Tag

yoga

Making the Most of COVID-19 School Closures

By | NESCA Notes 2020

By: Sophie Bellenis, OTD, OTR/L
Occupational Therapist; Real-life Skills Program Manager and Coach

COVID-19 was recently declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO), and it is quickly becoming a pervasive force that we are all attuned to. As our healthcare providers, scientists and officials focus their energy on social distancing recommendations and public health measures, it seems as if time spent at home with our families – whether self-imposed or mandated – is inevitable. With our hardworking community members and officials focused on large-scale responses and issues, let’s take some time to discuss how we can create positive and productive environments in our own homes with our children while so many schools are closed.

  • Create Routines – Our children thrive on routine. Consider keeping their regular bedtime and morning routines, sitting down for lunch at the same time as they do at school, and writing out a daily schedule so that they know the plan for the day. Keeping these small things consistent can help our kids to feel regulated, calm and make a potentially scary situation feel much more predictable.
  • Request Work from Classroom Teachers – Most teachers will be sending home classwork to keep children engaged while they are out of the classroom. Make sure to request passwords to online learning sites used at school (raz-kids.com, IXL.com, etc.), have access to books at an appropriate reading level, ask about sites that provide printable worksheets, and, if still in school, bring home worksheets that could be completed during time off.
  • Schedule Recess/Playtime – While home is often seen as a place to relax and have fun, scheduling recess or play/downtime may help kids to feel like there is more of a routine. An average day at elementary schools fluctuates between time spent on learning, time to process and reflect, and time to have some fun. With an extended stay at home, it may help to touch on all of these activities. Scheduled recess allows for a child to predict when they will have a break to move their bodies and decompress.
  • Use Screens Wisely – Many parents will no doubt be working from home and have significant to-do lists of their own. While watching movies and favorite TV shows is likely an inevitable – and in many ways beneficial – tool to pass the time, consider exploring some more educational screen-based options as part of your child’s day. Resources such as National Geographic Kids, PBS KIDS.org, ScienceDaily.com, educationworld.com, TIME For Kids, Smithsonian Tween Tribune, among others can help to provide more academic content, including Social Studies, Science, Current Events and more. Commonsensemedia.org is also a great resource for finding age appropriate options.
  • Move Your Body – While getting outside for some fresh air is the ideal way for our children to move their bodies, this may not be an option. Thankfully, there are some creative ways to make sure our kids get in time for gross motor movement. Consider options such as GoNoodle.com, Cosmickids.com and Gaia.com for whole body movement and yoga videos. If you are looking for options other than video-based activities, consider building a pillow fort, keeping balloons off of the ground, having a dance party or setting up a home-made obstacle course.
  • Bolster Life Skills Education – As Kelley Challen, NESCA’s Director of Transition, so aptly explained in her blog post, the process of teaching our kids to become functional adults starts at birth. Consider spending this time teaching some skills in the home: have kids help with the process of doing a whole load of laundry from start to finish, work through a recipe for dinner together or clean surfaces around the house while explaining how to safely use different cleaning products. All of these experiences help a child to understand their future role as independent adults.
  • Work on the Broader Executive Functioning (EF) Skills – EF includes skills such as problem solving, time management, goal setting and organization. Provide sorting activities, have a child create their own schedule, set a daily goal, practice telling time or play some problem-solving games such as Heads-up, Charades or Guess Who.

 

About the Author

Dr. Sophie Bellenis is a Licensed Occupational Therapist in Massachusetts, specializing in pediatrics and occupational therapy in the developing world. Dr. Bellenis joined NESCA in the fall of 2017 to offer community-based skills coaching services as well as social skills coaching as part of NESCA’s transition team. Dr. Bellenis graduated from the MGH Institute of Health Professions with a Doctorate in Occupational Therapy, with a focus on pediatrics and international program evaluation. She is a member of the American Occupational Therapy Association, as well as the World Federation of Occupational Therapists. In addition to her work at NESCA, Dr. Bellenis works as a school-based occupational therapist for the city of Salem Public Schools and believes that individual sensory needs, and visual skills must be taken into account to create comprehensive educational programming.
To book an appointment or to learn more about NESCA’s Occupational Therapy Services, please fill out our online Intake Form, email info@nesca-newton.com or call 617-658-9800.

 

Neuropsychology & Education Services for Children & Adolescents (NESCA) is a pediatric neuropsychology practice and integrative treatment center with offices in Newton, Massachusetts, Plainville, Massachusetts, and Londonderry, New Hampshire, serving clients from preschool through young adulthood and their families. For more information, please email info@nesca-newton.com or call 617-658-9800.

 

“Vitamin G” Project

By | NESCA Notes 2018

By: Ann-Noelle McCowan, M.S., RYT
Guidance Counselor; Yoga Specialist

Each school year I observe the fluctuations of student and adult stress, and each August the return of relaxed and recharged kids and adults.  For many, summer means a slower pace and longer days filled with activities that bring joy and support our health and happiness. Time with family, friends, and pets bonds us with others. We’re connected with nature through the fullness of trees or the heat of the sun, and our perspectives are turned outward with less time inside on screens and gaming devices.  We’re renewed with less packed schedules, fewer alarms, more sleep, and our bodies are nourished by eating outside, less complicated meals and more fruits and vegetables. So how can summer’s ease and joy build our resilience to handle the natural unavoidable stressors of the school year and seasonal changes? By starting a gratitude practice.

Gratitude practices that amp up “Vitamin G”  have been shown to help people feel better about their lives, experience higher levels of positive emotions and have fewer physical problems or even feel less pain. Vitamin “G” helps us act kinder and more generous towards others, feel less stress and then handle stress better when it shows up, as well as get more exercise, eat healthier and sleep better!  Neuroscientists have said that our brain has a “negativity bias” where our minds respond like velcro for bad thoughts and Teflon (non-stick) for good thoughts. Vitamin “G” to the rescue!  When we are thankful, it helps stop negative thoughts and increases the feel-good chemicals like dopamine and serotonin. Summer naturally provides time and opportunities to teach kids about gratitude, to practice the crucial ability to notice and acknowledge things in their life that bring them pleasure. Now how to begin…

  • Start by thanking your own children and help them learn about appreciation. Don’t worry too much about younger kids who might say they are thankful for a toy, you are building the idea of gratitude. It’s the practice, not perfection. Feel free to connect Vitamin G to other important nutrients or times when you have asked them to thank others.
  • Use age-appropriate language: we are going to learn how to name/ acknowledge/ build an account or recording of things that make us feel happy/ appreciative/ lucky/grateful. Give some examples of the benefits of Vitamin “G”. Explain that deposits to this “bank account” builds a mind that feels happier, less stressed and healthier.
  • Decide how you want to recognize daily gratitude. It could be a journal, a jar, a shared blog, drawings, colleagues, voice or video recordings, or a routine prayer with your child at night. I’ll expand on how to build a gratitude jar but experiment and choose what works for your child and family.
  • Gratitude Jar: Essentials are a writing utensil, slips of paper and a vessel to store your “gratitude slips” in. You could have your child pick one or two shades of colored paper or a special pen for recording, the jar could be decorated with pictures of things they enjoy or a beloved pet or kept blank to view the collection.
  • Cut up a few different sizes of rectangle slips of paper, or print a few prompts if that works for your child. Examples of prompts could be: Today I loved… I’m thankful for….. I appreciate that … I’m grateful for… I liked it when … I felt happy when….I feel good when.
  • Make a commitment to model this on a daily or routine schedule with your child, start recording and watch their account grow.

Your Vitamin G  project will hold beautiful recollections of summer as well as teach your child an important habit of mind and useful stress buster tool. Starting a gratitude practice will build resilience and empower them to find moments of happiness and goodness even when summer ends. Enjoy and have fun!

 

About the Author: 

Ann-Noelle provides therapeutic yoga-counseling sessions individually designed for each child. NESCA therapeutic yoga establishes a safe space for a child to face their challenges while nourishing their innate strengths using the threefold combination of yoga movement, yoga breath, and yoga thinking.

Ann-Noelle has worked with children and adolescents since 2001 and practiced yoga and meditation since 2005. Since 2003 she has been employed full time as a school counselor in a local high performing school district, and prior to that was employed in the San Francisco Public Schools. Ann-Noelle received her dual Masters Degree (MS) in Marriage, Family and Child Therapy (MFCC), and School Counseling from San Francisco State University in 2002, her BA from Union College in New York, and her 200 hour-Registered Yoga Credential (RYT) from Shri Yoga. Ann-Noelle completed additional Yoga training including the Kid Asana Program in 2014, Trauma in Children in 2016 and Adaptive yoga for Parkinson’s in 2014.

For more information on the therapeutic yoga at NESCA, please visit  https://nesca-newton.com/yoga/

 

 

 

Neuropsychology & Education Services for Children & Adolescents (NESCA) is a pediatric neuropsychology practice and integrative treatment center with offices in Newton, Massachusetts, and Londonderry, New Hampshire, serving clients from preschool through young adulthood and their families. For more information, please email info@nesca-newton.com or call 617-658-9800.

Mindfulness in Schools

By | NESCA Notes 2017

 

By:  Ann-Noelle McCowan, M.S., RYT
Guidance Counselor; Yoga Specialist

Open Google and type in Mindfulness in Schools and you are presented with a buffet of resources. What was once seen as an alternative idea has become mainstream. But what is Mindfulness and why is it something that deserves a place in schools?

Mindfulness was originally developed as part of the 8 Fold Path of Buddhism. With mindfulness, your attention would be turned inward and also impact your relationship with the world through mindful actions and behaviors.  Now it is scientifically studied and found in locations like professional locker rooms, jails and hospitals to fortune 500 companies like Nike, Google and Apple. Advancements in brain imaging show that a regular mindfulness practice creates increased activity in the areas of the brain associated with working memory, executive function, emotional regulation, perspective taking and empathy, with decreases in the areas of the brain associated with depression, PTSD and stress (correlated with a decrease in amygdala size).

Mindfulness’ increased popularity may be due to the fact that it is an adaptable, take with you anywhere antidote to a society that is increasingly fast-paced and technology focused. In a global world, it helps us feel both connected to ourselves and grounded where we are. More adults and kids are feeling stressed, anxious and depressed, and mindfulness can help soothe our worries without negative side effects.

Schools are responsible for teaching children skills and information across many content areas, yet how often are children taught the best way to pay attention, or how to use attention?  Attention is the lens through which all of our experiences are filtered through, yet it is rarely directly and specifically taught! Mindfulness is at its core simply focusing on a single thing at a time, in a particular way, without evaluation. It is an invaluable life skill for helping children be successful students as well as happy well adjusted and connected children. An informal survey of my colleagues and friends found that yoga and mindfulness are being adapted to various school settings.  From class transitions that begin with listening bells, rounds of belly breathing before assessments, calming scented oils on cotton balls in the nurse’s’ office,  books clubs with teachers, introductions to mindfulness apps in health class and mindfulness or yoga activities and clubs.  mindfulness is staking its place in schools.

When introducing mindfulness in classrooms and schools the following steps help outline ways to weave mindfulness into classrooms and schools.

1. Learn More. 

Starting with this blog post the internet is full of articles and videos to explore.
How Meditation Can Reshape Our Brains: Sara Lazar at TEDxCambridge 2011
https://www.nytimes.com/guides/well/mindfulness-for-children
Kids getting lessons in mindfulness in school – Today’s Parent

2. Model Mindfulness and Practice Yourself. 

You can’t teach what you don’t know. Practicing mindfulness will help you be aware of your own reactions if at first your students are squirmy or resistant. Keep in mind that students may not use the words you expect to describe their experience, listen for what is behind their words.

3. In an age-appropriate way, explain how mindfulness is beneficial for them. 

My teens love learning about how their brain works and that mindfulness is a form of training for their brain.

Some videos for younger  kids:

4. Teach about the monkey or animal mind. 

Children of all ages enjoy the practice of noticing how many places their thoughts go and how quickly thoughts connect to others. There are fantastic books for younger kids such as Moody Cow Meditates and  Mindful Monkey, Happy Panda.  Teens understand how if walk into class and see their friend laugh with a peer after a glance towards them their thoughts immediately race…. “ “what did I do” …“ they are mad”…“I’m not going to have a partner for this project”… “ there goes my secrets, begin the rumors”… “I’ll be left out of the weekend plans” … “I’ll be alone forever”.  Teach them to acknowledge the chatter but not get caught in it.

5. Start small. 

Begin with 1-3 minutes at the start of class directing kids to feel their seat in their seat, their feet on the floor, their hands on their lap and intentionally take 5-10 long inhales and exhales. Other ideas:

  • Practice silent snack one day a week, take a mindful walk as a class and have them focus on their senses and record it in their own journal ( words or visuals) when back in the classroom. Create a mindful space in a corner of your room with coloring books, pencils, cushions as a safe break place.
  • For kids it may be hard to focus on a single item at a time, so use manipulatives. A Hoberman Sphere, Pinwheels or feathers to demonstrate breath.  Build Worry Jars, adapt Chutes and Ladders or other familiar games with mindful exercises. Use one of the many Yoga Card Decks.

6. There’s an App for this!

Ironic perhaps to use technology but most kids love technology and it offers choice and control. Try  “Calm.com”, “Stop, Breathe and Think”, “Smiling Mind” or the “Insight Meditation Timer” (after medications my kids love to check out the world map and see all the locations where people are meditating!).  Try a classroom program such as http://www.innerexplorer.org/.

7. Be consistent.

Greater benefits and habits are created when mindfulness is done repeatedly. Colleagues who practice mindfulness daily, even for a few minutes notice the impact is greater than if  done sporadically.

Mindfulness is good for us and our children and has a natural place in our schools. Benefits abound like enhanced attention, self-regulation, social competence, as well as greater kindness and compassion. After I have practiced mindfulness with my students or clients they look different, calmer and relaxed and ask for it again. I too notice the rest of my day feels more manageable and my smile is broader. Enjoy adding mindfulness to your classroom or express your hope to your child’s teacher or school leaders that mindfulness be a part of your child’s school experience.

About the Author:

McCowan

Ann-Noelle provides therapeutic yoga-counseling sessions individually designed for each child. NESCA therapeutic yoga establishes a safe space for a child to face their challenges while nourishing their innate strengths using the threefold combination of yoga movement, yoga breath, and yoga thinking.

Ann-Noelle has worked with children and adolescents since 2001 and practiced yoga and meditation since 2005. Since 2003 she has been employed full time as a school counselor in a local high performing school district, and prior to that was employed in the San Francisco Public Schools. Ann-Noelle received her dual Masters Degree (MS) in Marriage, Family and Child Therapy (MFCC), and School Counseling from San Francisco State University in 2002, her BA from Union College in New York, and her 200 hour-Registered Yoga Credential (RYT) from Shri Yoga. Ann-Noelle completed additional Yoga training including the Kid Asana Program in 2014, Trauma in Children in 2016 and Adaptive yoga for Parkinson’s in 2014.

For more information on the therapeutic yoga at NESCA, please visit  https://nesca-newton.com/yoga/

 

 

 

Neuropsychology & Education Services for Children & Adolescents (NESCA) is a pediatric neuropsychology practice and integrative treatment center with offices in Newton, Massachusetts, Plainville, Massachusetts, and Londonderry, New Hampshire, serving clients from preschool through young adulthood and their families. For more information, please email info@nesca-newton.com or call 617-658-9800.