School Supplies You Can’t Buy

By September 10, 2012Friday Letters

Dear Friends,

Welcome back to the new school year!  The school is delightfully vibrant with the bright smiles of children and adults.  The classrooms are already humming with the sharing of summer adventures, establishing classroom routines and rules, reviewing daily schedules and expectations, and revealing hopes and dreams for the new school year.

Last week, I read an article in The Huffington Post entitled “3 Essential School Supplies That Aren’t on Your List.”  The author cites a study that suggests that “Our happiness is best predicted by the breadth and the depth of our relationships with others.”  She recommends three “tools” from the Dovetail Learning’s Toolbox Project that can help children build their social intelligence and some ideas for you to help your children in developing and strengthening these tools.  I thought them important enough to share with you.

(1) The Courage Tool. Returning to school takes courage for many children, especially when they are changing schools or are moving from elementary to middle school. Kids use courage when they do something they know is right, like inviting a new student to sit with them at lunch. They also use courage when they don’t do something they know is wrong, even though someone is pressuring them to do it. And they use courage when they express themselves, such as by standing up in front of the class or asking a question they’re afraid others will think is stupid.
-Ask them what the word means to them. Talk with them about facing difficult things without fear. Share examples of ways to use courage at school.
-Teach them that courage is like a muscle: The more they use it, the easier it is to stand up for what they know is right. The courage they build now will serve them for the rest of their lives.
-Help them be aware of the thoughts they have that influence their bravery. What can they say to themselves to help themselves feel courageous? (I am strong enough to do the right thing.) What types of things do they say to themselves that make them fearful? (Everyone will think I’m weird if I tell her about that.)

(2) The Garbage Can Tool. Our kids’ social lives are full of conflicts, large and small. To help them navigate these conflicts, Toolbox suggests how they can treat “unkind words and actions” as garbage and throw them away. The “Garbage Can Tool” helps kids brush off unkindness, especially slights that were unintentional or not meant as personal injuries, and foster resilience.
-Talk with your kids about how some conflicts and unpleasant words aren’t worth giving time and attention to. These things are just like trash: stinky, rude or inappropriate. The place for them is the garbage.
-Help them symbolically create a place to put “trash:” Once they decide that something is garbage, or that an unpleasant event is over, they can move on by throwing it away (tossing it aside to get it out of their physical space).
-As Epictetus said: “It’s not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters.” Talk about how the Garbage Can Tool can be an effective way to respond to something unpleasant.

(3) The Breathing Tool. If I had to pick only one of these tools for my children, I’d pick this one. It’s the tool I use most myself: I use it to diffuse stress, to focus and to keep myself from overreacting. My daughters also “take five” — five long, slow breaths as described below –before resolving an argument, which makes them seem mature beyond their ages, like little Buddhas.
A lot of good science suggests that focusing on their breath can be powerful for students: It reduces stress, stimulates creativity, boosts test scores, and improves focus.
-Practice this with your kids: Put one hand over your heart and one hand on your stomach. Breathe in slowly through your nose. Focus on the sensation of fresh air coming into your lungs and on how it feels as your belly expands. Pause briefly, relax, and then exhale through your mouth, counting slowly to five.
-See if you can take five or even 10 intentional breathes like this.
-Ask kids to pay attention to how their body feels when they use the Breathing Tool.

These are important lessons for our children and will help them be successful in their lives in school and beyond.  We will explore more of these tools throughout the year and perhaps consider adopting the program in the future.

I’d love to know what you think.  Please feel free to contact me about any question or concern you may have…..or simply to talk about issues that are important to you.  I look forward to seeing all of you at Back To School Night on Monday, September, 24th and throughout the school year.

Nancy Donnelly
Head of School

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