As we prepare to embark on the season of gratitude, many of us will be reflecting on all we have to be thankful for. However, gratitude is something we should strive to instill in our children year-round. During this global pandemic, it is easy to get discouraged and caught up in the limitations it has placed on our lives. To counteract this, it is more important now than ever that we work to practice gratitude in our daily lives. A regular gratitude practice is proven to increase dopamine and serotonin, the two neurotransmitters that impact a positive mood. Encouraging children to practice these skills at a young age is essential to their social and emotional wellbeing. Here are four strategies to help you foster a culture of gratitude in your home.
Several years ago, a dear friend from college asked me to tour independent schools with her and her partner as they tried to decide where to apply and ultimately send their four-year-old son to kindergarten in New York City. She did the work to line up tours, sent me brochures in advance, and even bought me an H&H bagel the morning of the first tour to sweeten the deal. I was delighted to dive into three days of back-to-back tours, not simply because it meant quality time with people I adore, but also because as an independent school veteran this was professional development. I was able to scrutinize how schools pitched their programs, articulated their missions, and explained the curriculum. I saw a lot, but it really boiled down to one major takeaway.
When the world was flipped upside down in March and we were all forced into distance learning, all educators had to adapt. Now, with some schools back on campuses in person, teachers are adapting again. But unlike my colleagues at Peck, I continue to teach remotely.
Taking a mindful moment seems like it has never been as important as it is now. Mindfulness—an intentional, non-judgmental awareness of the present moment—is a component of Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) that has been shown to improve classroom behavior, an increase in academic achievement, an increased ability to manage stress, and the development of better attitudes about themselves, others and school.
Given these clear benefits, consistency is key in learning and maintaining the beneficial effects of mindfulness practices. At all grade levels at Peck, we utilize the MindUp curriculum to provide specific SEL instruction and opportunities to teach students skills and knowledge to help build empathy, regulate emotions, and build meaningful relationships.
To reinforce these lessons at home, here are a few ways you can incorporate mindfulness practices into your family life:
The 5-4-3-2-1 practice: Bringing everyone back to the present moment is easiest when there is a structured activity. During this practice, each family member states the 5 items they see in their environment, the 4 items they hear, the 3 things they feel, the 2 things they smell, and the 1 thing they taste. Thoughts of the past and the future will dissipate once everyone focuses on their current environment.
Activity = Awareness: It’s crucial to be active and to be mindful of the effects it can have on the body. If your child is feeling frustrated or stressed during a specific situation, ask them to jog in place or do jumping jacks for one minute. At the end of the minute, ask them to hold their hand over their heart and to pay attention to the way their heart is beating and the way their breath feels. By tuning into the way their body feels, children are able to redirect their focus and renew their energy toward the task at hand.
Weather Forecast: Identifying a feeling in different terms can help children understand their emotions. Ask them to draw their emotions as if it was weather. A tornado may be a symbol for a child feeling overwhelmed, while a rainbow might signify excitement. For students of all ages, the identification of their emotions in relation to a different context can be a helpful tool for self-awareness.
Speaking of staying in the present moment, I’d like to take this opportunity to introduce myself and let you all know how thrilled (and mindful) I am to be a member of the faculty at Peck as the new Upper School Psychologist. I am amazed and inspired with the dedication and commitment that I have observed during my short time on campus. I look forward to learning more and meeting your children as the weeks continue, and in the meantime, please do not hesitate to reach out with any questions or concerns.
After an extended period of time at home, children are likely to be somewhat anxious about the quickly approaching new school year. This, combined with the new environment they will be experiencing this fall, means it is important that we begin to have conversations now about what school will look like and how we can all be best prepared to come together again in a healthy way, physically and emotionally.
During the past few months, our children have spent hours per day behind a screen learning, interacting, and playing. As we look forward to the summer, it is more important than ever to be aware of the time children spend behind a screen and challenge them to get outside to explore, engage, and learn from their environment.
Good character values infused in the community are like locally sourced fruit and vegetables: everyone benefits, from the producer to the consumer. With many of us likely staying closer to home this summer, we have the opportunity to both enjoy local produce and sustain our communities with simple values. Here are 10 ideas for how your family can live our InDeCoRe values this summer so their impact and benefit can be seen and felt in your community: