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Family Recess

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Research has proven that playing is good for the brain.

I often ask kids what they like best about school. Hands down, the most common answer is . . . recess.  Intuitively, kids know what science has now proven—both kids and adults need time to engage in pointless fun.

We used to call that “playing.” Yet in our current, overzealous, gotta-make-sure-our-kids-get-ahead-world, allocating time to play is often relegated to a back burner.

However, research on play shows that it makes us more adaptable, and it actually improves how our brain functions. For example, when we combine physical energy with a sense of joyfulness (i.e. when we play), we reinforce neurohormones.  And when we engage in activities that free us from having a set outcome, there’s a positive effect on our mood and perceptions of time.

In fact, according to researcher Dr. Stuart Brown, we need play in our lives as much as we need sleep.

So what is Brown’s definition of play? He says real play has no purpose. We do it for its own sake. It’s voluntary. We may even lose track of time or temporarily forget who we are in real life.

What’s the purest form of play? That’s when we improvise, where we make up whatever we’re doing as we go along.

So back to recess . . . where activities have little or no structure, where nothing is measured or ranked, where kids are free to be loud and move as quickly or slowly as they choose. Is there any surprise that kids fly out the classroom door as soon at that recess bell rings?

But then, that bring us to this question: Since playing has a natural appeal and is now proven to enhance the brain, why not create family recess time in our very own homes?

Yes, why not have the whole family take a break from household chores or homework or paying the

bills. . .  to now play together?

Note this is not just time for our kids to play. The idea of family recess is for us to play with them.

And guess what happens when we do? We discover that even though we’re adults, we never really lost our zest for play.

We prove that all the time at the Brain Highways Center. Here, parents enthusiastically engage in playful activities with their kids as part of our curriculum.  In fact, it’s sometimes difficult to decide who’s having more fun when observing, for example, a beanbag “fight” between a father and daughter.

So for my proposal of family recess, any unscripted, joyful movement works. Here are some ideas to get you started, but be sure to ask your kids for their input, too!

  1. Have pillow fights.
  2. Arm wrestle.
  3. Engage in (human) wheelbarrow races.
  4. Build a fort.
  5. Play tug-of-war.
  6. Create and run through an obstacle course.
  7. Climb a tree (yes, moms and dads can do this, too).
  8. Play freeze (or other) tag.
  9. Jump rope.
  10. Jump (barefoot) on bubblewrap.
  11. Jump on the bed (why not?).
  12. Wear a blindfold, and then try to squirt each other with plant sprayers.
  13. Toss water balloons, where one person takes a step back after each time the balloon is caught.
  14. Roll down a hill.
  15. Make a puddle of water, and see who can make the biggest splash.
  16. Build a mud structure.
  17. Play hide-go-seek (inside or outside).
  18. Play a variation of hide-go-seek: Only one person hides somewhere in the house while everyone else shuts their eyes. Then everyone tries to find that person. When a person discovers the hiding place, he or she now quietly hides there, too. As the game goes on, fewer and fewer people are left searching for where everyone else is hiding. (It adds to the fun when everyone tries to remain quiet as more and more people squeeze into the hiding place.)

Note that family recess time is not viewed as procrastination, where everyone is just putting off what needs to be done.  Rather, the mindset is one that suggests less work and more play is truly productive.

In the twenty-first century, that kind of thinking may be viewed as radical and revolutionary. But in our home, we can make such perspective a way of life.

How Pink Slime Affects Us All

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Our choice of words often may have more power than we realize.

The meat industry has been using a ground mixture of scrap parts—mostly connective tissue and fat—as meat filler for years. But it was only after a microbiologist created the moniker “pink slime” that social media took note.

Yes, pink slime is a two-word combo designed to get your attention and cause worry.

But if two simple words can cause such frenzy in the media, how often does our choice of words trigger similar negativity and angst in daily life?  For example, do we refer to people as poor listeners, master manipulators, classic underachievers? Do we perhaps frame others as an unbelievable klutz or incredibly lazy?

If so, don’t those (and similar) word combos have the same adverse effect on people as the media calling meat filler pink slime?

In truth, there are hundreds of thousands of words at our disposal.  So, we decide whether we choose word combos that reek negativity or those that show insight and compassion.

For example, it’s possible that people have difficulty listening and completing tasks because they have incomplete lower brain development. It’s possible that people are uncoordinated because they have poor proprioception. It’s possible that people are tired because they are already compensating 24/7 for a brain that is not functioning as intended.

And if so, then why throw “pink slime” at them? Yet, that’s what we do when we frame people with negatively charged words.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m glad that a mere choice of words—pink slime—made a story on meat fillers explode.  From what I’ve read, it seems like it was something worth investigating.

Just don’t think there’s any justification for flinging “pink slime” at kids.

 

Safe Haven for Kids

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Kids need some space and freedom to learn about the world and themselves.

When I watch kids at the beach, I always find myself smiling. It may be one of the few places where kids can be loud and dirty and run here and there—without adults telling them to lower their voice, wash their hands, and sit still.

So I’ve come to think of the beach as a safe haven for kids, a place where they can just naturally be their age without conforming to adult perceptions as to what is “proper.”

Camping in the woods also comes to mind as another safe haven for kids.  Once again, in this environment, adults seem to “let go” of their need for quiet voices, cleanliness, and being still.

But not everyone has access to the beach or woods or, if so, there probably isn’t time to go there every day.

Yet, that doesn’t change kids’ need for daily downtime in a place where they truly can be themselves without adult restraints.

No, I’m not talking about allowing kids to run amok or do something harmful.  I’m just advocating that we allow kids time each day where they go with their own flow, move at their own pace, and engage in activities that naturally appeal to them.

With that mindset, we can be creative and ensure our kids engage in daily safe haven time.  So, how might we do this within our already hectic schedules?

First, we need to list our possible safe haven environments. On such a list, we may write: the park, the backyard, the bedroom, the beach.

Note that some of those possibilities include places within the confines of our own home. That then makes it easier to implement daily, rather than weekly, safe haven time. In other words, if we don’t have to do more than open a door (to go to the backyard) or close a door (to go in a bedroom) on our part, then scheduling daily safe haven time won’t be that challenging.

So, what might be some guidelines for safe haven time? Here are some suggestions:

  • We don’t comment on how our child chooses to spend this time. This includes positive feedback. Why? Well, if we “praise” how he spent the time on Monday—but then say nothing on how he spent the time on Tuesday—our child is likely going to get the message there’s a “right” way to do safe haven time.
  • We let go of adult-like perceptions of what’s proper during this time, remembering and honoring that this time is for our child, not us. We also don’t even think judgmental thoughts since kids’ radar for picking up subconscious messages are pretty accurate.
  • We establish safety perimeters (which are different than proper perimeters) to be clear that safe haven time is just that . . . safe and nurturing.
  • We actually schedule this time each day, and post that somewhere where our child can see. That way, he knows with certainty when this is going to happen.
  • We don’t offer a single suggestion as how to spend the safe haven time.

If we do the last suggestion, we may (initially) experience that our child has no clue what to do. So, he turns to us for some ideas.  If so, we say no more than, “Just go with your intuition. What sounds fun or interesting to explore?”

In such case, we may also ponder: Is our child’s life so programmed that he has lost his natural spontaneity? If so, then asking for help with safe haven time can be viewed as feedback to ensure that we implement this daily.

But more than likely, you’ll get a different response. Watch your child’s facial expression when you tell him he’s now going to have daily safe haven time, where no adults are going to be on him to do this or that.  You’ll probably see a look of sheer joy.

And that expression and feeling is what we want to make sure is part of our child’s life—each and every day.

How Do Your Kids Describe Their Life?

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I was cleaning through an old cupboard when I came across a half-piece of paper written by my then seven-year-old daughter.

The paper said:

A paragraph about life!

Life is a wonderful thing.  You can dance. You can play. You can jump. You can write. You can live. Use your life!

Written by,

Callan Green

There’s a simple joy in this paragraph on life . . . that some of us may have forgotten.

She’s now 26, and guess what?

She still dances (she is always enrolled in some kind of dance class). She has a high-level position—that she loves—at a prestigious company that requires her to use her writing skills daily. And yes, she makes time to play.

So how do we keep that child-spirit alive in our kids so that it stays with them as adults?

I’d like to say I had it figured out back then, with a set plan in place. But that wouldn’t be the case. So, I’ve pondered what (by chance) created such a lasting free spirit.

Here’s what I came up with:

  • We ensured downtime so she could have time to just play.
  • We encouraged creativity and ways to express imagination, ingenuity, and originality.
  • We emphasized being curious over searching for the one “right” answer.
  • We engaged in conversations that asked her opinion on daily and world matters.
  • We honored what she already liked to do.

Those are pretty easy “doables” for any parent to adopt.

So, here’s a challenge. Ask your kids: What would you say in a paragraph about life?

If your children’s answers reflect joy and a carefree spirit . . . smile, and know they’ll take that mindset with them when they leave home.

But what if you get a different kind of answer?  Well, maybe that’s an invitation to try one or more of the above. After all, any paragraph on life can be rewritten.

 

What Word Needs to Go?

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Funny how a simple word can carry so much judgment.

What if our lives could be enhanced by eliminating just one word?  Sound too far-fetched?

Not really, when we see how the word “should” interferes with positive thinking and our daily interactions.

So, what’s wrong with the word “should”?

Well, if used when talking to someone else, “should” is always attached to some kind of (most often, unsolicited) judgment, whereupon the speaker assumes the addressee is “sub par” in some way.

But that judgment is based on the speaker’s own personal expectations—even though the thought is expressed as though the whole world is in agreement.  Most significantly, thoughts with “should” in them do not offer ways to help.

Here are some common judging statements and how they might be modified to do the latter.

“You should pay more attention when I’m talking to you.”
How can I help you stay focused when I’m talking to you?

“You should be nicer to your brother.”
Let’s role-play ways to play with your brother so no one gets upset.

“You should be more organized with your school work.”
Would you like ideas on how to organize your homework so that you know when assignments are due?

We also use “should” a lot in terms of how we view ourselves. In fact, many of us are harder on ourselves than others.

Here, our “should” thoughts seem to infer that we expect ourselves to perform at some high standard all the time. And, once again, that kind of judgmental mindset does nothing to move us forward.

So if we find ourselves saying that we “should have” done something, we can have fun and first mock ourselves—and then reframe the thought in a constructive way. For example:

“I should have known he was going to cause trouble.”
Why? Am I suddenly clairvoyant? 
I will address whatever happened in the way that that moves everyone forward.

“I should have never eaten that chocolate cake.”
Why? Am I never allowed to indulge myself?
I will limit myself to two desserts a week.

“I should have paid the bills on time.”
Why? Am I so perfectly organized (or have so much free time) that it’s inconceivable I could ever be late?
I will make paying the bills a high priority next month.

Even more positively oriented statements such as: “I should join a book club” can be tweaked to eliminate all judgment: “I will explore whether there’s a local book club I can join.”

So, hope the word “should” isn’t taking it personal when I write that I’ve decided to toss it out of my vocabulary. Just seems like a really easy way to stay positive.

 

Taking Care of Business

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Even backed-up traffic might be an opportunity to practice “taking care of business."

From the time my girls were little, they learned to do something we coined “taking care of business.”  That meant they figured out how to get their needs met—while staying calm and addressing the needs of others involved in the situation.

Both my girls are now in their mid-twenties, and they’re making their mark in the world. But over the years, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve picked up the phone where one of my daughters started the conversation by saying, “I took care of business today”—and then proudly proceeded to share how she approached a current problem with that mindset.

Last night I received one of those calls from my youngest daughter. She is the owner of the Brain Highways Center in Denver, and it turns out that the gas station right by her place was chosen by talk show host Ellen Degeneres to be part of a free gas give-away promotion.  But it was top-secret until the name of the gas station was announced to the public.

So there was pandemonium as soon as the people of Centennial (a suburb of Denver) heard the news. Lines and lines of cars backed up with people waiting for their turn at the pump.  Multiple police officers had to even arrive on the scene, just to keep the mayhem to a minimum.

But not everyone wanted free gas.  Some of those cars had parents and their kids, who were on their way to Brain Highways. Yet, they were now stuck in a line of backed up cars with no hopes of making their class on time.

Kiley (my daughter) knew those families would be upset if they missed class. She also knew that many of them came from as far as 60 miles away, so it would be extra frustrating to have driven all that way for nothing.

That’s when she decided . . . to take care of business.

First, she walked over to the gas station to get clarification as to what was going on and why the other businesses hadn’t been notified. (The promotion literally shut down every business in that shopping center.)

She quickly learned it was an Ellen Degeneres promotion and that keeping everything confidential—down to the last minute—was part of the deal.

With that information, Kiley graciously acknowledged how the owner of the gas station certainly wouldn’t have wanted to jeopardize the promotion by breaking the rules.  But, as the owner of Brain Highways Denver, she knew her families were going to be upset and frustrated if they missed class.  So how could they move forward?

Here’s what “taking care of business” brought about:

1) The police officers agreed to give V.I.P. treatment to the Brain Highways families by holding off oncoming traffic and re-routing the Brain Highways families into the shopping center.

2) Brain Highways staff quickly got on the phone and called the rest of the families who were scheduled to come to classes that day so they now had the heads-up to tell the police officers, “We’re on our way to Brain Highways.”

3) The gas station owner gave Kiley $400.00 worth of gas cards, which she, in turn, gave to her families and staff to help compensate for any inconvenience they may have endured while trying to get to the Brain Highways Center.

4) The owner of the gas station came over to the Brain Highways Center that evening to personally apologize, again, for the inconvenience.

To Kiley’s knowledge, none of the other businesses in her same shopping center did anything—other than complain and get upset over the situation.  My guess is . . . they’re still angry today about yesterday’s lost revenues.

But here’s the good news for those business owners and everyone else. Anyone can learn to “take care of business”—at any age.  It merely begins with this mindset: If we stay in our cortex and approach situations with a problem-solving perspective, it’s possible to meet everyone’s needs.

Now doesn’t that sound like a world we’d all like to live in?

 

Tips for Helping Kids Learn in the Classroom

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Simple actions can make learning much easier for many kids.

Here’s an idea for an invention that might revolutionize teaching.

I’m picturing a small machine that is hooked up to each student’s cortex—the thinking, logical part of the brain. As students access their cortex during lessons, teachers would now see different sections of those kids’ forehead light up as they process, ponder, and reflect on the information being presented.

However, if students are stuck in the primitive parts of their brain, teachers would now just see black, empty screens on those kids’ forehead.

So how would this nifty invention make a difference? Well, what if teachers, for example, note that 75% of their students have a black, empty screen?   Yikes.

I’m thinking that’s going to make it a lot harder to continue with the lesson as planned. I’m also thinking there’d be more understanding and incentive to implement teaching techniques that address the probability that some (or many) students in a classroom have underdeveloped lower centers of the brain.

But, in truth, we don’t really need that invention.  We already know there are kids in the classroom without complete lower brain development—those who have to juggle between paying attention to the lesson and finding ways to compensate for missing automatic brain functions.

We already know that when such underdevelopment is present, it doesn’t take much to trigger a “primitive brain response”—and once kids are in that state, no learning at all is going to happen (i.e. we’re back to the black, empty screen).

So why not forge ahead with various actions to ensure learning is accessible to everyone? Here are some simple ways to do just that.

 

1.  Toss the idea that kids have to “sit up and be still” in order to pay attention.

When the vestibular system is not functioning properly, movement wakes up the brain. So when such kids rock or wiggle in their chair, this actually helps—not hinders—their ability to focus.  Similarly, when kids have retained primitive reflexes, they’ll slouch or sit in chairs in odd positions but that, too, actually make it easier for them to pay attention.

2.  Provide opportunities for kids to get up and move within lessons.

We all need to move to stay focused.  The irony is . . . the classroom teacher is often the one who moves the most in the classroom.

3.  Ask questions instead of issuing directives.

Kids with underdeveloped lower centers of the brain may not process directives the same way others hear it.  In such case, a directive may become distorted and trigger a response that often seems disproportionate to what was actually said.

For example, a simple statement, such as, “Thomas, put away your book,” may be heard as: “THOMAS! PUT AWAY YOUR BOOK!”  In such case, Thomas now responds as though someone had just threatened and yelled at him.

On the other hand, if we forgo directives and ask questions, we avoid this possibility altogether. Here, the teacher would say, “Thomas, did you think we wanted your book on top of your desk or inside?”

In short, questions are always processed in the cortex (where we want students to be at all times).

4. Reduce visual stimuli on the walls, ceilings, desks, and around the white board.

Some kids with an underdeveloped midbrain also have what’s called a visual figure-ground problem. Here, the brain has difficulty relegating information to the “background” and keeping what’s important in the foreground. So all those extras (that we thought were providing a stimulating room environment) are just sensory overload for many kids.

5. Keep directions short.  Model both what you do and do not want to happen.

Kids with an underdeveloped midbrain don’t often process speech at the same speed as the rest of us.  So, when teachers fire off multi-step directions, these kids are still processing the first part while teachers are now explaining the next step.  We also increase the probability of kids comprehending directions if we take a few seconds to model what we don’t want to happen. Such contrast helps to make the desired action crystal clear.

6.  Pass out materials only after the directions have been given.

When the midbrain is underdeveloped, it’s often like we have a magnetic draw to touch whatever is in front of us.  So, by waiting to pass out materials, we automatically ensure that such kids are not playing with materials when directions are given.

7. Refrain from requiring kids to make eye contact.

If kids’ don’t have good peripheral vision (which is often the case with underdeveloped lower centers of the brain), they’re not going to be able to sustain good eye contact, whereas kids with poor eye teaming may actually see multiple images if forced to look directly at the person talking.

In short, kids with limited peripheral vision and poor eye teaming will be able to pay better attention to what the person is saying if they’re not required to make eye contact.

8.  Honor the act of thinking, rather than getting the “right” answer.

If teachers deem an answer “wrong” in front of the whole class, kids with underdeveloped lower centers of the brain are likely to shut down or respond negatively (i.e. we see the black, empty screen when we’re in the survival part of the brain). That’s because such kids are “wired” to go into fight-or-flight behavior as soon as they feel threatened or fearful or uncomfortable.

So what can teachers do instead?  Well, they can thank the student for giving the question “a whirl,” as well as acknowledge the thinking that went into the response.

Just eight simple tips . . .  yet they can radically change many kids’ learning experience.  What would it take to make these changes in every classroom?

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