• Be Mindful of Mindfulness

    Posted by Staci Drake on 1/15/2021 7:00:00 AM

    2020 could have been considered overstimulating and stressful by some, as we endured one troubling event after another. It has been especially stressful as we continue to go back to school during a pandemic. This continues to be a developing, ever-changing, stressful situation that likely provides additional anxiety for many of us. This pandemic affects our home life, social life, school life, and has been coined “our new norm.” Overwhelming, right?

    It is common to feel anxiety when faced with a challenging situation. The American Psychological Association (APA) defines anxiety as, an emotion characterized by feelings of tension, worried thoughts and physical changes like increased blood pressure.” Naturally, I have felt some anxiety as I have started my school psychologist internship this year. I am in a new role, at a new school, in a new school district. I wonder if I am prepared enough, if I will know how to find all the information I will need, and if I will be able to conquer the workload that continues. However, I know that the newness will become routine, these worries will be temporary, and that anxiety will subside. Many of us feel anxiety when we begin the new school year or as challenging situations arise. When we remain anxious or experience high levels of anxiety, we begin to feel the effects. The National Institute of Mental Health lists some symptoms of anxiety:

    • Feeling restless, wound-up, or on-edge
    • Headaches
    • Being easily fatigued
    • Having difficulty concentrating; mind going blank
    • Being irritable
    • Having muscle tension
    • Difficulty controlling feelings of worry
    • Having sleep problems, such as difficulty falling or staying asleep, restlessness, or unsatisfying sleep

    Using mindfulness as a self-care tool is beneficial for combating anxiety. Jason Linder, MA, LMFT, describes mindfulness practice as “nonjudgmental present-moment awareness, that rewires the brain toward staying and savoring the present moment, instead of dwelling on anxiety, which is often living the state of perceived fears. In mindfulness practice, we learn the wisdom in prioritizing. Things that we're worrying about often aren't urgent.” As educators, we probably have a list of breathing exercises and brain breaks that we use with our students to provide mindfulness, such as using GoNoodle, mindful breathing, and yoga. Highlighted below, Shamash Alidina provides a useful list of 10 recommendations of how we can achieve mindfulness as working adults. As we begin a ‘New Year,’ consider incorporating one or more of these strategies to improve mindfulness and self-regulation.

    Mindfulness Strategies:
    Be consciously present- To be mindful at work means to be consciously present in what you’re doing, while you’re doing it, as well as managing your mental and emotional state. If you’re writing a report, mindfulness requires you to give that your full attention.
    Use mindfulness exercises at work- Join your students at recess for a GoNoodle, or take a moment and participate in a breathing exercise.
    Be a single tasker-Do one thing at a time. When you multitask your brain is madly switching from one thing to the next, often losing data in the process. If multi-tasking is so inefficient, why do people still do it? A study by Zheng Wang at Ohio State University tracked students and found that when they multi-tasked, it made them feel more productive, even though in reality they were being unproductive. 
    Use mindful Reminders- schedule mindfulness time, and set a timer
    Slow down to speed up- by stopping or slowing down, you can become more efficient, productive, happy, resilient, and healthy at work. Slow down and be conscious of what you are doing. Also, get plenty of rest.
    Make stress your friend- Keep a positive attitude- researchers found that people experiencing high levels of stress but who believed that stress was good for them had among the lowest mortality rates. Whereas highly stressed people who believed that stress was bad for their health had the highest chance of dying.
    Feel gratitude- Focus on what is going well and think positive to be positive.
    Practice humility- work hard, but not for just for yourself—or the company. If things go wrong, don’t seek to blame others to protect yourself. And if things go well, look outside of yourself and congratulate others.
    Accept what you can’t change- accept the situation, talk to the necessary people, learn from your mistakes, and move on. When you accept yourself, you cut down on energy-draining self-criticism.
    Adopt a growth mindset- believe that you can improve and grow with experience, moving towards challenges, living in the moment, and discovering new things about yourself and others.

    Staci Drake

    By Staci Drake, School Psychologist Intern

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  • Executive Functioning Tips for Effective Virtual Workspace

    Posted by Wendy Wilson on 10/23/2020 7:00:00 AM

    I don't know how you felt in March when everything shut down and we were unexpectedly forced to do work and school from home, but for me, it was eye opening how unprepared I was to support myself and my students from home.  This year, while both of my daughters are attending in-person school full-time currently, I have put a lot of thought into how to set them up for success should we need to return to e-learning/virtual learning.  Here are some tips and things that I will be setting up at home to promote their executive functioning skills and help them be successful. 

    • Designated work space:  Have you ever walked into a classroom and seen the different structures for different areas?  This is especially apparent in kindergarten and preschool classrooms.  You can look around the room and see a space for reading, a space for whole group instruction on the carpet, a place to work on the computer and a student work space.  Each space is clearly identified and structured for its purpose.  Your child needs the same type of structure when learning from home.  A designated work space is a consistent space for them to work on a daily basis.  Although the designated work space may double for another purpose (i.e., dining room table), that is where the student is consistently working during the school day.  For one of my daughters, she has a desk set up in her room where she works.  For my younger daughter, she consistently works at the kitchen island.  
    • Organize the space:  When I was working from home, I missed my office set-up from work significantly because I had all the things there I needed to complete my job efficiently.  Working from home, I attempted to set up my work space similarly by having the things I used the most frequently at hand and organized.  Do the same for your student.  Make sure he/she has his/her school materials in his/her work space.  Things like a supply box with pencils, erasers, pens, scissors, a ruler and crayons or markers in their work area prevent them from constantly having to stop and go find things.  Make sure they have paper available when needed or even a dry erase board with a marker.  Keeping these things, along with any textbooks or materials,  in the designated work space recreates their work area in the classroom.  Now I realize that no one wants all this stuff on their dining room table all the time, so giving the student a reasonable way to organize them or put them away when not in use is helpful too such as a crate or box.  
    • Set up the space prior to starting the day:  Have your student set up their work and learning space with their materials prior to starting their school day.  Maybe they set it up the night before, but they need to be ready to learn with all of the necessary materials when the day starts just like they do at school.
    • Minimize distractions: I've shared that my younger daughter worked in the kitchen which can be the center of activity in our home.  While she was working, there were no TVs on in the area to serve as a distraction for her.  We also limited how often we were in the kitchen based on her class schedule.  For example, if she was participating in live instruction with her teachers, my family knew to stay out of the kitchen if possible because we were a distraction to her.  Using things to create white noise, such as a fan, and block out other distracting noises can also help.  

     These few things alone will go a long way in helping your child be successful when trying to learn from home.  Here are some other ways to help your student develop executive functioning skills whether they are attending in-person school or virtual school.

      • Color code their materials:  This is especially helpful when students transition to intermediate or middle school where they have multiple teachers and classrooms to go to.  Color code your child's materials by subject.  Math items can be red - red book cover, red notebook and a red folder or binder.  Science can be green, English could be blue and so on.  Put the corresponding colored dots next to their class schedule (i.e., red next to math, green next to science, etc), so that when they go to math, they see the red dot and grab all of their red items from their locker.  You can even have a separate pencil pouch in each binder with pencils, pens and erasers or other needed materials for each class (i.e., compass or calculator for the math binder).
    • Organize it & take a picture of it: Do you have a student who struggles significantly with organization?  Have you organized them and their materials countless times only to find it a mess the next day?  Help get your child organized, then take a picture of what it looks like organized, print it out and post somewhere nearby.  For example, if your student struggles with his/her locker, help him/her organize the locker, take a picture of it organized and then post the picture inside his/her locker.  Set aside time each day or a few times a week to tell him/her to "match the picture".  This way they have a picture of where things go and what it looks like when it is organized to reference.  This same trick can be used to keep a room clean.  Take a picture of what "clean" looks like and tell them to match the picture.  
    • Teach them time management:  We live in a digital world where students rarely see analog clocks any more.  However, did you realize that without analog clocks, kids see time change or time run out, but they don't see how time passes.  A good way to teach time management skills is by using a glass-faced analog clock (get one on Amazon HERE) and dry erase markers.  Here is what you do:
      • Using a dry erase marker, mark the current time on the clock face by drawing a line from the center of the clock to the outside edge of the face.  
      • Talk to your child about what time he/she needs to be completed with the task and draw a line from the center of the clock to the designated end time.  
      • Count by 5's from the start time to the end time to tell your student how much time they have to work and shade in that time with the marker on the clock. Now the student will see the hand move through the shaded section, and he/she will "see" time pass. 
      • Mark the halfway point of the work time with a magnet, tape or sticker and talk with your student about where he or she should be at the halfway point or how much he or she should have done.  Set a timer to go off at the halfway point.  
      • When the timer goes off, do a check-in with your student about where they are.  Did they get as far as they should have?  If not, why?  Were they distracted?  Was it harder than they anticipated?  Discuss with them what they can change to be more successful for the last half of the work time.
      • Do another check-in at the end and see how his or her progress went.  

    For other tips and tricks to teach executive functioning skills, or to get a more thorough explanation on things I've discussed here, feel free to contact me directly at wwilson@earlywood.org   

    Wendy Wilson, Ed.S.

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  • Helping Your Student with Mask Wearing

    Posted by Ashley Landrum on 8/21/2020 7:00:00 AM

    As schools have reopened in varying capacities this fall, parents and educators have engaged in difficult decision making in order to keep children safe. While each school’s plan may have differences, one consistent change is the requirement to wear masks. Wearing masks may be a significant change for students, and they will likely have varying reactions to wearing them. If your child is struggling to adapt to mask wearing, there are steps you can take and strategies that may be beneficial to facilitating this change. 

    Some students may struggle significantly with mask wearing. While looking into strategies to encourage them, you can also find more information about finding a baseline for their mask tolerance here. Some may put the mask on and take it off quickly, while others may not be comfortable holding the mask yet. Regardless of your student’s current capacity for mask wearing, there are strategies you can try. 

    For some students, asking them to practice wearing a mask while engaging in a preferred activity may be beneficial. For example, a child could be allowed to watch television if they agree to wear their mask. The same procedure could be used during tasks like reading a book, playing a video game, etc. Students could even increase their time wearing masks in order to earn an incentive.

    For others, you may need to start smaller, either by starting with mask holding or finding a mask with material the student can tolerate. If a student cannot wear a mask due to sensory issues, you can also explore options like a face shield or masks that do not go over the ears. 

    There are several social stories and online resources that explain mask wearing well. The Indiana Resource Center for Autism has several useful tools here. One of the most important things to remember is that it is the adults who ultimately set the tone for mask wearing. Children are resilient and will follow our lead; if we continue encouraging them and maintain a positive attitude, our students will benefit.

    Ashley Landrum
    Ashley Landrum, Ed. S, School Psychologist

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