Saturday, October 6, 2012

Brain Smart Start:  Activities to Connect

One thing that I have observed happening over the past few years is that in many classrooms we are telling children that they can't touch.  Often, because children haven't been taught how to touch appropriately and don't know the limits, we just tell them not to do it at all.  In Conscious Discipline, Dr. Becky Bailey emphasizes the importance of touch.  There is a large amount of research out there that demonstrates the importance of touch.  In training, I often refer to a study that Dr. Bailey shared with us that was done on NBA teams.  It was found that the teams that had the highest percentage of touch among players were the most successful teams.  How many times have you experienced the power of a gentle pat on the back or a firm hug when your spirits are down.  We all need touch!   

In Conscious Discipline we teach that in order to develop meaningful connections between children and between children and their teachers, these activities need to include four important components.  Meaningful connections are created through eye contact, touch, presence, and playfulness.

When I first started using Conscious Discipline I realized that there were many days that I didn't connect with several of my students at all.  Since I work in a classroom with children who have special needs, I often have a couple of students that need a lot of my help in order to be successful.  I was so focused on those students, that I sometimes missed meaningful moments with the other students.  Adding Activities to Connect has really created some good habits for me in the classroom.  Everyday as my students arrive at school I greet them using my greeting apron.  It is just an old tool apron from a lumber store.  I turned it over and added a couple of pieces of Velcro.  Every couple of weeks I add a new greeting for students to choose from.  I really enjoy coming up with new greetings that go along with the season or topics we are discussing in class.  Right now the class favorites are the "Pumpkin Bump" and the "Bushy Tail Squirrel".

To do the "Pumpkin Bump" you simply stand side by side and bump hips.  The "Bushy Tail Squirrel" is done by turning back to back and shaking your tails at each other like a squirrel!

I had a student that resisted coming into school each day.  He would play a game and hide from me behind the bench.  I decided to start wearing my greeting apron outside to pick him up and offer his greeting before we even got to the classroom.  Guess what!  The problem was solved!  Now everyday he eagerly lines up with the other children to receive his greeting before he enters the classroom!

Here is a sample of what a greeting apron might look like.  These aprons offer children four choices.  It is up to you how many options you offer your students.  The younger the child, the fewer choices that should be available.  The pictures on my apron are created using Boardmarker software by Mayer Johnson.  You can find images on the Internet, use die cuts, or foam pieces from the hobby shop.  Get creative and see what you can come up with!

In addition to being greeted by the teacher upon arrival each day, my students are also greeted by one of their peers at circle time each day.  Every student in my School Family has a meaningful job.  One of those jobs is the Greeter.  As a part of circle time, my greeter goes around and asks the question "How would you like to be greeted today?"  We alter the question according to the verbal ability of each student.  For a child who is nonverbal, we use a communication device and they push a button to ask the question. 
This is the greeting plate I use for my student greeter.  It is a simple colored plate divided into equal parts using ribbon.  Velcro is attached to each section for the greetings.  When I want to introduce a new greeting, I put it on my greeting apron first.  After a few days of me using that greeting and teaching them how to do it, then I add it to the greeting plate.  That way I can be sure they are successful!

You may be saying to yourself, "I don't have time to greet every child."  I have heard from many specialists such as Fine Arts Teachers, Speech Therapists, and Instructional Assistants who have a very limited amount of time with each group of children.  You may find the following video clip helpful.  This is the Art Teacher at my school.  She sees her students every six days and sees over 1000 students in that amount of time.  She attended a 2 day Conscious Discipline training that Ignite Learning LLC sponsored with LGA, Karen Hickman this past summer.  In that training she witnessed the power of Conscious Discipline and comitted to implementing as many of the principles in her classroom as she could.  One thing she began doing right away is finding a way to greet all of her students as they arrive. 

There are other activities you can add to help give students the opportunity to connect.  You might like to check out Dr. Bailey's book "I Love You Rituals".  There are many fun finger plays, games, and positive nursery rhymes in the book that you can do with individual students or as a group.  For more information go to

There are also many songs that offer children the opportunity to build connections as they sing along.  You might consider checking out some of the songs on these Cd's.  Some of our favorites are: "Get Ready", "School Family", "Greetings", "I Wish You Well".  For more information go to