Attention, Balance, Compassion

Happy first day of Springtime and International Day of Happiness.
Know what makes me happy?
Need some ideas for warming the world?
Check out this postcard we got in the mail
from the Random Acts of Kindness Foundation.

So many ways to come to the rescue with kindness.
Take this superhero fifth grader, for example.
A few weeks back, she brought me a bag filled with these origami notes, asking if I could mail them to Puerto Rico for her, to cheer up some friends who were recovering from hurricane Maria.

Today, I was happy to share over the morning announcements
that her kind act was reciprocated with priority mail
from a fifth-grade class at Colegio Radians.

Are these not the most beautiful hand-folded treasures?

Happiness from one child's heart to another.

Yes, my friend, kindness is contagious.
In that same batch of mail, we received a special pebble,
a Kindness Rock for our Peace Garden!

 A blinged-out starfish.
From England, with love.
A gorgeous addition to our serenity spot.
Kindness beautifies everything.

And this sweet story of kindness, from our FHS Choir,
the gift of song for a Swedish couple at their wedding.
It just happened in the moment.

Speaking of in the moment, today I'm eager to start integrating the ideas in this book. Lots of mindfulness ideas to help all of us embrace
Attention, Balance, Compassion.

This handbook will perfectly complement the work I'm doing
both personally and professionally to become more mindful.

Coupled with these inspirational journals from Fox Chapel Publishing, my mindfulness practice is really going to rock.

These beautiful new guided journals offer intentional opportunities
to reflect and rejoice. I'm especially excited about this one.
Check them out by clicking on the book cover image.

For now, I'm signing off for about a week as I head to Wisconsin
and help my Dad as he heals from some health issues.

What are you joyful about on this International Day of Happiness?


That Character Quilt

Today I'm excited because I received a message that our character quilt is finished and ready to be picked up. Moments later, I was at Lori's front door, 
eager to see how it turned out and take it home.

The idea for that character quilt came last summer when my friend Ann brought some of her old Westwood t-shirts by to see if I'd have any use for them. I figured that some of hers coupled with a few more of mine would make the twenty we'd need for a really nice t-shirt throw. 

There are so many memorable moments 
represented in the seventeen years that these Ts span. 
Lots of ups and downs, 
lots of highs and lows, 
lots of smiles and some tears, too.
Okay, lots of tears.
A gentle mix of happiness and heartache,
a poignant parallel to life itself.
Because things change.
Programs and people come and go.
Students grow up and move on.
And colleagues change jobs and retire.
If those t-shirts could talk ... what a story they'd tell.

So today I'm feeling grateful to Ann for her shirts and to my 
quilt-making friend Lori for sharing her time and talents so that this character quilt could find its way onto the bed in our Texas Room. My greatest hope is that every visitor who wraps up in it will feel the caring and love that envelopes me every single moment of every single day as a part of the Westwood Elementary and Bales Intermediate school families deep in the heart of Texas.


Powerful Therapeutic Art

Today please welcome a Houston Middle School Counselor, Nicole  Batiste.

Five Powerful Therapeutic Art Lessons by: Nicole Batiste

Relatively new to the school counseling world as I've spent the last three years as a School Social Worker-Counselor and before that I was in the classroom, one honest confession I can make is that I was extremely and [prematurely] excited that my new role might allow me to finally ditch lesson planning. Little did I know, I was in for a rude awakening. Not long into my counseling journey, reality hit; I still had to lesson plan, only now instead of creating engaging lessons for my classroom around academia, I was planning engaging lessons around a needs diverse caseload. If you’re anything like me, you to have a lot of different kiddos on your radar you are trying to service. More than likely it seems like you can’t ever get enough engaging resources to help you make your sessions meaningful and engaging. In a lot of trial and error in planning activities, I've learned two truths.

1.   Kinesthetic, hands-on therapy is highly engaging
2.  Art Supplies are your friend!

Whether you’re doing individual sessions or conducting groups, adding some art supplies and having something for your students to create is a goldmine for school counselors. Below are five tried-and-true powerful therapeutic art activities that can help stock up your counseling cabinet or simply give you ideas to create some pretty awesome lessons for your learners. 

   This activity is a great intro to the therapeutic arts. Students will begin by learning and identifying primary colors. Then students will start assigning color to their daily emotions and their desired emotions. This resource allows your students to search themselves emotionally and creatively connect it to color.

         What Color is My Anger? 
   This resource is great for anger management/emotional regulation. Students are required to assess their anger and decide what's inside their anger outbursts. You can use this resource OR have client draw a bomb and reflect what triggers or emotions are inside that bomb.

   This activity is great for self-esteem or girl-drama groups. In this therapeutic art activity, children learn about the importance of inner beauty and empathy. Participants will draw on a blank face what they consider their outer appearance or image and then on the other side draw what's underneath their surface. Encourage kids to make a list about both their outer and inner selves before completing a dual self-portrait.

   This therapeutic art activity is wonderful way to build rapport with your students and serves as an opener for therapy. Your students will use drawings, colors, symbols and words to fill in their "Crystal Ball." Kids have A LOT of fun with this one because they get to talk about all their wants and dreams. It is also a great resource for you to get an understanding of what they ultimately want out of life, school, etc.

    Pieces of Me  
   Another simple way to engage kids in therapy is the "Get to Know Me activity." This is also a great resource for fostering social skills as kiddos talk about themselves and listen and respond to others. In this activity. students use puzzle pieces to answer simple questions about themselves and then represent them artistically.

Quick Tips:

·   Don’t over think it; therapeutic art is just using artistic creation in the therapeutic process.
·   Have discussion questions ready- Once kids pick up a crayon, for some reason they are ready to open up!
·   Join in on the fun. Being a member and facilitator helps everyone feel equal and it adds to the fun!

To purchase these and other Kinesthetic Therapy activities, visit {here}

About the author: School Counselor Nicole Batiste graduated with her Masters degree in Social Work in 2013 and has worked as a school counselor, social worker and elementary educator. She has a passion for teaching social emotional learning through engaging, hands-on, thought-provoking activities.


Thank you, Nicole, for sharing these creative ways to help students learn about themselves as they mature and grow socially and emotionally. 


A God-wink And A Little Boy

If you're on Spring Break, happy vacation time. 
Don't forget to set your clocks forward tonight if you're in a place that recognizes Daylight Savings Time. Before I unplug for the week, I wanted to give you a quick update. Remember our Kindness Rocks Peace Garden that the Kids For Peace Kindness Team helped us create back in January?

Here's my little joy rock next to the one that inspired mine.

Anyway, we decided to fireant and weed proof it,
but seeing it like this kind of hurt my heart a little.

I wasn't sure how it would turn out ... 
and who would be putting it back together.
This picture provides the answer to the former question;

the latter would be me.
So I grabbed some volunteer friends out of class
and they helped me with the middle heart, the one that
showcases the schools whose Kind Coins donations
helped fund our Playful Hearts Playground.

Thomas, a fourth-grade boy who helped me set these rocks on their crushed granite bed to help set the path, softened my heart and made it smile when I heard him say, "I know why you're doing this, Mrs. Gruener." {Because if not me, then who? I thought with a twinge of frustration} "Because it's Open House tonight, right?"

A God-wink and a little boy.
Frustration traded in for peace.
Deep in the heart of Texas.
And some very proud and excited parents and kids that night
at our Peace Garden grand opening during Open House.
Sometimes all it takes is a child's voice.

As I reflect, I'm so thankful for Thomas' insight
as he helped me put our serenity spot back together.


Our Escape Room Experience

Today I'm excited because spring has sprung.
We got these treasures into the ground a few days ago
and we've been enjoying some incredibly beautiful weather
that's sure to make them super happy and promote their growth.

In school, we're working on growth as well. A seed for an Escape Room experience for our learners was planted some time ago, so when my friend Laurel posted about her superheroes in Iowa and their Escape Room escapades, I knew I had to give it a try. I searched Teachers Pay Teachers and ended up with this; click the image to purchase the file for less than $5.

So we start the class with our Toucan puppet named Rainbow,
who tells the kids he's actually a Toucan't, because he can't fly.

We discuss the Henry Ford quote: 
Whether you think you can or think you can't, you're right.

Then the students brainstorm ways in which Rainbow could experience flight even though he has no wings. Such great ideas and so much power in collaboration as we help Rainbow unlock his fixed mindset thoughts. We discuss how we are all a hybrid of both fixed and growth mindset thoughts and how important mindset, attitude and effort are in our personal growth and development. One of our fourth-grade boys had this insight: Fixed mindset is like a traffic jam in your brain. Boom!

I explain that we've got four challenges today,
one for each of the letters in the word GROW.
Students will be working in duos or trios
to escape their fixed mindsets by completing the challenges.
Each puzzle completed correctly earns them a key, or a letter
until they spell out the word G-R-O-W.

As a bonus, if they still have time, they get to attempt a bonus Scramble Squares puzzle or enjoy some time learning a new song in the ukulele lab, like these aspiring fifth-grade uke players are.

My only clue for them is to really follow directions carefully.
Because they will buy themselves time if they follow directions.
Really carefully.

Here's the first puzzle they attempt with a follow-up reflection:

Look at this group's answer; isn't it hilarious?

Okay, so maybe we have some more growth-mindset work to do.

Anyway, we're having great fun learning and growing together; making today's lesson an Escape Room event added a super cool twist. It's said that life is made up of many memorable moments; I'm so grateful to my cyberspace collaborators for helping make this a lesson my students won't quickly forget. 


Reading Across America

We dressed up to honor Dr. Seuss and his contribution to literacy. Look at how precious (and tall!) that hair on this fourth-grade learner is.

This afternoon, we enjoyed some DEAR (Drop Everything And Read) time. 
I chose to read one of my new faves, The Backup Bunny
Click the book cover to watch a trailer on YouTube.

The kids I shared it with loved it.
And so do I.
Because it's adorable.

When Max loses his favorite bunny, a replacement rabbit comes out of its sock-drawer home to save the day. Told from Fluffy's perspective, the tale starts out okay, or so the Backup had hoped. But even though this replica was an exact look-alike, Max could tell almost immediately that Fluffy wasn't Bunny. 
A bunny? Yes.
THE Bunny? No!

Still, the Backup Bunny gives it his best effort, showing resilience, perseverance, and grit. And though he does make tiny inroads with Max, he ultimately figures out that he won't ever truly be able to replace Bunny, not in Max's head and certainly not in his heart. So in a touching empathy moment, the Backup Bunny tells Max where he left Bunny despite knowing that meant he'd be banished back to the sock drawer.

Because I'm pretty sure this precious tuck-in time treasure will be hopping into your hands at some point, I'm going to leave The Backup Bunny in the drawer with the lonely single socks.

Want a chance to win your copy? Share a picture of your own lovey on social media (Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook) and tag #TheBackupBunny & @NorthSouthBooks to enter to win a copy of the book. 
The deadline to post is on-sale day, this next Tuesday, March 6.

I dug this Fisher Price lovey out of the closet;
it has definitely withstood the test of time as Kaitlyn turns 25 soon.

  Read an author interview {here}.
Read a review with its backstory {here} and another {here}.
And download a freebie activity sheet from the publisher {here}.

Check out this book and find out what the future holds for this hoppy friend.

What did you enjoy reading today?

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