Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Music Magic: Using Music and Movement to Create Optimal LearningEnvironments

Meet Jennifer Newingham!  She's an early childhood administrator and she's pretty awesome!  She allowed me the opportunity to co-present with her at our state IAEYC (Indiana Association for the Education of Young Children) Conference.

We had as backed house as we blended developmentally appropriate music and movement strategies and Conscious Discipline to create a rocking professional development opportunity for all these ECE professionals!

As promised, I've uploaded the handouts here so you can get a glimpse of what we shared!  We also uploaded the song lyrics and images you could use to create your own song box or binder.  You can find the song lyrics here and the images here.  Feel free to contact me if your like more information or if you would like to bring this training to your staff!

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Conscious Discipline Book Study Chapter 2: Getting Fit from the Inside Out

As many of you know, we are in the midst of a year long book club here on the blog.  We are studying the work of Dr. Becky Bailey in her new book Conscious Discipline:  Building Resilient Classrooms.  In March we read chapter 2.  This chapter is about how the internal state impacts behavior.  Dr. Bailey goes into great detail about the Brain State Model and how each state impacts behavior and the need of each brain state.

My personal goal in leading the book club is to more intentionally implement the things I'm learning into my daily life.  As I reflect on the chapter each month I will share with you how it is impacting my personal life.  Since Conscious Discipline is an adult first approach to discipline it is essential that we look at how it impacts our lives and our personal skill set before we can move forward in implementing these concepts with children.


As I shared with you last month, I have begun a journey toward a healthier lifestyle.  2016 is my year to get fit!  This is not something new to me.  For many years I have had a desire to live a healthy balanced life.  As we learned in the chapter this month the difference between wanting to live a healthy lifestyle and actually doing it has a lot to do with our internal state.


Last week my gym buddy and I finished the twelve week program we began in January.  We were so excited to reach that goal and wanted to find a way to celebrate.  It was interesting because we talked about several different ideas for how we could celebrate.  Everything from zip-lining, margaritas, and a shopping day to horse back riding or going for a drive in a convertible while jamming to 90's music.
The interesting thing is that none of it really sounded satisfying.

I think most of us would agree we were raised in environments that that relied on rewards and punishments to manage behavior.  It seemed to work at the time and get the results that the adults in our lives were hoping for--STOPPING BAD BEHAVIOR!  The question I would ask is did it really teach us the best possible skills for life success?

As Dr. Bailey mentions on page 51 in our chapter, "I would offer the following food for thought in regard to simple behavioral systems based on rewards and punishments..."  She goes on to describe the impact of relying on rewards and punishments to govern behavior.  Although these systems work temporarily for children who come to school feeling safe and loved these systems hinder their executive skill development.  We exchange long-term success for short-term compliance and obedience.  As most parents and teachers have experienced, these systems don't work for children who don't have the security of feeling safe and loved.  No matter what we do, they will fall short and end up feeling discouraged.  The future often looks very grim for these children.  Finally, reward and punishment systems have a huge impact on school and family culture.  Research indicates that negative cultures impede learning, foster bullying, increases dropout rates and teacher turnover rates. (Hoffman, 2008 pg. 51)

Although I fit into the first category, I can see the long-term impact that those reward and punishment systems have on the way I manage myself as an adult.  I felt very safe and loved at home and at school (well most of the time...there was that one teacher in 5th grade that scared me lol!) and I would have been labeled one of the "good kids."  I had very good grades and my behavior was a model for others (other than the fact that my conduct got marked down occasionally for excessive talking :))!  As an adult, I can see how often I have this reward/punishment mindset in how I manage my own behavior.  I often rely on external rewards to make me feel good or help me celebrate an accomplishment.

In reflection, I can see how much Conscious Discipline is transforming this mindset for me personally.  I am beginning to experience a greater sense of "reward" from the internal experiences I am having rather than having to have some sort of physical reward to make me feel good.

As we chatted about how we would celebrate our accomplishment in the gym we finally came up with an idea that was not only fun but very rewarding.  We decided to celebrate our success by celebrating our trainer, Connie.  By celebrating Connie, we would be celebrating us!  Connie has been the trainer at our gym for years and she is so faithful and encouraging...sometimes just the kind of tough love we need when we need it the most!  She has educated us, cheered us on, and held us accountable to our goals.  We don't always like what she has to say or how hard we have to work to get healthier, but her guidance and willingness to walk along side us gives us the extra help we need to believe we can do it and actually DO IT!  To celebrate our accomplishment, we decided that we would decorate her office, make her a gift, and let her know just how thankful we are for her love and support!  It was so much fun planning our celebration and sneaking into her office on the weekend to decorate and prepare her surprise, but the best was yet to come!  When she got to work on Monday she was just THRILLED by what she saw!  She loved every bit of it and even saved our crazy signs to hang on her wall as a constant reminder of the impact she has on everyone at the gym just by doing what she does best!


This journey hasn't been all kicks and giggles!  It has been very difficult and discouraging at times.  A couple of weeks ago I was talking to my husband about my fitness journey and how difficult it was. He said he didn't think I needed to do all that work. I should just be happy with how I look, live a comfortable life, eat what I want and not feel like I have to go to the gym all the time.  He's right, I could do that.  I could be happy with how things are and live a comfortable lifestyle just like this, but my goal isn't necessarily a skinny body, it's a more disciplined life.  I don't want to allow the impulses of the food I love, lack of desire to go to the gym,  or emotions be in charge of me.  I want to be educated and be in charge of my body.  I want my body to represent the best of me and right now it really doesn't.  Without discipline it is easy to let internal upset and external stuff drive me.

So no, it's not the easy way of doing things and it's definitely not comfortable all the time, but discipline helps me be in charge of me!

On page 40 of the Conscious Discipline book Dr. Bailey discusses some of the false messages we have on our CD-ROM regarding ourselves.  When I miss the mark and fall short of the goals I've set it is very easy for me to get stuck in the emotional state and listen to the false messages that say, "I'm not good enough.  There's something wrong with me.  I'll be rejected.  Everyone thinks I'm a loser."

As we learned in the chapter, the need of the emotional state is love/connection.  I have to value myself and living a healthy life enough to make it worth the time, energy, and sometimes even the pain!

Part of the reason that I didn't feel such a need for an external reward for completing the workout was because the feelings I had on the inside were rewarding enough!  Was it fun?  No not always.  It was actually even a little bit disappointing at times.  I was working my tail off and building muscle but not losing any weight.  I knew changes were happening on the inside, but I really hoped for visible results too.


I tend to be a pretty independent driven person.  When I started out I purchased a workout regimen and set a goal of completing the 12 weeks IN 12 WEEKS!  A few days into the workout I invited my friend Stephanie to join me.  She agreed and we began working out together.  Over time it became a habit and we began to hold each other accountable and actually had fun working out together.  Sometimes other patrons in the gym laughed at us and commented that we shouldn't be having that much fun at the gym!  :)  There were so many times I didn't want to go, but I knew Stephanie was there waiting for me and we would get through it together.  As we laughed and sometimes even cried we developed so much more than muscle.  We discovered a deeper purpose in workout out-- friendship.  One that is full of love, safety, and trust.  Stephanie demonstrates friendship in ways that I admire...like the time she came and sat with me while I worked out.  Although she had already worked out that day, she volunteered to come and cheer me on since I couldn't come till later.  Over time I noticed myself doing the same thing for her--because that's what friends do!  At the end of the 12 weeks not only were my muscles were more toned, but I had gained a close friend and a change of heart.  I have also developed a new sense of what it means to be a friend.

So what does getting fit have to do with the Brain State Model?  EVERYTHING!

Over the course of the last 12 weeks there were many times I didn't WANT to go to the gym.  I didn't WANT to eat right.  I didn't WANT to do more burpees!!!!  I know I need to do all these things, but the difference between KNOWING and DOING is RELATIONSHIP!  That was the key to my success and ability to change.  As a result, I was able to meet my goal and complete the program.  Next week we are starting a new workout plan and this time our goal is to educate ourselves and be more intentional about our nutrition.  Working out is actually the easiest part for me...eating right is the bigger challenge!  Wish us well and enjoy reading Chapter 3 in April!  Looking forward to learning more about School Family!

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Conscious Discipline Book Club: Chapter 1--Transformational Change

When I first started using Conscious Discipline I thought it was something I would just be using in my classroom.  Initially, I thought it was going to help me get from point A to point B and help my students be better prepared for kindergarten.  I also thought it would give me new strategies for how to handle the challenging behavior in my preschool classroom.

I really had no idea how much it was going to change me.

It has been five years since I jumped off the Pamper Pole at Conscious Discipline Advanced Institute.  That ball that hangs just out of reach represents your goals and dreams.  The things you want most in life.

As I climbed the pole, my whole focus was on the step that was just in front of me.  I didn't look too far ahead nor did I dare look behind.  I just focused on the next best placement of my hands and feet so I would be secure.

When I got to the top of the poll and stood myself up with only the ropes holding me I froze.  For what seemed like a lifetime I just stood there.

What if I jumped and fell?

How do I get my feet to move?

Are they really going to catch me when I go?



Trust...the people on the ground have got me!


Just about the time I mustered up the courage to jump a dove flew over from the tree and landed on the cable that held the ball.



Stretching forward I smacked that ball and then slowly floated to the ground where I was surrounded by the warm embrace of friends.  They were the ones holding the rope.  I had to trust the people on the ground in order to have the courage to jump, but ultimately I had to trust the source of all my strength--God

My journey with Conscious Discipline has been much like my experience with the Pamper Pole.  As Dr. Bailey reminded us at the end of the chapter, if we focus on the goal the journey takes longer.  To experience transformation we have to focus on the step that is right in front of us and take the next best step.  We can't do it alone.  We have to lean in to the community of friends and family around us--the cheerleaders in our lives help us along the way.  It's not a sign of weakness to ask for help--it's actually a sign of strength.

Ultimately, for me, it is my faith that has brought me through this journey to where I am today.  I don't need to hide my weakness or pretend like I'm perfect in order to be the best mom, friend, or employee I can.  It is actually through my weakness that He is strong.  When I trust Him with my weakness and seek His help in becoming the woman He created me to be, that is when I find peace and the courage to JUMP!

Chapter One in our book study starts out with this quote from Mahatma Gandhi.  "Be the change you want to see in the world."

Over the last month and a half I have been on a very intentional journey to get healthier.  Not only physically healthy, but also emotionally, and spiritually healthy.  It hasn't been easy, but I am so ready for a change!

Self-discipline takes work.  It can be very labor intensive and having a strong support system makes a huge impact on your success.  Just like when I jumped off the pamper pole, I have to really work at it to "trust the people on the ground."  When I trust them enough to be vulnerable and share my journey with them I find encouragement, joy, and success!

The truth is that when I left my classroom three years ago to "take the leap" into being self-employed there was a lot of fear involved.  I was leaving the only job I had known for 18 years.  I left many friends and families that I had grown to love and who were a part of my daily life.  Many of these people were my support system.  We did life together for many years and now our paths were headed in different directions.

Long and short of it is that fear can do some crazy stuff to our behavior.  As long as I stayed lost in the fear or unaware of the impact it was having on me my progress was going to be stifled.  It seemed like I was so isolated and alone.  I knew how to do better, but I wasn't doing it.  I found myself way off track from where I really wanted to be.  I felt very frustrated and sad.

I imagine that the same is true for many of you.  When you first began learning about and implementing Conscious Discipline there was a lot of fear involved.  Maybe you were excited about the possibility of learning a better way to discipline your students or children, but didn't realize how much work it was going to be.  There may have been tools in your "discipline toolbox" that weren't very helpful and now you were trying to let them go.  Maybe it seemed like you were alone.  Perhaps the only person in your school or home who was trying to learn a better way.

Fear isolates us.  It makes it hard for us to feel safe and trust other people or even ourselves for that matter.   Most of us were raised with discipline that relied on fear to make us behave.  Rewards and punishments were the norm.  When we begin learning about Conscious Discipline we are making some HUGE shifts.  Instead of slamming shut that fear-based discipline toolbox and sealing it with a lock, we are making a shift in our mindset and adding practical skills so we can be the change we want to see in the world.  Essentially, we are giving our toolbox a makeover.  Becoming aware of what is in the old toolbox and upgrading it with the necessary tools so we can be the best person possible and have the self-discipline necessary to TEACH Conscious Discipline tools to our children.
For me, the only way that can happen is if I rely on the Maker, not myself.

I am so excited that each of you have joined me on this journey toward a better way.  This is just the beginning.  Whether you have been using Conscious Discipline for many years or are just beginning, I am certain that you will make new discoveries and take new steps in your journey that will help you be the change you want to see in the world.

I can't wait to hear what you are learning!  Please be sure to comment below with your questions, reflections, and insights from Chapter 1 and join us on BLAB on February 26 at 8:30 pm Eastern Time for our live chat!

Here is the link:  https://blab.im/jenny-conscious-discipline-book-club-chapter-one

"See" you there!

Thursday, February 11, 2016

The "Little Things" Aren't Always So Little

My heart melted as we walked away and my daughter squeezed my hand and said, "I like it when you're here because you do stuff like that!"

It's the little things...

It was her second volleyball tournament of the season and after their first win, the coach rounded up all the girls for a team photo.  As you can imagine, the parents were gathered around like the paparazzi excitedly taking pictures of the team and I was right there front and center snapping away!  

You see, I didn't get to go to her first tournament because I had nursery duty at church that Sunday.  My husband happily stepped up to the plate to play the role of chauffeur, chef, cheerleader, and family reporter!  As hard as he tries, something was still missing...

It's the little things...

When I went to a Women's Expo a couple of weeks ago with a friend we had the opportunity to hear Rachel Stafford from Hands Free Mama. She spoke about her journey from being over whelmed and distracted with life to becoming hands free and more present and purposeful in her relationships and the way she lives.

She shared an excerpt from her blog post titled:  "The Life of the Party is Closer than You Think."  She points out that as we become present with our children and spend time nurturing our relationships we become the life of the party.  The heartbeat of the family.  The little things really do matter!

"You are the party because of the love you offer in small, daily doses.  So don’t worry about how you look.  Don’t worry about what you did or didn’t do yesterday.  Don’t worry about that long list of flaws and failings no one is keeping but you.  Your love and presence are the highlight of someone’s life—the highlight of someone’s life.  Keep waking up.  Keep showing up.  Keep picking yourself up from off the floor.  You are the party—the Life of the Party.  Your daily doses of love and presence make it so." (Rachel Stafford, Hands Free Mama)

I started reflecting on what that means for me.

Could I be the life of the party?

Could it really be as simple as putting a note in your child's lunch box, stopping for a hug, taking a team photo or sitting down to listen while your daughter settles into bed for the night?

Of course it is!

In fact, my friend and I were so inspired by Rachel that we decided to start putting fun little notes in our teenager's lunch boxes every day!  We've had lots of fun coming up with creative ways to surprise them when they open their lunch and find a message from mom!

I've written on sticky notes, napkins, fruit and baggies!  You never know where you'll find a little "party" in your lunch box!

I did a little searching on the internet and found TONS of blogs with FREE printable lunch box notes.

I'm going to include links to those sites for you, but keep a couple of things in mind!

1.  Keep it personal!  A hand written note that has meaning for you and the child is better than anything else!
2.  This is a great way to remind your child that you are thinking of them throughout their day.  It reminds them of the connection you have with one another.  If they like jokes, make sure you include some joke notes!  If they find strength in scriptures include those too!  I even found lunch box notes with beloved characters such as Legos and Frozen!

These are just a few of my favorite posts that include FREE Lunch Box Notes Printables!

I think sometimes we make Conscious Discipline too complicated.  At it's core it is about being safe, present, and connected with your child.  It doesn't have to be complex.

The TRUTH is that more often than not it's the little things that matter the most!

Keep it simple.

After I shared with you last week about how difficult it can be for me to connect with my teenagers, I realized that it's not as hard as I make it sometimes!

There are many times throughout our week that offer us special opportunities to connect.

My son is now 14 years old and he's about 6 foot 2.  He is a pretty typical teenage boy, who, at least once a day, gives me a huge smile and looks at me out of the corner of his eye as he charges over for a BIG HUG! Even though he has to lean over to hug me now, it's our little ritual.  As he snuggles close, I feel so happy.  I can't help but think he does too!

Remember, the little things aren't always so little.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Brain Smart Connection Activities: What I Love About You!

As you may have read in my last post, connection is the key to cooperation...

BUT it's so much MORE than that!

The connections we build with children through loving rituals and traditions help us set aside a sacred space to create a climate of love and acceptance--A time to focus on what really matters!

When I was a child my mom had a way of making even the smallest "holiday" special in some way.

Two of my favorites were Valentine's Day and St. Patrick's Day.

There was heart-shaped cakes, love notes, and everything pink on Valentine's Day.

And it wouldn't be St. Patrick's day if that pesky little leprechaun didn't turn the milk green!  We also had the traditional green eggs and ham and wore as much green as we could so we wouldn't get pinched on St. Patties Day!  Even when we were TEENAGERS!

Is it any surprise that when I became a teacher and eventually a mom, I carried those traditions into my teaching and parenting practices?

Every year we still have heart-shaped food, love notes, and as much pink as possible on Valentine's Day!  And that sneaky little leprechaun still manages to turn something green in our house!

These rituals still hold a very special place in my heart!

I'm reading the NAEYC publication titled Rituals and Traditions:  Fostering a Sense of Community in Preschool by Jacky Howell and Kimberly Reinhard.  Although it is focused on the classroom, the same principles apply to the home.  In the book it states, "Rituals and traditions are part of everyday life.  A ritual can be reading a book in a special chair before bed.  A tradition can be a special food that is served only at celebrations.  Rituals and traditions have the power to shape classroom routines into times that build meaningful connections and bonds among children, families, and teachers, creating and strengthening a sense of community in early childhood settings."

That's what my mom did!  She took the ordinary and made it extraordinary through meaningful and fun rituals and traditions!

During the month of February I am going to be sharing various activities that could help you focus on building rituals and traditions into your family, whether at home or school!

A couple of years ago I found myself very frustrated with the environment in our home.

My children were growing up and I it was very challenging to figure out ways to connect with them.  I was a pro at connecting with preschoolers, toddlers, and infants, but not so much with these "teeny boppers" that were now living under my roof.

There was an increase in the amount of conflict in our home and I knew it was because we weren't connecting.  I wanted to find ways to connect with and encourage my family that would be age appropriate and meaningful.

I needed something to help me shift my focus from the frustration I felt to being more encouraging to myself and my family.

Since it was February, I decided we all needed a bit more love and intentionality!

I cut out some heart-shaped notes and wrote something different that I noticed about them every day for the whole month!

Each morning before they got up, I would hang a new note on their door so they could start their day off with some encouraging words.

The phrase I like to use is:  "You _____ so _____.  That was ____!"

It is helpful language that we teach in Conscious Discipline because it is 100% focused on the beauty you see in the child and their actions.  I try to avoid phrases such as, "I like the way you..."  or "You did a good job with..."  Those phrases make it more about me and can be about approval rather than the qualities in the child that are valuable.

I also got my husband in on the fun and made sure there were plenty of hearts so everyone could share the love!

It might be helpful if you number each of your hearts as you add them!  By the end of the month you'll have 28 (unless it's a Leap Year like this year)!

It amazing me how quickly the whole climate in our home/classroom changes when we shift from focusing our what's missing to seeing the beauty that's right in front of us!

Not only did I experience more joy, so did they!  They couldn't wait to get out of bed and see what I noticed that day!  It raises everyone's awareness of the impact they have on others!

Since today is only February 2nd we are just on our second day, but it has made a difference already!  My husband wanted to know where the "stash" of hearts was so he could write me some notes too!  And my son went out of his way to tell me thank you for the kindness he saw expressed on his door today!

Whether you are in the classroom or home I hope this idea inspires you to remember what you love about those around you and not just remember, but express it to them too!


Sunday, January 31, 2016

Conscious Discipline Book Club 2016

I've had a great response to the 2016 Conscious Discipline Book Club that I will be leading here at Ignite Learning!

Since I had such a big response, I decided to wait until February to start the Book Club to give me more time to organize the details.

If you would like to join this 10 month journey please follow this link to fill out a quick form so I will know who is reading along.

This Book Club is going to be very informal.  

As I mentioned in my previous post, this is a personal commitment.  One that I hope you will choose to make because of the personal reward of life transformation.  

There aren't any "assignments" other than to read one chapter each month and work through the questions and additional resources provided on the Conscious Discipline website.  I will guide you along the way.  :) 

Each month, I will post on the blog about my personal journey and how this book is impacting my life experience.  

My hope is that you will also share.  At the end of each blog post you will see that there is a space where you can comment.  Please take the time to comment and share with this community about what you learned that month and how it impacted your daily life.  

You can also email me or connect with me through various social media sites such as Facebook.

Here's the plan:

STEP 1:  Follow this link to submit your information registering you for the book club.
STEP 2:  If you haven't already done so, order the NEW Conscious Discipline book by Dr. Becky                     Bailey.  
STEP 3:  Read one chapter a month and interact on the Book Club posts to share your experience
  1. February:  Chapter 1 Introduction to Conscious Discipline
  2. March:  Chapter 2 Conscious Discipline Brain State Model
  3. April:  Chapter 3 School Family
  4. May:  Chapter 4 Composure
  5. June:  Chapter 5 Assertiveness
  6. July:  Chapter 6 Encouragement
  7. August: Chapter 7 Choices
  8. September:  Chapter 8 Empathy
  9. October:  Chapter 9 Positive Intent
  10. November:  Chapter 10:  Consequences
STEP 4:  Join me and some of my friends on BLAB (download the app or find it on the web) for a LIVE conversation about our Book Club journey on February 26th at 8:30 Eastern Time.  More information to come!

Looking forward to a rich experience!  Hope you'll join me!

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Brain Smart Transition Tips that Work: Motivation

Think about the last time you went to Walmart or your local department store.  

Did you get a warmer greeting from the people there than you do when you enter your home, classroom, or office?

I know for myself that I have to be very intentional about getting up from my desk or whatever task I am doing when my family comes home and go to them and make an meaningful connection.  Whether it's a simple hello and sticking around long enough to hear about their day or chatting while I make them a snack it makes a huge difference in our relationship when I do!

This is the last in a three part series about how to create Brain Smart transitions in your classroom or home.  If you haven't read the other two posts you can find them here.

So you've tried everything in the first two posts and you are STILL having trouble at certain times of day or with a particular child.  What to do now?

As you might have guessed by the looks of our introduction, it has something to do with relationships.  

The motivation to behave comes from being in relationship.  Traditionally, we thought that rules governed behavior.  What we know now is that it is actually relationships that cause a person to have the motivation to pay attention, follow directions, or control their impulses enough to inhibit the drive to push someone in line or continue playing when it is time to clean up.  

How many of you know the rule about the speed limit on the interstate near you?  Maybe the speed limit is 70 mph.  How many of you actually drive it?  BUT, when do you slow down?  About the time you see a cop sitting in the median or closing in behind you.  Why do you slow down?  Because you are afraid you'll get caught.  I have met very few people who actually drive the speed limit all the time just because it is the RULE.

I bet you've had an experience where a child behaves one way for school and differently at home.  Perhaps they behave differently for mom than they do for dad.  Don't even get me started on grandma.  If you're a grandma you know what I mean.  ;)

As we develop relationships with children by providing regular opportunities for eye contact, appropriate touch, playfulness, and presence we are actually wiring their brains for cooperation, impulse control, and attention.  You are literally creating neural connections in the brain!  How cool is that?  You're building BRAINS!

You may already have some rituals in your classroom or home where you make purposeful connections with your children.  Maybe you could use a few more ideas?

Dr. Becky Bailey has provides a book FULL of ideas to build these meaningful connections.  In her book, "I Love You Rituals" she shares a variety of songs, games, and finger plays that can help you get started.  

Watch this short video to help you understand that our need for connection never changes.  All ages, all stages, and everything in between...we were made for relationship!

As you see from the video, each little snip-it included those four essential ingredients:  eye contact, touch, presence, and playfulness.

Imagine that building these connections is like baking a cake.  If you bake a cake and leave out the eggs, you will get a product when you pull it out of the oven, but it certainly won't be as good as it would if the eggs were there!  The same is true with connecting activities!  When you make sure you get in all four ingredients you will get a much better product in the end!  Just remember that the goal is creating authentic relationships with children and you can't go wrong!   

Our goal as adults is to get to know our children well enough that we know how to connect with them in an attuned way.  Some connections could be done with a whole group of children.  Others will happen on an individual basis. You will find that some children need far more connection that their peers.  When a child has had their needs for safety and connection met at home, they come to school ready for learn.  They don't require the intensity as a child who has a history of trauma or disconnect in their home.

So when you consider how to transition your children throughout the day make sure you remember to take the time to connect!  You may think you don't have the time to connect, but I would say you don't have the time not to!

I have done I Love You Rituals with many children and one of their all time favorites is "Round and Round the Garden."  It is super sweet and fun!

I'm going to share two examples of how I use this I Love You Ritual to help with transitions, but the possibilities are only limited by your creativity and imagination!

The first example involves a time when the children are asked to make a transition to a large group or family activity such as story time.  
1. Once all the children arrive in the group have them stand up in a circle and hold hands.
2. Ask them if they've ever seen a garden.  If so, what grows in a garden?
3. Once they are done describing gardens, tell them you are going to pretend that there is a garden in the middle of the circle.
4. As you hold hands and say the chant you are going to walk slowly in a circle around the garden.
5. When you say, "One step, two steps..."  Slow down and really exaggerate your steps.  
6. Then tickle as many children as you can under the arm.  They may also tickle those around them gently.  Make sure you help them understand how to tickle gently.

They usually want to do it again and again!  It is a great way to get everyone organized into a circle and wire their brains for success!

The second example of how I use this ritual for a transition has to do with the end of a group activity.  Perhaps the children are finished with circle time and they need to go wash their hands for lunch.  You don't want to send all the children to the sink at the same time so you could use rituals to help you slowly release them to wash their hands.  
1.  Call up one child at a time and hold out both of your hands.  One hand represents the "bear" and the other hand represents the "mouse" (another I Love You Ritual).  Of course you could also use visuals of these animals as well.  
2.  Ask the child, "Do you want the bear or the mouse?
3.  Once they choose, you will do the ritual one time. 
  •   Hold the child's hand in your hand palm facing up.
  • Use your index finger to gently circle their palm while saying, "Round and round the garden goes the teddy bear."
  • As you say, "One step, two step..." slowly walk your fingers up their arm.
  • When it says, "Tickle under there!" you will tickle the child under the arm.  
  • Giggles and love abound!
4.  After the ritual, you may want the child to take a deep breath with you to relax their body.
4.  If you even want to take it a step further, you could ask the child to repeat back to you what they are going to go do.  (Go wash my hands and sit down at the table)
5.  It works like a charm!

You may have a hard time imagining that the children will sit and wait their turn, but you would be surprised!  If you are a safe and loving adult, they want nothing more than a "moment" with you!  You are making BIG investments when you take time to create those moments throughout your day!  It will pay big dividends in the long run!

Remember, when you do a ritual with a child and it comes from your heart you are throwing them a lifeline.  If they were sailors adrift at sea you could pull them safely back to the shore!

I hope you have found some helpful tips in this series about transitions that are Brain Smart.  If you have questions or would like to know more about Conscious Discipline get connected!  You can find me on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter!  You are also welcome to email me directly through the blog for further information.  

As always, I wish you well!

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Brain Smart Transition Tips that Work: Using Visual Supports

Stopping is hard.

Think about it.  Have you ever tried to stop smoking, stop eating chocolate, stop watching Netflix, stop speeding, or stop drinking coffee?

It's just not easy is it?!?

I think one of the biggest mistakes we make when we are making transitions with children is that we forget what it is like to be 2, 3, or even 8 years old!

We forget how hard it is to stop doing something you love and transition to something else, possibly even something you really don't like doing like going to bed.  

Not only do we forget how hard it is to stop, we also forget to prepare children for the transition and then help them get to the next activity successfully.  

Last week, in the first post in this series, I shared the M.A.P. technique that can help you and your child think through these steps and be more intentional about making transitions successful.  Click this link to read the full post and learn what the M.A.P. technique is all about.  

The M.A.P. technique helps us focus our attention as well as the attention of our children on what we WANT them TO DO rather than what we want them to STOP doing.

Recently, I was in a classroom coaching a preschool teacher and she said something that made a huge difference for her children.  Just a simple shift in her language and focus helped the whole class shift too.

Instead of turning off the lights at clean-up time and telling the children they had 5 more minutes before they had to clean-up she shifted it to, "You have 5 more minutes to play."  She said this was a game changer for her little ones!  

Once you've shifted your focus on what you get to do rather than what you have to stop doing then it's time to take it to the next level!    

The A in the M.A.P. technique stands for add visuals.

Children under the age of 8 think in pictures.  They don't have the same type of mature inner speech that older children and adults do.  This doesn't just apply to children on the Autism Spectrum or with communication delays.  All children under the age of 8 (and many adults I might add) benefit from the use of images.  If you've put any furniture together lately you will know what I'm talking about.

I'm going to share a couple of Brain Smart strategies you can use to add the necessary visual component to successful transitions.

The first strategy includes an intentional pause in the transition to create an optimal learning state.  This is called the Brain Smart Start.

Steps to implement a Brain Smart Start transition after play time:
1.  Provide a visual signal such as turning off the lights or raising your hand.
2.  Provide auditory signal to get everyone's attention such as a chime or rain stick.
3.  Have everyone stop and put their hands on their head.  This way you know you have their attention.
4.  Lead everyone in a deep breathing strategy such as S.T.A.R.  (Smile, take a deep breath, and relax).
5.  Now that you have their attention and they are calm, you can help them make commitments for what they will do next.  If they have more time to play you could remind them that they have 5 more minutes to play so they can finish what they are doing.  If it is time to clean up you could say, "Jenny, you start by cleaning up the blocks."  
6.  Make sure the children know what to do when they are done cleaning up.  In my classroom, they knew they could help someone else or they could go on over to circle where there were books to look at, calming creams, and quiet activities they could do until everyone was done.  

Once you figure out your routine for cleaning up, you want to make sure you practice it with the children and encourage them when you see that they are doing it successfully.  If they are having difficulty then you need to take a look at what skills are missing and make sure you are teaching those skills!  

This quick video gives you a glimpse of the Brain Smart Start transition that we used in my preschool classroom with children who have special needs.  This was SO much better than when we began.  Before we taught the children this Brain Smart transition strategy, there were children screaming, running to the safe place, and throwing toys.  By intentionally shifting everyone with this strategy it made a huge difference and everyone was much more successful.  As you can see, it's not perfect, but my goal isn't perfection.  My goal is to help the children develop the ability to control the impulse to keep playing or throw toys when the world doesn't go their way.  My goal is to help them focus their attention and follow directions.  I don't want to use behavior charts to make them do that.  I want them to have the internal resources to choose to do it (with my help) so they can be more successful throughout life.  

The next strategy to help you smooth out your transitions is one of my all time FAVORITE tools!  This handy and oh so helpful tool is called the Time Timer. (affiliate link)  It is basically a visual timer.  It helps children have a visual tool to show them how much time is left.  Young children really have no concept of what you mean when you say five more minutes, but if you show them it is much more helpful!

This beauty is the 12 inch timer. (affiliate link)  It hangs nicely on a command hook on the wall.  It also as an audible signal that you can use to signal that the time is all done.

I used it at various times throughout the day to help with transitions.  It was an integral part of the cleaning-up routine as it gave the children an indication of how much more time they had to play before we were going to turn off the lights and begin the Brain Smart Start transition mentioned above.

I had it hanging on the wall just above the reach of children, but low enough that they could see it from almost anywhere in the classroom.  I also hung our visual schedule just below the timer so we could use it as an added tool to help with transitions.

You can use pictures from Boardmaker, Google Images, photographs, and student drawings to help you gather images that are meaningful and appropriate for your children.  Old school resource catalogs are also a great resource for images that are useful in the classroom.  

Whether you are working with your own children in the home or children in the classroom, you want to make sure the visuals are clear and well organized.  They also need to be at eye level for the children.  

Visuals can be posted on the wall or made into books much like the ones I shared in my previous post about transition tips.

You can also use your body, another child, or objects and materials from around the classroom as visuals too!  I had a TON of extra bulletin board borders in my classroom.  I laminated them and put the hard side of the Velcro on the back and they made a perfect visual for the children to stand on while they prepared to leave the classroom.

I had a little boy in my classroom who had a really hard time with the transition to leave the classroom.  He was overwhelmed by the number of children at the coat closet and with too many people standing by him in line.  

He LOVED Angry Birds!  So, we used some visuals to help him have a "landing pad" whenever we needed to line up to leave the room.  His space was away from the other children and it helped everyone feel more safe when they were lining up.  As you can see from the smile on his face he felt happy when he could line up successfully!  For him, success looked a little different than it did for the other children.  

Here are a couple of my favorite websites for ideas and printables for various visuals for the classroom or home:

If you've done all this and you still have children that are resistant to transitions then it could be a relationship issue.  That will be our topic for next week!  Stay tuned to learn what to do when you've MAP-ed it out and really reinforced the routines and expectations with lots of practice and visuals, but it's still not working!

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Brain Smart Transition Tips that Work

Whether you're a teacher or parent you'll agree that your day is full of transitions.  Parents and teachers alike have told me over the years how challenging transitions can be whether in the classroom or home.

This post is the first of a series of posts about strategies you can use regardless of your environment to help you and your children be more successful with transitions.

Did you know that the most difficult transition of the day is the transition from home to work or school?  I would add that an equally challenging transition can be at the end of the day when you return home.

Today, we are going to begin the series by learning a skill called the M.A.P. technique.  If you can add this basic tool from Dr. Becky Bailey's Conscious Discipline to your toolbox you will discover pretty quickly that your transitions are transformed!

The M.A.P. technique is an assertiveness tool that will help you think through the transitions that occur throughout your day.  It will help you develop a road map for SUCCESS!  If you were traveling from Indianapolis to Orlando you would plan out your trip and hopefully look at a map to help you get there successfully.  Of course there are always a few bumps in the road, but the whole trip goes smoother if you plan ahead.  The M.A.P. technique works the same way.  It helps you plan ahead so everyone feels more successful in the end!  :)

The first basic question to ask yourself is, "What do I want this time of day to look like, sound like, feel like?"  The answer to that question will be your "destination".  It will help you and your children figure out where you're going.

If you have older children you could even get them involved in the planning process.  The answer to this basic question will guide you as you M.A.P. out the routine.  This is how you will get to your destination!

What does M.A.P. Stand for?

M=Model your procedures and expectations
A=Add Visuals
P=Practice, practice, practice

I remember when I first began learning about Conscious Discipline and dinnertime  in our home meant CHAOS!  I returned from a Conscious Discipline training inspired to use these strategies to figure out a different way to do dinnertime.

I began by having a conversation with my husband to help us figure out what our "destination" as a family for dinnertime would be.  His dinner experience was very different than mine as a child.  He was an only child and his dad worked at night.  He and his mom would usually eat dinner in front of the TV while watching recorded soaps form the day.

I came from a family of five.  My mom and dad felt that dinnertime at the table together was very important.  We had specific seats to sit in, we said prayer, asked to have the food passed while using good manners, and asked to be excused when we were finished.

As you can see, we came from very different experiences.  Our destinations looked a little different.  This conversation helped us figure out what we wanted the dinnertime experience in our home to look like, feel like, and sound like.  It was so helpful to get on the same page.

Next, I worked with  my children who were about 5 and 7 at the time to make a book about dinner in our home.  First, I talked to them about the routine we would follow at dinner.  I modeled what their dad and I wanted it to look like, feel like, and sound like.  They agreed to be my models while I took pictures of them completing each part of our dinnertime routine.  I turned the pictures into a very simple book that showed step by step what we would do at dinner.  We practiced the routine by reading the book and acting it out.

The book was so helpful at the time.  We used it frequently to help us remember how to make the transition from playtime to dinnertime without yelling and resistance.  It was also helpful to follow-up with encouragement when people did what I wanted them to do.  Learn more about that here .

One of the difficult transitions in my classroom happened after snack time every day.  Meals present a different dilemma because children get done various rates.

We used the M.A.P. technique and came up with a routine to help ease the transition from snack to the next activity.  We called the next activity "Book Buddies".  Here are some of the pictures and steps we used to teach and practice this routine with the children so everyone would be successful!


I hope you find some inspiration here to help you think through your transitions and develop a plan that will help you and your children feel more successful!  In our next post in this series will focus on some visuals you can use to help with transitions.  I will also be sharing some free visuals that you could print out so you'll have a tool to use right away!  Stay tuned!

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Conscious Discipline Book Study

The truth is when I attended my very first Conscious Discipline workshop I really didn't think I needed it.

After all, I had a whole semester of behavior management in college!

When I was faced with challenging behavior I typically came up with some sort of positive strategy to help gain more of the behavior I was looking for.  In other words, I used rewards such as treasures, stickers, praise, and special privileges.

When all else failed and I didn't know what else to do I turned to punishments.  I used time out and loss of privileges at school and at home with my own children I sometimes even spanked them.

I'll never forget the day I spanked my young son and he looked at me and laughed.  I knew there had to be a better way.  I didn't want to raise my children in a place where violence and loss of love were used to control behavior.

I am forever grateful that my coworker dragged me into that first Conscious Discipline workshop.  Boy were my eyes opened that day!  I really didn't know a whole lot about social-emotional development at the time nor did I know much about the most recent brain research.

As soon as I left that workshop I ran right down stairs to the exhibit hall and purchased the Conscious Discipline book.  I was SOLD!  I wanted to learn everything I could about lovingly guiding my children to live more disciplined lives.  That was in 2007.  My life will be forever changed!

Has this been an easy journey?  NO!

The most difficult part of this journey has been letting go of the past and empowering myself to embrace the power within so I can be these me I can be!  It has been very painful at times, but also filled with JOY!

It's easy to set up a cute little Safe Place, memorize a new I Love You Ritual, or teach a child to use their BIG voice.  The hard part is doing it YOURSELF!

Now that my own children are teenagers and they have lived with Conscious Discipline for the past 9 years of their lives I can really see the results of our commitment to teach rather than punish.  (That's not to say we get it perfectly.  We've made LOTS of oopsies, but we learn from our mistakes and rebuild relationships and try again.)

One skill that I see really growing in my children right now is the skill of Empathy.  I hear them use it with their friends and they even use it with me.  It is so rewarding to hear the words you've tried to model and teach to your children come out of their mouth without any prompting.

Could I do this on my own?  I really don't think so.  It is because Dr. Becky Bailey has given me so many structured tools and loving guidance that I have been able to develop these skills.  It is also because I have not tried to face this journey alone.  I have reached out in faith to my family, friends, my Conscious Discipline Family, and even other professionals to help me develop in my areas of weakness.  I could not do it alone.

That's why I'm writing to you today.

One of the commitments I'm going to make over the course of the next year is to read a chapter a month of the new Conscious Discipline book.  I've read most of it before, but this time I want to slowly go through the chapters, let it marinate and allow time to really implement that concept into my daily life.  I'm going to use the online book study as my guide and I'm going to post about my journey.

I would be thrilled if you would join me on this journey.  Are you looking for a tool to help you transform your relationship with your husband, children, coworkers, or the children in your classroom?  This book will do that for you if you make a commitment to read the chapters, complete the exercises, and take steps to implement what you're learning in your daily life.

I hope you'll join me!

You can get your copy of the Conscious Discipline book by going to the Conscious Discipline website.  There won't be any assignments or certificates, just an opportunity to develop yourself because it's what YOU want to do.  Because you're worth it!  I will blog monthly about my journey and encourage you along the way via social media.  I would love it if you would comment on this blog entry to let me know you're joining me in this journey.  I would also like to connect with you on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter where you can # your entries about the reading with #cdbookstudy2016.

I will be reading and discussing Chapter one in February.  Join the conversation.

Are you willing?


Sunday, January 3, 2016

When Fear Whispers in Your Ear

Let's face it, teachers love STUFF!

I remember when I was growing up how often my mom and the other teachers I knew collected STUFF!  They saved everything from egg cartons, shoe boxes and toilet paper tubes to pie pans, rubber bands, and Pringles cans!  For heaven's sake don't throw away the Christmas cards!  :)

Over the years I realized the value in salvaging STUFF so it could be used in my classroom.  This ability to see potential in the things others discard was passed down to me by many generations of teachers!  

My husband has a really hard time understanding this.  LOL!  What appears to him as just a regular appliance box, to me is a bear den where my preschoolers can go to be alone or pretend to hibernate like other animals in winter.  When I return from the library book sale with another bag of children's books he sees clutter and I see adventures, literacy, and potential for connecting with a child in a special way that only the really good books can provide.

You should see my garage!  Many years ago a dear friend and mentor taught me how to organize my STUFF into categories and plastic totes.  Through the years the shelves in my garage haven't held the normal tools and yard supplies you would expect.  No, they have been filled instead with the treasures of a preschool classroom.  Every month I would load my car up with box upon box of materials to help me turn my classroom in to a magical learning experience for the children I loved so dearly.  I wanted to do everything I could to give them the best childhood experience possible and I really thought I needed STUFF to do that.

I think its a sign of true love when your husband thinks your visions are nonsense, but he makes room for them in the garage, helps you carry the boxes, and smiles with adoration (or maybe an eye roll) when you return with another bag from the Target Dollar Spot!  

With the emergence of the internet (yes, I began teaching before there was an internet) it seems that the STUFF that teachers seek now are downloadable, printable, laminate-able (is that a word) and often plugged into an outlet!  Now we can share all our wonderful ideas for how to use all this STUFF via the world wide web on sites like Teachers Pay Teachers, Pinterest, and blogs like this!

Three years ago I made the decision to leave the classroom.  It was a really difficult decision to leave the only job I'd known since I graduated from college.  I LOVE teaching!  I especially delight in the early childhood years.  Three-year-olds get excited about toilet paper tubes, marble painting, and appliance boxes too!  They light up the way I do when I discover a wonderful new children's book and have the opportunity to use all my funny voices with the characters!

After 18 years of teaching you can probably imagine how much STUFF I had.  Eighteen years of rummage sales, book fairs, donations, routines, and many many visits to the Dollar Store!

I had a really hard time letting go.

Deep inside of me I still see potential in many of the things I've collected over the years.  It stirs something deep in my soul to anticipate the smiles and bright eyes of children as I share my new discovery with them.  My heart beats faster, my eyes widen, and my face brightens with excitement and as a teacher you get to do it again and again!

Over time I have been able to dig deep and slowly but surely help much of my beloved STUFF find new homes where it will be well loved for years to come.

Now I am down to my very favorites.  These are the ones that I long to use again.  Whether in blog posts or someday in a classroom of my own,  Examples include about 10 years of Mailbox Magazines.  Those little magazines hold treasure between the covers. Teachers from all over the globe have contributed their finest ideas to the pages held within.

How about those teaching units for Clifford, Dr. Seuss, Eric Carle, and Chicka Chicka Boom Boom?  Out of all of my files these are the ones that were my favorites!  Year after year the children and I enjoyed many activities with these favorite children's books.  Letting go of them means letting go of the hope that they will be used again. 

In this journey that I have been on over the past nine years with Conscious Discipline I have learned many things.  Each year I discover new areas of my life where I had no idea I needed to grow.  2016 seems to be the year for growing in truth.  Each year my family and I do the One Word Challenge and my word this year is Truth.

So begins the next chapter in this story.

All of this said, the truth is that I have a hard time letting go of stuff.  In fact, I probably put too much importance on the stuff.

I think there is definately value in having STUFF to use as tools in your classroom to help you bring new and creative lessons to your students.

NOW hear this...

What I have learned and continue to learn is that the magic isn't in the STUFF...the magic is in YOU.  When you rely so heavily on all of the STUFF whether it is an idea book, art materials, appliance boxes, or the latest TPT download you lose touch with what matters most--Your belief in yourself!

I am in the process of organizing and redecorating my office.  I decided that it was time for a real big girl office!  Since these are weak skills for me I hired a professional organizer.  She is also a former preschool teacher so she totally understands my condition.  :)  She gets it.

As we began to work in my office she asked about the Mailbox Magazines and numerous children's books I continue to hold on to.  I explained with tears in my eyes how precious they were to me and why I have such a hard time letting go of them.  They hold so much potential.

The truth is that they also hold guilt.

Guilt about all the blog posts I hoped to write, but never did.  Guilt about the fact that they were collecting dust instead of more memories.  

The truth is they are a distraction.

They take my heart and mind away from where I presently am.  Each time I see them they either take me to the past lamenting what is gone or to the future and how I wish to use them again.

The truth is I don't need them now.

With all this distraction it is keeping me from being my best and giving my best to where I am right now.  My OCD Organizational friend helped me see that I have what I need right now inside me and I need to believe that.  God will supply all I need when the time comes and now I am being called to let go.  Trust that the magic is in me.

It was fear that was holding me back and whispering in my ear...

"You never know."

"You're not really that creative on your own."

"You may need them some day."

"You worked so hard to collect all that stuff.  What if you can't find it again."

"It will make you a better teacher, blogger, trainer, coach, parent if you just hang on to that stuff."


The truth is I have all I need and it is well.  Peace and happiness doesn't come from STUFF.  Peace comes from a deep sense of well being knowing you've done your best wherever you are right now.

For me, the truth is I'm not using this STUFF now and haven't used it for the past three years.  It would serve its purpose so much better in the hands of a teacher and young children that will benefit from all these ideas right NOW!  I decided to begin giving some of my treasures to a dear friend who has her very first Head Start classroom.  She is eager to give new life to my old dusty materials and love them well with her bright eyed preschoolers.

Although it was with tears in my eyes that I loaded her car with bags and boxes, I know this is all a part of the circle of life.  She was overjoyed to receive such a gift and it moved her to pay it forward the same day by donating her unneeded van to a family in need.

So what about you?  What are you holding on to that keeps you from being your best self?  You have all the magic you need right inside you and your best lesson plan walks through the door every day.  Don't let all the STUFF distract you so much that you miss what is right in front of you.