What our kids really need for school

As I navigate the crowded aisles of shiny new school supplies, I ponder the question: How do I prepare my child’s brain, mind and body for a successful school year? What are the “school supplies” my children really need?

It all goes back to understanding the brain and nervous system regulation.

I like to utilize an adaptation of Dr. Dan Siegel’s hand model of the brain to think about how to support the integration and utilization of our whole brain.

Downstairs Brain: This innermost part of the brain is responsible for survival instincts and autonomic body processes.

Staircase: The midlevel of the brain, this part processes emotions and conveys sensory relays. It is here that information is either granted access the upstairs part of the brain or sent to the downstairs regions or the brain in a Flight/Flight or Collapse response.

Upstairs Brain:The most highly evolved part of the brain, this area outer controls cognitive processing, decision-making, learning, memory and inhibitory functions.

The school supplies that I am searching for would support the construction and stability of the staircase which grants access to the upstairs brain (where we want our children and students to hang out!).

Sometimes access to the staircase is blocked. This may be the case for children who have experienced trauma, toxic stress, adverse childhood experiences or who struggle with sensory integration. Before they can even access the staircase they need to experience a sense of safety in the world. Nurturing, safe, responsive and receptive relationships are key to granting access to the staircase. Supporting the staircase: Here is where I want to spend a few minutes on some concrete strategies to assist you and your child as they prepare to return to school.

Critical school supplies!

1. Nurturing and responsive relationships: All learning occurs within the context of relationship. Focus on some time everyday for yourself (even if it is just 5 minutes) so that you can be more responsive and less reactive when your child makes bids for your attention. Expand your own regulation so that if/when your child needs support in regulation you are able to assist them.
2. Emotional awareness and regulation: Identify the emotion (energy in motion) in your body. Describe it and give it a name. ie: “I feel my heart beating fast, and have butterflies in my stomach”, “part of me feels excited and part of me feels nervous”, “I am going to take a deep breath”. Normalize a range of emotions that come up as the school year approaches.
3. Impulse control and response to stimului: When what is expected and what to do when is made explicit and clear it is easier for our children to begin to hone their impulse control and develop focal attention.

  • I encourage you to consider developing consistent and predictable morning, afterschool, and bedtime routines.
  • Successful routines include not only the tasks to complete but also embedded regulation activities such as: eating, movement, time to regroup and reset.
    • For example an afterschool routine might include: time to get a snack, time to get outside and expend some energy, time for quiet (bath, listening to music, reading a book), and then time for tasks like homework, after school chores etc. Try to limit or delay the use of screens and devices during this after school routine.

4. Task management and completion: Use a planner, list on the computer or phone, develop a system that works for your student to track tasks and assignments from start to finish.

Supporting the Upstairs brain: Write out (or draw) the routines that you developed to support the staircase. Make a checklist or other form of keeping track of what tasks need to be completed and how to know when they are done.

If you are a parent/care giver preparing your children to return to school or a teacher preparing your classroom, take a quick inventory of these critical school supplies. If you need additional support to develop these skills and strategies reach out for assistance. These supplies are needed across the life span and we all benefit when we have the correct supplies for the job at hand.

Speak Your Mind

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