Monday, October 20, 2014

Mindfulness & Guided Relaxation for Kids

“Happiness, not in another place but this place...not for another hour, but this hour." ― Walt Whitman


It can be quite empowering, as an individual, to learn that you can find peace within yourself while navigating this busy world. We can help children to center their minds and bodies so they can learn to be resilient. Some ways adults and children can de-stress and find peace is through guided relaxations and practicing mindfulness. First, lets learn a little about mindfulness. Then, I will share about our first guided relaxation experience while sharing some helpful resources and tips along the way.

In recent years, the concept of Mindfulness has become a popular topic in the United States. Jon Kabat-Zinn, the founder of the Mindfulness Center in Massachusetts, defines mindfulness as "paying attention in a particular way; On purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudmentally." This is a simple concept but it doesn't always come easy; it's a skill we need to hone and practice. There are formal practices, such as sitting meditation while focusing on the breath, and there are informal practices, such as eating or driving mindfully and being an active listener. Combined, these techniques teach us to be more self-aware of our thoughts and emotionally resilient to the stressors in our lives.

The practice of being mindful is being recognized as a great tool for helping children with everyday stress, hyperactivity, and mental health issues. Susan Kaiser Greenland, author of The Mindful Child, found that mindfulness could not only help her but could help her children. She set out 
to assist teachers, counselors, and parents with learning how to use these techniques with kids of all ages. This may be a great resource for you.


At our after school program at the Allentown Learning and Engagement Center (ALEC), our students were guided through a belly breath exercise and a guided relaxation exercise to teach them how to calm their bodies and minds. The hardest part of the exercise was getting them to be quiet and focused at first so we could start. We weren't sure how it would go with this young, hyper crowd but I have had some experience guiding young adults through similar exercises with much success and I was hopeful.

Once we began the exercises we were so happy to see the students calm down, breathe together, and let their imaginations take them to a good place they can always come back to. It was quite amazing to watch this transition from chaos to peace.

First, I played some relaxing music for the students before we began. I found this great mix by PURERELAX.TV which offers a free hour-long mix of relaxing music for children. We let it play until our discussion time.


Second, I had the students sit in a circle. I asked them to lay back and close their eyes. At this point, I also needed to tell a few students to keep their feet to themselves because it was distracting other students. This was also to be expected and it was part of the process of learning.

Next, I wanted to start with a short mindfulness exercise with the students to bring them to a calm state before we dove into the guided relaxation. I began by talking about stress and what that feels like and looks like. I said, "sometimes we can feel really sad or mad and not know what to do about it. This is stress and it's important that we learn ways to bring ourselves peace when we feel stressed." 

Belly Breaths


Belly breaths are a simple and great way to help kids learn to calm their body and mind when they are feeling sad, mad, anxious, or just plain stressed. Let's get started!
  1. Have your child or group lay down and place their hands on their bellies.
  2. Then ask them to gently close their eyes.
  3. Have them take a deep breath in through their nose and then blow it out through their mouth.
  4. Now breathe in through the nose to the count of 1, 2, 3, 4, 5.
  5. Hold the breath for the count of 1, 2.
  6. Then breathe out through the mouth very slowly to the count of 1, 2, 3, 4, 5.
  7. Repeat steps 4-6 until the child is relaxed.
If they seem distracted, ask them to bring their awareness back to their belly and to imagine their belly as a balloon inflating and deflating. Sometimes a visual can make it more interesting. Another trick is to have them imagine blowing a feather into the air or blowing a bubble on the out breath.

Once they make the connection that belly breaths help calm their bodies and minds, they will start to use the technique when they need it. So, do this exercise as much as possible so they can easily grab for this tool on their self soothing tool belt.

More Resources on Belly Breathing:


Guided Relaxation


After the belly breath exercise, I invited the students to go through a guided relaxation exercise which involved them using their imagination to create a visual journey. Over at Green Child Magazine, they offer about 8 guided relaxation scripts for children free of charge. 

Autumn has begun, so I thought it would be fitting to guide them through an "Enchanted Fall Forest." I only had to alter the last two sentences of the script since our exercise was being done during the day. Instead I said aloud, "You may now begin to wiggle your fingers and toes. It is now time to bring your focus back to this room and enter back into the busy world. Remember, you can always come back to this place. When you are ready you can open your eyes and sit up."


As I looked around the room, everyone who participated was relaxed and I saw all of them wiggling their fingers before they made the choice to open their eyes and sit back up. Just a few needed a little extra time to join us and only one or two students actually fell asleep, which was just fine by me. 

Lastly, I asked if anyone wanted to share their experience in the Enchanted Fall Forest. Micah, one of our 1st graders, pointed to a picture of a valley and said excitedly that he saw the sky, the birds, the trees, and the grass. Robert said he saw the waterfall and it was peaceful. A few others shared their unique stories of what their forest looked like. TreJawn, a 5th grader, shared with the class his journey and after I asked him how that made him feel he said, "I felt happy!" 

We will continue to practice these mindful moments with our students throughout the school year. I hope our experience has inspired you to help children in your life learn these great techniques to de-stress and be mindful.

If you have any stories or resources you would like to share please comment below! We would love to hear from you.

If you liked this, you may also like A Quiet Minute with our 4th and 5th Graders.

- Corey

Thursday, October 16, 2014

DIY: Art Journals

We're at it again! Art Journals are under way and our students won't stop asking to do this activity during free time. I'd say it's a hit. Art Journals are an inexpensive way to have students become creators of their own ideas. Plus, it keeps them focused, which is always great in a small space! ;)

Old magazines, post cards, and holiday cards can now have a purpose again. And students will love the freedom of being able to write, cut out images and words they enjoy, and getting messy. 


What you'll need to get started:
  1. Journal, Composition Book, or Try One of craftideasweekly's DIY Journals
  2. Scissors
  3. Glue Stick and/or Tape
  4. Magazines, Post Cards, Holiday Cards, etc.
  5. Writing Prompts, Drawing Prompts, etc.

To jump-start the creative process, the students decorated the front and back of their Art Journals with collages made from magazine and post card clippings. Layering photos on top of other images was a challenging concept for some of the young students. 

At first some simply glued a whole post card on the front and said, "Done!". However, after observing their peers beginning to cut and paste interesting words and pictures onto their journals, a few peeled off their post card and tried again; this time challenging themselves to step outside their comfort zone and get really creative!

Once the front and back of their journals are decorated, it's time to fill those pages. I have found some students like to continue the collages onto their pages while some began writing "Dear Diary" style. One of our students, Destini, even proclaimed, "I like writing in my journal. I think I want to be a writer." 

While students enjoy the freedom of filling their pages with what they want, it can also be a great idea to provide prompts.

7 Prompt Ideas:

  1. Print a list of 100 words and have students choose one word a day to express through writing, drawing, or decorating.
  2. Print off list ideas such as, 10 favorite movies, favorite websites, favorite words, etc.
  3. Draw a scene from your dream.
  4. Draw your head and then fill it up with words and pictures showing what's going on in there.
  5. 10 Journal Prompts from the Enchanted Pixie
  6. 25 Conversation Starters from benandme.com
  7. 100 Things to Draw from pikaland.com


Now that you have the necessities for an Art Journal, what are you waiting for?! And remember, the most important part of creating your own Art Journal is having fun!

For more creative projects, check out these 10 Creative Station Ideas for 2nd and 3rd Grade.

- Corey

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

DIY: Fossil Rocks


This is a great activity to pair with a lesson about prehistoric life or any old rainy day. The recipe is simple and uses common kitchen ingredients, allows for a lot of customization, and it is easy for children to participate.


This project uses a very popular no-heat play dough recipe.

The ingredients:
- 1 cup of warm water
- 1 cup of table salt
- 2 tablespoons of cooking oil
- 3 cups of flour
- 2 tablespoons of corn starch
- food coloring or tempera paints

 Combine the salt, water, oil, and corn starch in a large mixing bowl. Stir in food coloring or tempera paint to reach desired shade (Note: rocks have very subtle coloring, but bright hues are more fun!). Slowly add flour while stirring then knead to a consistent texture. Wrap the dough to keep it from drying and allow the it to rest for at least 30 minutes to cool to room temperature before continuing.


Once you have your play dough, it's time to make an impression! Make a palm-sized lump of dough to use for your "rock" base. Children may want to play with the dough, but if it warms up or is worked too much the wheat proteins will activate and make a sticky mess!

Take your item to be "fossilized" and press it into the dough. We used some handy animal stamps that we had, but any small plastic toys can be used for this step. The dough lump should now be about the size and shape of a cookie. Place the "fossils" some place cool and dry. Slips of paper help to keep whose and where's straight


The last step of this process, just like real fossils, is waiting. You won't have to wait for millennia for your fossils to form, though. If you flip the dough imprints each day, they should be dry and hard within a few days. Heating will speed this process, but beware, they will crack if they dry too quickly.


Once your fossils are dried through they are ready for discovering!

- John

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Puerto Rico Culture Day: Roberto Clemente


 “Any time you have an opportunity to make a difference in this world and you don't, then you are wasting your time on Earth.” - Roberto Clemente
As we observe Hispanic Heritage Month, ALEC celebrated by learning about Puerto Rico and a very special Puerto Rican who played as a Pittsburgh Pirate, Roberto Clemente. For this lesson, we pulled out all the stops. We had slideshows, videos, a book reading, and a special prop brought in just for this day.

But first, our current event! At the beginning of each Culture Day we present a current event to our students. On this particular day, since we would be discussing a baseball legend, the current event involved two girls who played in the Little League World Series. One girl, Mo'Ne Davis, is from Philadelphia, PA. She offered some great advice to girls who want to play, "just throw strikes."


Now, back to the lesson! First, students gathered around to watch a slideshow that showcased photographs of Puerto Rico. The students shared "oohs" and "ahhs" as we explored each photograph.

One slide gave our students a glimpse into a classroom at Las Mareas Elementary. Students noticed a few differences and similarities between the classrooms they are used to and the one depicted in this photograph. One similarity noticed was that they were sitting on the floor like we were doing during this lesson. One difference, mentioned by a very observational student, was that the students in this photograph were wearing uniforms.


After learning about Puerto Rico, students listened to a story written by Jonah Winter titled, "Roberto Clemente: Pride of the Pittsburgh Pirates". This story welcomed students into the life of a young Roberto as he developed a love for Baseball in his hometown in Puerto Rico. As his love and abilities strengthened, he went from just using a stick and old can to using a real bat and baseball. Then, Roberto Clemente made it into the big leagues and found himself on a journey to a new city, in a new country; Pittsburgh, PA, USA. 

We learned how resilient Roberto was in dealing with racism and how he used his frustration as fuel to being one of the best baseball players who ever lived. What a hero!


As students listened along, they were able to watch a slideshow of different photographs of Roberto Clemente. Students saw photos showing him playing on the field. Other photos were of him with his family. The students also had the chance to see this photo below, which is a statue of Roberto Clemente in downtown Pittsburgh, just a mile from where our after-school program is located. This really brought the story home for the students here at ALEC, along with our discussion afterward. 


During our reflection, we discussed what made Roberto a hero. We also imagined what would be the hardest part about moving to a new country. Some students said, "making new friends." Others said, "leaving your friends and family." And one student even mentioned that there may be cultural differences that are hard to get used to, like language. What insight!

Following the story and discussion, the students had a chance to look at an original baseball card featuring Roberto Clemente. They looked at all the fine print, noticed he was born in the 1930s, and some students showed their friends his height and weight. Needless to say, it was a great time learning about Puerto Rico and Roberto Clemente!

- Corey


Monday, October 13, 2014

Water 101: Surface Tension


On a recent science day, ALEC explored one of water's more peculiar behaviors, surface tension. Our experiments began with a poll: what would happen if a paper clip was dropped into a cup filled to the brim? The students were sure it would spill! They could see how the water completely filled the little plastic cup and even began to make a dome above the rim.
To the surprise of the eager witnesses, not a drop escaped when the paperclip sank into the cup. Next came the follow-up question: how many paperclips would it take to spill the cup?


The guesses came in- five, seven, ten, eleven- the numbers stayed low, but one guess went big and said that we would need to drop one hundred paperclips to spill the cup. I began dropping paperclips with the kids counting along.


Our numbers quickly passed ten, twenty, even fifty! Some voices called out new guesses, barely keeping pace with our pile of submerged paperclips. The surface of the water bulged higher and higher until it finally broke with the 97th paperclip. Mylajha came closest with her bold big guess.


After a little demonstration of soap's ability to disperse floating pepper flecks, we talked about why water does these neat things. From rain drops to pond skimmers, we demystified the marvelous phenomenon of surface tension.

- John

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Brashear Kids Learn to Sign


This Fall, at ALEC, students are learning a new way to communicate. Michelle Walker, the founder of Lend an Ear, is teaching our students American Sign Language through interactive instruction. Let’s give Michelle a big welcome!


On the first day of this new series of programming, Michelle entered the room and our students had so many questions they couldn’t sit still. Michelle, being hard of hearing herself, was excited to share personal stories and answer as many questions as she could for them.

Michelle explained to our students that she needed everyone to be quiet and to look at her when they speak. She said this is very important when speaking to someone who is hard of hearing, because loud noises distract and make it harder to decipher who is talking and what is being said. And by looking at her, students can be sure that they are being heard because Michelle reads lips! How awesome!


Next came the questions. Our students were quite curious to learn as much as they could. A few questions they asked included:
“How does someone become deaf?”
“Were you born deaf?”
“Are your children hard of hearing?”
Michelle shared her story, and explained that someone can become deaf or hard of hearing by a number of ways. Someone may experience trauma, be born that way, or lose hearing from listening to loud music. Students were shocked they can lose their hearing from listening to loud music with their headphones!

The next time Michelle visited, she began to teach our students how to sign in American Sign Language. This day we began with the alphabet.

First, students started slowly, spending a minute on each letter until everyone got it right.


Then, she picked up the pace and went a little faster. Students learned a couple funny sayings to remember some letters. “P is a K taking a nap.” “Q is a little bit, upside down!”


Finally, we all went through the alphabet at normal speed, which was really fast for us new learners!


The students can’t wait to learn more sign language from Michelle at Lend an Ear. Thanks Michelle!
You can find Lend an Ear Consulting on Facebook!

- Corey

Monday, October 6, 2014

Hello from your BK Contributors

Hi! Hello! Ahoy!

We are so happy to be actively contributing to this wonderful little blog we call Brashear Kids. The Brashear Association Education Department is comprised of an Education Coordinator, a Site Coordinator and two Americorps KEYS members. We are also so grateful for the work study students, volunteers and Service learning students from Duquesne University, they give their time and efforts to our after school programs. 

We have been given the amazing opportunity to partner with AmeriCorps KEYS program to bring in two members to act as our program teachers. The beautiful thing is we are graced with two teachers, the downfall is that they only serve a 10 month term with us. Our students quickly grow to love these teachers and hate to see them go every year. This year we are fortunate to have Corey and John join our team. They have made a wonderful addition and have acclimated themselves to our programs and routines quite well.

    

We have gone through a few staffing changes this summer. Amber, our former Site Coordinator, has now taken on the role of Education Coordinator.  Dianna, our former seasonal staff, has stepped up to the Site Coordinator position. Our students have a difficult time with staffing changes and we felt that the consistency of hiring within would help our students transition with all of the changes we have encountered with our education programs this year. To read more about those changes read 'All about ALEC'.

We love to focus so much of our blog on our students, projects, experiments, games and snacks that we also forget to share a little bit about what goes on behind the scenes. Brashear Kids will be making a better effort to encompass all aspects of the life of a crazy fun Pittsburgh afterschool program  We are so excited to share all about the new and fun opportunities we have coming up. 
To read a fun behind scenes article from earlier this year, check out 7 Secrets of After School Teachers.
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Head on over to our contributors page to read a little more about our Brashear Kids contributors 

-Amber

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