October 20, 2014

Kids in the Canyon: A Sensible New Year­­­­­

 

It is traditional to start the New Year with resolutions, promises and high hopes. For those of us raising and working with children, self-doubt and that inner critic taunting us to do a better job modeling the behavior and habits we are attempting to instill in our children often visit us.

This year, I am turning to my five senses as I search for comforting ways to connect with the children (young and old) in my life, maybe some of these practices will resonate with you.

Sight: William Shakespeare said, “ The eyes are the window to your soul,” and studies by scientists (http://www.livescience.com/19185-soul-eyes.html) confirm that most people do think that a person’s soul, or consciousness, resides near the eyes.

With this thought in mind, I plan to make changes in the way I connect with people, especially children. I commit to connecting visually with children at their height level. I will move to a place of equal height and both make direct eye contact and encourage the children to make that connection as well.

Hearing: Many years ago, I trained in The Way of Council through a special program led by trainers from The Ojai Foundation Council in Schools (ojaifoundation.org/). We were all teachers, learning to implement the Way of Council in our classrooms. The one phrase that really stuck with me was one of the rules stated at the beginning of each session of Council: listen with your heart.

Listening with your heart implies hearing what the speaker is saying without judgment. Practicing Council in my classroom is one of the most powerful experiences I have had with the children and one that the children often list as a favorite activity. It is a time to be heard and to have the undivided attention of the group, but can also be practiced with just one other person. This year I will expand this practice to include many more times to really listen to what the children are sharing.

Smell: There are many quotes about smell, the most popular, of course, being “Always take the time to stop and smell the roses,” but the sense of smell is not just about flowers and the smells found in nature. These are wonderful, and I can list many I enjoy—the beach and ocean, pine trees and a new book being among my favorites—but smell can also mean creating wonderful scents together.

One of my most memorable activities as a child was cooking with my mother or watching her cook our special family recipes. These familiar smells evoke memories so strong that I feel transported back in time to my childhood.

Over the years, my daughters have learned to cook these recipes and together we create wonderful holiday meals and family dinners. As they have grown up, they carry these recipes with them and fill their homes with warm memories.

This year I plan on appreciating the scents of nature as I make the time to slow down long enough to enjoy moments hiking, enjoying the beach and working in the garden. I also plan to enjoy the Zen of cooking more often, reliving memories of cooking with my mother and making new memories exploring new recipes with my daughters.

Taste: Meals taste better when shared with people you care about and enjoy eating with. Children have fun at school eating with their friends, comparing lunches, discovering new foods and developing social skills, but the foundation of shared meals starts at home and family meals are more important now than ever.

One organization, The Family Dinner Project (thefamilydinnerproject.org/) is an excellent resource for those interested in creating a family tradition of shared meals and to learn about the real benefits of family dinners.

Did you know that studies indicate that dinner conversation is a more potent vocabulary-booster than reading and that stories told around the kitchen table help our children build resilience? These facts and more benefits of family dinners can be found at the Family Dinner Project site.

Children learn to explore new foods, to taste foods they help to prepare and develop a sense of pride and accomplishment when they are part of the food prep team.

Touch: Do you remember learning about Maslow’s research on the hierarchy of needs? As children grow and develop, they have a great need to feel loved and safe and the hugs you give your children actually help develop a sense of security, safety and belonging (preschooler.thebump.com/maslows-child-development-theory-perspective-3945.html).

One day after reading a short blog post about collecting hugs, I decided to try it for the day, giving and receiving hugs from as many people as I could.

Those who didn’t expect to get a hug were happily surprised and, when I asked for a hug, all complied. My lesson was that touch really is so healing and a necessity for us all. I learned that taking the time to make a connection with my family has positive benefits that stay with me during the day and make me a happier person.

MY NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTION

This year, I plan on being sensible, turning to simple ways to improve connections with both the little and big people in my life, seeing people for who they truly are, listening with my heart, creating scents to cherish, sharing meals with those I love and collecting hugs.

If you have an activity for children and/or parents in Topanga, please share the information with me via amyweisberg@completeteach.com. I would be happy to write about you or interview you for this column.

Amy K. Weisberg, M.Ed., has been a teacher for 35 years and has been teaching at Topanga Elementary Charter School for 19 years. Her business, CompleteTeach, provides support for students, parents and teachers. Her book, “How to Have the Best Super-Duper School Year Ever!” is available on Amazon.com.

“Kids in the Canyon,” is dedicated to parents and kids, offering them tips for the month ahead and great activities for kids in the Topanga area.