08222017Headline:

Emotional Learning Helps Children and Parents Get to the Heart of Connection

There’s no denying it; living tiny with kids is challenging. But isn’t challenge what forces us to grow? We have grown tremendously as the tight quarters challenge us to find a way to thrive in this space. Social Emotional Learning (SEL) has been the key to our success.

I’ve shared about my friend Kari’s SEL music program at Ella and Archer’s school before. We are blessed to have her guidance as we learn this way of connecting with each other.

In order for Kari to continue bringing this much-needed program to our rural community, she’s turned to crowd funding. There are only two days left for her to hit her goal. I was playing with numbers yesterday and calculated that if each of our Facebook and Blog followers gave just $ 3, we could more than fund her campaign. The power of social media excites me. If her work inspires enough of you to stop what you are doing for just a few minutes and give $ 3, we could make a real difference for a woman doing important work with our children. I hope you’ll help me with this experiment.

Watch the video I made about Kari’s SEL program here. I’m a newbie videographer, and I made this with only my iPhone and the free Movie Maker program.  I have a long way to go to make my vision match my product. But wading through the creative process is an awesome feeling. I love learning new skills!

The Sunday after the Sandy Hook tragedy, I wrote about SEL and Kari’s program in my Sunday Letter to Subscribers. Below is an excerpt:

My words are slow to come today. They have no weight amidst this heavy sorrow. I’ve been in tears more than once and I haven’t even seen any TV coverage of the tragedy in Connecticut. I don’t need to. My heart feels the pain of each one of those parents—although I know I can’t even imagine that pain. The only thing I can think to share is the moment I first heard of this atrocity.

I was sitting in my old classroom at Blue Mountain School with my friend Kari. It was my 29th hour of work on the video I made for her crowd-funding campaign to keep social emotional learning in Floyd Schools. Her phone rang, and I could hear a woman sobbing on the other end. Kari hung up and told me, “I just got awful news. Apparently someone shot a whole classroom of Kindergartners.” We had just finished tweaking part of the video where Kari sings with Kindergartners. The irony was too much.

Our world could use more social emotional learning–learning about feelings, the brain, and how to care for and interact with each other in a respectful and loving way. It’s about nurturing the heart.

I know the benefits of social emotional learning first-hand. Ella and Archer have had Kari’s classes for the last two years and I’ve done my own studies to keep the learning going at home. Last year, when we were just figuring out how to live peacefully in our tiny house, Kari told me about a moment she had with Archer. She was teaching his class to focus their attention using a chime. After listening to the chime for 10 seconds, she asked the class to share how they felt. Archer raised his hand and said, “I feel a lot of space.” I was encouraged that my 6-year-old son had the wisdom to know that space is infinite when we know how to turn within.

Another part of social emotional learning is learning to express our feelings and to support and acknowledge the full range of emotions in ourselves and our loved ones. Practicing this has not been easy for our family since we share such a tiny space. A big part of our social emotional learning as a family is allowing each other to have a full range of emotions without taking one another’s emotions personally. Learning to do this has injected our house with more love than I could have imagined.

In order for our practice to get to the heart of connection, we’re learning to identify our emotions clearly. It’s easy to use blanket identifiers for our emotions. For example, before we started practicing compassionate communication and exploring our emotions, we usually identified with happy, sad and mad, but there is a much deeper range of human emotion.

Anxiety, shame, sadness, fear, frustration, guilt, disappointment, worry, embarrassment, jealousy, and hurt can all be masked as anger. Just as happy can be a generalization for more specific emotions such as inspired, thankful, proud, eager, and relieved. Identifying clearly and sharing our emotions with each other has helped us to find a deeper level of connection. Connection is the cure to what ails us.

One way we connect daily is to play a “game” at dinner time. It starts like this: someone calls out “High/Low?” We then share the best part of our day and  talk about how we felt at that moment. We do the same thing with our lows. We help each other identify the real feeling we are having with both our highs and our lows.

This practice not only helps us understand our emotions, but what has caused them. This game is helping us develop more empathy for each other and more acceptance when emotional surges fill the tiny house.

I am grateful for Kari’s work with our kids and for the field of social emotional learning. The world needs more of this! I hope the deaths of these children, teachers, Principal and School Psychologist brings the discussion of mental health and the importance of social emotional learning in our schools to the forefront.

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