This weekend I presented at the Southwest Washington Special Education Conference and Fair, a wonderful Vancouver, WA event for parents and teachers of special education students. This was my second year presenting at the conference, which I find to be chock full of caring, wise parents and teachers, eager to find effective ways to help children learn. Like last year, I presented on Neuro-Parenting and Neuro-Teaching, my buzzwords for using brain-based techniques when working with kids. Based on feedback from last year’s participants, I expanded my session from 1 hour to 2 hours in duration.
In the first hour of the session, we discussed how the brain responds to stress. I hope the participants took away two major points:
1) When the brain goes into stress mode, the most advanced, rational parts of our brain are deactivated. This means kids (and adults!) literally CANNOT think rationally in the middle of an emotional crisis. Hence: we must first get calm, and feel safe. Then the most human parts of our brain will come back online.
2) The brain and body function aim for homeostasis at all times, balancing between the sympathetic nervous system’s response (AKA, the stress response) and the parasympathetic nervous system’s workings (AKA the relaxation response). We want to spend as much time in the parasympathetic zone as possible. This is when our bodies are able to better digest food, fight off bugs–and often when we learn best.
By the way, we do need the sympathetic response–there’s even some research that stress hormones such as cortisol can improve learning outcomes, but only up to a certain point. The bottom line is that today’s students are WAY more stressed out than the primitive humans this stress system was designed for. So as educators and teachers, we must first help students feel safe (Maslow wouldn’t disagree here) and then we can move onto teaching content.
Once we had covered the brain research, we took a short break to set up the room as a mini yoga studio. I had brought mats and blocks, and we laid everything out in a circle. (Always my go-to shape for my Portland kids yoga classes; I like the way a circle creates equality among participants.) The following hour was spent learning and personally experiences yoga-based techniques for helping students calm down and release stress. We practiced yoga poses for confidence, calm, and releasing anger/excess energy. Breathwork (pranayama in yoga) exercizes covered in the session included bumblebee breath, three-part breath, and more. And we also practiced singing songs from yoga. (Singing has an incredibly positve effect on the brain–it causes the release of feel-good hormones such as Oxytocin.) The session participants asked me to post one of the songs we practiced, Sa Ta Na Ma. So here it is:
This dynamic mudra is just one of the songs I incorporate in my kids yoga classes around town. If you’re enthusiastic about helping youngsters feel calm and ready to learn, take my upcoming kids yoga teacher training. I am partnering up with Allyson Copacino of Move Yoga to write an extensive curriculum. As we are both kids yoga teachers AND elementary school teachers, our teacher training will be ideal for classroom teachers, parents, and yoga teachers alike. To learn more about our teacher training, please fill out the form below: [contact-form][contact-field label=’Name’ type=’name’ required=’1’/][contact-field label=’Email’ type=’email’ required=’1’/][contact-field label=’Website’ type=’url’/][contact-field label=’Comment’ type=’textarea’ required=’1’/][/contact-form] . Thank you and Namaste, ~Colleen