Teach Happiness Too – Projects and Lessons to Consider Adding to Your Teaching/Homeschooling Plans
As we enter the school year I find myself thinking about the things I wish I'd been taught in school. Some of it is stuff that used to be taught but isn't anymore, like sewing, some of it I'm not sure if it was ever taught, like how to file taxes, and some of it I think is absolutely critical in today's world: happiness and learning how to manage stress and anxiety.
There are scientifically proven ways to help us feel happier, calmer, and more focused, but we rarely learn them in school. When the techniques ARE brought up in a school setting, they are usually just touched upon instead of being made into a routine where the kids can practice them and benefit from them every day.
Thankfully, many of the techniques are also very quick! So many of them can be added to a school day or a homeschooling day without taking much time, and they can have a huge benefit for the child's well-being.
If you're a teacher or you're homeschooling your children this year, please consider adding some of these techniques and projects to your lesson plans EACH DAY. And if you're interested in more, please reach out, as this is just a selective list.
Daily Gratitude Journal. If I were to choose just one thing to add to the day, for both children and adults, it would be to keep a gratitude journal. It only takes a minute or two and it's super easy! All you have to do is write down 10+ things for which you're grateful every day. That's it. It can be big things, like "I'm grateful for my family," or "I'm grateful I have a home to live in," and it can be small things, like "I'm grateful for the sun shining today," and "I'm grateful for my cat purring next to me." It can also be things we normally take for granted, like "I'm grateful I have indoor plumbing!" and "I'm grateful I have electricity and heat and hot water!" The BEST way to do it, which trains your brain to search for the positive things in your life, is to focus on the last 24 hours. What are you grateful for from the last 24 hours? Write it down and make it a habit to do it every day.
Positive Statements. If you're child is okay keeping journals, you might want to also add a list of positive statements to the journal, or just have them say them out loud. These should be "I am" statements and can increase their self-confidence, happiness, and help conquer their self-doubt. Plus it only takes about 30 seconds and yet can have a big impact! These can be the same ones every day, or you can change them up, it doesn't matter. You could even write a list on a whiteboard and read them off every morning. Here's a few examples: "I am strong." "I am important." "I am loved." "I am talented." "I am attractive." "I am powerful." "I am good at *insert activity here*" "I am smart." "I am worthy."
Learn Breathing Techniques. We all know meditation and breathing can have a huge impact on our ability to focus and stay calm. 5 minutes a day of quietly focusing on your breathing will help with both those things tremendously over time. Plus, you get 5 minutes of quiet as your kids do this exercise. Bonus! If they're having trouble focusing on their breathing, which is hard to do without your brain running off to other things (it'll take practice!), you can download an app like Calm and they have a visual you can follow along with where it shows you when to breathe in and out. It helps.
Take Breaks and Stretch. Nobody likes to be cooped up all day, least of all kids. I used to find myself just about dying in the second half of each class I had because I didn't have any blood flow. My brain wasn't working as well, my body ached from those crappy plastic chairs and having to lean forward so much of the day. If I'd been allowed to stand up and stretch a little and go for a quick walk in the middle of the day, or just do a few stretches, I would have been much better off. Breaks are good! Sometimes we forget that because we're in a rush or have so much to do, but you'll actually be more productive and have a clearer mind if you take more breaks and move around!
Watch TED Talks and Other Short Videos. TED Talks are great. So many of them are so interesting, and they're all under 20 minutes long. They're well-produced so they're enjoyable to watch, there are SO MANY of them, and they cover subjects from happiness to the human body to business and everything else. Adding a TED Talk or other fun but short informational videos into your routine can also be a great way to learn something in a more digestible manner. It can be a great way to transition from one subject to the next and maybe do some stretching like mentioned above while watching the video to accomplish two things at once.
Power Poses. If you're going to try to add the meditation/breathing techniques to your lesson plans, you might want to consider having your child stand in a power pose while they're doing it. Watch this TED Talk by Amy Cuddy to see what she says about power poses. In short, they decrease your cortisol (fight or flight) hormone and increase your testosterone. This changes the chemistry in your body and makes you feel calmer and more confident! The most popular power pose and easiest to describe is standing like Superman with your back straight, shoulders back, head UP, and hands on your hips. :)
Add Some Art. Art is also scientifically proven to help you maintain your mental health better, but don't just think about drawing. The more types of crafts and creative endeavors you can think of, the better for your child's developing brain. Play with clay. Make slime. Bake food. Build something. Do a puzzle. Draw. Paint. Create drawings for a calendar. Learn to sew. Take photos. Make a collage. Do some creative writing. Learn to crochet a blanket. Make a scrapbook. Try to invent something. Make a fort. Learn about engines. Write a song or just play music/sing. Make a terrarium. Make a felted scarf. Etc.
Play More. We all start out so excited to go to school. In Kindergarten, so much of our learning is based on play, and it's one of the best ways to learn. But as school progresses to the older levels, play gets taken out more and more until none is left. It's still a great way to learn at ANY level, even as an adult. You know how much I learn from trivia games?? So no matter what level your kid is at, try to find at least some things you can teach in a fun, more playful way. Science is a great subject for this because you can look up so many fun experiments, like how to turn on a lightbulb with a pickle, or how different elements on the periodic table burn different colors, or how when you mix certain ingredients, they turn into a huge pile of foam, etc. I used to also love when our teacher would let us play Bingo. She would make the Bingo cards with the answers to questions and then when she asked a question we would have to find the correct answer on our Bingo card. Or we would play games like Jeopardy.
Ask For Help. I don't envy teachers, especially under today's circumstances. Plus, there are so many parents right now trying to homeschool their children, whether part time or full time, for the first time ever, and many on top of full time jobs. But you're not alone. Reach out to other teachers, librarians, and parents for ideas when you get stuck, or just an ear for when you need to vent your frustrations. Find a group of other teachers and parents on Facebook or somewhere else and trade ideas, share your challenges, and just connect. This is going to be overwhelming sometimes and having other people to talk with is going to be hugely beneficial. Seek them out.
Author: Corrina Thurston is an artist, speaker, consultant, and author. Check out her book, How To Crush Self-Doubt and Gain Real Confidence, watch her TED Talk, and learn more about her here: www.corrinathurston.com