My daughter turned eleven last week and with that celebration she announced to me that she was officially a tween. I cringed a bit because I find that word so ambiguous, a word that in my mind means in between without a center and the hollowness of the word made me uneasy. Yet, it is this time in an adolescent’s life where everything is changing, feels unfamiliar and they are stepping from their child like understanding into a new space which seems foreign.
Yes, their body is starting to change as well as their chemistry for which there are a myriad of resources to find that explain the why and what is next. However, what I have found challenging is finding the resources to help support her through the emotional space that is the under current and foundation for what is to come and what is already here.
Over the last two years I have had to navigate the anxiety she is feeling which has come from entering this foreign space where she has started to discover that the world is bigger than just her, that there is suffering in the world, and the smallness that comes with this knowledge has led to fear, to sadness and also new passions and sense of wonder.
As we delved into the thick of her emotions over the last two years, and they keep changing and are becoming bigger, I have started to reflect back on my own youth and where certain fears I still carry came from. My pre-teen years are a time where I often felt alone, disconnected and the need to blend in for fear my voice was too big. I don’t remember my parents being open to discussing the deep emotions that I was feeling because in reality they themselves did not have that support when they were ten, eleven, twelve and beyond. This was the time I stopped playing for fear of being seen as a “baby”, this is when I struggled to understand what I feeling and that lead to constantly feeling embarrassed and or ashamed of my emotions.
I know I don’t want to pass this void on to my daughter so over the last two years I have started to find tools and rituals to help her connect with herself, her heart, and express her ideas, her feelings and her frustrations openly.
These tools I want to share with you so that we can help this generation learn to love their emotions and connect with them deeply so that they can safely connect with friends and family and feel fully supported.
Energy Connection is where we started.
Yoga Nidra is a type of deep relaxing meditation where you do a body scan while lying down. Here is the one we used to the most.
We would do this at night for it helps to calm and connect the mind and to body so that it can process, relax and release information from the day.
I also got certified in Reiki which is not something everyone desires to do but for us it turned out to be a powerful tool that really helped my daughter clear energy from her body that wasn’t serving her and dissipated some deep fears that were interrupting her sleep. For those unfamiliar with Reiki it is a healing technique based on the principle that the therapist can channel and move energy into and through the patient by means of touch, to activate the natural healing processes of the patient's body and restore physical and emotional well-being.
Mindful Connection is another tool that we use daily. For us this is another nightly ritual. My daughter needs touch, she craves it but she also craves and needs mindful connection.
So every night we share one thing that was great about our day, one struggle from our day and one thing we are grateful for. Often times, after this is when we have our deepest conversations. This simple ritual sets the stage for discussions in an intimate setting where she can unload all that is bottling up. I can being full aware and focused on her and allow her to voice her questions, insecurities and sadness. This has allowed her to connect to her emotions and get clarity that she seeks. Sometimes all I do is listen and that is all she needs and other times a conversation happens where we both learn and understand something new.
The third ritual we have started to incorporate is that of Play Time. This is different, yet similar to when she was a toddler and young child and I would sit down and play with her. Now, the play comes in the form of board games, dance parties or signing karaoke. I know life is busy and often times she comes home and goes straight to her room to chill which is needed too. But, as these children are navigating their emotions and their desire to be more independent they need a container in which they can still play and be young, where they can feel seen and heard and where they can connect. We have time every night after dinner for this and often times this is where we laugh the hardest.
Laughter is such good medicine and we all need more of it!
As an educator who has worked in public and private schools I have seen the positive effects of nature and community learning on student engagement and their health and wellbeing, I have also seen what happens when all their learning happens inside of four walls. When they are confined from exploring the natural world around them on a daily basis behavioral issues arise. Their interest in learning diminishes and they become less physical and connected to themselves and they community. Children who are growing need to move their bodies at least 60 minutes a day; less that 45% of boys and 30% of girls get this on a daily basis. Organized sports and physical education are essential but we need to incorporate not only structured physical activity but unstructured time outside for them to move, explore and problem solve without guidance. When they get this time, they can breathe fresh air, work cooperatively together, create their own games or build structures and garden or walk in nature. This is time where you can also incorporate academic learning that mixes with unstructured play.
The key question is how.
How can teachers in public schools, who are already tasked with disseminating curriculum and measuring the students works against standards, be expected to find the time to do this work. The lynch pin is integration and team teaching. It is ok to start small and spiral upwards as you build fluidity and confidence in the process. Not all schools have nature out their back door, but most have within walking distance, parks, church gardens, community businesses and even neighborhood community gardens.
These are just a few simple ways to start. But what about creating a project like designing a nature space on the school grounds that would incorporate design thinking( How are we going to use the space in the best way? What steps do we need to take to make that happen?), cooperative learning ( who is going to do what and how are the steps going to get done?) learning about survey and mapping skills, scale, directions and angles, researching the history of the place, reaching out to community members who might be experts, writing up a plan. Integrating curriculum around a project or a problem is the next level of connecting the students to their learning environment and community.
The next step is giving them freedom to explore and create their own project by giving them the standards they need to master and then having them create with your guidance a learning experience that will get them where they need to be. This might involve interviews with peers, teachers or community members, it might have them building something by using simple machines and basic hand tools, it might be a natural history of the school grounds or a community park. The ideas are endless and just need to be given the breathing room and the container to bloom and flourish. It can be done but it involves team work, initiative and and retooling the process.
We all want our students and children to love to learn, to be engaged in their own discoveries and to gain the skills that they truly need to succeed in the 21st century. We can do that by expanding their classroom, engaging them through discovery and giving them the tools to design, converse and be an active part of this evolving world.
Everything Doesn't Have to Be Big! Giving yourself Space to Create a Joyful Holiday Month Without the Overwhelm
This is time of year when so many of us are pushed and pulled in a variety of directions. We put huge expectations on ourselves to create a perfect holiday for our families. We are often trying to fit in a weeks worth of work when we only have a few days and then we end up running on fumes and fanning our anxiety flames. I get caught in this cycle too and this is the first year that I am intentionally planning how to take back this holiday month and reclaim the joyful spirit that I so want to share with my family and community.
How am I going to do this? Through planning and a deep commitment to self care, meaningful connections and small heartfelt rituals. Planning helps me really see how much time I have, paired with what is truly needed and important. I do by taking my weekly calendar and putting in all the work related time that I HAVE to do. I can then see clearly what chunks of time are free for me to do the other pieces I really need and want to do. I write all my needs and desires and then order them by priority. Some may not get done and that is ok. Give yourself the space to let go.
This month I know I need time each day for self care, which may be 10 minutes of meditation, getting in a walk in nature with a friend, reading a good book, doing yoga having a date with my partner etc. So I put those into my weekly and monthly planner. The other piece that is important at this time of year is to think about how I can make simple heartfelt gifts or give my time to others in need. The anxiety around money this time of year can skyrocket so be gentle with yourself and prioritize what is truly needed and what you can do that feels good.
Making gifts takes time but I love it. So thinking about what I CAN do and putting that into my planner will allow me to see what is possible or not. If it starts feeling overwhelming I might have to simplify so that I don’t overwhelm myself. We can’t do it all and that is ok. I might only have time to give to one charity and so be it. The gifts I give may be super simple like a baked good and a card inviting a friend to coffee in the months to come.
EVERYTHING DOSEN’T HAVE TO BE BIG!
The other piece that is paramount for me is creating small rituals of celebration with my daughter and partner. This year we are doing a gratitude tree. Each day we write one thing we are grateful for on a piece of paper and hang it on a branch we found in our yard. We light candles and create joyful spaces in our home. We also like to do simple acts of kindness for those less fortunate. You can do one thing or many. What feels doable?
If you are in a place where money is a real issue and you are feeling overwhelmed please email me your story so that I can put you on my giving list. May we all support each other in bringing joy and light back into our families, community and world through loving action.
As I sit here on this rainy morning with coffee in hand I am sitting with lots of emotions coming from myself and from those close to me. We are all processing so much emotionally and mentally that is can be overwhelming so I wanted to reach out to everyone of you and say I hear and feel you. Are you an educator who is not only having to work through your own feelings but those of your students? Or are you business owner or employee who is still having to go throughout your day and keep the flow of business moving, yet feeling drained emotionally and mentally? Or are you a parent who is trying to help and empower your children process everything that is going on? Try to give space for yourself to work through your own emotions. We can get bogged down and it can feel overwhelming.
So today I want to share with you an active concept that I use with students, and with my daughter, but can be done by anyone. The concept is part meditation, part observation and part connecting and it called Finding Your Sit Spot. I first came across this concept in what is now my”bible” called Coyote’s Guide to Connecting with Nature by John Young, Evan McGown and Ellen Haas. The idea is to find a spot that you can easily access on a daily or at least a weekly basis, a spot in or around nature that is quiet and calm. You may know just the spot or it may take some exploring to find it which is a beautiful part of the process. I also will bring a journal with me where I can write or doodle whatever I feel like I want to do. Sometimes I just sit in silence.
The idea is to find and visit this spot frequently. This can be something you do for your lunch break, before your work day starts or after it ends depending on when the sun is setting. Once you find your spot, you will want to give yourself at least 10 minutes to just be in the space, taking deep breaths, closing your eyes and feeling your body sitting solidly on the ground. I will also do a body scan while I do this.
What is that? It is when while you are focusing on your breath you imagine the breaths going into the different parts of your body to relax you. So you would start with your head, work down your neck to your shoulders, to your heart and then down your spine, going out into your arms and then down into your legs. At this point you can open your eyes and slowly scan the space around you. This is when I journal if I decide to.
What are you noticing? What is different than the last time? What questions or feeling are coming up?
When we write about these they bring them from weighing ourselves down to giving it a container in which it can reside and then be looked at later if needed. I will also draw or doodle, if that makes more sense or is what I am drawn to. When doing this with students it is a great way to do weekly poetry or science observations too.
I always remember when I was young and would come into my parents room when I had a bad dream my Dad would ask me to tell him about it because he said it would get it out of my head and it wouldn't come back to me that night. For me this was true and as I got older I would write them down which seemed to do the same thing. And now doing this in nature which can be so healing has allowed me to work with all of my emotions in a more constructive way.
Observing the patterns of nature, being on her ground, feeling the wind, hearing the birds and animals can help put our questions into perspective and sometimes allow us to see answers that we couldn’t before. It connects us and grounds us so we can communicate and hold space for ourself and those around us.
Getting outside in nature for an hour a day could change your life. It could change your child’s life.
The research is out there about the benefits of getting outside, engaging with our natural settings but so many of us,myself included, often put this at the end of our to do list. We shouldn’t put it at the bottom, it should be a priority.
Making time to get outside has become a priority for me. I am by no means perfect at this, but I have put time into my weekly schedule for walks or hikes and it has changed how I feel and how I engage with others on a daily level. When I do this, I feel more connected to everyone. I feel more calm. I have also found that I have started seeing patterns or making observations from nature that I take back with me and these findings help me with my work and my relationships.
As I took a hike this weekend with my daughter- weekends are a great time to get outside for an extended period of time- we were walking on a trail that was part of a stream bed. The week before there had been a rain storm, and the day after the temperature dropped and the water froze. So there were frost heaves with cracks in them, and inside those crack were mini ice stalagmites. Creative wonders are sometimes so close to the surface. It just takes looking more closely to see them peeking through the surface and a bit of unearthing to bring them to the light.
They were magical and inspired my daughter to look down and explore other ice patterns. We came across a frozen puddle where most of the water had been absorbed in the ground after the top froze so there were ripples in a thin layer of ice, and air beneath it and the ground. It is like when you have been stuck with a problem you haven’t been able to solve, and then you go down deep and new ideas start bubbling to the surface. By letting your guard down you can melt the ice that will give more weight and movement to the ideas bubbling below the surface.
Most of the stream was still frozen but there was a little bubbling trickle that ran underneath the thinning ice. As we kept discovering these patterns, I could see my daughter’s eyes light up as she noticed the perfect place to make a Fairy house. It was under a tree where the earth had eroded a bit from the base and the roots were moss covered yet exposed. Every few steps she would see another potential house, or a castle for the Fairy Queen. She was deep into her magical world and was buzzing with excitement.
We kept walking and exploring and at the end
she said to me, “Thank you Mommy for bringing me here! I feel like I have found my inner being
Many of us walk outside and are just trying to get from point A to B, some are talking or looking at their phones, some barely get outside at all and sit in front of a screen all day. Even if you live in an inner city, explore the neighborhood around you, there may be a church garden, a hidden garden or place with a view where you can explore and get away from the daily grind. Take time to connect with yourself, your community and or the natural world around you so you can breathe easier, engage on a deeper level and start make positive strides to create a better work and life environment.
Look at the patterns that you see, write them down and reflect on them. You may just find a new Aha!