Helping Kids with Attention Issues: We Can Do Better – Tips & Resources

stim_salesJudge by rising rates of ADHD diagnoses and medication prescriptions (quintupling over the past 12 years), it would seem that we’ve really got a national epidemic at hand.

Or do we?

A recent New York Times article reveals some disturbing news:

The rise of A.D.H.D. diagnoses and prescriptions for stimulants over the years coincided with a remarkably successful two-decade campaign by pharmaceutical companies to publicize the syndrome and promote the pills to doctors, educators and parents….

* * *

Behind that growth has been drug company marketing that has stretched the image of classic A.D.H.D. to include relatively normal behavior like carelessness and impatience, and has often overstated the pills’ benefits. Advertising on television and in popular magazines like People and Good Housekeeping has cast common childhood forgetfulness and poor grades as grounds for medication that, among other benefits, can result in “schoolwork that matches his intelligence” and ease family tension.

A 2002 ad for Adderall showed a mother playing with her son and saying, “Thanks for taking out the garbage.”

So maybe it’s no surprise that stimulant prescriptions for children skyrocketed from 600,000 in 1990 to 3.5 million today. ADHD “is the second most frequent long-term diagnosis made in children, narrowly trailing asthma.” The creator of one of the most used tests for ADHD has described these prescription trends as “a national disaster of dangerous proportions.”

roger_griggsEven Roger Griggs, the pharmaceutical executive who introduced Adderall in 1994, said he strongly opposes marketing stimulants to the general public because of their dangers. He calls them “nuclear bombs,” warranted only under extreme circumstances and when carefully overseen by a physician.”

These experts advise that stimulants are for classic ADHD – a legitimate disability that impedes success at school, work and in personal life. Historically, an estimated 5% of children have classic ADHD.

Still, it’s worth looking at what else we can do for them, as well as those who just have trouble sustaining and shifting attention or controlling their impulses (a more typical child development issue).

ADHD vs. ADHD-like Behavior

In our course ADHD: The Mind-Body Connection, Dr. Jeff Sosne notes that our home and school environments can actually set the stage for behavior that looks like ADHD but isn’t.

steamFor instance, consider the demands for attention made on children in overly structured lives. There’s increased academic pressure and heavy homework loads, even at the K-5 level. There may be afterschool obligations such as sports, music, tutoring, church and service groups, or lessons of some sort. While such activities may be pursued for personal pleasure or enrichment, they’re just as often used to sweeten a youth’s “resume” for later schooling.

The resulting stress easily leads to distracted or “wild” behavior, as children find it harder and harder to conform to such demands.

Diet, Sleep and Exercise

Much can be accomplished through making sure the child eats right, gets enough exercise and adequate sleep, and has opportunities for unstructured play.

According to Dr. Sosne, we see a big reduction of symptoms when these basic human needs are met – whether the child actually has ADHD or not. Children become more able to learn practices that can help them improve their ability to focus, pay attention and self-regulate. These, in turn, support ongoing healthy habits, for through them, kids are nurtured into mindfulness, including awareness of their bodies and what their bodies are telling them.

Skills-Building

Practicing and developing eye contact, listening and waiting skills are a few of the 10 key strategies Dr. Sosne teaches parents and children through the recreational therapy classes at his clinic and in his PSU course for teachers and therapists.

Here’s an example of one such activity, an extra from our Kids Teach Yoga: Flying Eagle DVD:

Outdoor Time for Attention Fatigue & ADHD

walkSubstantial research has shown that “symptoms” of ADHD-inattention and impulsivity-are reduced after exposure to natural views and settings (Kuo & Faber Taylor, 2004).

According to Kaplan, natural environments assist in recovery from attention fatigue, in part because they engage the mind effortlessly, providing a respite from having to deliberately direct attention. Thus, the sense of rejuvenation commonly experienced after spending time in natural settings may in part reflect a systematic restorative effect on directed attention.

Yoga Calm’s co-founder, Jim Gillen, observed this same response in the 1990s when working with at-risk and “ADHD youth” in the collection of environmental data as part of his National Science Foundation program: “Our youth data gatherers consistently showed fewer of the attention problems in natural areas than where reported in the classroom.”

Jim’s observations, along with Lynea’s Outdoor School experience and Leah Schuyler’s eco-psychology background, led to the development of their Yoga Calm environmental education curriculum. You can learn this curriculum and its unique interdisciplinary approach in their April 12-13, Love, Knowledge and Action course.

More Tips & Resources

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4 Tips for Implementing Yoga Calm in Your School

by Lynn Hernandez, school principal and Certified Yoga Calm Youth Instructor

Class Up Mtn

After attending Yoga Calm training last February I was so excited about the possibilities at my school for both students and staff.  I knew that these mindful movement activities would help students develop self-confidence, self-regulation strategies and positive social and emotional skills. I was also aware that new professional development ideas could get lost a few weeks after the training because of classroom and school demands.  As an administrator, I wanted to make sure that Yoga Calm activities had a chance to make a difference.  Here are some things that I found to be successful in the implementation of Yoga Calm in the classroom:

  •  Commit to doing Yoga Calm daily:  Establish a routine and make it part of your daily plan.  If you make sure students are part of the plan, they’ll never let you forget or allow you to replace it.  In our fourth grade, each student has a “classroom job.”   Two Managers of Wellness lead the class in Yoga Calm routines each morning.  One of our second grade teachers has students do the same routine each day after coming in from recess.
  • Find a buddy:  Ideally, you were able to attend training with someone else in your school.  Continue to share ideas, routines, struggles, questions and celebrations.  If you work in different grade levels, perhaps you can be “buddy classrooms” and get together to do routines/activities together.  Each of our primary classrooms is paired with an intermediate class.  Buddy rooms get together to teach each other their routines. If you attended training alone, share the information with a like-minded colleague.  Invite them to be a part of the Yoga Calm experience.
  • Invite other staff members to your classroom when you teach a Yoga Calm routine or social/emotional activity:  The psychologist, social worker and special ed teachers who support struggling students can learn from you and may offer some additional ideas.  Ask your principal to come in and observe.  Not only can they offer direct support to students by incorporating some of the techniques you demonstrate, but they may also offer to send other staff members to training once they see the value of Yoga Calm in classroom/school behavior.
  • Track data, like the increase in time students are able to attend to independent reading or writing. Or try doing routines regularly before any assessments, and gather data about test scores and student perceptions about how they felt before a test. Keep track of those students who begin to use Yoga Calm techniques independently when they know they need to take a break. Has the implementation of Yoga Calm in your classroom resulted in fewer students having to leave the room because of behavior issues? Track it, and prove it makes a difference

It’s up to us to create an environment where students can thrive. Yoga Calm empowers staff to get creative in building a calm, caring and thoughtful classroom community.    By committing to its implementation, it can make a difference in student learning and emotional growth.  Good luck as you continue the journey.


LynnHernandez Lynn Hernandez has been an educator for over 20 years. For the past ten years she has been the principal of Diamond Path Elementary School of International Studies in Apple Valley, Minnesota. She attended Yoga Calm training in February 2013, and that June became a certified Yoga Calm Youth Instructor. In 2013, Lynn brought Kathy Flaminio, the Yoga Calm National Training Director, to present at her school. So far, thirteen staff members have attended training, and teachers and other staff throughout the building are regularly implementing the strategies they have learned.

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What Is Your Call of Duty?

What’s going on with our boys?

fightThese days, I’m asked this question a lot by parents and teachers alike. This school year alone, I have done more staff trainings and have been asked to observe and assist teachers more than ever before with respect to boys’ behavior issues. Hyperactivity, aggressive behavior, obsession with video games, inability to focus…the list seems to grow longer every day.

The causes are many – something we address in our Boys and Coyotes course – and discussed frequently by professionals, but one that comes up time and again are video games.

This fall, I’ve been making a point when I teach Yoga Calm in public school classrooms to ask children directly about their video game play. What I’ve heard has been sometimes alarming, such as second and third grade boys expressing their love of graphically violent games like Call of Duty.

Not familiar with the game? Neither was I. So I looked it up:

The cavalier nature of this trailer – regular-looking teenage boys blowing up things to the fun and lively music of Frank Sinatra – is disconcerting, even disturbing. What kind of message does a 7 or 8 year old take away from something like this?

One thing they think is that the violence doesn’t matter if they’re killing monsters – the gist of another Call of Duty spin-off. “It’s not a big deal, Mrs. Gillen,” they say. “We’re just fighting zombies!” But these aren’t the vintage, B-movie zombies you might remember from your own childhood:

I recently showed these trailers to a group of adults, and a few of the teachers turned their heads, unable to watch, it was so disturbing. I asked them to notice how their bodies felt after watching. “Disgusted,” they reported, “like I want to throw up.”

And that was after only two minutes, I said. Imagine how young minds and hearts must feel after a half hour of this.

“Or two hours!” one teacher remarked. “Some of my students are playing these games for two hours a day.”

Another said, “No wonder these boys have trouble sitting in the classroom.”

gamersWhile violent games bring unique impacts and challenges, violence isn’t the only problem. Saga-type games can consume attention, as children get hooked on beating each level. I consistently have kids reporting that they’ve stayed up until two or three in the morning because they want to “get to the next level.” Such games exert a powerful hold over children, their emotions, imagination…

And that’s part of why the American Academy of Pediatrics is ringing the bell about media consumption and addiction. They recently issued new media guidelines for kids – and they couldn’t be any more straightforward:

  • Children should be limited to less than two hours a day of entertainment-based screen time – unless they’re younger than two. In that case, they should have no screen time at all.
  • Kids should not have TV or Internet access in their bedrooms.
  • Parents should watch TV and movies with their children and monitor Internet usage.

Of course, parents are up against some powerful forces themselves – namely, the manufacturers, marketers, retailers and the like who put plenty of money and muscle into making sure consumers stay hooked.

As psychologist and media expert Dr. Doreen Dodgen-Magee suggests in a recent post on her plugged in blog, stirring up excitement over each new game release – and creating bigger profit bonanzas each time – is just the beginning. While sales figures may be “staggering,” she says, they do

nothing to address the number of hours which will be spent attempting to master the game in these first few days of release. in addition, games such as this are immersive and stick with players. long after they leave the screen, the game is still occupying important regions of players’ internal dialogue and thought. those who attempt to be counter cultural or who cannot afford to give in to the frenzy will spend plenty of emotional capital consoling themselves (understandably…the social pressures are great).

Indeed, investment in the present media and digital universe is more than monetary. We pay with ongoing emotional investment in the games, movies, shows, music and such, not to mention the growing sense that our gadgets are extensions of ourselves. Take away someone’s iPhone and it’s like you’ve taken away a part of their Self.

If it can be like that for us as adults, how much more so for children?

Yet it’s important to be clear that the problem isn’t necessarily with screens or even the media itself (though as above, plenty of content is certainly problematic). As Dr. David Walsh notes in his excellent book Smart Parenting, Smarter Kids,

The proliferation of electronic screens and digital technologies in our kids’ lives, including video games, TV, cell phones, and the Internet, present both opportunity as well as risk for our kids. [Some find] ways to maximize the benefits of these digital technologies (no doubt receiving a fair amount of guidance and help from adults in their lives), while [for others’] twenty-four seven digital connectivity was creating anxiety, obsessive behavior, and lots of conflict. All these kids are good kids, with parents who care about them. But raising kids in the digital age sometimes feels like navigating without a map, in a landscape filled with both treasure, and trash. [emphasis added]

The answer, however, is not to go screenless – something that may well be impossible by this stage of the current technological revolution. The key, rather, is to be both knowledgeable and mindful about how we use them (we’re role models, whether we like it or not) and how we raise our kids to use them. Rules and limits lovingly provided help children learn how to use media and technology responsibly.

For just as we want them to be tech-savvy, we also want them to be socially- and emotionally-savvy, as well, developing positive, healthy, real world, face-to-face relationships with family, friends, colleagues and all other humans with lives their own lives intersect. (This is something we’ve blogged about before – for instance, here and here and here.)

At this time of year, as new tech toys and media enter your children’s lives in the form of holiday gifts, there’s a perfect opportunity to create family guidelines you can all agree to (if you’ve not already done so). Some tips to get you started:

Fight image by Aislinn Ritchie,
gaming image by sean dreilinger, via Flickr

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11 Ideas for Cultivating Gratitude in the K-8 Classroom

In our work with teachers and counselors around the United States, we are in a unique position to see what trends and common issues face schools.

yc_gratOne particularly strong trend is an emphasis on social and emotional learning (SEL) to help students to succeed in a complex and rapidly changing world. This is no surprise to teachers. They know that the time spent in building classroom community and social/emotional skills pays handsomely in positive attitudes and greater classroom productivity.

A growing body of research validates these teachers’ years of experience, demonstrating that developing students’ social and emotional competence is essential for both academic and life success. It’s shown that SEL positively affects the process of teaching and learning, addresses issues like bullying and discipline, improves school climate, and makes a positive difference in the lives of children and youth.

“So, how do we fit SEL lessons into a packed curriculum?” educators often ask.

A year ago, Lynea and another experienced counselor, Caroline Jones, used CASEL’s research to review and distill their most effective SEL activities from their combined 60+ years of counseling experience into our newest course, Thrive! Social/Emotional Learning for Academic and Life Success.

I Can Be Grateful

An important part of the Thrive! curriculum is developing gratitude. Studies show that doing so can help maintain a more positive mood, contribute to greater emotional well-being, relieve stress and increase academic performance.

Just in time for Thanksgiving, here are 11 quick and easy ways to help nurture a sense of gratitude to nourish them long after “gratitude season” is over. Give one or more a whirl – and be sure to let us know how it goes by sharing your class’ experience in the comments!

  1. Grate-full-ness Moments
    Have students share things for which they are grateful or something specific a classmate has done that was helpful, kind, thoughtful, etc. Sprinkle these moments throughout the day.
  2. Gratitude Journals
    Have one available for the whole class or individual ones for the students.
  3. Gratitude Wall
    Devote bulletin board or wall space for students to write their comments of gratitude.
  4. Gratitude Placemats
    Have students decorate their own paper placemats for a class party with things like quotes, synonyms, quality values, gratitude statements and pictures.
  5. Gratitude Notes
    Have students write notes of appreciation to others in class and around the school, including bus drivers, school board members, support staff, teachers, subs, other students, etc.
  6. “Diamond” Words
    Taking after Robert Bender’s Toads and Diamonds – a retelling of the the French fairy tale “The Fairies” – have students make individual mail pockets to receive gratitude notes from each other.
  7. Gratitude Garland
    Write thank you sentences on strips of construction paper and staple into a garland. Some schools start the garland at the office and wrap throughout the whole building. Others might do it in their building’s wings or just classrooms.
  8. Gratitude Quotes
    Have students find quotes about being grateful or write their own. You can also supply some quotes.
  9. Gratitude Doodling
    Have students draw something or someone for whom they are grateful. They can also use free-form doodling and share what their doodle means at a class meeting.
  10. Gratitude Ribbon Game
    Get a large spool of ribbon and give it to a student in the first row who keeps hold of the ribbon but passes the spool to the next person. This should continue until every student is holding onto a piece of the ribbon. Then use an object with a hole in it and give it to the student with the first piece of ribbon. As you play music, the students should pass the object along. When the music stops, whoever is holding the object has to give a compliment to the person sitting to their left. If time, continue playing until every student has been the recipient of a compliment.
  11. Gratitude Dance
    Show the “Gratitude Dance” on YouTube and have the students dance along. If they get excited about this, they can video themselves at various places around the school doing the gratitude dance. This video can be shared at class meetings or an assembly.
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Things That Go Bang!

426At our recent Boys & Coyotes Course in Minneapolis, I asked a group of therapists, teachers and other educational professionals, “What do you know about boys?” Some of their answers:

  • They are active.
  • They like to play superheroes.
  • They make exploding noises.
  • They act first, then think.
  • Their love is very strong.
  • They like to be silly.
  • They are attracted to danger and risk.

Do other ideas come to mind when you think of boys?

One thing that may not have come to mind is that nationwide, boys are nearly twice as likely as girls to be suspended, make up two-thirds of special education students, are 1.5 times more likely to be held back a grade and are 2.5 times more likely to be given diagnoses of ADHD. Mirroring these national statistics, I noticed that 80-90% of the children being referred to my school counseling sessions were boys.

Which led me to ask if we are missing something vitally important in the education of boys and how can we better serve their needs?

An answer came to me one day when a group of 6th grade boys were in my counseling office. I had just received a beautiful new doll house as a gift from a parent. The girls in my counseling groups immediately rushed to fill it with furniture and design the inside of the house.

The boys had a different response to the doll house.

When one of the boys asked if the others wanted to play in the doll house, they responded by rolling their eyes and giving him the are you kidding?! look. Then the one boy said, “It doesn’t have to be nice. There could be a flood.”

So began months of lively play in the doll house.

The boys didn’t play inside the house; they played outside of it. It was loud and energetic. There were tsunamis, earthquakes, evacuations and “giant baby attacks!” Their play was fascinating to me. They had a sense of humor and found more ways of attacking the house than I could imagine

454

What I began to realize is that their play wasn’t as much about destruction but what to do in response to these emergencies. They were practicing being protectors and warriors.

Suddenly, all those characteristics listed above began to make sense.

For centuries, men have been the protectors and warriors of the community. And what are the skills needed to be protectors? Strong love, action, physical strength and sometimes weapons. When I began to understand this, I began to look at their play in a very different way. Instead of fearing their desire to use weapons, play monsters and be loud and aggressive, I began to see it as warrior training.

455Getting back to the question of why there is such a high percentage of boys in my counseling groups, I thought that part of it could be that my school and many others were now limiting extroverted, physical play by cutting back on PE and recess – all while requiring kids to sit more and more during the school day. And worse yet, though elementary school children developmentally have less self control than older children, these schools now have less tolerance for “rough play” than high schools. Making this even more difficult for young boys (and girls) is that that modern media encourages, even romanticizes, violence as a solution to conflict.

Video games in particular have captured this attraction in boys (and adult men, too) with their creation of extremely violent warrior games. In addition to more than 1,000 studies pointing to causal connections between media violence and aggressive behavior in children, another problem with these games is that they missing the story of the essence of the warrior.

At the heart of warrior actions is protection of community, love, ethical behavior. In history and in mythology, great warriors and heroes are revered for their sense of loyalty and honor. Here is one example we mention in our Boys & Coyotes course about the ethics of a warrior taken from martial arts:

The Code of a True Warrior includes
Courtesy, Honesty, Integrity, Perseverance, Self-Control, Indomitable Spirit, Humility, Loyalty and Sportsmanship. Aggression and violence are always the last resort of a true warrior, because protection of life is hallmark. When the true story of the warrior is missing, and violence is trained for violence sake, the greater qualities of the warrior are undeveloped and this is a dangerous to society and the world at large.

Here are a few of our favorite activities to help children to explore and develop their personal power in a responsible way and in support of community and the world we live in; to develop their strength and character in order to meet challenges in a way that honors life and the true warrior in each of us:

Activate / Relax Walk

Our Activate / Relax Walk is a great activity that can be used in classrooms and other settings to help children develop self-regulation, focus and ability to follow directions, make transitions and shift attention. It is also a great movement break or warm up activity that that develops imagination and is accessible to a wide range of students. Kids love this activity, and so will you. We teach this activity in our Integrated Approach to Wellness 1 course.

Archetype Game Lesson Plan

Our Archetype Game from our book Yoga Calm for Children is another excellent activity for helping children develop personal awareness and the ability to discriminate between different aspects of ourselves and use them in positive ways. Download a copy of the activity from our book, as well as this wonderful class plan Certified Yoga Calm Instructor Stephanie Swift created with the Archetype Game that includes a writing assignment.

This lesson plan, and hundreds more like it, are available through our Yoga Calm Membership Program. This program for Certified Instructors also includes dozens of training videos with children’s health and wellness experts, clothing and product discounts (e.g., Prana, Lucy, Lululemon) and discounts on courses and workshops.

Find out more about the benefits and process of Certification here.

And to learn more about the importance of movement and “rough” play and the need for boys to find meaning, initiation and physical connection to the world, join us at our next Boys & Coyotes course here in Portland, Oregon, October 26-27, 2013. Using traditional stories of animals and current mythology such as Star Wars, we explore the warrior archetype and its importance in addressing the global challenges of this era. We also learn how to provide healthy alternatives to violent media and video games, where boys can explore their power in safe ways and learn that the true heart of the warrior is to protect goodness and help instead of harm.

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The Emerging Field of Contemplative Science & How It Can Help Us Help Kids Thrive

relaxed+kidsIt seems “mindfulness” has hit the big time. A simple news search of the term in Google typically brings up several thousand results. It seems everybody’s talking about it.

One reason why is just our search for solutions to the increasing pressure and uncertainty we feel subjected to, children and adults alike. But there’s also been a wealth of new research in recent years showing just how beneficial mindfulness practices can be at work, home and, of course, at school.

Just last month, a study out of the University of California, Santa Barbara, found that undergraduates who went through a two week intensive mindfulness training demonstrated better focus, improved working memory and higher reading comprehension scores. Another, from the University of Exeter, focused on tweens and teens. Those who received mindfulness training reported fewer depressive symptoms, lower stress and a greater sense of well-being than those who did not participate in the training.

Meantime, conferences like Bridging the Hearts and Minds of Youth – which we presented at earlier this year in San Diego along with Jon Kabat-Zinn – help bring the science and its practical applications to educators, therapists, clinicians and others who work with youth.

In fact, a new domain has emerged for the systematic study of the effects of mindfulness, as well as yoga and other contemplative practices, on the body, brain, mind and social relationships – a field called “Contemplative Science.”

RoeserOne of the contributors to this movement – and a Yoga Calm advisor – is Dr. Rob Roeser, a professor of psychology at Portland State University whose current research focuses primarily on how schools affect both academic and non-academic aspects of “whole persons” across childhood, adolescence and emerging adulthood.

Professor Roeser has also established the Culture and Contemplation in Education Laboratory (CaCiEL) at PSU to study how the introduction of developmentally and cultural appropriate contemplative practices into mainstream schools may prove to be a novel way of reducing stress, enhancing well-being, strengthening motivation and self-regulatory capacity, and cultivating clear and compassionate forms of awareness among educators, staff, and students alike.

We are honored to have Dr. Roeser slated to talk about this emerging science at our Summer Intensive at Still Meadow Retreat, June 17 to 23. His interactive “Train Your Mind, Change Your Brain” presentation will offer new findings, guiding questions and issues surrounding the use of contemplative practices in schools.

Here’s how he describes his special focus on the preschool and middle school years in particular:

Research shows that the crowning achievement of human cognitive activity – those prefrontal cortex processes that allow for deliberate, top-down self-regulation of behavior, emotion and cognition, develop most rapidly during the preschool years (ages 3-7) and the middle school (ages 10-14) years (Zelazo & Carlson, 2013). These processes include things like planning, reflection, mental flexibility, and self-control.

Furthermore, there are indications that contemplative practices like mindfulness meditation and yoga can shape these so-called “executive function processes” during these critical years when such processes are highly malleable and still forming (Roeser & Zelazo, 2012). The question is, can contemplative training during these “sensitive periods” in the development of EF confer a lifetime of positive mental habits on children and youth that conduce towards health, well-being, and satisfying relationships with others? Investigating that question is a key goal of a newly emerging field of study called “Developmental Contemplative Science.”

The video below – featuring another key researcher in this new field, Dr. Adele Diamond – gives further insight to the science underlying the field. Frankly, between these two scholars’ work, we’ve never seen anything else that so clearly supports the Yoga Calm approach to children’s holistic education.

Whether you’re a Yoga Calm newbie or an old pro, we hope you’ll join us for this year’s Intensive – a week of Wellness workshops in a beautiful retreat setting and presentations by guests like Dr. Roeser and Will Hornyak, who we told you about in our last post. Those new to our program will come away with a whole new set of skills, strategies and information to add to their work with children; Yoga Calm veterans will be renewed, refreshed and inspired.

There’s still time to register for this June event, but space is filling fast. Complete program details and online registration are available here.

Kids image by jlynn11235, via Flickr

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How Stories & Storytelling Make for Healthier, Happier, More Resilient Kids

Once upon a time…

There’s good reason why these four simple words almost instantly capture our interest. As if by magic, they may transport us back to childhood and the fairy tales read to us by our parents or earliest school teachers. They also hit an even more primal note in us.

For thousands of years, stories have been our way of making sense of the world and investing it with meaning – from archetypal tales of gods and goddesses to modern narratives that give voice to the interior lives of individuals coping with a world in flux. Storytelling is, in fact, an essentially human activity – one of the few things that makes us different from our fellow inhabitants on this planet. Think about how easily we lapse into it, how often we find ourselves shifting conversational gears with a phrase like, “This reminds me of the time….”

Connecting Through Our Stories

Narrative is one of the most basic tools for both understanding ourselves and relating to others. And this is why we are so pleased to be having master storyteller and teacher Will Hornyak as one of our guest speakers at our June 17-23 Summer Intensive.

will-H.-with-kids-short

With his special session “Story-Crafting,” Will promises fun and experiential activities to show how we can find and create stories to help us connect with our students, clients and children. The techniques and tools he’ll share for adapting stories and developing your own unique voice and style will also help you to compete with electronic media by engaging and developing kids’ attention.

Who says you can’t have fun, too, while becoming a more effective educator and therapist?!

The Stories That Bind Us

The crucial socialization and mental health role storytelling can play in children’s lives was highlighted in a recent New York Times article on the importance of family stories.

The more children knew about their family’s history, the stronger their sense of control over their lives, the higher their self-esteem and the more successfully they believed their families functioned. The “Do You Know?” scale [a tool for measuring familiarity with your family’s history] turned out to be the best single predictor of children’s emotional health and happiness.

IMG_3043Simply, the stronger and more defined their family’s narrative – the story of their collective life across generations – the more children understand that they are part of something much bigger than themselves and the better they can handle the ups and downs of life.

Yet as children’s lives have become more scheduled, as our own schedules have become ever busier; and as technology and a rapidly expanding media landscape have given us more opportunity for distraction and less relaxed, unplugged time together, storytelling – especially within families – has become something of a lost art. Where we used to have many regular occasions for talking with our loved ones, they may be fewer and farther between. And the less frequent our conversations, the more utilitarian they can tend to be, focused on practical business, not nurturing relationships, reinforcing connections.

Building Memory Scaffolds

This has consequences – not only on mental/emotional health but, in fact, the very efficiency of the brain. For instance, as Dr. David Walsh notes in Smart Parenting, Smarter Kids, one longitudinal study

found that parents and caregivers increase their children’s learning potential when they talk with their children about past events. The more elaborate the scaffolding is in the preschool years – the more knowledge a child has – the more brain locations he has in the future to which he can link new memories. When it comes to memory, the rich get richer.

Storytelling, he says, is one of the most powerful and effective ways to build that scaffolding on which other memories can hang, improving memory, learning and our sense of self.

To learn more about how Yoga Calm activities like storytelling help us to learn better and become more emotionally resilient, join us at Oregon’s Still Meadow Retreat this June for our annual Summer Intensive. Full details and online registration are available here.

Family image by gelle.dk, via Flickr

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