Block Creek and Outdoor Play

Are you looking for a fun, team building activity to take outside?

Block Creek is a social emotional game from the Yoga Calm Curriculum. This game is perfect for an informal setting (after-school class, club, family) or an intentional team building exercise (morning meeting, ice breakers etc.) It is an activity all ages and abilities can enjoy. In the classroom or studio, we recommend using yoga blocks on top of yoga mats. The blocks are staged about about 1 foot apart to create the “creek”, while the mat serves as a visual for the “water”. The object of the game is to stay on the blocks and not fall into the “water”.

To start, Block Creek is an activity that taps into physical balance. Using core strength and proprioception, this activity helps create a present moment awareness and appreciation. Besides the benefits for the body, this activity also fosters mental strength, concentration and focus.

There are different variations or challenges that increase focus. For example, have students look straight ahead and not at the blocks. Is it harder to focus without the visual input? What does this mean for your learning? Then, you could try to have students walk on the blocks with various distractors, such as loud music, noises or other visual input.

Once students are comfortable with the game, to bring in the social/emotional aspect, we offer the opportunity for partners. Students take turns as the leader and lead a blindfolded (or eyes shut) partner across the blocks. What did it feel like to be the follower? What did it feel like to be the leader? What skills were necessary for the leader and follower? This is a safe and fun way to explore the various roles needed for cooperative learning in social groups.

To bring the game outside, simply let nature be your guide! Look for rocks, tree stumps or other obstacles that could serve as a tool to practice balance, focus and trust.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Have you tried Block Creek? Could you see yourself trying this game outside? Leave a comment!

Be Well,

Stephanie Kennelly

 

Building Community and Trust Walk

Are you thinking of fun ways to build community in your classroom?

Trust Walk is a game found in the Yoga Calm curriculum. Students begin by choosing a partner. One partner will be the leader and the other, the follower. The follower closes his eyes and presents an index finger. The leader then leads the follower, with eyes closed and voices off, around the classroom. That’s it! That’s the game!

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However, there are many social emotional layers involved that make this game a student and teacher favorite.

We begin the activity with a discussion about the importance of body connection and communication. Without the sense of sight or sound, students must rely on sense of touch and body language.

After the activity, the followers were able to give compliments and specific feedback about what made a good leader. The follower extends an index finger, but the leader is able to choose how they will connect. Most students agreed that another hand supporting the wrist made the follower feel safe. Also, the speed of movement and careful turns made the follower feel comfortable.

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Then, the leaders share the factors that influenced their decisions. For example, watching the followers facial expressions gave clues about their comfort level. Was your partner smiling, maybe even giggling? Did your partner have furrowed eye brows? These discussions, of course, are also a metaphor for the social emotional connections happening in your classroom. Feeling safe, comfortable, and watching body cues are all important building blocks for a solid community.

Then, the partners switch. The leader becomes the follower and the follower becomes the leader. Who liked being the leader? Who liked being the follower? What did you like most about this game? What did you like least? How these questions are answered will tell you a lot about your classroom dynamics.

Here is another twist. I had the students form two lines, facing one another. One line closed their eyes and extended a finger. They were the followers. Then, the other line became the leaders and chose a follower! The followers did not know who was leading them. I once even said, “Choose someone who will be totally surprised that you chose them”, meaning, do not chose your best friend. It was fun to see the different partner combinations that emerged. When the round was over, before the follower opened their eyes, they had to guess. Once you have a community established, this is a fun way to see how in tune with each other your students have become.

Finally, for one more layer, add in a sensory adventure. The leaders presented the followers with various classroom objects. With only an index finger touch, the follower would have to guess the object. An eraser, a pencil, a chair! You could try this with items from your sensory/science table. It could be an anticipatory set for introducing artifacts or building vocabulary and background.

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Are you thinking about ways to build community through social emotional games? Would you play Trust Walk with your students? Leave a Comment!

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Be Well,

Stephanie Kennelly

Yoga Bingo and Games

Are you looking for a fun, movement based activity? Yoga Bingo is a great game for morning meeting, guest teachers or Fun Friday. Our Yoga Bingo cards offer an easy way to get everyone involved practicing yoga poses.

There is a lot to think about when teaching yoga poses and sometimes it can be intimidating to know where to begin! Yoga Bingo is the perfect solution. Not only is it a fun game that has immediate buy-in, but the students are positioned as leaders, taking the responsibility off of the teacher.

To begin, the student leader chooses a movement instruction card, reads the cues and models the pose. The rest of the class follows. Then, just like regular bingo, students cover the pose if it appears on their board. Continue until someone calls, “Yoga Bingo!” The winning student then reads off each pose covered on the game board, while modeling the pose as well.

Looking for a moment of sanity with indoor recess? The regular routine out of whack with assemblies and field trips? My little yogis were finding it difficult to regulate without our normal routines. Yoga Bingo offered a fun, game-like, approach to our Mindful Movement. Once the game started, the energy shifted and the room calmed. I looked around the room and noticed serious, focused facial expressions. If you want to win, which everyone does, you have to stay focused and know the poses to cover.

I especially love that you can get students into a leadership position as the “caller”. I even chose two leaders: one to read the card and one to model the pose. This is a great option if you have a student that isn’t a strong reader or a student that might be hesitant to participate in the poses.

I know I am keeping this effective and easy to implement game on hand! The set includes 30 bingo cards, 26 movement instruction cards and game instructions. Click here to buy it from our store.

Have you tried yoga based games? Do you think you could use this game in your work? Leave a Comment!

Be Well,
Stephanie Kennelly

Mindful Movement and Boys

Social emotional education can help our boys navigate through life’s challenges and joys in a way that fully engages heart, mind and body.

The stereotype of who can “do yoga” is drastically changing. From NFL players sweating it out during hot yoga to professional bodybuilders adding yoga into their routine, the physical benefits of yoga are universally accepted. The images of masculine role models in yoga poses help solidify the belief that this movement is accessible for all genders! However, yoga is not just a physical practice. 1000 Petals believes that these movements are the starting point for emotional and social well being.

Providing a non-verbal pathway to social emotional learning can be incredibly powerful for boys. Teachers are amazed that it is often the boys in class who take our Moving and Learning Residency program the most serious. They are excited to be leaders and engage in the curriculum more enthusiastically than if the materially were only presented verbally. It is not only the teachers who are noticing these changes. Parents are also providing overwhelmingly positive feedback. The below quotes are from parents of third grade boys.

Here are four reasons why you should consider Mindful Movement for your boys.

Anger Management

“It has been great to see my son be able to calm and center himself when needed using volcano breaths. It helps him find focus during times that might otherwise lead to escalation and a meltdown.”

“He’s able to walk away when he gets worked up, breathe through his emotions, and come back much clearer and with action items.”

“He has used breathing techniques and yoga poses when he feels tension to control the stressful moment.”

 

Reduction in Anxiety 

“Every student needs anxiety management tools every now and then. I hope learning these techniques this year will give him a leg up in that regard that he can rely on for years to come.”

“My son’s anxiety levels have significantly decreased over the course of this school year. I’d say his most used tactic is breathing and getting himself centered.”

“I frequently catch my son closing his eyes and practice deep breathing skills. It’s  taught him to relax when he’s feeling overwhelmed or frustrated.”

“My son has learned the impact of his breath and how it affects both his body and mind. That the breath can control anxiety.”

“Since learning how a mindfulness practice in the classroom, he falls asleep more quickly at night.”

 

Bringing Together Families 

“My son has taught us techniques to keep calm and to have good control over your attention during the present moment. Witnessing him slow down and use mindfulness is quite amazing to see as a parent.”

“It’s great having a partner to practice yoga with also!”

 

Increase in Motivation and Optimism 

“He has had his most successful year in school and enjoys going more than ever. I believe very strongly that this has to do with what he has learned!”

“Teaching kids at a young age to implement this into their life growing into adults, has so many positive benefits!”

What results have you seen with yoga and boys? Leave a comment!

Be Well,

Stephanie Kennelly

Closing the Year and Compliments

“They may forget what you said, but they will never forget how you made them feel.”

As the year comes to a close and I look around my classroom, I see the artifacts of academics. The Mayan Temple, the diagram of the solar system, the poster of geometric shapes. I reflect on the hours of planning and preparation that went into my instruction. I also think about what I have learned this year. I think about what my students have taught me. I think about bravery.

I think about a student who was incredibly shy. English is her second language and she was self-conscious about possible mistakes. At the beginning of the school year, she wouldn’t share more than one-word answers. At lunch, she would sit and listen, never directly responding to conversations.

Around mid-year, I gave her a journal. By the end of the month, she had filled every single page. So, I gave her another journal… and she filled that too! One day, she asked me if she could share some of her writing. With a clear and confident voice, she read a poem she’d written. It was beautiful. I showered her with praise and through a smile she said, “Writing makes me feel brave.”

Reflecting on this student, I felt the need to share with her what she had taught me. However, my thoughts began to multiply as I realized every student had somehow made an impact on me. We had all made contributions to each other. They needed to be recognized. Our friends at Yoga Calm use the Compliment Game in their curriculum both to build community in the beginning and as a culmination.

From here, I launched a class-wide compliment challenge: write a high-quality compliment for each student in class. This got me thinking… what makes a good compliment?

I began by bringing the class to a place of stillness. With our eyes closed, we envisioned our community. The healthy relationships we had built over the year rested on communication, teamwork, and social engagement.

Working through the CASEL standards for social emotional learning, students were able to demonstrate their understanding of community. I brought in the ELA standards and connected the compliments to the character traits we had been applying during our literacy block.

To teach the compliment process, I used the acronym “ACT.”

A is for ACTION
Think of a specific positive action you observed.
“I observed Nora return her library books.”

C is for CHARACTER TRAIT
Think of a character trait that would describe someone acting that way.
“Nora is responsible.”

T is for TEACH Me
Think about what that action can teach you.
“This taught me the importance of staying organized.”

“Nora, I noticed that you always return your library books. I appreciate your responsibility and it has taught me the importance of staying organized.”

My students crafted compliments for each other using this technique. I encourage you to give it a try as a way to honor students. Take the time and make space to give and receive meaningful compliments. Life as a teacher begins the day you realize you are a learner along with your students.

Here is the compliment I wrote to my writer:
I see before me a girl with a story to share. I watched as you filled two notebooks with your writing. I notice you are always listening. You are always thinking and aware of the world around you. When you shared your writing in front of the class, I connected with your bravery. You taught me the importance of sharing my story. You inspired me to rediscover my love of writing. You taught me to be brave.
Love, Mrs. Kennelly

As I watch the bus pull out of the parking lot, I see my students’ smiling faces through the window. I am thankful for how much I have learned this year. The teacher in me, honors the teacher in you.

Have you used compliments? How did you close the year? Leave a Comment!

Be Well,
Stephanie Kennelly

Move Mindfully Card Deck and Choice

As the school year continues on, I am finding myself using every ounce of effort I have to stay grounded. Did I leave my water bottle somewhere? Shoot, I forgot to write the newsletter! I’m not sure if I’ll have the projects ready to present by Friday. I see my students feeling increasingly scattered as well.

This week, I am using a new 1000-Petals product, the Move Mindfully Card Deck  as a reminder to check in with the body. It keeps the movement fresh and interesting by allowing for student choice and creativity.

The deck contains a card featuring an image of each pose. The back of the card lists the pose name, a positive affirmation and a cue into the pose for every principle.

 


Here are a few ways we have used the deck.

Whole Class
I started by spreading out the cards on my table. In invited my yoga leader back to choose 5-10 cards and create a routine. I was amazed, that without prompting, all of the leaders were able to create routines that followed a few basic principles. Begin with breath, then movement such as a balance pose followed by a forward fold, and end in a resting pose. They had internalized this flow without even knowing it! We know as educators that giving choice is incredibly motivating. It was so powerful for the leaders to create a routine.

 

 

Note: As the teacher, feel free to move cards around as needed in the sequence or offer less options.

I took a picture of the routine on my iPad and using AirPlay, projected the image onto the TV. From there, the cards could then be turned over, word side up.

 

 

Next, I chose two additional leaders. Once student led the poses in the font of the class and the other gave the verbal cues on the back of the card, starting with the pose name and affirmation. When reading the cues, choose one principle as a theme. I also like going through the routine twice, since there will be more success the second time around.

 

 

Don’t have time for students to create a routine? Or, you want to target something specific? Also included in the deck are suggested routines for a variety of concerns such as anger, transition and anxiety. The cards are even numbered for easy identification.

Individual Students
The teachers and paraprofessionals working with individual students found the deck beneficial as well!

A first grade student chose three poses in the morning. Then, throughout the day, the teacher would reference the poses to encourage body regulation.

 

      

 

Here is what our paraprofessional had to say-

One student was very nervous and having difficulty sitting still. I had him select two poses for grounding and within just a few minutes he was able to focus and start the test. Some time later he was getting anxious and said “it was too much for him”. Again we used the cards this time picking poses for anxiety. This helped him relax and he was able to finish the test completely. I can see lots of uses for these cards in my work with academically and behaviorally challenged students. As a Para I’d love to have a set to hang ’round my neck…at the ready!

 

Non-Verbal Transitions
The card deck easily slips onto a lanyard. I loved having it around my deck for easy access. I was able to reference the poses to provide non-verbal instruction. This was useful when we were standing in the hallway or transitioning before a field trip.
The card deck is an amazing tool to build customizable routines, help regulate individual students and provide non-verbal instruction on the go! The card deck can also be found on Amazon.

Have you had students choose poses or build their own routines? Would you use the Move Mindfully Card Deck? Leave a Comment!

Be Well,
Stephanie Kennelly

Spring Energy and Shaking

It’s that time of year when summer vacation is within sight. You can feel the energy, every day, just on the verge of bubbling over.

The Earth begins to vibrate. Frogs and birds and singing, rain and thunder fill the sky, and kids get crazy! If you are hoping that students will come in from recess and immediately settle into calm bodies, you know you will be disappointed. When the body has excess energy, holding it inside can be detrimental. Instead of calming, the students need releasing movements. This week, trying shaking!


Let’s start by looking at the biology. Why do humans shake? It can be an involuntary result activated by the flight or fight system. During anxiety, the body is flooded with adrenaline and the body shakes as a result. Have you ever felt so nervous, excited or angry that your body began to shake? This is the nervous system releasing the extra adrenaline.

We see this in the animal world all the time. Dogs will shake to signal to another dog that they are done playing. Also, next time you take your dog to the vet, notice what he does as soon as he gets off of the exam table. Chances are, he’ll shake. It is a “reset” button of sorts.

We also see shaking throughout history. Many groups of people have used shaking as a core practice. Pop culture also knows the importance of shaking! Just ask Taylor Swift who is “shaking it off” or Peaches and Herb who are “shaking their groove thing”.

However, somewhere along the way, shaking has been seen as a weakness. As a sign that you have lost control. However, if this adrenaline is not released, then the brain will continue to receive signals that the body is under attack, which can cause a vicious cycle.

Here is an easy and fun way to bring shaking into your classroom!

Make Shakers

First, you will need to get shakers. You can purchase a variety of shakers, however I recommend that you make your own. All you need are plastic eggs and beans. Better yet, let your students make and decorate their own.

Music

Download a good playlist. Try drum instrumental songs as well as pop songs… whatever will get your students moving!

Shake!

Start by getting grounded in mountain pose. You may want students to leave feet planted and just shake the upper half.  We recommend shaking for at least three minutes. This may seem like a long time, but it takes time to get over the initial embarrassment and get into a “groove”.

Sway and Stop

Then, when it is time to stop, turn off the music and cue at least 30 seconds of swaying back and forth. Finally, find stillness. One student explained it as, “I feel like I’m the glitter jar  and all of my atoms are settling at the bottom”. Coming back to where we started, in mountain, the students can feel the change.

Make it a Game

Looking for a fun Morning Meeting activity? Try bringing in the shakers for a cooperative, mindful shaking game. Students sit in the circle, with ever other student holding a shaker. The pattern is, “knees, knees, clap, clap, pass…, it…” The shakers are passed from one student to the other around the circle (see video here) .

Want to learn more about how medical professionals are using shaking to address trauma? In clinical settings, TRE® (Tension, Stress & Trauma Release Exercise) has been used to assist the body in releasing deep muscular patterns of stress, tension and trauma. When this muscular shaking/vibrating mechanism is activated in a safe and controlled environment, the body is encouraged to return back to a state of balance.

Have you tried shaking? What benefits do you see in students using shaking for tension release? Leave a comment!

Be Well,
Stephanie Kennelly

Happiness Recipe and Final Relaxation

What makes you happy? Or maybe a better question, what keeps you engaged in the present moment?

I posed this question to my students. In a world of competing, demanding stimuli, the currency of attention goes a long way. Within the instructional framework, a calm, focused, happy state of mind is one that is also ready to learn.

We began by filling out the Happiness Recipe Worksheet from the Yoga Calm curriculum. After all of the self-work we have been doing this year, most were able to answer the questions fairly easily.

They were also excited to take the worksheet home and interview a family member. I even challenged the students to predict possible answers. “Besides doing the laundry, I am not sure what other activities my mom enjoys” and “I don’t think my dad ever gets to be alone” were some of the responses. Do you think you could predict your child’s or partner’s answers?

After processing through this activity, I decide to integrate the responses into a Final Relaxation. With the hurried energy of the school year, taking a few moments to stop and settle are essential for student (and teacher) well being.

We have been using The Boat Ride as a scripted relaxation. (Here is the audio recorded by Lynea Gillen.)

My students love the imagery of floating in boat. Based on this script, I created a google doc. In a Mad Libs format, students were able to edit and insert their answers from the Happiness Recipe.

Although we seem to be bombarded with news about the detrimental effects of technology and brain development, I will argue that there is a place for technology to support mental health. My students have access to one-to-one on iPads. I have been waiting for the moment to integrate our Mindful Movement lessons with this amazing technological tool.

To begin, students shared the document to an online digital portfolio and recorded their voices reading the script. Here is an audio sample. Now, students have a personalized final relaxation that they are able to easily access. Using the iPad, students listen to their own voices, on headphones, visualizing happy moments. It’s like giving yourself a pep talk!

A student commented, “When I’m feeling anxious, I like hearing my voice and remembering all the things that bring me happiness.”

Have you used relaxation scripts? Have you tried personalization? What’s worked well? Please leave a comment!

Be Well,
Stephanie Kennelly

Back Drawing and Geometry

Countless scientific studies have proven that touch helps regulate stress responses. Human contact is vital for the facilitation of growth and development.

Our cultural space bubble seems to be growing exponentially as people become increasingly disconnected. Teachers are on high alert with touch protocol and are even coached to turn to the side and extend an arm, Heisman Trophy style, if a child were to approach wanting a (gasp) hug!

Back Drawing is a Yoga Calm activity that offers a safe and easy way to integrate touch into your instruction.

It is important to begin this exercise with the disclaimer, “If you chose not to be touched today, you can sit outside the circle and draw on your own arm or hand”. This allows for students to still participate and obtain kinesthetic input, while operating in their comfort zone. For the first introduction, I had three students opt out. By the end of the week, all were voluntarily participating.

To start, get the students familiar and comfortable with touch by using one finger to explore appropriate pressure. From there, move the finger around the back to spell words and draw pictures. For an extra social-emotional component, try writing compliments at the end of Morning Meeting. I found that it was pin drop quiet. Everyone was fully engaged. Giving and receiving healing touch.

Once students are comfortable with this activity, you can add in an academic standard. This Polygon Sort helps students identify the characteristics of a polygon. Here’s the activity!

Start with students sitting in a circle, as they are for the back drawing activity. Hand out a card to each student and instruct them to draw the shape on their partner’s back. Their partner guesses- “polygon or not a polygon” and explains why. “It is a closed figure with straight lines” or “It is an open figure with curved lines…” etc.

This activity not only reinforces the academic standards using kinesthetic learning strategies, but also connects students with each other through appropriate touch. I have found that children seek touch. If they are not given an opportunity and instruction for appropriate touch, they will inevitably choose inappropriate touch. If we frame the conversation from the beginning, students will have their physical needs met with socially appropriate input.

Have you used back drawing? How did the students respond? Have you tried to teach geometry with partner touch? Leave a comment!

Be Well,

Stephanie Kennelly

Mindful Snack and Friendly Letters

Across cultures, families come together during the holiday season and celebrate, and almost always, food sits at the center. I thought it was the perfect time to experience mindful eating with my students.

Throughout the school year we have been doing the mindful eating lesson plan twice a week with a fresh fruit or vegetable. Our school is fortunate to receive USDA Federal grant for a Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Snack. In the past, at best, we ate the snack during read aloud. At worst, the students shoveled it in before recess or at the end of the day.

This year, giving a few minutes to mindfully eating the snack has made a huge impact, not only in their appreciation of food, but also in the development of sensory language. We are miles past, “It tastes good” to “It tastes crunchy and smells floral”. To make the moment special, we eat on beautiful china I found this summer scouring the racks of Good Will. Okay… but what is mindful eating? And why is it important?

At the core of mindful eating is staying grounded and present with our senses. How are we connected to our food? What food creates healthy energy?

This week, our snack was carrots. I brought in some additional items from my own pantry (raisins, crackers, cheese, honey, pineapple, chocolate) to create a beautiful snack platter.

The twist in this assignment was that they were not creating their own spread, but their partner’s. The big question that drove the lesson was, “How can beautifully displayed food contribute to mindfulness?”

They had a fantastic time arranging the food and finished the display with a placemat, fancy napkin and cup of juice.

Drumroll please…

Sitting down at the plate that was painstakingly created by their partner, there were audible gasps. I had them sit in silence for one minute and just notice the display.

  

Then, they had to eat for two minutes in silence. Just noticing all of the different flavors. Finally, they were allowed to quietly talk to the students at their table. The conversation was all centered around the food taste, texture and presentation.

Comments like, “I don’t like raisins, but they looked so beautiful on my plate, I had to eat them!” “I never would have thought honey would be good on pineapple, but I really enjoyed it!”

We didn’t use any sharp knives or any heated kitchen appliance. The students could go home, pull items out of their pantry and create something for their family. This makes a great holiday gift that essentially costs nothing. Knowing the value of beautiful food is a life skill.

To finish with another life skill, students wrote a thank-you note to their partner. We talked about what a thank-you note should entail and the importance of hand written acknowledgment. It was a highly motivating, real world writing assignment!

Mindful eating is a core component to wellness…essential as sleep and exercise. However, in our hurried lifestyle, it is often the first thing to get pushed aside. Slow down. Facilitate a space where your students can experience food. It was amazing how grounded, present and calm the energy was in the room during the entire experience.

Have you brought mindful eating into your work with students? Leave a comment!

Be Well,
Stephanie Kennelly