Column C

Movement!

No more static fluid build up.  Let’s start sloshing those semi-circular canals around.

The vestibular apparatus, comprised of the semi-circular canals and the saccule and utricle, has direct connections to the Reticular Activating System.  The RAS is responsible for alerting us.  This is such a primary pathway largely because it is fully operational at 6 months in utero.  All the more reason to make sure that we tap it as fully as possible.  Doing that involves moving our heads in all different planes–forward and backward, up and down, circularly clockwise and counterclockwise, and even upside down.

Sneaking motion or repositioning breaks into the school day without causing classroom chaos is surprisingly self-organizing.  In fact, it is often the pursuit of these very same end results provided through intensive stimulation that allow students to finally be calmed.  To wit… they’ve been satiated.  That’s what they sought in the first place.  You’ve just helped them achieve it in a more effective and efficient way.

Here are some good ones:

  • Squat Thrusts (aka Burpies).  Standing tall, each student reaches toward the ceiling.  Next, squat low, placing both hands on the floor.  Kick your feet backwards so your body is in a straight plank, arms extended.  Jump back into a squat and return to stand.  Reach up.  That’s one.  Do this nine more times.
  • Switch.  Students assume a hands and knees position on the floor.  Instruct them to elevate the right leg hip height and straight behind.  At the same time, ask them to reach the left arm straight in front.  Hold this position for 5 seconds.  Call “Switch!”  At this point, students should extend the left leg and the right arm.  Repeat this 10 times.  Vary the length of holding times.  Sometimes ask students to maintain this position is more challenging than assuming it in the first place.
  • Turn Arounds.  Everyone has to find a spot against the wall.  Both hands should be placed flat at shoulder height on an immovable surface.  Ask the students to turn clockwise once.  Place hands back onto the wall.  Turn again in the same direction.  Do this 3-5 times in one direction, being careful to give the wall a “High Ten” on each pass.  Stop and ascertain each student’s tolerance for spinning.  Turn the same number of rotations in the opposite direction. *  It’s OK to only do one rotation either way in the beginning.  As students become more tolerant of spinning, you can increase the quantity.
  • Ah runs.  Create a track around the room.  Remove all obstacles that might cause a student to trip.  Ah runs can be done with only a few students at a time, or the entire class… one right after another.  Designating a starting spot, the teacher instructs the student to take a deep breath and then commence walking quickly (not running!) around the room saying “Ah!” Realize that the child may circle the room more than once.  The child should stop when they are no longer able to say, “Ah.”  The teacher marks that spot with the student’s name and the number of laps.  At later times in the day or week, teachers can repeat an Ah run.  Students quickly learn how to take a deeper breath so they can better their last run.  Label the spot where each student runs out of Ah.
  • Coke and Pepsi game.  This is a fan favorite.  In fact, it’s typically such a hit, that we’re going to devote a post about it all on its own.  Don’t go away.

* If a student feels dizzy… see the blog on Fishy Faces.

Column B

Midline crossing exercises help the brain to talk to itself… literally.  Repeated traversing of the corpus callosum paves this rural path into a superhighway.

When devising exercises to meet this goal, imagine stabilizing the hips so the right upper body reaches into the left body space and the left upper body reaches into the right.  Of course, to make this meaningful, the head has to follow suit.  This often happens naturally if you incorporate a verbal cue with a visual target.

For instance:

  • Pivot Pass.  This is a paired activity.  Students stand back to back so their heels, butts and shoulders are initially touching.  Then, using a large book or object (i.e. something that must be held with 2 hands), the first student turns right to pass it to the student behind him.  The second student must take it with two hands, rotate and then pass it back to the first student using both hands.  In brief, both hands must be used in order to get full trunk, neck and head rotation.  Reverse directions.  Pass left, turn right.  Repeat several times in both directions.  Increase the speed.
  • Good job, chair!  Staying seated with both feet firmly on the floor in front, each student turns his body to pat the back of the chair on the opposite side, behind his shoulder.  Congratulate your chair on the other side, too.  Repeat 10 X.  It’s important to insist on patting the chair rather than their own shoulder to promote maximum rotation.  Encourage the students to look at the chair, while they are at it.
  • Wallet check.  Like Good job, Chair!, this is a seated activity.  Make sure children have their feet flat on the floor before starting.  Direct students to imagine having a wallet in their back pocket.  Using the opposite hand, children turn their bodies fully so their right hand can pat their left buttock and their left hand can pat their right one.  Cue the children to say, “Wallet?  Check!” each time they pat.  Once again, remind them to look at their ‘wallet.’  After all, you don’t want to lose it!
  • Star bends.  Stand like a 5-pointed star.  Both arms are out to the sides.  Both legs are apart, wider than the hips.  With the right hand, bend to touch the left foot.  Return to your upright star formation.  With the left hand, bend to touch the right foot.  Repeat these movements 10 times in each direction.  Remember… You are a star!
  • Pretzel.  Known by different names around the country, you may already do this one.  Each child stands by their desk.  Instruct them to reach their arms straight out in front, crossing the right over the left.  Turn the palms toward each other, then clasp them together.  Fold the arms back into the body.  Next, cross the right foot over the left.  Count to 10.  Close your eyes and count backwards from 10 to 0.  DO NOT UNFOLD right away.  Instead, uncross your feet and cross the left over the right.  Unfold your arms slowly.  Noting which arm is on top, now place the other arm on top.  Clasp the hands together and fold back into the body.  Count to 10 with eyes opened and in reverse with eyes closed.
Add these exercises to your Chinese Menu.  Model them for your teachers.  Help them identify logical times during their lessons to do so.  They’ll soon see that it is easy to insert worthwhile movement breaks into the day.  After all, these exercises only take a minute each.  But they are compounded experiences.
Optimizing interhemispheric communication can be elementary.  Maximizing attention may start with choosing one from Column A and one from Column B.

Column A

Heavy Work is thought to organize the brain from the bottom up.  It’s part of the catalyst sparking executives to roll their sleeves up and get down and dirty with the nitty gritty of manual labor.  It just plain feels good.  But beyond that, it’s emotionally cleansing.  It’s almost as if the effort to overcome physical resistance clears out the cobwebs blocking the way to mental clarity.

Put that way, we all could use a healthy dose of some Heavy Work.

Here are some easy ones to share with teachers.  Children can do them sitting at or near their desks, or certainly within the perimeter of the classroom.

  • Popcorn.  Imagine being a kernel of popcorn in a microwave.  Children place their hands onto the seat and lift their butts each time you say “Pop.”  Starts slowly, building into a frenetic series of pops.  Then reverse momentum gradually to a stray pop here or there.
  • Toe Writing.  Staying seated, a child lifts both feet and writes his name and address, the Declaration of Independence, or anything pertinent to the classroom subject.  This takes a lot of abdominal and quadriceps strength.  (One foot may even mirror the writing of the other.)
  • Chair or desk push-ups.  Place both hands on a stable surface.  Step backward until you are angled away.  Arms should be straight at first.  Bend to touch your nose to the furniture at hand… literally.
  • Take your chair for a walk.  Make a track around the classroom.  Each child picks up his chair and marches clockwise or counterclockwise.  Stop in the middle to do the Hokey Pokey, arm press the chair forward or upward, or otherwise turn yourself around.  But whatever you do… don’t let the chair touch the floor!
  • Overhead Book Press.  Using a large text book (or three), students reach overhead.  Hands should be opened flat and perpendicular to the ceiling.  With the texts laying securely on the opened hands, the students bend their elbows bringing the books almost to their heads and then back up again.  Repeat.  Do at least 10.
That’s enough for now.  Let the teachers and students become familiar with these five.  We’ll add more later.
After all, we want a balanced diet!

Chinese Menu

Can’t say that I’ve come across this lately since I’ve eaten in a number of fine Asian restaurants.  But there was a time when ordering from the local Chinese Restaurant meant selecting one entree from Column A and a second serving from Column B.  It was a good way of encouraging patrons to expand their palate.

The same format works well for exercise.

With the American Heart Association posting findings from this year’s annual conference that children today are 15 percent less fit than their parents, an alarm must be sounded.  Its research showed that children can neither run as fast nor as far as their parents did when they were the same age.  In fact, it takes a full 90 seconds longer for children to run a mile as compared to speeds thirty years ago.

Health experts recommend 60 minutes of moderately rigorous exercise over the course of a day.  Unfortunately, only one-third of our children achieve this baseline.

Yikes.

While it may not be sustained cardiovascular activity, one place to start reversing this trend is through periodic movement activities within the classroom.  Try devising a menu of exercise options.  One column could be Heavy Work activities, a second Midline Crossing ones and a third called Movement. List an assortment of doable intense exercises that challenge children’s balance, strength, stamina and coordination.  Encourage teachers to punctuate the day with select activities… in other words, one from Column A, one from Column B and maybe two from Column C.  Sneak in a ‘side dish’ or ‘main course’ between subjects, before or after a test, following a boring assembly, before a language arts lesson…  You get the idea.

The activities should be ones that can be performed either chair side or along the perimeter of the room. The entire movement break may be completed within minutes.   However, the benefits of recharging a child’s battery on attention, concentration, behavior and more, through a thoughtful array of movement options, can be long-lasting.

Stay tuned for a few of my favorite recipes, and don’t forget to leave room for dessert!

Personal Training Made Easy

You must have one lying around your house somewhere. Surely, your local realtor, insurance company, hair dresser or car dealership has sent you one for free. No, not a house, a policy, a beauty make-over or a car.

A calendar! A month-by-month day-by-day saddle-stitched calendar, that you in turn, can gift to your kids.

Figuring out where to begin a child’s exercise regimen must include creating an easy means to reference and record it. This can be it.
First things first. Provide students with a names, pictures, descriptions and the number of repetitions for different exercises selected especially for them. Consider options that could be done within a confined space with little to no equipment. It could be sit-ups, push-ups, squat thrusts or jumping jacks. Using a length of Theraband, they could do triceps toning, hamstring stretches, side bends or shoulder strengthening. Include a few dynamic challenges like crab walking or toe touching, or some static ones like sustained yoga postures.
Remember that the bottom line is energy release… so think of heavy work, inverted positions, prolonged cardio and rhythmic movement. Ideally, many of these exercises need multiple repetitions per day to start building a satiation point.
Assign a code (e.g. A, B, C, D etc.) for each type of exercise. Instruct the students to write onto the date the exercise code completed that day. Tell them that they are to select 5 different ones to do. You can even divide them into categories like core strength, movement, bilateral coordination or balance.
Of course, you have to clear with the teachers where and when these exercises can be done. Older children may elect to go into the hall. Younger ones may be fine behind the cubbies in their room. Either way, there is often a feeling of prestige having a personal training program. And with a simple calendar in which to track their efforts, they have valuable data to share with you with minimal effort.
Try it. You’ll like it.
And so will your kids.
(Stay tune for a pictoral guide to kid’s exercises!)

The Uh-Oh Chart

Let’s get real.Uh-Oh Charts

If kids were always on top of their actions and words, they wouldn’t need Behavior Charts.

But the truth is, they aren’t. Simply by virtue of the fact that such a chart is needed implies a lack of insight and control.

Are these bad kids? Of course not. But once we start tallying all the infractions committed within the course of a time period, an activity or a day, we start to send the message that they are. And no matter how many rewards are given for happy faces, check marks or whatever number is highest on a scoring key, the student is still left feeling like there is something terribly wrong with him.  In addition, s/he is still dependent on monitoring by another rather than himself.

This is not to say that data collection is not needed. It is. However, with a slight variation on the theme, the data can become as much a tracking system for noting change, as it is a tool for increasing personal responsibility without seeming judgmental or demeaning.

Uh-Oh Charts encourage students to evaluate their own behavior. They give children a chance to catch themselves being good and to recognize when they’ve goofed. Its design can be a 2-column chart in which one side is headed “Good choices” and the other reads “Uh-Oh.”

The instruction to students is to give themselves a star, a tally or any marking of their choosing whenever they engage in either of the above. When the teacher notices a whoops moment occurred, s/he can say to the child, “Tell me about the choice you just made.” If the child confesses to having made a poor choice, a tally is placed in the Uh-Oh column for being honest and recognizing a poor choice. If the student is the first to acknowledge a mistake, two tallies can be given along with hearty praise for being so cool as to realize and own that behavior.

There is tremendous value and reward in being truthful and saying, “Whoops. I spoke out of turn.” Or, “I realize that I didn’t respect someone’s personal space.” Kids actually look forward to filling up a card with tallies that note their off-task behavior according to their own reckoning, especially since it no longer is followed by a consequence.
This is the first step. Developing awareness is the prerequisite for developing control.

Let’s start here.

Extra Energy, anyone?

Students with self-regulation issues need an outlet for their ‘extra energy.’

Everyday movement opportunities, like transitioning from the desk to the floor and back, or being the messenger to the office or the designated board cleaner, are not intense enough to satiate the sensory-seekers among us.
These kids need vigorous and structured heavy work, movement and vestibular activities punctuating their day. A composite of carefully selected repetitive exercises designed to release a child’s ‘extra energy.’ In other words, a Personal Exercise Chart!
Given the instruction to cycle through each of the exercises, especially before lessons in which their attention is needed, helps children ready their bodies and minds for the learning ahead. If a single circuit of exercises isn’t sufficient, the kids can repeat the whole series… again and again, tallying or crossing off the exercises on an laminated and illustrated chart. Suggest they retreat to their ‘exercise corner’ whenever they feel that their engines may be too high and praise them profusely for knowing when it is.
Stay tuned for options that can be easily implemented in class with little time, no equipment and happy results.

Straw Weaving

Not many crafts require as few raw materials as straw weaving. Nor are they often as adaptable as to be appealing for ages spanning all the way down to Kindergarten. But with a little structured set-up, your students will be able to create bookmarks, headbands, belts, plant holders, trivets, wristlets and more.

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • 5 straws (More or less is possible, too)
  • A ball of yarn.
  • 5 lengths of yarn—12-15” each. I use a solid color like black.

That’s it.

  1. Thread each of the straws.

If using regular drinking straws, you can thread the straws by holding one end of the black length while sucking up the other end. Scotch tape one inch of the yarn to the straw. If using thin cocktail stirring straws, you’ll need to fabricate a long needle using 24-26 gauge wire. Tie a loose knot at the end of the yarn so it doesn’t pull through.

  1. Tie the free ends of black yarn together. There should be at least one straw’s length of yarn at the bottom of the straw when the straw is pushed up to the knotted or taped end.
  2. Knot colored yarn ball onto one straw near top.
  3. Hold straws in one hand. Fan them out so you can begin weaving.
  4. Weave yarn over and under each straw, returning back and forth when reaching the end of a row. You will be adding rows above each previous row. Push the woven rows carefully down the straw as you fill the straws with more weaving. Once the straws are filled, push the woven yarn onto the lengths of black yarn. Be sure to leave a few inches of weaving on the straw at all times. Continue until the end of your ball of yarn, or whenever you have reached your desired length.
  5. Tie the end of the ball of yarn onto a straw.
  6. Push all the weaving onto the straw and all the way down to the knotted bottom.
  7. Untie the knots at the top of the straw or remove the tape.
  8. Pull the straws off the top ends of the black yarn lengths.
  9. Tie the black yarn into a knot at the end of the weaving.
  10. Trim the ends of the black yarn to produce an even tassle.
  11. Enjoy. Make another!