To "see" our children is a crucial building block in their development; neurologically, psychologically and emotionally.
We are social beings, and thrive by having meaningful connections with others.
During the early childhood years a child’s brain needs a safe adult to be observing them and responding in attunement to their needs. An effort to see the child for who they are, and an ability to respond appropriately, and in a timely manner.
To really see a child though -or any other person- requires a level of introspection. A recognition that, usually, we see the world through our own needs first.
The energy and effort used to put ourselves in the background, for a moment, while we listen and see a child or another, is another way to use our attention. To relate to someone attentively, is to care. Attention is a form of love.
We’ve interviewed Arianna Orozco, a team member who is a new mother and this is what she has to share:
“How can I truly see someone else?
Since becoming a mom I have been sitting with that question. There is a tremendous aim to be present and show up for what my baby really needs.
Interestingly, I have found that in order to see her I must learn to truly see myself first, without judgment. Here are three questions that have helped me do so:
What is your experience when you try to see your child or any other person?
As parents or teachers we often wonder how to motivate a child to move forward when they want to quit. Though there’s not “the one” solution for all children, we want to share tools to support resilience in our children, and ourselves!
Let’s each begin by identifying the skills we want our child to develop, while allowing for flexibility in individual learning styles. Often, it is our idea of what we want them to learn and how we want them to learn it that gets in the way. For instance, if we had wanted our child to develop musical skills by playing the flute, we might find that the flute isn’t the right tool, but that our child thrives by developing musical skills through other tools (i.e. movement, violin, piano, singing, etc.).
How do we truly see a child and understand their needs as they grow? Sometimes the greatest gift we can give our children is the consistency of returning to a learning space and a structure where they can work on their resilience, through their relation to themselves, their peers, and understanding that the way they relate and use this space varies.
Learning in this space, however, may not always look like the picture we have in our adult minds of what learning should be. For example, in a parent-child classroom like our Music Together programming, the adult may be modeling the movement and participation of using an instrument while keeping the beat to a song. At the same time, their little one is exploring the space, seeing how their peers are moving, singing, playing. This may look to our adult eyes like they are not participating, but in fact they are developing important social-emotional, and community learning skills with their peers and caregiver models.
In our older classrooms, we see students bounding into class, thrilled to learn the next skills in a sequence of learning with which they feel a connection. In other cases however, they are hungry for the connection to their peers through the medium of music - a shared language and a new way to connect!
Have you encountered a situation where your child or student did not want to continue? How did you overcome it?
This month, we talked to Ann Suda, an Integral Steps fellow and instructor, about a real-life experience of engaging our three centers:
“In our classes we encourage families to make music in their everyday lives. Music engages all areas of the brain – vision, hearing, language, cognitive and emotional functions.”
In the past, we have discussed the positive impact on our brains that comes with using our mind, body, emotions and senses in a given experience. Also, we have considered the importance of learning in different ways, through varied learning modalities. The more senses involved equates to more brain connections, and richer experiences with more solid memories.
Ann continues, “For example, my daughter Sophia’s high school choir teacher told the class they were going to learn a song in Hebrew, and that it might be a bit challenging to learn the words in the short time they had. Sophia came home surprised and said, “Mom! How did I already know ALL the words?” It was “Hine Ma Tov”, a Music Together song she had learned in class as a preschooler. When we talked about it, Sophia remembered dancing in a circle to that song in class when she was little.”
When we learn something by experiencing it, it becomes deeply-rooted knowledge. As a parent, we can ask ourselves, what are the types of memories I would like my children to save in their brains? Sophia’s story makes us understand the importance of creating positive memories that may not show themselves on a daily basis but are, indeed, enlarging our understanding. Music is the key!
The beginning of the year always feels like a place of opportunity: we mean to follow through on our resolutions, there’s a sense of renewal, and something in the air just feels different for the first few weeks. Often, however, we simply jump into our schedules without much of a pause. This is why we thought it would be interesting to use our first newsletter to reflect on how the theory behind Integral Steps plays a role in our daily and personal life.
In past newsletters, we have discussed the three centers of integrative education: the mind (intellect), the body (senses) and emotions (feelings).
As Alejandra, Integral Steps co-founder explains, when all of our parts - mind, body and emotions - are taken into consideration, and are harmoniously balanced and stimulated, our core capabilities as human beings become more accessible. We increase our capacity to pay attention, to feel empathy, to love, to be patient, learn something new, problem-solve, etc…
Inner imbalances create tension and hinder our perception of the world around us. These imbalances of the self occur when there is an excessive engagement of one part of ourselves to approach a broad range of situations, like intellectual engagement for example, and a marked underuse of other parts of the self, like integration of the body or the emotional world.
With this in mind, we want to invite you to take some time to reflect on your personal tendencies. Do you approach life more from an intellectual standpoint? Emotional? How do you tend to integrate your body and be aware of its needs?
As a parent, teacher, or individual, reflecting on this question could be an opportunity to make a conscious plan to strengthen one of your centers or those of your students or children.
For 2023, we invite you to join us for an integrated year!
The holiday season is here! (can you believe it?). For some of you, this may be a time to plan/attend parties, buy presents, and reconnect with family and friends. For others, this may be a quieter time. Regardless of where we focus our energy during this time of the year – inside or outside – it is an interesting exercise to plan how we want to do it: “what is my intention for this holiday season?” Taking some time to think about this allows us to choose our narrative and decide how we want to live this time, instead of allowing the season to happen to us.
From our team’s experience, the holidays can become a little hectic. This often occurs when we focus on the “stuff”, like presents. Rather, the holidays can be a time to connect, enjoy traditions, and experience true inner joy. Joy can be different from happiness, which comes and goes. Joy comes through deep and truthful presence. The holidays, then, are truly about the experience – our ability to feel, hear, and learn in the company of loved ones who are present.
With this in mind, Nicole, our fabulous Program & Communications Manager and mother of four, shares with us a few ideas on how we can create an intentional holiday season. We hope you try it with us!
'An intentional holiday translates to an intentional life. We can work with a top-down approach, creating a plan to achieve whatever desire we have for this time of the year. We can focus our energy and activities on reaching that goal"
Have you ever smelled something that immediately transports you to specific memories of your childhood? A place that you used to live? The feeling of a summer afternoon?… That’s because our senses are fundamentally linked to our memory.
In our brain, memories are stored in different areas. When we learn something through music or movement, for instance, that specific piece of knowledge will be stored in multiple parts of our brain, and thus will be “easier” to access. Let’s say you learn a math concept while engaging in a rhythm exercise. That piece of knowledge will be connected to the musical part of your brain as well as the more analytical parts. If the exercise is fun, then hurray! The concept will also be "highlighted" so to speak, making it stronger and more readily accessible.
Moral of the story (and Integral Steps’ motto): the more parts of ourselves that are involved in learning, the more parts of our brain are engaged in storing our knowledge…and the easier it will be to recall it later.
So, to answer a question that we are often asked: an integrative education is one that involves the whole human person. The mind (intellect), the body (senses) and the heart (feelings), are the three pillars that an integrative education engages to create deeper and more real learning.
Experience an Integrative Learning Exercise Yourself!
Churning ice cream!
No better way to learn the states-of-matter together.
Sometimes, there is nothing better than a cold, refreshing treat to invite some fun and delight to our kitchens!
The ice will be melting at a much faster rate due to its contact with salt. Therefore, the cold inside the ice will escape more rapidly and freeze the milk.
While making your ice cream, talk about liquids/solids/gases and see which states of matter are represented in your recipe. Discuss how there is a reversible change happening: when you make ice cream, the liquid milk freezes into a solid. But, if you leave the ice cream out...it will revert back to its liquid state!
Your ability to affectionately and joyfully discover with your child is like warm rays of sun. Hum a tune together. Giggle. Go slowly. Sharing moments of delight together helps your child open up as well as feel safe, valued, and ready to learn ways to share positive emotions. Later on, when difficulties arise, they can use this established channel of safe, honest sharing and problem solving.
Can you handle all ingredients with your hands in one way or another? How heavy is the measuring spoon? Can you pour without spilling? Finding creative ways to feel helps include your body in all aspects of life!
1) Combine 1⁄2 cup milk with 1 Tablespoon sugar and 1⁄4 teaspoon vanilla extract in a sandwich-sized plastic bag.
2) Combine 4 cups ice cubes with 1⁄2 cup salt in a gallon-sized plastic bag.
3) Put the small bag with milk inside the gallon bag (make sure both are secure) and shake for 5 minutes or until milk is frozen. Cover your hands in mitts as it will be very cold.
As many of you know, Emma, our founder and Executive Director, had a beautiful baby 5 months ago. She’s now coming back to her role as a teacher and executive at Integral Steps, in addition to her new role: being a mom! So, we wanted to take this opportunity to talk about adjusting. Though we’ve all experienced it, adjusting can feel difficult. With many expectations around it and resistance to it, adjusting is a central part of how we live. That’s why we asked Emma three things she has learned about adjusting during these months. And, as the world demands more adaptation everyday, we invite you to think about how you adjust to new experiences, what parts of you resist, and how do you deal with that.
Three things being a new mom taught me about adjusting:
When planning for my leave at Integral Steps, for example, we had to adjust many things – positions, expectations, plans – that, today, I realized made us stronger and better at what we do. However, we had to be open and flexible for that to happen.
Reflecting on my role as an executive, at an organizational/professional level, sometimes we think we have to do everything and have all the answers. Being open to change can unlock the possibility to discover people in different ways, realizing they have abilities that otherwise would not have been shown, and now, we can learn from those skill sets.
Just as we often talk about the importance of developing our personal three centers – body, mind and spirit – organizations and communities are made of people who represent those centers or pillars, and making sure they’re all strong is a key aspect of being able to adjust. As a new mom, I often need help either in this role or in others that I carry, and being part of an organization with strong centers has definitely been key.
Let’s keep the good work, inner and outer, to strengthen our centers and pillars, so that we can be better at adjusting and living a happier life.
“Attention is how we learn and integrate new knowledge, but it is also how we love and care for ourselves and one another.” - Cora Crisman, Integral Steps instructor. Last year, we talked about this in a newsletter titled “Attention is the purest form of love,” which stated: “To give someone our complete attention is to let them know they matter enough to spend my energy and my time exclusively on them. As parents, teachers and caregivers… moments of true attention allow the other to feel our care, our love.”
With this idea of attention, so central to the development of our self, skills and abilities, and feelings of safety, how can we create spaces to promote its cultivation? Especially during the digital era, which is asking us to pay attention to so many things at once, and to move our tasks into a solely cerebral place sometimes (we aren’t making something with our hands, moving our bodies, or even using our voices, we are just engaging our eyes and minds).
In conversation with Cora about fostering attention in the classroom, she mentions one central concept: “I have to enter the space being calmed and making sure my own needs are met.” Otherwise, there could be a surface level of attention (making sure kids are physically safe during class, or playing the song they were asked, for instance, but not necessarily aware of how they’re feeling) but the teacher won’t be able to either enter or foster a deeper level of attention (where students are engaged, feel heard and seen, and real learning occurs).
Once these central requirements are in place, here are some ways to cultivate attention in children (the examples are explained based on a classroom dynamic, but they can be extrapolated to other spaces, like the household):
In our Stepping Stones newsletter, we’ve talked about the importance of engaging the different human centers to ensure a balanced development of the self. One way of doing this is by addressing the different learning modalities. In order to explore this topic, we talked with a member of our staff, Melissa Overbury-Howland, who was a high-school teacher in England prior to moving to the States.
Different research, including this BBC documentary which Melissa was a part of, has shown that we do not all learn in the same way; so there is tremendous value in understanding the different learning modalities. This is especially important when we want to make sure our children (or even ourselves) are learning in the best possible way.
There are 3 main learning modalities:
In BAMM, for example - an Integral Steps program that combines Biology, Art, Music, and Motion, children who learn about notes for the first time use the different modalities: for the kinesthetic/tactile, they march to the rhythm of the note, clapping as they feel the beat; for the auditory, they play the note and hear how it sounds; for the visual, they see the note on the music sheet in a specific color to further enhance memorization.
For adults, playing in a chamber music group is a great example of a multi-modal learning experience. You'll learn to watch the other group members and read their body language to know when to start playing together (Visual). You'll feel the music by swaying side to side, nodding your head, and moving your fingers and lips to play your instrument (Tactile/Kinesthetic). You'll read the music (Visual) and convert it to sound (Auditory), listening closely for the intonation and color of the note so you can blend together and play as a unified group.
In our examples, you may remember one experience better than the other, and that’s because that experience engaged directly with how you learn. For teachers, the different learning modalities mean that it is important to design classes like BAMM, in order to ensure everyone is learning. For non-teaching adults, it means we should be paying attention to how we or our children learn. You’ll notice when your child gravitates towards a specific learning modality because they will be noticeably actively engaged.
Active steps you can take to help address a range of learning modalities:
Although it’s already a month into 2022, we wish you a Happy New Year! At Integral Steps, we are thrilled to continue strengthening our community and working around an integrative education. What are you thrilled about this 2022?
Last year, we talked about the relationship between emotions and memory, emotions and attention, and the idea that real learning occurs through experience. In conversation about these ideas with Weronika Balewski, IS Instructor and Director of Development, a new fundamental element was brought up: the importance of the group to enhance positive emotions and learning experience in children or adults. Here is some of the takeaway from Weronika:
What does it mean to take into account your students’ emotions when planning a lesson?
- WB: Thinking about the emotional experience of students in a classroom means that I [as a teacher], have to think differently about my goals. The result is that, if students are engaged emotionally, they will really care about what they are learning and their attention will be put into the day’s lesson. For this, I have to come up with exercises and activities that will allow me to move the theory into experiences, and thus, emotions. What if we learn about different ways of grouping beats into meters by imitating how different animals jump? I definitely have to think of activities that the students will absolutely be thrilled about…
What is the importance of the group for an integrative musical education?
- WB: The group allows students to live the experience that music is created in community; music is a creative personal expression, it is a conversation and it is created in collaboration, in community. In a classroom, it is clear that once the imagination of some students begins to burst, others follow, and more and more ideas are created. Creativity ignites creativity… We want to perform and create music that is relevant for our community, so we must be connected to it, emotionally.
- WB: Another important aspect of the group is that it creates a safety net for each student to perceive and acknowledge their emotions. Often, not all the students will be in the same emotional state or energy level to participate in the class. However, seeing how others interact provides a baseline for them to understand how they are feeling (even if they cannot change it). As a group, we work towards not judging these different states, but integrate them. If some students are up and need to release that energy, then maybe we can all move to a fast beat, but if some students are low, then we could bring the whole class to a calmer way of expressing the topic of the day.
How do you feel the group has been an important aspect of your integrative educational experience? Let us know!