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Breathing for easier learning

Wednesday, Jun. 24th 2015

Why would we want to manipulate breathing, since it is a completely natural part of the life process?

Breathing is such a spontaneous process that we don’t pay too much attention to it. However, most of us do NOT breath anywhere near appropriately and, as a result, are often deprived of our vital life force. This is especially true when we are attempting to learn something new.

When breath is modulated it can exert profound effects on the brain activity and the nervous system, as well as intercede the involuntary ‘trigger-response’ processes of the body such as heart rate, blood pressure, pH and body temperature.

Slow deep breathing coupled with the practice of holding the breath momentarily between breaths has the effect of widening the gap between neural implulses and their responses, thereby reducing brain activity and ‘wiring’ the brain to shift emphasis from the sympathetic stress response, to the parasympathetic relaxation response.

By alternating the breath through both nostrils, the left and right hemispheres of the brain are stimulated equally, resulting in balanced mental activity and achieving optimal brain functioning.

A helpful strategy is to focus on breathing out more fully and prolonging the exhales which help regulate the ratio of oxygen to carbon dioxide. This calms you down and enables you to perform better when under pressure. An especially useful technique prior to and during exam time! J

“Mum, I’m bored!”

Wednesday, Jun. 17th 2015

Boredom might just be one of the most valuable experiences you can give a child. Until they are faced with this empty space, they will never learn to let their attention uncoil to its full potential.

Sometimes boredom is one of the greatest experiences you can give a child. In fact, it must be experienced during the early years if they are to have any chance of surviving in a world where attention is constantly under assault. Like a stabled horse, the child whose mind is constantly entertained, develops a short and restless attention span, always reined back in too soon. Fed with answers, protected from failure and steered through possibilities, how can they learn the deep satisfaction of breaking through, the awe of discovery and the pleasure of finding their own connection with life? They grow as they have been nurtured. The pathways they will need later to come into their own skin and fulfill a life of real purpose must be laid down early.

As a parent, one of your most important roles is to protect and guide your children’s attention. To help them see that the beauty arises in those idle moments. To support them to discover that wisdom and creativity can be uncovered in stillness. These will be critical skills as they grow up living in a noisy and distracted world.

When is early, too early or too late?

Thursday, Jun. 11th 2015

When we know that something important or fun is on our agenda, it’s important that we plan and prepare as fully as possible. For our little ones, beginning their school journey is exciting and often, overwhelming. It can be daunting for the child, as well as mum & dad!

The child’s focus, is, naturally enough, aimed squarely at the plethora of human interactions they face. So many teachers, so many new children, so many new and very unfamiliar spaces, so many new rules, so, ‘where’s my mum anyway?  I want to go home and play!’

All of this can be totally overwhelming for young learners. Structured learning of content is often not the highest priority during the initial school semesters. As a result, important foundational understandings, especially pre-reading competencies in phonics, are often missed completely. This unfortunately can set the child up for a future as a struggling reader. The implications of this can, in many cases, significantly undermine self-confidence, often leading to under-performing school results and a school experience of struggle and anxiety as an under-achiever.

The transition into ‘big school’ is a big enough stress on a young soul, without concerning themselves with any notion of what this ‘learning’ business is all about. This is where a structured, systematic, Literacy and Numeracy rich early and pre-school learning program can be invaluable.  It allows the  child to enter ‘big school’ equipped with vital foundational understandings of these important skills. Not only does the child possess important skills, they perceive themselves as a competent learner. A learner capable of taking risks. A learner capable of making this important life transition with ease and grace.The school experience becomes a richer, more pleasant and vastly more enjoyable experience.



Inside the brain of a struggling reader

Tuesday, Jun. 2nd 2015

Inside the brain of a struggling reader

There are many, many factors that combine to create successful readers. While home environment, access to books and social and economic factors each play a part in children’s literacy development, BRAIN DIFFERENCES also play a crucial role.

LEFT-BRAIN ACTIVITY in struggling readers is often underdeveloped. This part of the brain helps readers make the connection between letters, sounds or phonemes ( this is called phonological processing ).

The OCCIPITAL LOBE is the part of the brain that helps us understand what we see. While struggling readers may not have vision problems, differences in the occipital lobe can prevent them from understanding individual letters or words when they see them.

In a typical brain, WERNICKE’S AREA acts as a giant warehouse for vocabulary and sounds. For struggling readers, this area shows less activity and may even be inactive. This means that for some students, every word encountered is a new word, all the time.

BROCA’S AREA is usually associated with speaking words aloud. Students with phonological processing issues often show less activity in this region. It may be a no-brainer (sic), but speech, listening and reading are all interconnected.

AUDITORY PROCESSING difficulties also contribute to reading struggles.

The Good News is…The Brain is Plastic, It’s Fantastic. New research is demonstrating the plasticity of the brain, or the ability for it to change over the course of a human’s life. Teachers understand this better than most. LEARNING can make a big impact on brain physiology. Three awesome examples are:

  1. London bus drivers v taxi drivers. Your average taxi driver has a larger hippocampus than a bus driver, likely because they have to navigate all over the city, while bus drivers have set routes. ( Maquire, Woollet and Spiers, 2006
  2. Monolinguals v Bilinquals. It turns out learning more than one language literally expands your brain: Bilinguals have a bigger left inferior parietal cortex than monolinguals ( Mechelli et al., 2004)
  3. Musician’s v Non-musicians. Musicians who practice at least one hour a day have been shown to have more grey matter than those who do not play an instrument. ( Gaser and Schlaug, 2003 )

Food for thought as well ALL, try to make our world a more literal, compassionate place.

Cyclonic Triggers

Tuesday, Apr. 28th 2015

The past few days have presented our local Central Coast community with some interesting personal challenges. For a few days, the entire geographical area has been pounded by nature. A category 2 cyclonic event has been wreaking havoc. Torrential flooding rain; cyclonic winds in excess of 120km per hour,; huge trees uprooted and strewn across roads and homes, like dry twigs in a summer breeze; loss of communications and power for many and an almighty disruption to our normal day-to-day routine lives.

All of us have been affected in many ways. Unfortunately four people have also lost their lives. The event has disrupted our daily lives. Schools have been closed for days. Some businesses have closed due to lack of power, as well as concerns for security. Trains have been delayed or stopped. Boats have been washed up onto roads and footpaths. Bus services have ceased. Grocery shops have been inundated for food stock-piling, especially anything ‘long life’. Fridge freezers are thawing and have been forced empty. Many people evacuated from their homes and directed to local community shelters. It really IS a major disaster, with the state government declaring an official state-of-emergency. A catastrophic event by any standards. Mother nature at her loudest.

One of our clients contacted us to inform us that she was unwilling drive her children to our centre as she was terrified of driving anywhere. She is certainly not alone. For those who are game enough to venture out of the safety of their homes, witnessing the destruction has been overwhelming.

I too have been triggered with concerns for my own family and loved ones. Our collective concerns are real, as we witness the overwhelming scenes in our local neighbourhoods.

The nature of our significant triggers as adults, are NEVER those of our ‘adult selves’. They are sequestered parts of our being that are usually very young ( child or adolescent ) and are, at times, almost inconsolable by our ‘adult selves’. These triggers are held in our body/mind and usually get re-triggered by events in the present moment. Most of us have experienced this almost hypervigilent overwhelm that is frequently out of proportion to the experience being currently faced. In fact, for many of us, this part takes over and can determine much of our response to these situations.

It might be mindful to remember, that we ALL have these totally human responses to traumatic events and that it is never, ever too late to let our ‘adult selves’, compassionately ‘re-parent’ these often neglected parts of our whole being.

CANI ( or can’t I? )

Tuesday, Apr. 21st 2015

With apologies to the great William Shakespeare: “To be or not to be”, is simply no longer the question we should be asking ourselves. Rather, the question is better phrased around: “CANI or Can’t I?”

CANI is a very common acronym (much attributed to Tony Robbins – I believe), that stands for Constant And Never–ending Improvement. Through my educator’s lens, it means that everything is a process. We are a process. There are very few, if any, absolutes when it comes to human development and self-improvement. What was once considered impossible or even highly unlikely to achieve, is now often commonplace. How many semi-literate ‘dyslexics’ have created much joy, abundance and creativity in our world? Think Richard Branson, Albert Einstein (yes THAT Einstein!), John Lennon, Cher, Leonardo da Vinci, to name but a few. What would our world that we live in today be like without the many gifts these people have bestowed upon humanity. What would have happened if they had believed and bought into the paradigm and labelling, that limited them?

For students, especially senior student’s, it means that ‘failure’ simply doesn’t exist! Big statement when they get a ‘bad’ mark back, I know? Sure, it’s an externalised construct imposed on students as a result of some mechanised ‘result’. It is NOT what most in our school systems would have us believe it is. It is purely and simply FEEDBACK, nothing more, nothing less. If they were to sit with that thought for just a moment before they tackle the next assignment, it will have a truly remarkable outcome on their future. School for many, is simply a ‘speed-hump’ along life’s magical path. For most, it simply doesn’t work. For the few who can live in the paradigm of ‘success’ or ‘failure’ as dictated by the scholastic institution, it does work to a point. Then what? Continue giving personal power away to another level of institutionalised, external monitoring?

Now, I’m not saying that knowledge for knowledge sake, is a bad thing but for many students it is a soul destroying feedback mechanism that keeps them stuck and playing very small with their own lives. The personal philosophy of ‘CANI’ provides a way out. Another way of viewing every single ‘mark’ they receive. Each and every result can be viewed as an attempt at improving their own personal power by asking themselves the question; Can I, CANI? Am I able to accept all of my results as simply feedback for my own improvement, not an external comparative of myself compared to others?

I’m hoping this blog provides a springboard that might just open some conversations. May just provide even one student with a new perspective. Carpe Diem!


Helping your child with a learning disability

Wednesday, Feb. 18th 2015

For many children and adults, despite having no known physical or mental disability, many learning tasks like spelling, organising themselves, writing, reading and even playing games that involve throwing and catching, can present significant life challenges.

One of the most common specific learning disabilities is dyslexia. Simply, dyslexia is described as a difference in how certain people (adults as well as children ), process information. It is often diagnosed when children commence kindergarten but is frequently mis-diagnosed and under-diagnosed.

There are many indicators for dyslexia. Some of these include: problems remembering more than two pieces of information, general forgetfulness and confusing sounds and words. The most common symptoms of dyslexia in school-aged children include difficulties with reading ( especially with reading comprehension ) and difficulties with spelling and writing. In the middle and upper primary grades the most challenging management issue with dyslexia can be bullying and teasing by classmates.

One of the greatest assistance measures parents can offer is to read aloud to their children, especially whilst relaxed at bedtime. The power of a parent, animatedly reading to a child at bedtime can be one of the most effective strategies offered to any child with dyslexia. Whilst this doesn’t replace specific measureable and tested learning strategies, it can be THE most positive link between parent, child and the reading process.