana (poses), dance, as well as creative and rhythmic movements. An aspect of Dance & Movement Therapy that has been very exciting for me to learn about is how certain rhythmic movements can be soothing, nourishing and healing to the nervous system. These movements can aid in the integration of early reflex patterns, therefore helping the brain to grow appropriately in tandem with gross and fine motor skill development, and this can have direct positive effects on speech and learning, cognition and behaviour. This is another area of the curriculum that I’d be so pleased to workshop with parents if there is a desire to learn more beyond what you get in these newsletters. Workshops would also provide you with a venue for direct questions, and the ability to learn these movements to enjoy at home.

Mindfulness:

Having taught extensively in the elementary and secondary school system, I can tell you that children and youth of all ages easily learn and appreciate skills in the practices of mindfulness and meditation. I find they crave it! These skills help to enhance the parts of the brain involved in executive functioning, which include focus and attention, understanding consequences, empathy and choice making. These skills also help children to self regulate, to become more aware and appreciative of their environments and each other, and inspire a fidelity to self care that will serve them well as responsible adults.

Wonder:

The topic of wonder includes many facets for me, including a connection and reverence for the natural world, an attitude of curiousity and exploration in movement, and a wide open landscape for creativity to be expressed. I provide opportunities for children in ‘craftivism’, a form of creativity with an intention towards social justice and community development. Over the course of the year, we will explore both movement justice (inclusion and diversity) and the gift economy, sharing in ways that promote selfless service.

Community:

For me, yoga, dance and movement are all about creating community: first creating community in the classroom, and then extending that sense of belonging out into families, natural social circles, and into children’s experience of their wider place in the world. “Planet Care” will be an aspect of our activities through Yoga Ethic Stories this year, which includes practices for treading lightly upon this Big Blue Dot.

While these categories may seem discreet, for me, they are all connected and interwoven.

I’m very excited to begin working with your children and I want you to feel like you can connect with me directly if you have any questions or concerns. I consult and collaborate very closely with Christine and the incredible team at Precious Seeds, so you could also let any of them know if you have specific questions or concerns you would like to have addressed. I’m here in service to you.

Please also let any of us know if you are interested in workshops that may provide you with a greater understanding and skills practice for any of the offerings this year. I’d be very pleased to involve you in this deeper learning and support for your children. If there is interest, we will definitely host workshops for you.

With tender care, warmth and wonder,

Joani Mortenson, MSW, RSW, E-RYT, RCYT

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WonderLab: Ready, Set, Grow!

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Welcome to Wonderland Movement! 

This is a space to explore, resource and contemplate Wonder and Movement with the heart and mind of appreciative inquiry. Indeed, WonderLab Movement is a place for the confluence of body and mind with a view towards achieving integration, wholeness and peace through movement.

WonderLab Movement is about being curious, not certain. It is about holding space for dichotomous thinking, for not knowing, for being messy in learning and moving. 

WonderLab Movement is primarily about focusing my professional relationship with children.

WonderLab Movement is also about embodiment, about total body connectivity, about exploring, emerging and enhancing the lives of children through developmental movement education. 

Children have always been my heart-space, and as I train deeper into Dance and Movement therapy, layered with social work, yoga and child wilderness therapy, I see how my practice is evolving and becoming more sophisticated, yet at the same time, more playful. 

My intention is to offer this space in Community. I've starting using this verb: Communitying. I want to community with you, not to you, or about you. I wish for you to chat with me here, to ask questions, and to guide me to serve you in resourceful and meaningful ways that promote growth in children, families and communities. 

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Let's Move together in Wonder. 

Ready, Set, Grow! 

 

ECE, DMT & KMP, Oh MY!

Welcome to the "Moving Well" Blog, a component of the WonderLab Movement portion of my business.

My intention is to create a garden of resources here, to leave seeds for you to plant if they work for you. 

I will provide only science and evidence based information that is intended to enrich the lives of children and their families. 

Let's start by creating a glossary of terms to create a landscape of common understanding: 

ECE: Early Childhood Education

DMT: Dance & Movement Therapy

KMP: Kestenberg Movement Profile

To open, I am presenting a workshop that will introduce my new love, The Kestenberg Movement Profile. As a DMT student, I am learning how to clinically observe and analyze early childhood behaviour in order to determine treatment and interventions that support healthy physical and psychological development through movement. 

I am so blessed to be working with the Precious Seeds Montessori Houses, as we are co-visioning enhancing the existing yoga program with elements of my training in dance and movement therapy. 

If you are a parent of a Precious Seeds Montessori House child, please contact Christine to register for the upcoming workshop by clicking here to her contact page.