The Body-Mind Connection Boosts Learning (And Makes Life More Fun)

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In my work with children and adolescents, I practice techniques to draw on the powerful and proven connection between the body and mind (see The American Psychological Association article for information on coping with stress and how to manage it for tips to boost mental and physical health). How we treat and inhabit our bodies can vastly improve mental functioning (and vice-versa) — from how we approach study habits to dealing with the mental stress of school, testing, and being a child and adolescent in today’s accomplishment-driven culture.

Some skills I incorporate into my practice (and encourage students to do on their own) include:

  • Deep breathing
  • Positive imagery exercises
  • Healthy sleep, exercise, and eating habits
  • Being physical and having fun with our bodies (exercise, play)
  • Getting in touch with sensory awareness
  • Breaking down academic successes and reliving them (we tend to remember the failures more than our triumphs)
  • Finding the connection between thoughts, emotions, and body changes (such as headaches, stomachaches, and back pain)
  • The power of positive thinking to inspire new perspectives

“Some people grumble that roses have thorns; I am grateful that thorns have roses.”
― Alphonse KarrA Tour Round My Garden

Here’s a sample sensory awareness exercise I’ll assign students to help activate mindful thinking, and build upon their powers of observation:

  • On your route walking to school or an after-school activity (usually a route that you girl-blowing-dandelionare so familiar with you are probably preoccupied with your own thoughts while walking it) and instead of focussing on your thoughts, concentrate on noticing the details of your surroundings. What are the sounds, smells, sights you encounter? Do these sounds, smells, or sights make you think or feel anything? What? Parents can help guide younger children through this exercise. The result: mindfulness emerges, and we will become more in tune with immediate experiences rather than dwelling in distracting thoughts.

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[Students Only] Active Listening Skills

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Active listening is one of those study skills that students actually use in everyday life. Active listening takes practice, discipline, and commitment. And, the rewards pay off, and not just the next time there’s a pop quiz. Students who are able to actively listen in class feel more engaged, less distracted, retain more information, and enjoy the classroom experience more so than students who just let information go in one ear, out the other. We all know that class is much less boring when you’re an active participant. Hey, we all love to hear ourselves speak, right? As an active listener, you are also hearing yourself think.

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Tips For Active Listening:

  • Summarize nuggets of information as they are presented to you.
  • If you are having trouble summarizing information, perhaps you need to a clarification. If so, jump in with a question, or jot one down until the speaker breaks.
  • Take notes: bullet points are fine. Keywords or key phrases work as well
  • Ask yourself: is this information a main idea? Is it a fact? A detail? An inferential thought? As you categorize information, you take the first step in really learning it.
  • Apply the nugget of information to another scenario. Does the idea translate?
  • Try to predict what the speaker is going to say next, but don’t go too far ahead, just far enough to come up with the next step in the argument.
  • Resist the temptation to interrupt the speaker. Anticipate pauses and then ask a question or make a comment.
  • Reflect personally on each nugget of information.
  • Engage in non-verbal cues like eye contact, nodding, smiling at the speaker.
  • Be in the moment. Mindfulness is key to being an active listener. If you are emotionally, physically, or mentally preoccupied, it will be difficult for you to actively listen.
  • Assign value to what you are listening to. Remember, you are in control.

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[Parents] How To Help Your Kids Develop Social Skills

Illustration ©Megan Fisher

Illustration ©Megan Fisher

Children and adolescents often find it difficult to communicate with their peers or adults in an effective manner. Because school is the place your child spends the majority of his or her day, it is where he or she will develop social skills and acquire a social status or identity. Psychologists have written extensively about social status and its imprint on a child’s identity. Below is an excerpt outlining a general spectrum of social statuses:

“Some children are well endowed with social skills. They are popular and very well liked by all or most of their peers. Some seem to have a knack for making friends and getting along with others. They are very friendly and outgoing and always seem to be at ease around people. Other children are popular because they are on the school football team, play in a band, can draw very well or are really good-looking. Popular students are typically the leaders at school. They are self-confident and influential.

Many students are not really considered popular but are pretty well-liked by their peers and have a number of friends. This group of children usually comprises the majority of the students in a class. These likable children feel good about how they relate to others but may, at times, worry about what their classmates think of them. Some children are shy, quiet and timid. They may have one or two close friends but not a large group of friends. While other students like them, they do not get involved in many activities in or out of school. They tend to feel awkward or uncomfortable around people they don’t know very well. Shy children usually aren’t unhappy about how they get along with others but wish that they could feel more comfortable and be more involved. Some shy children become anxious in social situations.

Other students are ignored or unnoticed by their peers. No one really dislikes or likes them. These children are not the ones picked first for activities, but they are not the ones that are teased or bullied either. They are usually social adept. Some of these children don’t like being ignored but others don’t mind because they are more interested in solitary activities or prefer interactions with adults more than with peers.

The children who have the most social difficulty at school are those that are rejected by their peers. Other children really don’t like them and may not treat them well. Rejected children are those that are picked on, laughed at, talked about, teased and bullied. They are widely disliked, excluded from activities and may be ostracized by their peers.” – Candy Lawson, Ph.D. “School and Social Skills”

Does your child have difficulty approaching new groups of children?  Is it a challenge for your child to make friends due to his or her shyness?  Are social situations a scary prospect for your child?  Is problem-solving in the classroom or in everyday life an issue? If the answer to these questions is “yes,” then you might be interested in enrolling your child in a social skills class. Holly Reichlin, a colleague of mine who is a certified speech pathologist, educator, and learning expert in private practice, is running a Brooklyn-based social skills group for children of varying ages. Her social skills groups explore the nature of peer relationships through the use of plays, book making, and games designed to nurture verbal and non-verbal communication and social skills.

Groups can be an ideal way to address social skills in young people because they foster a supportive, collective, safe, yet simultaneous “real world” setting for children to practice adaptive social skills. Says Holly, “I’d like to see your children become detectives. Through a process of role playing and problem solving, they can unveil the mysteries of the social spectrum.” Social skills like confidence, curiosity, cooperation, and communication are essential to learning and go hand-in-hand with developing resilience, and scholastic success.

Holly’s social skills classes address children of different ages (5-8; 8-10; 10-13; adolescents) and distinct interpersonal needs. Please contact her directly for more information.

il_fullxfull.214758801Holly Reichlin is a certified speech language pathologist who has had a school-aged private practice in Brooklyn Heights for over 20 years. She has also been a teacher of the speech and hearing handicapped in the public schools for over 30 years.  She has collaborated with parents, teachers, school psychologists, learning specialists and counselors when treating her clients. You can contact her at speech@pegas.us

Why Tutoring?

Why Tutoring?

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The road to academic success can be exasperating for students struggling to develop effective strategies to read, write, think critically, or even stay organized. Does your child seem to get it in class, only to come home and feel lost and frustrated? Do you find yourself criticizing your child’s study habits? Are you looking for someone to mitigate scholastic anxiety?

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Individual instruction relies on communication and trust, and simultaneously builds confidence in even the most reluctant students. At Brooklyn Bridge Tutors, we will design a learning strategy specifically for your child, based on his or her learning style. As an experienced educator, student advocate and counselor, the director of Brooklyn Bridge Tutors, Jill Di Donato, often works with students who have learning differences and school-related anxiety, as well students who just need a little boost in self-confidence.

Students who’ve worked with Jill have gone on to attend premiere NYC middle and high schools, from private schools to exclusive-entrance public schools like Stuyvesant, Hunter, Bronx Science, NEST + m, Beacon, Bard, and LaGuardia as well as top colleges like Brown, Mount Holyoke, Columbia, Barnard, Princeton, NYU, Northwestern and many more!

About Jill: Jill Di Donato is a writer and educator in New York City. Her debut novel, Beautiful Garbage about the New York City art scene in the 1980s is available on Amazon. She is an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Liberal Arts Department at the Fashion Institute of Technology and teaches fiction and nonfiction workshops in Barnard College’s Pre-College Program.

In 2006, she founded Brooklyn Bridge Tutors, a holistic approach to learning that offers individual student tutoring, student advocacy, small writing salons, parent seminars, as well as expert guidance in the middle, high school, and college entrance process. As a learning expert with pedagogical training from Columbia University’s School of the Arts, Jill has over 10 years experience in student advocacy and offers a holistic approach to learning. What does that mean? She will work individually with a student to diagnose his or her learning style and tailor an approach that meets each student’s needs. She uses a mindfulness practice to help students alleviate academic anxiety, and has piloted writing programs that activate agency through the discovery of voice.

Her services include subject tutoring, (fluent in private and public school curriculum grades K-12) essay writing support, standardized test preparation, (state tests in math and ELA, ISSE, TACHS, SSHAT, SAT I and II, ACT) study skills, academic advisement, school entrance support and counseling, as well as mind-body strategies to relieve academic anxiety. She is an expert in working with students with learning differences and disabilities, and maintains strong relationships with parents, school administrators, psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers, and community outreach programs.

To consult with Jill or to schedule an appointment contact didonato.jill@gmail.com or call 917.655.8290