The Joy in Play—Benefits of Unstructured Fun

The Joy in Play—Benefits of Unstructured Fun

In previous blogs, we’ve discussed the benefits of taking some time to slow down, relax, meditate, and focus on being more of a human-being rather than a human-doing.  For teachers and students alike, that all seems easy to do during the summer months, but how do you avoid getting sucked into the busyness of being that human that is always “doing” during the school year?  …“PLAYTIME” might just be the answer for both you and your students.

I recently read an interesting article in a local health magazine that focused on why children need unstructured fun in their lives.  Trust me, I don’t need to be convinced that playtime-fun is beneficial to human development, but I wanted to read what the experts had to say.  Play was described as

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Curriculum Toolbox: from hodgepodge to cohesive

Curriculum Toolbox: from hodgepodge to cohesive

During my undergraduate days, I was headlong into all of my pre-teaching training courses. I truly enjoyed all of them. But, as I neared my junior and senior years of college, I began to get more into the philosophies of teaching. It seems that, at that time, the prevalent theories of teaching led my professors to refuse to tout the use of specific curriculum. That was both good and bad. It was good because it forced me to think along the lines that I did not need to depend on current published curriculum to be able to teach well. It was bad, however, because it generated the incorporation of a hodgepodge type of homemade curriculum that was left strictly up to me to develop and teach—risky, to say the least.

After I landed my first teaching gig, I knew I was in trouble because the school district had a mandated curriculum, which is what I was told would probably happen. We were taught in college to “just close your door and teach the way you know is right.” Well, that was risky, too, because my lack of experience in the classroom made it nearly impossible to know “what was right.” So, I proceeded with what I thought was right while still trying to adhere to the required curriculum. What I discovered unsettled me.

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Making Practice Count

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I have never taken a class in martial arts, but I have certainly enjoyed watching Bruce Lee’s moves in his action-packed films!  Let’s face it!  The guy was physically amazing, but more than that, he had a way with words!   

Lee was more than just a famous martial artist!  He was also an actor and a philosopher with a long list of inspirational quotes tagged to his name.  Many of his famous quotes are still being used today to trigger personal growth, and one of my favorites says: 

“I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.”

This particular Bruce Lee quote reminds me of the importance of practice.  Practice, of course, is the repetition of an action with the goal of improvement.  When we practice something over and over again, we naturally perform that particular skill with more ease, speed, and confidence.  

According to educators, Annie Bosler and Don Greene, practice affects the inner workings of our brains.  In a popular TED-Ed video entitled:  How to practice effectively…for just about anything, these two teachers put together a lesson that includes four simple steps to follow.  The steps include:

  1. Focus on the task at hand. Minimize potential distractions by turning off the computer or TV and putting your cell phone on airplane mode.

  2. Start out slowly or in slow-motion. Coordination is built with repetitions, whether correct or incorrect. If you gradually increase the speed of the quality repetitions, you have a better chance of doing them correctly.

  3. Frequent repetitions with allotted breaks are common practice habits of elite performers. Studies have shown that many top athletes, musicians, and dancers spend 50-60 hours per week on activities related to their craft. Many divide their time used for effective practice into multiple daily practice sessions of limited duration.

  4. Practice in your brain in vivid detail. It’s a bit surprising, but a number of studies suggest that once a physical motion has been established, it can be reinforced just by imagining it.

Bruce Lee became well-known as a professional martial artist, actor, and philosopher because of hard work and lots of focused practice.  As human beings, we can all benefit from applying these 4-steps to practice just about anything effectively.

Summer Learning: Taking a Brain Break with Meditation

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If you’ve been following our Shurley English Blog posts, you know we’ve been flooding you with creative ideas on how to continue supporting your students’ academic progress throughout the summer.  We are aware that with the high demands placed upon our children in today’s U.S. classrooms, it’s evident that children (and adults) have fewer opportunities to truly unwind and relax. 

Today, my suggestion is to remember to INCLUDE some “DOWNTIME” into your child’s daily summer schedule, and here’s why:

  • Research shows that time off-task is important for proper brain function and health.

  • The brain uses 20% of the body’s energy while on-task.

  • Napping 10-30 minutes can increase alertness and improve performance.

  • Meditation is a way to give the brain a break from work and refresh the ability to concentrate.

  • Resting mental states help us process our experiences, consolidate memories, reinforce learning, regulate our attention and emotions, and keep us productive!

Downtime will give the brain an opportunity to make sense of what has just been learned, and shifting off-task can actually help learners refresh their minds, gain insight, and return to the task with more focus.

Brain Break Exercise: Meditation with Mindful Breathing

I mentioned meditation as a way to give the brain a break, so show your students how to tap into their own superhero relaxation powers with this simple breathing exercise.  Teach your students that their breath is an amazing tool that can help them relax or calm down at any given moment.  It can help them manage the ups and downs of school and life—all they have to do is breathe.

The purpose of a breathing meditation is to calm the mind and develop inner peace.  We can use breathing meditations to reduce our distractions and feel a deep sense of relaxation.  Allow this breathing exercise to bring more calmness into your classroom while your students learn a valuable tool that helps them relax.

  • Mindful Breathing Exercise (2-5 minutes)

  • Students can stand or sit for this activity.

  • Ask students to put both hands on their belly.

  • Students should close their eyes, or look down to their hands.

  • Guide students in taking three slow deep breaths in and out to see if they can feel their hands being moved.

  • You may like to count “1, 2, 3” for each breath in and “1, 2, 3” for each breath out, pausing slightly at the end of each exhale.

  • Encourage students to think about how the breath feels, answering the following questions silently, in their mind.

    What is moving your hands? Is it the air filling your lungs?
    Can you feel the air moving in through your nose?
    Can you feel it moving out through your nose?
    Does the air feel a little colder on the way in and warmer on the way out?
    Can you hear your breath?
    What does it sound like?

Remember, time off-task isn’t always wasted time or a sign of laziness. I encourage you to create the balance between being a “human-being” and a “human-doing” this summer!

Increasing Retention with Purposeful Movement

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Is purposeful movement an integral part of your instructional toolbox? I was reminded lately of the power of using motion to assist the brain in the retention of information.  I recently set a goal for myself to memorize a favorite portion of scripture, I Corinthians 13, The Love Chapter, which is commonly quoted at weddings.  As I pondered how to best attack this lofty goal, I was reminded of the units that my former coworker and I designed for our third grade students, years ago.  

You see, we took the vocabulary words in the lessons and brainstormed rhyming definitions that incorporated movement. We found these to be quite successful with the classes in assisting them not only to retain the information, but also to have fun while learning it! So, personally, I used this same method to learn the verbs and phrases associated with knowing how to love unselfishly, and it worked!

Now, I am not a brain expert by any means, but there is certainly something that takes place in the mind when you add purposeful movement to words or phrases. It adds that extra bit of distinctiveness which sticks in the memory bank and causes retention levels to soar!

Why not try adding some motions with muscle to your classroom lessons? It does take some preplanning, but it adds fun and a reason for movement to the learning process.  The Shurley English Jingles are a perfect learning tool to help you add movement into your language arts lessons (…and you can find them for FREE on our YouTube Channel).

As you listen to and learn the jingles, think about each line of text. Pay careful attention to the most important words, especially the verbs. Think of purposeful movements you can associate with the texts of each jingle. You will improve the community feel of your classroom by involving kids in the choreography planning, so don’t be afraid to give them the reins. Of course, you will need to be the final judge about whether the motions they want to use make a good association to the jingle text, but their engagement in this process will be invaluable to them in the long run.

How to Increase Emotional Intelligence with Controversy and Introspection

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If you have been following my posts about guiding kids to connect emotionally with their learning…thanks! I hope it has been interesting and helpful. I am wrapping up my series with another combo from Jensen’s work: controversy and introspection.

The mere mention of the word controversy is controversial. But what I mean is not going to usher in a strike of some kind and make you want to walk in a picket line. Controversy and introspection in the classroom are a dynamic duo because of the kind of thinking they inspire in your students.

Ages ago, when I was in high school (The exact number of years ago shall remain undisclosed!), I had a history teacher who, quite frankly, was able to teach history from experience…he was THAT old. But, with age comes wisdom—and he had a lot of it. I remember one lesson in particular that affected my learning and thinking in quite an unexpected way. He simply introduced a scenario filled to the brim with controversy. Granted, we were high school students and able to manage some heftier topics. Consequently, if you decide to introduce controversy, you must consider your audience.

Anyway, the scenario my teacher presented was much like a reality show on television where several characters with various talents and skills are introduced. They are placed on a deserted island and have to fend for themselves. Then, a situation is presented that forces you to analyze which characters have what it takes to survive and which characters are expendable because they don’t. You are also given a finite list of goods that have been provided to aid in the participants’ survival, and you also have a list other supplies that can be used creatively to further enable future survival for the fittest, smartest individuals. Next, my cohorts and I were teamed up. We had to discuss each character in depth. We had to weigh out which ones to help and which ones to ignore. Those decisions were based on our own life experiences—the real ones—that helped form our general world views. Wow! You would never have guessed the level of sophistication our conversations reached when we began to make decisions that would positively or negatively affect the outcome of the situation for each character.

I can’t remember a time when I enjoyed my history class more, and it came about because my teacher gave us permission to think through potential real-life situations in a safe zone…and the conversations, the thinking, the arguing were lustrous and titillating! So much so that I still remember the lesson even today!

Well, that’s what controversy, when it is handled carefully and considerately, can offer a learner. Now enters introspection. I grouped controversy and introspection together because one begets the other. When kids authentically analyze a problem and work together to solve it, they demonstrate introspection. If you are familiar with Bloom’s taxonomy, you know that the kind of thinking I am talking about is all too rare in many of our classrooms. Students who are encouraged to express their ideas, thoughts, opinions, biases, and misunderstandings glean so much from every learning opportunity. They learn how to evaluate their own thoughts, behaviors, and actions in light of their environments and cultural groups. Another reason I saved this dynamic duo of social-emotional learning until this post is because it isn’t for the squeamish. It gets gritty, and it is probably best suited for older kids. However, don’t shy away from these powerhouse emotional intelligence boosters, especially if you work with students from junior high level to college. It is the deep and wide thinking you elicit in your students that makes the risk worth taking.

(This post is part of a series on Emotional Intelligence. To start at the beginning, click here.)

How to Increase Emotional Intelligence with Role Modeling

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Welcome back to my series on emotional intelligence. My two previous articles were closely related because drama and storytelling involve playing the roles of characters. The same is true with this entry about role modeling. Role modeling, like drama and storytelling, reaches deep into the emotions of learners. Real-life situations and relationships get real-world practice in role modeling.

As adults, we play various roles, right? Sometimes we are bankers; sometimes we are coaches. We might even have to be referees! Whatever the role, we can plan to model specific behaviors intentionally and invite others to share their roles with kids. These experiences offer kids real-life opportunities to walk in someone else’s shoes just a bit, and it inspires them.

Role modeling makes learning interactive with live models. Showing kids how they can play a certain role in a classroom or at home can increase their awareness of their own strengths and talents. Kids often begin to demonstrate their abilities in certain domains early. Some kids paint like an artist, while others can sing well. Some kids demonstrate athletic ability early in life while others gravitate toward literature. If you can identify the kids’ strengths, you can then encourage them to express themselves in real-life situations inside the classroom.

If you have a strong art student, model for that student how to create a sketch book of ideas and an art portfolio. Invite a local artist to visit your classroom and conduct an art session for the whole class. Do the same for all of your students who show obvious ability in ANY area. Some students don’t know about their strengths yet, so this is especially important for them. All students will benefit from observing these role models, but for the students who may not think they have any skills or talents, this kind of role modeling could change the course of their entire lives…it’s THAT important!

 

ACTIVITY:

1. For two weeks, watch your students carefully and note any budding skills or talents.

2. Share these notes with parents and other care givers so that they can encourage the child.

3. Invite district or community to discuss their careers or demonstrate a talent or skill to your students.

4. Find ways to create real-life classroom events that highlight various students’ abilities and strengths.

5. Plan for showcase events in various subjects where students show aptitude.

As you help kids invest in their learning through role models, you are also helping them make powerful connections between that learning and their emotions. Emotional intelligence has a quotient you can’t necessarily measure, but if you want to help kids improve their E.I., add role modeling to your bag of tricks. It works!

(This post is part of a series on Emotional Intelligence. To start at the beginning, click here.)

Grow Emotional Intelligence with Storytelling

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Last time, I threw drama into the mix to help kids connect emotionally to their own learning. As we think deeper about how important this connection is, researchers report that storytelling offers a unique opportunity for kids to grow their emotional intelligence quotient.

Like drama, storytelling involves kids in several aspects of learning that help them connect parts of their real lives to stories—stories with many different kinds of characters from various cultures and locations. Each character has a point of view in a story, and it is exciting when kids learn how to analyze a story character and add a bit of their own personality to the interpretation.  

When you teach children how to tell a story with appropriate characterization and a point of view, they naturally evolve in areas like self-awareness, cultural awareness, and insights into universal life experiences. What an important way to help students explore their own cultural roots, traditions, and values! Just grappling with these ideas can help kids find their place in the world.

To get kids started with storytelling, provide several options for them. They can read through several books, magazines, or plays to find one they want to develop into a storytelling performance piece. Click on the link at the end of this post to get some great ideas.

 After your student selects a story, discuss the following presentation points:

1. Vocal Pitch

  • Help the storyteller understand how to vary vocal pitch, tempo, and volume to make characters come alive in a story.

  • Emphasize moments of silence and dramatic pauses to get a character’s point of view across.

  • Demonstrate for the storyteller how to use different exaggerated voices for the characters. Have the storyteller create a strong “narrator’s” voice that will remain consistent throughout the story.

 

2. Body Language

  • Demonstrate how common gestures and body language, stance, and movement help differentiate one character from another in stories.

  • Show how certain types of body movements create emotional responses in the audience.

 

3. Staging

  • Show storytellers how to use “stage” space effectively, using an entire area.

  • Give storytellers many opportunities to practice pantomiming specific activities related to a character.

Storytelling Resources: A popular children’s author, Aaron Shepard, publishes an excellent site for storytelling ideas. Check it out here.

Please visit again soon for my next post, where I will explore how role modeling can further your quest to promote emotional intelligence in kids. (This post is part of a series on Emotional Intelligence. To start at the beginning, click here.)



The Benefits of Using Drama Activities in Your Classroom

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Next up on the emotional intelligence list is—wait for it…drama in the classroom…the kind that won’t make you nuts! This subject is near and dear to my heart because I have been a community theatre enthusiast most of my life! I suppose I just gravitated toward drama because I liked the fantasy, the story, the chance to be someone else.

Unknowingly, drama was actually helping me become more in tune with other people—on and off the stage. That’s the crux of helping students in the classroom with dramatic presentations. They allow kids the chance to grapple with their own emotions and personalities as they learn how to interpret a character in a play. Kids forge self-awareness skills each time they attempt to interpret a character in a story. These skills spill over into real life relationships.

Self-Management. If there is one quality a teacher wants in students, it’s self-management. Kids who can manage their own practice, their own behavior, and their own reactions to situations have a better chance at success in life. What better platform to practice these behaviors than a play!

Self-Direction. When kids engage in drama, they learn how to explore different parts of their personalities…sometimes parts that are very confusing—maybe even a bit scary. But, the setting for a play serves as a safe-zone by giving them the freedom to try various approaches to interpret their character. Kids who learn how to balance their own emotional needs and wants develop self-direction, in other words, they get motivated. Self-direction is slightly more complex than self-management. Self-directing kids learn not only how to adjust their expectations of themselves, but also that of others. Because drama pushes students to explore their own motivations and the motivations of others, they learn how to direct their own emotional messages and how to perceive the emotional messages of others. What a life benefit!

Fun. While drama does help kids with connecting their emotions with learning, let’s not forget that for many kids, drama is just plain fun! Just as in great novels and stories that kids read, a dramatic or comedic play can have a powerful impact on a kid’s outlook on life. Being involved with others, acting out roles, pretending to be something or someone else is often just what kids need to elevate their self-esteem and grow their confidence.

Give it a Try! To get the drama started in your classroom, search the internet for “plays for kids in the classroom.” You will find more than enough resources to get you going. Also, check out your anthologies and literature sets. Sometimes it is better for you and your students to write your own plays based on stories you all love. However you implement it, take it slow…start small. Then, as you all grow in your ability to interpret the various stories, branch out. I have no doubt you will be pleased with the results you see in your students.

(This post is part of a series on Emotional Intelligence. To start at the beginning, click here.)

Why Playing Games Boosts Emotional Intelligence

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Last time, I told you about nine ways to ignite emotional intelligence in your classroom. I discussed how music can impact emotional connections to learning. Now, let’s examine how bringing games into the school day can support emotional intelligence.

Game On. From the time we are infants, games often play big part in our lives. From Peek-a-Boo to Simon Says—playing games makes us happy. But games do a lot more than meets the eye. Some research says that teaching kids how to play board games, games of strategy, and digital games improves interpersonal and social-emotional skills.

Two Heads are Better Than One. Have you ever heard of collective intelligence? Well, it’s a real thing! Researchers have learned that two heads are better than one, three heads are better than two…you know the old adage. Turns out it’s true, at least for a lot of people. And it’s important for kids in classrooms, too. Games make this dynamic possible.

Decision-making and Predictions. Games, especially games of strategy, promote decision-making and the ability to make predictions based on actions. Think about how important it might be for kids if they learned and practiced how to analyze a chess move or a strategic move on a checker board. Every action leads to an outcome; and the better the kid is at predicting that outcome, the more likely the win. Decision-making and predictions are part of every day life and these are skills worth practicing!

Can I Live With the Risk? What about risk-taking? Yep! Experts agree; risk-taking is essential to learning because the brain is always sizing up situations to decide if staying and fighting is better than running away. Kids who are willing to take risks within reason show increased resilience in the face of adversity. They also show better wisdom when they know when to walk away from a fight. Know what that builds up inside of kids? Persistence! Persistence is one part patience and one part discipline. So, start playing games with kids and you up the odds that they will become more persistent and wiser about their actions. Of course, it’s not as simple as all that. It’s not a one and done proposition, but it has power if it is practiced consistently.

Cooperative Learning. In our learning environments, in or outside the home, games can prompt growth in other ways, too. Did you know that most of the jobs our kids of today will have don’t even exist yet? And did you know that those future jobs, more than likely, will be done in cooperative teams of employees? You know where I am going with this. Never underestimate the power of game play to help kids learn how to get along with one another. We call it cooperative learning for a reason. Yes, game-playing can sometimes lead to all-out mutiny, but it’s in the struggle, the compromise, the fits, and the resolution where kids can learn how to work alongside another and build mutual purpose. They also develop a stronger sense of self as they join in on the push and pull of interpersonal relationships.

As you forge new pathways with your students, remember to include games because they improve learning in ways that matter a lot today and that matter even more in the future. It’s time to get your game on!

In the next part of my series, I will talk about drama in the classroom…the kind that doesn’t make you crazy. Stay tuned!