A nurturing, happy home is essential to the growth of every child. Parents and caregivers can utilize the principles and tools in the MindUP™ program to become a MindUP™ Family.
The MindUP™ Family program offers Parent Workshops to help to equip families with brain-focused strategies to raise optimistic and resilient children. Parents and caregivers will learn how to deepen their relationships, decrease parental frustration, and infuse family life with joy, optimism, and mindful connection.
MindUP™ for Earth Day: Five Activities for Families & Educators to Explore!
In celebration of Earth Day on April 22, The Hawn Foundation asked MindUP™ educators to share tips for parents and teachers on what they can do with their kids and students to “MindUP™” for Earth Day. Here are their ideas, along with a message from Founder Goldie Hawn.
“Inspiration and joy can be found all over the great outdoors! In celebration of Earth Day, take your MindUP™ Brain Break outside. Even just a minute to reflect with sun on your face, deeply breathing in the fresh air, will help clear your mind, refresh your body and warm your heart”. –Founder, Goldie Hawn
1. Gratitude for Nature
Invite your children or students to engage in a mindful walk around the school, park or a nearby trail. Encourage them slow down and really experience every aspect of the walk. Draw their attention to what they see, hear, smell and feel while mindfully moving along. Encourage them to deeply breathe in the fresh air and consider how things grow, what it takes for them to thrive.
Following this, gather them together and generate a discussion around what were some of the most powerful things they experienced. Then ask the question, “How would you feel if we didn’t have grass, trees, fresh water or clean air to breathe?” This would then lead to another discussion about what we can do as individuals to preserve nature and be grateful for these things we often take for granted.
2. How Things Grow Through Energy
Loving and appreciating Mother Earth means respecting all that she gives us without asking anything in return. Every day, the sun rises, the trees grow and the water flows—no questions asked. Encourage kids to be more mindful of how things grow, where they draw their energy from, where the energy may come from to power their homes, schools, grocery stores and street lights.
Consider a garden project or other interactive experience that might showcase how energy can be drawn from sun, water and wind. Next, discuss how the earth is impacted to generate that energy—and the different kinds of energy that exist. Explore the benefits of renewable energy, like wind and the sun.
Gardening is such a great activity with kids. You get to spend time outdoors, learn about botany and get your hands dirty with soil and wet with water (wonderful sensory experiences). Gardening also teaches good work ethic and care for other things. And patience!
We love this story from MindUP™ educator Janice Parry:
“At our inner city school, there is little green space to be enjoyed. So a group of volunteers built a small garden for the children to explore, plant in, and take care of. Last year, my students had the opportunity to plant a variety of vegetables, tend to them, and then finally taste what they had grown.”
“During our visits to the garden, the children were able to engage in mindful seeing, listening, smelling—and finally—mindful tasting. This could easily lead to a further discussion on taking care of our land and the importance of maintaining green spaces in our cities. It also ties into the ‘Acts of Kindness’ lesson when you consider the work of the volunteers who built the garden. Great lessons can also be developed around nutrition, healthy choices, etc.”
Once the kids see how things grow and change through energy, you can explore: “Does thinking about where your energy comes from, and what impact that has on the earth, help you to be more mindful of the energy you use? Does it make you appreciate the energy we have in a different way?”
What are some ideas you could come up with to be more mindful of energy use? Simple ideas: turn the lights off when you leave the room, never litter, recycle, turn the water off when brushing your teeth, walk or bicycle instead of driving.
3. Perspective Taking
This one is fun, easy and relaxing! Take the children outside on a partly cloudy day. Have them either sit or lay down on the grass and silently look up at the clouds. Without talking, have them focus their attention on the shapes and forms the clouds take. Encourage them to breathe and focus all of their attention on the clouds.
Following this, gather the kids back together and have them discuss what they thought the clouds looked like. Discuss how each of us has our own unique perspective on things and that we often see things differently. The children can then illustrate what they saw, and write about it in their journals, which can then be shared. This would also be an opportunity to engage them in another discussion about being grateful for nature and how we need to take care of it.
4. Recycle and Reuse
Turn a lesson on recycling into an artistic activity. Take this Earth Day opportunity to teach them about the importance of recycling by collecting reusable items: boxes, toilet paper rolls, magazines, popsicle sticks, buttons, egg cartons, corks and broken crayons. Go crazy and get creative making treasures out of trash.
Along these same lines, if you’re not already recycling, Earth Day is a great time to start. Designate a separate bin for recyclable materials, and even have kids create labels for each bin. Here’s a list of some items that can be recycled: milk jugs, beverage bottles (cans, water bottles, etc.), shampoo bottles, laundry detergent and food jars like peanut butter and mayonnaise.
5. Earth Day Gratitude Poster
Try this wonderful Earth Day art project from MindUP™ educator Michelle Purcell:
“For one day, pay close attention to what the earth gives to us. Flowers, trees, sunshine, rain, snow, warmth, food, rainbows; so many things we can notice. Create a poster that shows all of these things by drawing pictures, cutting out images from magazines, writing words and gluing on goodies from nature that you collected. Pick a place on the poster where you also write down your feelings about the ‘gifts’ from the earth. They can be words that express your emotions, or words that talk about how your body feels.”
These are just a handful of suggestions for parents and teachers to consider doing with their kids and students for Earth Day. For additional ideas on what you can do to infuse other mindful principles into your life, check out “10 Mindful Minutes” by Goldie Hawn, which can be purchased at http://thehawnfoundation.org/mindup/mindup-products/goldie-hawns-10-mindful-minutes/
A special thanks to MindUP™ educators Janice Parry and Michelle Purcell for their contributions to this article.
Celebrating the Brain on International Day of Happiness
March 20th is not only the first day of spring, it’s International Day of Happiness. The United Nations created this official holiday in 2012 for the global community to reaffirm their commitment to “the pursuit of happiness as a fundamental human goal.”
Both events are a celebration of new beginnings: Spring brings new life and International Day of Happiness brings new understanding.
Singer Pharrell Williams’ chart-topping (and Oscar-nominated) single “Happy” encourages us to “Clap along if you feel like happiness is the truth.” Neuroscience is now showing us the truth behind happiness. Research has proven again and again that a happy mind can learn better than a stressed, fearful mind.
In their bestselling book “The Whole Brain Child”, UCLA neuropsychiatrist Dr. Dan Siegel and parenting specialist Tina Payne Bryson argue that one of the most important things parents can do to raise happy children is to understand exactly how their brains work.
So on International Day of Happiness, we are reaffirming our commitment to the pursuit of happiness by celebrating the brain! Not just any brain. The beautiful, growing brains of children everywhere. Because they are our future. Clap along if you feel it!
Lesson 1 of The Hawn Foundation’s MindUP™ curriculum is all about the brain. Students learn about the prefrontal cortex, the amygdala, and the hippocampus—three parts of the brain that help all of us think and react to what happens around us. You know, fight-or-flight, stress, anxiety, memories, moods and more.
Foundation Founder Goldie Hawn says teaching kids how their brains work is essential, “Teaching kids brain basics gives them a sense of control. It puts them in the driver’s seat. They can really make changes in the way that they act, feel, perform, and resize their stress levels. All of these things are giving them life tools that will go with them forever.”
MindUP™ educator Daniel Swan says students love learning about how their brains affect their moods, “The main goals of the brain lessons are to talk about what the prefrontal cortex, the hippocampus and the amygdala do, and how that influences their actions. My students love it!”
Elementary school teacher and MindUP™ trainer Janice Parry agrees, “When children learn about their brain, it empowers them in ways that positively affect their lives. My students know if they are upset or excited, they can calm down their amygdala which in turn allows them to access their prefrontal cortex to make ‘good choices’. Making good choices makes them feel happy.”
Dr. Judy Willis, a board-certified neurologist and teacher, is an authority in the field of learning-centered brain research and classroom strategies. “Brain research tells us that when the fun stops, learning often stops too,” Dr. Willis says. “If we want to empower students, we must show them how they can control their own cognitive and emotional health and their own learning. Teaching students how the brain operates is a huge step.”
MindUP ™ educator Catrina Tilbury teaches at Nightingale Primary School in London, where she’s seen lives changed for the better thanks to brain basics, “The biggest impact has come from teaching children how their brains work. They learn to understand why they react to something the way they do. Understanding that they can re-wire their brain and that their behavior is not set in stone is really important.”
Re-wiring our brains, practicing gratitude, and the pursuit of happiness are all hot topics lately.
“It is so empowering for children to begin to understand how their amygdala, hippocampus and prefrontal cortex work together to help or hinder learning,” says teacher and MindUP™ trainer Jen Erickson. “One student recently told me he used his prefrontal cortex to make a better decision at recess!”
A key component of the MindUP™ curriculum is to teach children about the adverse effect that stress can have on the brain’s ability to absorb information.
“When kids learn about their amygdala, it’s like looking into a giant mirror of their emotions,” says David Andrews, high school teacher and MindUP™ trainer. “Suddenly, they realize that their emotions can be harnessed to help them succeed in class. Sharpening their awareness of their emotions through this reflection ultimately helps them become better, happier students.”
The human brain, made up of 100 billion neurons, is the most complex biological structure on Earth. Scientists will continue to unravel the secrets of our mysterious brains for generations. But thanks to neuroplasticity, we actually have the ability to strengthen and increase our brainpower, to affect the way we live, love and learn.
Another insight comes from a neatly summed up neuroscience joke: “The neurons that fire together, wire together.” “It’s a classic saying, and it’s widely accepted because it’s very true,” says neuropsychologist Rick Hanson, author of “Hardwiring Happiness.” “The longer the neurons [brain cells] fire, the more of them that fire, and the more intensely they fire, the more they’re going to wire that inner strength; that happiness, gratitude, feeling confident, feeling successful, feeling loved and lovable.”
That’s your brain on happy. Adds Goldie, “How can we count our moments of joy one by one? Isolated from one another? They should accumulate and be worn throughout life like a mantle of wealth in which we can drape ourselves, at any given moment.”
MindUP™’s cutting-edge curriculum features 15 carefully-thought out lessons designed to help children reduce stress and anxiety; improve concentration and academic performance; understand the brain science linking emotions, thoughts and behaviors; manage their emotions and behavior more effectively; develop greater empathy for others and the world; and learn to be optimistic and happy. The MindUP™ program is currently taught in 7 countries, including the U.S., Canada, the U.K., and China.
MindUP™ for Spring Break: 5 Mindful Activities for Families
With Spring Break upon us, The Hawn Foundation asked top MindUP™ educators to share tips for parents on what they can do with their kids to “MindUP” during Spring Break. Here are their ideas, along with thoughts from Founder Goldie Hawn.
1. Unplug: Disconnect from Technology and Explore Nature
Pick one day during the week to go technology-free. No cell phones, social media, TV, video games or email. It’s a great opportunity to be more present with your child and have a shared experience that involves mindful sensing in the great outdoors. (If you can’t unplug for a whole day, try it for a few hours).
Have you noticed how many moms are on their cellphones when they’re at the park with their kids? Goldie reminds us how important it is to focus on your loved ones when you’re with them, “When playing with your children at the park or the beach, be with them, not on your cellphone. They need your undivided attention.”
Children who get more “vitamin G”—what experts call time spent in green spaces—have lower stress levels. Outdoor experiences promote cognitive development and are often linked to heightened imagination, curiosity, and a sense of wonder. Go on a nature walk together: smell the grass, listen to the birds, collect leaves.
2. Gratitude: Start a Family Gratitude Journal
The science behind gratitude is nothing short of amazing and shows us that by expressing what we are grateful for, we can rewire our brains to seek the positive. Gratitude works like a muscle: as you become more aware of all the good around you, feelings of appreciation will increase. This positive outlook will help kids cope better with the barrage of negative messaging present in society today.
Shawn Achor, leading happiness researcher and author of “The Happiness Advantage”, says writing down three new things that you are grateful for each day for 21 days in a row helps create a positive habit. His research shows this activity significantly improves kids’ optimism even six months later, and increases their success in school too.
The simplest way for children to adopt an attitude of gratitude is to create a family gratitude journal. “While gathered around the table for a meal, each family member can express one thing they are grateful for,” says elementary school teacher and certified MindUP™ trainer Janice Parry. “Following the meal, each person can record their idea in a journal for everyone to reflect on. Have the younger kids decorate it and keep it as a family treasure.”
David Andrews, a high school educator and certified MindUP™ trainer, offers this idea for vacation travel: “During the car ride to the beach or an amusement park, families could take turns saying the things they are thankful for. Parents can point out the fact that they are lucky enough to even go on vacation, to give kids perspective.”
3. Acts of Kindness and Service: Do Something Nice for Others
Being kind stimulates a release of dopamine called the “helper’s high”. When children are serving others it helps them develop compassion, empathy, and perspective.
Goldie says practicing kindness with your kids is also a great bonding experience, “Visit or call an elderly relative, write a letter to someone you love, or serve the hungry at your place of worship or a soup kitchen.”
Start a family discussion about what kind of service acts you can do together over the break. Here are some suggestions: Rake the leaves out of a neighbor’s yard, bake treats and deliver them to someone who lives alone, read to little ones at the library, make someone laugh, open the door for a stranger, pay someone a compliment.
“My experience is, kids feel good when they engage in a service project,” Andrews adds. “It doesn’t have to be huge, and things like picking up litter can be done even while in vacation spots.”
Some other great ideas: Help your child organize a canned food drive in your neighborhood, then deliver the items to a local food bank or homeless shelter. Help your child clean out their toys, clothes, and books and donate the items to Goodwill or a local hospital. Talk to your kids about how these acts of kindness will bring joy to less fortunate children and themselves, as well.
4. Breathe: Take a MindUP™ “Brain Break”
Research proves that there are extraordinary neurobiological benefits to deep, focused breathing. It quiets the mind and reduces stress, which helps kids improve their concentration, and to be in the moment which promotes greater happiness.
“Children benefit from simply stopping for a moment and focusing on their breathing,” Goldie says. “Try starting your morning off with your child by taking 10 deep breaths together.”
As part of the MindUP ™ curriculum taught in schools worldwide, students take “brain breaks” or “mindful breathing breaks” three times a day to calm them down and allow them to focus better. “It’s not anything magical,” Goldie says. “It’s all biological and neurological. So as a family, just take a break and take a breath.”
Educator Parry shares this story about a class field trip to an animal farm: “We gathered on the grass and sat quietly breathing as a group, with the sounds of honking geese and quacking ducks in the background. This very simple activity resonated with the students for weeks following the trip. It was amazing!”
5. Sensory Stimulation: Mindful Tasting, Seeing, and Smelling
Focusing on the specifics of something you see, eat or smell helps children strengthen critical neural pathways, and learn to concentrate more effectively.
Education specialist Rebecca Fishman Lipsey suggests having a mindful tasting experience: “This could be done during a family meal, or through a ‘food tasting’ activity at a destination you’re exploring. Encourage your kids to select a food item, look at it, smell it, imagine what it might taste like, hold it between their teeth, place it on the tongue, and eventually savor the food. It’s a really fun exercise!”
MindUP™ trainer Michelle Purcell suggests doing a mindful tasting exercise with a variety of oranges: navels, mandarins, tangelos and clementines. “Really experience the different taste of each one,” Purcell says. “Children can close their eyes and do the mindful tasting of each variety, then talk about the differences and similarities between them.” You can also do this using different fruits to compare. This builds kids’ language and descriptive skills, as well as focused attention and mindful behavior.
Teacher and certified MindUP™ trainer Jen Erickson suggests this simple but effective mindful seeing exercise: “When out in nature, have your child choose an object such as a seashell, a flower or an insect or anything else they may have never seen before. Ask your child to look at the object as if he or she had never seen it before. Spend time quietly observing it while bringing attention to the color, shape, size, texture, and movement.”
These are just a handful of suggestions for parents to consider doing with their kids during Spring Break. For additional ideas on what parents can do to infuse these principles into their family life, check out “10 Mindful Minutes” by Goldie Hawn, which can be purchased at http://thehawnfoundation.org/mindup/mindup-products/goldie-hawns-10-mindful-minutes/
Hope this helps! Have a blast and MindUP™ with your kids this Spring break…