Your Summertime Plan “BE”

By Barbara Gruener
Part of our Counselor’s Corner series. Click to read other posts in the Counselor’s Corner.

Your Summertime Plan “BE”The other day, a friend said something that gave me pause: “We can’t overflow where there is no flow.”

Wait, I wondered, was he talking to me? And then I realized I wasn’t creating as much flow as I was accustomed to or would have liked. Was it possible that I’d been working so hard caring for my students, staff, family, and friends, that I’d neglected the self-care habits and routines I learned in my counseling classes all those years ago?

So I started working on my self-care rituals. Here are some of the ingredients in my Plan “BE.”

In order to BE well, I choose to BE:
Childlike & Courageous
Affirmed & Adaptable
Relaxed & Reflective
Inspired & In the Moment
Nourished & Nurturing
Generous & Grateful

BE Childlike. When was the last time you took time to play? On purpose. With intention. To be playful in a childlike way and have some fun. A board game here, a game of freeze tag there. Dodge ball, darts, a bike ride. When we channel our inner child, magical things happen. Charades, anybody?

BE Courageous. Maybe it’s time to be bold, to take a risk. Is there a courageous conversation you’ve been putting off that might be a brave remedy for a relationship? Make advocating for yourself a priority, an integral part of your self-care routine, and watch those worries melt away. Speak the truth in love; you’ll love the difference it makes.

BE Affirmed. If you’re the kind of person who can dish out compliments but can’t take them, your spirit might be on a crazy starvation diet. A heaping helping of affirmations serves as comfort food for our souls; it feels good to know that we are treasured and loved. So next time someone affirms who you are or what you’re doing, instead of saying that it’s no big deal and batting away the compliment, simply say, “Thank you.”

BE Adaptable. The ability to adapt is an important skill. Learning to go with the flow is a powerful wellness strategy. Everyone wins when we let go and embrace change as an opportunity to learn and grow. Always remember that if it doesn’t challenge us, it doesn’t change us. So when tough stuff happens, reframe your thoughts by asking yourself this: Have I been buried or planted? Then get growing.

BE Relaxed. Think about what relaxes you. For some of us, it’s listening to soft piano music. For others, it’s soaking in a hot bubble bath. Maybe it’s enjoying a cup of warm tea while spending time on a hobby like knitting or painting. Once you figure it out, enjoy breathing in the relaxation. Want something a little less tangible? Try doing nothing for two minutes and see what that does for your well-BEing.

BE Reflective. A huge part of self-care is personal growth, and since most of our learning happens during reflection, it’s important to reflect. Maybe it’s journal writing or blogging, drawing or conversing. A lot of my reflecting happens when I’m on a morning walk. Our summertime break from the stress of the school day is the perfect time to start a reflective practice that will help you look back to bounce forward.

BE Inspired. What are your sources of inspiration? I know that going through my Smile File, where I keep the thank-you notes I’ve received, is often the inspirational fuel that I need to keep my engine running smoothly. Maybe you have a favorite movie that inspires you. Hallmark Channel, anyone? The more we’re inspired, the more we can inspire others. So grab some popcorn and enjoy the show.

BE In the Moment. It has taken me a lifetime to realize the life-changing value of being present, of staying in the moment with my thoughts and feelings, breathing in light and exhaling dark. How do you stay mindful when we live in such mind-FULL times? Try yoga stretches, purposeful meditation, or calming coloring. Center your deep breathing by repeating a mantra of positivity like this: Today, I will choose joy.

BE Nourished. With so many things on our plates in the busyness of life, it’s increasingly important that we be well fed—in mind, body, and soul. Stretch the muscles in your brain to stay mentally sharp with puzzles or a new hobby or craft. Exercise the muscles in your body to stay in shape physically by working out regularly. Get outside for some coveted sunshine and vitamin D. And to make sure that you’re eating balanced meals and hydrating well, keep a food journal.

BE Nurturing. Do you know about the helper’s high? When you do a kind act or witness a kindness, your brain gets a dose of a chemical called dopamine, which puts you on a natural high. Plain and simple, it feels good to do good. Summertime is an opportunity for us to do that volunteer work we might not have time for during the school year. Start small by signing up for a day or two at a local vacation bible school, community education class, or community library.

BE Generous. Generosity brings us satisfaction not only because it feels good to give, but also because it generates emotional warmth by releasing a hormone called oxytocin. Maybe you know someone who could use some tutoring for an hour a week? Or maybe you want to invite your neighbor’s children over for a swim while she grocery shops? A generous act doesn’t have to be grand to be great.

BE Grateful. Sometimes showing gratitude in all things is easier said than done. Author Douglas Wood wrote, “We don’t give thanks because we’re happy. We are happy because we give thanks.” Try this: Carry blank thank-you notes with you to follow up a kindness, and see if Wood is right. What are some other ways that you can show gratitude not only to others, but also to yourself, to increase your HQ (happiness quotient)?

Self-care is a choice, and CARING is always in season, especially in summer when we have some extra time to devote to taking care of ourselves. Which of these Plan “BE” suggestions might you adopt this summer?

Barbara GruenerCurrently in her 33rd year as an educator, Barbara Gruener, a school counselor and character coach at Bales Intermediate School in Friendswood, Texas, has had the pleasure of working with kids from every grade level. Author of the blog The Corner on Character and the book What’s Under Your Cape? SUPERHEROES of the Character Kind, Barbara enjoys positively influencing change through her inspirational keynotes and interactive workshops. When she’s not working, you can bet Barbara is knitting, baking, writing, reading, walking, gardening, napping, or spending time with her husband and their three children.

We welcome your comments and suggestions. Share your comments, stories, and ideas below, or contact us. All comments will be approved before posting, and are subject to our comment and privacy policies.

FSP Springybook Signature(c)© 2017 by Free Spirit Publishing. All rights reserved.

Posted in Counselor's Corner | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Helping Kids Resolve Friendship Conflicts

By James J. Crist, Ph.D., author of The Survival Guide for Making and Being Friends

Helping Kids Resolve Friendship ConflictsA best friend is one of life’s greatest joys. Having somebody to hang out, talk over problems, play video games, or compete on the sports field with can make life a lot more fun for kids.

But what do you do when your kids run into problems with friends? Maybe your child didn’t get invited to a birthday party. Or he found out on social media that his friends are having fun together and didn’t bother to include him. Some friends get into arguments and stop talking to each other for a while. When this happens, your child might think this means the friendship is over, which can be devastating.

Actually, learning to work out troubles is one of the most important life lessons kids can learn. How they handle these problems can be the difference between keeping friendships and losing them. While some kids seem to deal with these situations with ease, others struggle. Fortunately, parents and other adults can play an important role in coaching kids on how to work out friendship problems in positive ways.

Why Fights Occur
Kids get into fights for lots of reasons. Many arguments happen because of misunderstandings. Maybe your child said something that was misinterpreted by a friend. Teasing is common among kids and can make everyone laugh, but sometimes the target of teasing doesn’t think the joke is very funny. Some kids may share secrets, not realizing how embarrassing and hurtful that can be. Disagreeing about the rules of a game can cause hard feelings, too, especially if kids don’t know how to resolve the dispute. Friendships also change as kids get older. When a close friend starts spending more time with other kids, it’s understandable that the left-out friend may feel rejected. Sometimes, fights simply happen because people are in a grouchy mood.

Helping Kids Work It Out
One of the most important ways you can help children deal with friendship conflicts is to validate kids’ feelings. Keep it simple: “I’m really sorry to hear you’re having trouble with your friend. That’s really tough. Would you like to talk about it?” This is much better than telling her that it’s nothing to be upset over or that she’ll work it out—these statements minimize the importance of the friendship to your child and invalidate her feelings. Sharing your own similar experiences lets your child know that you understand what it’s like to have problems with a close friend.

Ask questions to get your child to talk more about the conflict. Here are some examples to try:

  • Why do you think this happened?
  • How do you feel about that?
  • Have you both talked about it?
  • How do you think your friend is feeling?
  • What do you think you can do to make it better and work it out?

If you feel tempted to give advice, ask your child first. Asking, “Would you like to hear some ideas on how to handle this?” is a respectful approach and makes it more likely that your child will be open to what you have to say. Let your child know that it is ultimately her choice for how to handle the situation.

If your child is open to advice, suggest that she try to figure out what caused the problem. The best way to do this is by talking to her friend. If your child’s feelings were hurt, but it was just a one-time thing that was upsetting, she might decide to let it go. But if it’s something that happens a lot, such as not being invited to parties or a friend never returning phone calls or texts, your child will need to talk about the problem with her friend. Holding on to bad feelings and not sharing them can hurt friendships and cause other problems. Your child might end up taking out her anger in other ways.

Encourage your child to talk face-to-face. Trying to deal with problems over the phone or by text often doesn’t go well. It’s hard to figure out what other people are feeling when you can’t see them talking to you. Remind your child not to send an angry message or text, because once you send it, you can’t take it back. Talking in private is important. Remind your child to use I-messages and to be careful not to attack or blame the friend. Here’s an example: “Jenny, can I talk to you about something important? I felt really bad about how we argued the other day. How did you feel about it?”

It’s also important for your child to be able to listen to her friend’s feelings. Here’s an example: “I’m really sorry I didn’t include you in our softball game last week. I didn’t realize you felt bad about it—thanks for telling me.” Offer to role-play listening to a friend’s feelings if your child is uncertain about how to do this.

If you think your child may not be telling the entire story, or that your child may have behaved in ways that contributed to the problem, consider talking with the friend’s parents, especially if you know them well. You might be able to work together to solve the problem if both kids are willing. Don’t jump to this solution first—kids need a chance to work it out on their own. If the problem involves school friends, consider suggesting that your child talk to the school counselor about the problem. The counselor may offer to meet with both kids to help them work out the problem.

One exception to the dictum “let kids work it out for themselves” is bullying. Bullying isn’t a healthy part of childhood, and experts agree that adults need to get involved.

Encourage and Model Apologizing and Forgiving
Admitting you were wrong is hard, even for adults. Still, it’s the fastest way to work out disagreements and get back to being friends. One way to make it easier for your child to apologize and forgive is for you to model it in your daily life. If your child sees you apologizing when you overreact or say hurtful things, it will be easier for him to do the same with friends (and with you and other family members).

Help your child understand that even if he didn’t mean to be hurtful, apologizing helps the other person feel better faster. Keeping it simple works best: “I’m really sorry I hurt your feelings. I can understand why you’re upset. I should have handled that better.” Forgiving is also important. Holding a grudge only makes things worse between friends.

When More Help Is Needed
Some kids have more problems with social skills the others. For example, children with mental disorders can have more trouble controlling their impulses, empathizing with others, noticing when others are upset with them, or dealing with conflict. Counseling can be helpful when these problems interfere with a child’s ability to get along with friends.

Dr. James J. CristAuthor James Crist is a psychologist specializing in children with ADHD, depression, and anxiety disorders. He is the clinical director and a staff psychologist at the Child and Family Counseling Center in Woodbridge, Virginia, where he provides psychological testing and individual, couples, and family psychotherapy for children, adolescents, and adults. Visit his website at

Free Spirit books by James Crist:

The Survival Guide for Making and Being Friends WhatToDoWhenYou'reScaredAndWorried What to Do When You’re Cranky & Blue Mad

We welcome your comments and suggestions. Share your comments, stories, and ideas below, or contact us. All comments will be approved before posting, and are subject to our comment and privacy policies.

FSP Springybook Signature(c)© 2017 by Free Spirit Publishing. All rights reserved.

Posted in Bullying Prevention & Conflict Resolution, Parenting, Social & Emotional Learning | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

How to Support a Young Person Coming Out

By Kelly Huegel Madrone, author of GLBTQ: The Survival Guide for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, and Questioning Teens. 

How to Support a Young Person Coming OutThese days, kids are “coming out”—telling others about their gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, questioning, or any number of other nonheterosexual or gender nonconforming identities—at younger ages than ever before. Two decades ago, when I was in my early twenties, most people came out in their late teens or early twenties. Now, largely due to increased visibility, some young people are voicing their nontraditional identities as early as elementary school.

So how can you support kids or teens who come out to you? To some extent, that depends on your role in their lives, as well as in their coming out processes. If you’re a trusted friend, a family member, or an educator, you may be one of the first people (if not the first person) that a child comes out to. Or you may be further down the list. Either way, there are some common things you can do to provide a safe space during this process.

Don’t talk. At least not right away. Listen to what these kids are telling you, and as much as possible, do so without judgment. Depending on your feelings about the person or the news, you may feel an internal push to start asking questions, such as “Are you sure?” and “How do you know?” Questions (asked in the right spirit) can come later. For now, let the kid do the talking.

Some people think it’s helpful to tell the person that they already knew. I know people, myself included, who’ve come out to others only to have those trusted people say something akin to, “Duh!” The intention behind that kind of response might be positive or trying to be funny, but it can have the opposite effect and instead shame or demoralize the person out.

Even if you did suspect, just let the person talk. If you want to say something, “Okay, I’m listening” is a great response.

For Now, Focus On the Kid
It’s human nature to focus first on ourselves and how someone else’s news might affect us. This is more common if the person coming out to you is a close friend or family member. But try to remind yourself that this isn’t about you. You will have time to process the information, but right now there’s a person in front of you (or on the other end of the computer or phone) who is telling you something incredibly important to him or her, and being very vulnerable in the process. Try to keep the focus on this person’s experience, and on demonstrating empathy and compassion.

Keep Questions Respectful
A question like, “How do you know?” might seem innocuous to you but can come across as challenging to the person coming out. Questions like “How does that feel for you?” and “What is that experience like for you?” can be more supportive. Also, “How are you feeling?” and simply, “What can I do to support you?” are more positive.

Young people who come out as transgender or gender-nonconforming may wish to go by a different name and/or use pronouns other than the traditional she or he (such as their/their, or ze/zie/sie). It can be confusing if you aren’t familiar with the issue of pronouns, so simply ask, “What would you like me to call you?” and “What are your pronouns?”

Link the Person (and Yourself) with Resources
For some young people, especially those in rural areas, GLBTQ-positive resources can be difficult to come by. Asking them what resources they have access to and where they are getting support is another good idea. If they don’t have any resources (or any good or reputable ones), you can help by connecting them. (And it wouldn’t hurt to do a little research and get some support yourself.)

Here are some of my favorites for young people and their loved ones.

  • The Trevor Project: If the young person coming out to you is (or might be) in crisis, this organization can help. The Trevor Project is a crisis intervention and suicide prevention program for GLBTQ young people that provides services via phone, text, and online chat. Their website includes a link to the online chat service. The Trevor Lifeline (which operates 24 hours a day) is 866-488-7386. The Trevor text number is 202-304-1200.
  • GLSEN: The Gay, Lesbian, & Straight Education Network provides extensive resources for young GLBTQ people as well as educators.
  • Sex, Etc.: As the name implies, this website provides more than sexuality education, but that is one of its keystones. Operated out of Rutgers University, Sex, Etc. is comprised of articles written for teens, by teens, so it provides helpful information (for GLBTQ, cisgender, and straight teens alike) on current topics in language that’s accessible.
  • PFLAG: Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (which also includes transgender and gender-nonconforming people) is one of the nation’s oldest support organizations for GLBTQ people and their loved ones. They are a great resource with chapters all across the country as well as a central national organization. They also operate in-person support groups.

And, of course, there’s my book: GLBTQ: The Survival Guide for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, and Questioning Teens. It includes a variety of information on what it means to be a young GLBTQ person these days, has a large resource section, and can answer a lot of your basic questions.

Keep an Open Mind
Our understanding of our sexual identity and orientation is something that develops and evolves over our lifetimes. That means that this may not be your last conversation. For example, a person who first comes out as gender queer or gay may later identify as transgender, bisexual, or something different altogether. (Just think of how many adults come out or whose sexual identities change later in life.) Therefore, it’s helpful to keep an open mind and realize that anyone’s declared orientation can change.

If a young person does come out to you and you forget all of these things, don’t worry— just remember to stay calm, stay open, and listen. In the moment of coming out, these young people don’t need you to say something grand or do the perfect thing. Just being there and supporting them means the world.

And if all you can remember to say is these two words, you’ll do just fine: “I’m here.”

Author Kelly HuegelKelly Huegel Madrone is a freelance writer, editor, and educator. She has worked for the Metropolitan Washington, D.C., chapter of PFLAG where she helped provide support and educational services to GLBTQ people and their families. The author of two books and more than one hundred published articles, Kelly holds a degree in secondary education. She lives in Colorado with her wife, Margaret, and daughter. Kelly welcomes readers to follow her on Twitter at @GLBTQguide or visit her website at

GLBTQ: The Survival Guide for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, and Questioning TeensKelly is the author of GLBTQ: The Survival Guide for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, and Questioning Teens.

We welcome your comments and suggestions. Share your comments, stories, and ideas below, or contact us. All comments will be approved before posting, and are subject to our comment and privacy policies.

FSP Springybook Signature(c)© 2017 by Free Spirit Publishing. All rights reserved.

Posted in Parenting, Social & Emotional Learning | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Three Tips for Engaging Gifted Learners During the Summer

By Richard M. Cash, Ed.D.
Part of our Cash in on Learning series by Richard M. Cash, Ed.D. Click to read other Cash in on Learning posts.

Three Tips for Engaging Gifted Learners During the SummerI recently saw the movie Gifted, the story of a single man raising his niece, a child math prodigy. A conflict arises when the child’s grandmother wants to provide the little girl with the very best gifted education possible while Frank wants to raise his niece in the most “normal” setting possible.

Having spent nearly thirty years working with gifted students and their parents, I understand the conflicts that raising a gifted child can present. One thing I have learned about gifted children is that their “normal” is not other students’ normal.

Generally, gifted students love to learn. They crave finding out the unknown, investigating why things happen, and being immersed in topics they find interesting. Many find learning to be the most fun they can have in a day.

Some adults who have had little to no experience with gifted students will say these kids need to spend more time being a kid or getting outside. They don’t realize that, for gifted kids, learning is the playground. Yes, I admit that sometimes we need to pry the books out of gifted kids’ hands to get them to look up and see the world around them—to engage with others and play with no outcome in mind.

Summer can be a great time for gifted kids. It can give them the opportunity to explore learning they don’t get to explore during the school year. Here are three ideas for how to help gifted students use summertime to engage in the fun of learning.

1. Deepen Passions
It’s a well-known fact that gifted kids have deep interests and passions. Sometimes they don’t get the time to engage these passions during the school day—or even after school, due to homework and other commitments. Summertime is a great opportunity. Give gifted kids the time to explore their passions and engage in deep learning. Allow them screen time every day (say one to two hours), take them to the library to wander among the books, or head to a museum—all with the intent of gaining more knowledge in their topic of interest. This is also a great time for kids to write letters or send emails to experts in their passion areas. What better way to broaden your love for a topic than to connect with somebody who knows a lot about it!

2. Learn Something New
Even though gifted kids love to delve deep into their passions, they should also try to learn something new over the summer. It could be anything from learning a new language to learning how to play a harmonica. Learning something new helps build brain connections and stimulates the continued love of learning. I’ve also found that learning something new can help counteract the “fixed mindset” of some gifted kids. They believe their giftedness is why most things in school are easy or accomplished early. However, when things get difficult and require some effort, they fear their giftedness was just a passing phase. Learning something new during the summer—on their own schedule—and failing when it’s okay to fail will teach gifted kids a great life lesson for when things become more complex and difficult in school.

3. Relax and Renew
One of the things gifted kids may forget to do in their drive to deepen their passions and learn something new is take time to unwind and smell the roses. During the summer, encourage gifted kids to go for a walk simply to take in the nature around them. They should learn to sit and watch the clouds roll by—thinking about nothing can bring about some pretty amazing ideas. Get gifted kids on a health kick during the summer. Since fresh fruits and vegetables are more abundant, there’s no better time to really enjoy them. Summer is also a good time to learn relaxation techniques to employ throughout the school year. Too many gifted kids get stressed out (see the fixed mindset suggestion above), and helping them learn how to relax, unwind, and de-stress is a valuable life tool.

Just like our students, teachers look forward to summertime. I suggest following the three ideas above yourself as well. We, too, need time to explore our passions, stretch our brains in new ways, and rejuvenate for the next school year. I hope you and your students find these ideas helpful for an enjoyable and engaging summer.

Richard CashRichard M. Cash, Ed.D., writes the monthly Cash in on Learning blog posts for Free Spirit Publishing. He has given hundreds of workshops, presentations, and staff development sessions throughout the United States and internationally.

Free Spirit books by Richard Cash:

Self-regulation Advancing Differentiation Revised and Updated Edition Differentiation for Gifted Learners

We welcome your comments and suggestions. Share your comments, stories, and ideas below, or contact us. All comments will be approved before posting, and are subject to our comment and privacy policies.

FSP Springybook Signature(c)© 2017 by Free Spirit Publishing. All rights reserved.

Posted in Gifted Education | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Seven Senses

By Gill Connell and Cheryl McCarthy, coauthors of A Moving Child Is a Learning Child: How the Body Teaches the Brain to Think (Birth to Age 7). This post was originally published on the Moving Smart Blog.

The Seven SensesSeven? Yes, seven.

Beyond the five senses we learn about in school (sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch), there are actually two more: the vestibular system (sense of balance) and proprioception (our intuitive sense of space and position).

You may not be familiar with these words. So, you might be surprised to hear that the vestibular system and the proprioceptive sense make possible just about everything we do (even sleeping). And they do so without us noticing. That’s because, as adults, we’ve had years of experience with these senses, making them automatic for us.

But they are not automatic for kids. Just as kids need to learn to use their other five senses, kids need to learn what the vestibular and proprioceptive senses are trying to tell them through the trial-and-error process of everyday living, playing, and moving. And because these two senses guide and govern how we use our bodies, they contribute to every major milestone and are often behind those fall-down-and-go-boom moments.

So, let’s take a quick tour of these two not-so-well-known senses.

Sense #6: The Vestibular System (Balance)
The vestibular system is the scientific term for our sense of balance, responsible for keeping us upright and stable. And if you think about it, without balance, we pretty much couldn’t do anything. For instance, if you’re reading this sitting down, your vestibular system is keeping you upright and in the chair. Now, you might be thinking that the chair is keeping you upright. But in fact, if your brain didn’t understand which way was up, you’d tip right over. And notice how you don’t even have to think about staying upright. Your vestibular system is doing it for you automatically, every day, twenty-four hours a day.

Conversely, kids focus on their balance a lot. Have you ever noticed how when a child sits in a chair, he fidgets? Yes, sometimes he has to go to the bathroom, but quite often, what you’re seeing is his vestibular system at work in his body, helping him adjust himself to feel in balance. In fact, whenever a child moves (on or off the chair, indoors or out, fast or slow, right-side up or upside down, etc.), his inner ear reacts to and records those movements, giving his brain important information about his body’s orientation at any given moment. Over time and with lots of different kinds of movement, a child’s brain will begin to determine what is and isn’t “in balance” for him.

Sense #7: Proprioception (Space and Position)
Proprioception is our body and brain working together to understand and navigate space and objects. Again, for adults this sense is automatic and intuitive. Without thinking about it, you know whether your body will fit through a passageway or not. You climb stairs without looking at them. You have a sense of how much strength you need to push open a door. And you don’t fall out of bed at night. Your proprioceptive sensors (residing in your muscles, tendons, and ligaments) have helped you develop these navigation skills over many years of practical, everyday movements and experiences with space and objects.

A child, of course, is less experienced, so her proprioception is not yet automatic. We can guide her, but only to a point. That’s because the only way for a child to truly know her own body is for her to use it. And yes, that includes bumping into furniture, tripping over her own feet, pushing too hard, and all of those other things that we think of as kid-clumsy. This clumsiness is just her body and brain working together to learn about her environment, using her proprioceptive senses to pave the way.

Why Is He Still Clumsy?
Parents often ask me when kids will stop being so clumsy. Surely, if kids can walk, run, and jump, they must have mastered these senses by now?

Well, of course, those physical capabilities are signs of a child’s maturing vestibular and proprioceptive senses. But he’s not yet mastered those senses for one simple reason—he’s still growing. As the body changes, the brain needs to readjust its understanding of balance, orientation, and, of course, space. And that will take all of a child’s growing years. For instance, to get through the play tunnel he could walk upright last year, he has to duck down to get through it this year. Next year, he’ll probably have to get on all fours and crawl through it.

The thing to look out for isn’t when kids bump into things, but when they begin navigating things on their own. That’s when all their senses, life experience (memory), and emerging problem-solving skills are combining to give them an automatic sense of themselves . . . without the fall-down-and-go-boom part.

Like the other senses, the vestibular and proprioceptive senses actually begin to develop before birth and continue throughout the early years. Simple, everyday, playful activities help teach the brain what balance, space, and position feel like. Here are three activities to try with kids of different ages.

Hug and Dip
For young babies (pre-walking)
Sit in a chair so you’re very steady and hold baby upright, close to your chest so she feels your sense of touch all around her body. Supporting baby’s neck and back (see photograph below), very slowly lean baby back and rest her horizontally on your lap. Hold for a few moments, then, continuing to support her neck and back, tip baby back so that her feet are slightly above her head in an upside-down position. Hold again for a few moments, then slowly bring baby back to a horizontal position, then back up to your chest.

Please note: As with any activity you do with young children, go slow and be very gentle with your movements. If at any time you feel baby is not enjoying the activity, stop immediately. You can always try it another time.

What’s happening here? First, by holding baby close so she feels your touch 360 degrees around her body, you are giving baby’s proprioceptive senses an all-over feel for her own body. Then, by slowly and gently changing her orientation (starting with her head up, then horizontal, then slightly upside down), baby’s vestibular system recognizes and records these changes in position, giving her brain important clues to all the possible ways her body can move.

Let’s Go for a Spin!
For toddlers able to sit up on their own (without support)
Find a cardboard box big enough for the child to sit in and hold on to the sides. Sit the child in the box, then slowly spin the box around. As the child gets accustomed to the sensation, give him a gentle ride around the room in different directions, spinning, zig-zagging, and so on.

What’s happening here? Sitting the child in the box gives him a sense of himself fitting into space (proprioception). When you spin him or give him a ride, his brain is using the vestibular system to keep his orientation upright and in balance.

Worm Along
For preschoolers able to crawl, walk, and run
Lay out a plank several inches off the ground, threading one or more hoops around the plank (see photograph below). Encourage the child to crawl across the plank. Each time she reaches a hoop, encourage her to crawl through the hoop while maintaining her balance on the plank. As the child gains confidence, suggest trying to walk across the plank, crawling through the hoops as she goes.

Please note: Stand by for support as the child needs it.

What’s happening here? Of course, the plank is a great test of the child’s ability to control her balance on a narrow surface. By adding the hoops, you are challenging her coordination and proprioceptive senses to navigate a completely different shape of space.

Gill Connell, coauthor of A Moving Child Is a Learning ChildGill Connell is a globally recognized child development authority, specializing in the foundations of learning through movement and play. She provides developmental expertise to parents, preschools, schools, and companies, such as Hasbro, Inc., based on her thirty-plus years in preschool and primary education. She is the founder of Moving Smart, Ltd., which offers resources, tools, training, and workshops.


Cheryl McCarthy, coauthor of A Moving Child Is a Learning Child Cheryl McCarthy is a former vice president of intellectual property development for Hasbro, Inc. She is a thirty-year veteran of the world of children’s play, specializing in young children’s storytelling and entertainment. As executive producer, she managed the creative development of properties such as My Little Pony, Candy Land, Mr. Potato Head, and many other beloved children’s icons. She is currently the creative director at Moving Smart, Ltd.

Free Spirit books by Gill and Cheryl:

A Moving Child Is a Learning ChildMove, Play, and Learn with Smart Steps

We welcome your comments and suggestions. Share your comments, stories, and ideas below, or contact us. All comments will be approved before posting, and are subject to our comment and privacy policies.

FSP Springybook Signature(c)© 2017 by Free Spirit Publishing. All rights reserved.

Posted in Early Childhood | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment