Sunday, October 25, 2015

Food for Thought: Replacing screen time with green time is good for kids

Photo: Replacing screen time with green time is good for kids
The keys to change are clear education about the benefits of nature exposure and reducing social and economic barriers to change. (Credit: Melissa Lem)
Melissa Lem is a Toronto family physician who also works in rural and remote communities across Canada. Much of her childhood was spent exploring the beautiful parks and green spaces of Ontario. She holds a faculty appointment with the Department of Family and Community Medicine at the University of Toronto, is a regular guest blogger on the environment and health for Evergreen, and enjoys being the resident medical expert on CBC television's lifestyle show Steven and Chris. Docs Talk asked Dr. Lem how contact with nature can affect child development.

Docs Talk: What are some of the problems you are seeing in children who don't have a strong connection to nature? How common are these kinds of health issues in children?

Dr. Lem: Time spent in nature is essential for healthy psychological and physical development in children. In fact, some researchers suggest that daily doses of "green time" can be used to prevent and treat many medical conditions.

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder gets a lot of attention in the media and occurs in five to 10 per cent of Canadian children. Continuous immersion in urban environments can overstimulate youth with and without ADHD, leading to symptoms of inattention and impulsiveness. The substitution of active outdoor play with indoor sedentary behaviours is also a major culprit in weight gain and obesity, which affect one in four Canadian children. This is raising the childhood incidence of traditionally adult diseases like hypertension, diabetes and cholesterol issues.
Other ailments including myopia, asthma, depression and slower social and motor skills development have also been linked to reduced nature exposure.

Docs Talk: What kind of research has been in done in this area?

Dr. Lem: Green space exposure has a wealth of positive effects on pediatric health outcomes.
The existing research is impressive regarding mental health benefits. For example,ADHD symptoms improve significantly after children spend time in nature, with increased benefits seen in more green locations. Girls with greener views from their home windows score higher on measures of self-discipline. Also, depression and anxiety disorders are less prevalent in youth who have greater amounts of nature in their living environments.
Connection to nature also improves indicators of physical health. Studies show that children who spend more time outdoors and live closer to parks engage in more physical activity. It follows that proximity to green space significantly improves the likelihood that a child will maintain a healthy weight. What's more, regular childhood exposure to green space fosters increased preference for nature-based recreation. Natural settings are ideal for children to cultivate creativity and social skills as they enjoy their recommended one hour or more of unstructured playtime per day.

Docs Talk: What kind of activities do you recommend parents do with their children to help them connect with nature?

Dr. Lem: There are two major concepts to consider: role modelling and active involvement of the child. One of the most effective ways parents can strengthen their child's connection to nature is to minimize screen time and embrace green time themselves. The other is to promote a mix of both parent-supervised and independent outdoor play, which encourages children to form and build upon their own nature experiences.
Fun family activities can range from planting a garden to a weekend camping vacation in a provincial park. The backyard is a safe and stimulating place for younger children to explore green space. Encourage them to cloud watch, build a fort, collect stones or come up with their own nature-based games. Outdoor, environment-based volunteering can be an effective way for younger and older children to build self-esteem and strong family and peer relationships.

Docs Talk: What more needs to be done to convince parents, doctors and educators of the benefits of connecting children with nature?

Dr. Lem: It can be hard to see the forest — or the trees, for that matter — for adults who are accustomed to living in spaces defined by asphalt and concrete. The keys to change are clear education about the benefits of nature exposure and reducing social and economic barriers to change.
Doctors should remember to integrate counselling about screen time and outdoor activity into routine checkups. Nature prescriptions may also motivate children to increase their green time. If the pediatric obesity epidemic continues, scientists predict that this generation may be the first with a shorter life expectancy than their parents. This should be a huge wake-up call for all of us.
Author Richard Louv coined the term "nature deficit disorder" to describe the health issues linked to the modern divide between children and the outdoors. His award-winning book Last Child in the Woods is an important resource for parents and educators.

Docs Talk: What can we do to make our communities more "nature-friendly" for kids?

Dr. Lem: Our physical and cultural environments must be designed to allow children to benefit from natural settings during recreation and everyday life. Mixed-use residential areas with green corridors increase the likelihood that children will walk or bike to school and play. Protected urban green spaces have also been shown to reduce health inequalities between children from low- and high-income families. Communities can create natural playscapes that reflect the area's environmental heritage instead of building artificial playgrounds.
Changes in school and educational culture are also vital. Simple measures like planting trees and grass in sight of classroom windows can promote more effective learning. Green time ought to be incorporated into physical education, recess breaks and even regular class hours.
The importance of childhood nature access should be reflected in government policy, whether it be through bylaws mandating child-friendly green space in new urban development projects, tax credits for enrolling children in nature-based recreational programs or ensuring affordable family access to national parks. Now is the time to invest in communities that will raise healthy and resilient stewards of the environment.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Food for Thought: October Break

Dear all,

Thank you for a great first quarter. Have just read this White Paper from Think Strategic and can't believe how aligned they are with us in their thinking.  Reading this paper made me feel that someone had been listening to our ISHCMC Senior Leadership Meetings and discussions. I think that you will enjoy taking a look at what Maxine Driscoll has to say and agree with the direction that is needed in education. 

Have a good vacation,


Sunday, October 11, 2015

Food for Thought: 7 Fun Ways To Teach Your Kids Mindfulness

Dear all,
Thank you for another good week at ISHCMC. I realize that not having breaks and outdoor activities is hard for you and the students but feel that it is something that we need to be doing to protect our student’s health. Last week we did have pollution readings that were off the top of the AQI index. Attached to this email is a letter that I have written to parents that explains the procedures that we are following in line with the Clean Air Policy that we wrote last year. I have been asked by many people about the cause of this pollution and have just read this article that might explain it. Let’s hope that next week we return to some normality regarding pollution.

On Friday we have Celebration of Cultures. This PTO run event will be taking place in the MPR and Gymnasium. It will start at 8:30 with a flag parade and school song. Students will be expected to be seated in either the MPR or Gym by 8:20 following Mindfulness. The country performances have been split between the two venues and there will be a 20 minute interval to allow the audience stretch time/ light refreshments and the opportunity to move to a new venue for part 2 of the country presentations. Each country will perform their presentation twice in the same venue. The event will last approximately 2 hours 15 minutes. We did look at moving the event to the afternoon but decided against this because of it being another change for parents, lunches too early and for our younger students a much longer day. More details about final arrangements will be shared early in the week.
This week’s Food for Thought is a short article that suggests 7 activities that you could add to your repertoire of Mindfulness activities to do with your class. It also links with the second attachment to this email which is an excellent opportunity, starting after the October break, to take an 8 session Mindfulness course run by Dr. Rashmi Bismark. Details attached.

 7 Fun Ways To Teach Your Kids Mindfulness

I taught a mindfulness class at my daughters’ elementary school this week. Unsurprisingly, the kids taught me way more than I taught them.

While I was doing research to develop the class, I came upon a wealth of information about mindfulness programs in schools. For one, I learned that actress Goldie Hawn has been working with neuroscientists, cognitive psychologists and educators to develop a mindfulness curriculum for schools. I was thrilled to find out that their research reported that mindfulness education in schools has proven benefits: it increases optimism and happiness in classrooms, decreases bullying and aggression, increases compassion and empathy for others and helps students resolve conflicts.
If you ever want to be inspired and also have a giggle, ask a group of kids what they think “mindfulness” is. “Relaxing out of our daily troubles and stress,” “A way to stay yourself when you’re going through something troubling” and “It’s like getting off of one railroad track and getting onto another one” were some of my favorite answers from the recent class meeting. Kids can really be fountains of spiritual wisdom!
When I told them the dictionary’s definition (“a mental state achieved by focusing one's awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one's feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique"), the kids weren’t entirely sure what I was talking about. And so we did some exercises to test it out. Feel free to try these at home!
1. The Bell Listening Exercise
Ring a bell and ask the kids to listen closely to the vibration of the ringing sound. Tell them to remain silent and raise their hands when they no longer hear the sound of the bell. Then tell them to remain silent for one minute and pay close attention to the other sounds they hear once the ringing has stopped. After, go around in a circle and ask the kids to tell you every sound they noticed during that minute. This exercise is not only fun and gets the kids excited about sharing their experiences with others, but reallyhelps them connect to the present moment and the sensitivity of their perceptions.
2. Breathing Buddies
Hand out a stuffed animal to each child (or another small object). If room allows, have the children lie down on the floor and place the stuffed animals on their bellies. Tell them to breathe in silence for one minute and notice how their Breathing Buddy moves up and down, and any other sensations that they notice. Tell them to imagine that the thoughts that come into their minds turn into bubbles and float away. The presence of the Breathing Buddy makes the meditation a little friendlier, and allows the kids to see how a playful activity doesn't necessarily have to be rowdy.
3. The Squish & Relax Meditation
While the kids are lying down with their eyes closed, have them squish and squeeze every muscle in their bodies as tightly as they can. Tell them to squish their toes and feet, tighten the muscles in their legs all the way up to their hips, suck in their bellies, squeeze their hands into fists and raise their shoulders up to their heads. Have them hold themselves in their squished up positions for a few seconds, and then fully release and relax. This is a great, fun activity for "loosening up" the body and mind, and is a totally accessible way to get the kids to understand the art of "being present."
4. Smell & Tell
Pass something fragrant out to each child, such as a piece of fresh orange peel, a sprig of lavender or a jasmine flower. Ask them to close their eyes and breathe in the scent, focusing all of their attention only on the smell of that object. Scent can really be a powerful tool for anxiety-relief (among other things!).
5. The Art Of Touch
Give each child an object to touch, such as a ball, a feather, a soft toy, a stone, etc. Ask them to close their eyes and describe what the object feels like to a partner. Then have the partners trade places. Both this exercise and the previous one are simple, but compelling, ways to teach the kids the practice of isolating their senses from one another, and tuning into distinct experiences.
6. The Heartbeat Exercise
Have the kids jump up and down in place for one minute. Then have them sit back down and place their hands on their hearts. Tell them to close their eyes and feel their heartbeats, their breath, and see what else they notice about their bodies.
7. Heart-To-Heart
In this exercise, the meaning of "heart" is less literal. In other words, this activity could also simply be called "Let's talk about feelings." So sit down and casually, comfortably ask the children to tell you about their feelings. What feelings do they feel? How do they know they se feelings? Where do they feel them in their bodies? Ask them which feelings they like the best.
Then ask them what they can do to feel better when they aren’t feeling the feelings they like best. Remind them that they can always practice turning their thoughts into bubbles if they are upset, they can do the Squish and Relax Meditation if they need to calm down, and they can take a few minutes to listen to their breath or feel their heartbeats if they want to relax.
My hope for the mindfulness class was to give the kids some tools they can use anytime: tools to calm down, slow down and feel better when they are troubled. I sure wish I had these tools at my disposal when I was their age. Imagine if all the children around the Earth learned to use these tools during their childhoods. What a change our world would experience within just one generation!

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Food for Thought: Building a Questioning Toolkit

Dear all,

This weeks Food for Thought is taken from a resource that I just rediscovered in my teaching folders but I think will be useful for you all. Good questioning, as I have shared, before is essential for unlocking the door to meta cognition and higher order thinking students. Yet we tend not to spend so much time during our planning thinking about the types of questions that we are going to use with students in each lesson to unlock their learning and to encourage deeper thinking and inquiry. 

Hopefully, by clicking on the type of questions below the questioning toolkit will link with information similar to that of essential and subsidiary questions below.

Have a good weekend,


"Each school should create a Questioning Toolkit which contains several dozen kinds of questions and questioning tools. This Questioning Toolkit should be printed in large type on posters which reside on classroom walls close by networked, information-rich computers.
Portions of the Questioning Toolkit should be introduced as early as Kindergarten so that students can bring powerful questioning technologies and techniques with them as they arrive in high school.

Essential QuestionsSubsidiary QuestionsHypothetical QuestionsTelling QuestionsPlanning Questions
Organizing QuestionsProbing QuestionsSorting & Sifting QuestionsClarification QuestionsStrategic Questions
Elaborating QuestionsUnanswerable QuestionsInventive QuestionsProvocative QuestionsIrrelevant Questions
Divergent QuestionsIrreverent Questions

  • What does it mean to be a good friend?
  • What kind of friend shall I be?
  • Who will I include in my circle of friends?
  • How shall I treat my friends?
  • How do I cope with the loss of a friend?
  • What can I learn about friends and friendships from the novels we read in school?
  • How can I be a better friend?
All the other questions and questioning skills serve the purpose of "casting light upon" or illuminating Essential Questions.
  • Why do we have to fight wars?
  • Do we have to fight wars?
  • How could political issues or ideas ever become more important than family loyalties?
  • Some say our country remains wounded by the slavery experience and the Civil War. In what ways might this claim be true and in what ways untrue? What evidence can you supply to substantiate your case?
  • Military officers often complain that the effective conduct of modern war is impeded by political interference and popular pressures on the home front. To what extent did this also prove true during the Civil War?
  • How can countries avoid the kind of bloodshed and devastation we experienced during our Civil War?
  • How much diversity can any nation tolerate?
  • Who showed greater bravery and courage, the front line soldiers and the nurses who tended to the wounded and dying or the leaders of the war effort?
  • Should there be a law against war profiteering?

 Essential Questions
These are questions which touch our hearts and souls. They are central to our lives. They help to define what it means to be human.
Most important thought during our lives will center on such essential questions.

If we were to draw a cluster diagram of the Questioning Toolkit,Essential Questions would be at the center of all the other types of questions. 
Most Essential Questions are interdisciplinary in nature. They cut across the lines created by schools and scholars to mark the terrain of departments and disciplines.
Essential Questions probe the deepest issues confronting us . . . complex and baffling matters which elude simple answers: Life - Death - Marriage - Identity - Purpose - Betrayal - Honor - Integrity - Courage - Temptation - Faith - Leadership - Addiction - Invention - Inspiration.
The greatest novels, the greatest plays, the greatest songs and the greatest paintings all explore Essential Questions in some manner.
Essential Questions are at the heart of the search for Truth.
Many of us believe that schools should devote more time toEssential Questions and less time to Trivial Pursuit.
One major reform effort, the Coalition of Essential Schools, has made Essential Questions a keystone of its learning strategy. (Visit the Coalition Web site).
Essential Questions offer the organizing focus for a unit. If the U.S. History class will spend a month on a topic such as the Civil War, students explore the events and the experience with a mind toward casting light upon one of the following questions, or they develop Essential Questions of their own . . .
For more on Essential Questions read this other selection.

 Subsidiary Questions These are questions which combine to help us build answers to our Essential Questions. Big questions spawn families of smaller questions which lead to insight. The more skillful we and our students become at formulating and then categorizing Subsidiary Questions, the more success we will have constructing new knowledge. All of the question categories listed and explained below are types of Subsidiary Questions.
We have several strategies from which to choose when developing a comprehensive list of Subsidiary Questions for our project:

  • We can brainstorm and list every question which comes to mind, utilizing a huge sheet of paper or a word processing program or a graphical organizing program such as Inspiration (, putting down the questions as they "come to mind." Later we can move these around until they end up along side of related questions. This movement is one advantage of software. This approach has the benefit of spontaneity.
  • We can take a list of question categories like the one outlined in this article and generate questions for each category. This approach helps provoke thought and questions in categories which we might not otherwise consider.

Best way to involve students in the use of e-mail?

    Worst that can happen?
    Potential benefits?
    Obstacles which must be overcome?
    Available resources?
    Sufficient resources?
    Additional resources?
    Good models?
    How prepare students?
    How prepare parents?
    Relationship to discipline code?
    Who does what?
    Assessing progress?
This outline is transformed in seconds by a simple mouse-click into the following cluster diagram . . .

In the (condensed) illustration below, a team is pondering the following Essential Question:
What is the best way for our school to involve students in the use of e-mail?
They begin by listing every question they can think up. They have one member type the list into the outlining part of Inspiration. They could use a word processor instead, but Inspiration will automatically convert their outline into a variety of diagrams and will allow them to move questions around later.

The lack of order and logic should be immediately visible.
This diagram needs to be re-drawn.
No problem.
Point. Click. Drag!
In just 4-5 minutes, we have a cluster diagram which groups (and colors) questions.