Posts by kvalenti

The “Feelings Toolkit”

Posted by on Jun 27, 2011 in Blog, Ideas in practice | 0 comments

The “Feelings Toolkit”

Today’s post is from a guest blogger who writes for Last Mom, a blog about the daily rewards and challenges of older-child adoption. I thought this post was particularly relevant to the discussion on multiple intelligences as it offers a brilliant wonderful example of how we can help empower our children by teaching them to develop their interpersonal intelligence.  Our daughter came to us at nine-years old. She was abused and neglected in her first four years. She lived in extreme poverty (including homelessness) and witnessed drug, alcohol and domestic abuse. Her mother abandoned the family when she was 18 months old. Her father dropped her and her five siblings off at a children’s shelter when she was four, never to return for them. She then bounced around foster care for the next five years. She had two adoptions fail prior to finalization and many foster homes. She had about a dozen sets of parental figures before us. We read her entire file before committing to becoming her parents and saw that she was a little girl in such pain with no one to help her through it. We were confident that we could give her the love, support, understanding and guidance needed to start sorting through her turmoil. It turns out that we were right. She’s been home for fourteen months now (with the adoption finalized for eight months). She’s made huge progress. In the beginning, she would only acknowledge two emotions: happy and mad. Either everything was great and she was sweet, loving, joyful and oh, so desperate to please or she was ANGRY. She would scream for an hour at a time. She couldn’t give any reason for her big feelings other than “You made me mad!” She didn’t want to talk about her feelings or her past. She tantrummed at the slightest correction or gentlest “no.” I have a background in early childhood education and have worked with at risk preschoolers for years. I teach preschool teachers to use Dr. Becky Bailey’s Conscious Discipline methods in classrooms. I made copies of some of those materials and brought them home for my daughter. I stuck a feelings chart in a clear sleeve and put some relaxation exercises together in a little booklet. I taught her “the balloon” when she was calm. This is a breathing exercise where you put your arms over your head and take a deep breath in while inflating your arms like a balloon. Then you blow the air out (quickly and loudly at our house!) to deflate your balloon. I started telling her, “You are safe. You are loved. You can handle this.” I repeated this mantra as she screamed and cried.  As I started to recognize the signs of a meltdown, I would say it softly and have her repeat me. I would remind her to do a balloon if I saw her getting agitated. I realized that she didn’t understand other feelings. She was trying so hard to put on a happy front and when that failed, “mad” was her default. It’s all she knew. I explained to her that mad is a big and loud feeling, so it’s easy for other feelings to hide behind. I started talking about other feelings and asking if they might be hiding behind her mad. I made her a “Feelings Toolkit.” The “Feelings Toolkit” I gathered up lots of items we had around the house, picked up a few cheap things from the store and taped some handwritten labels on a couple things. I put it all in a plastic storage box and wrote,...

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Develop your Child’s Naturalist Intelligence

Posted by on Jun 24, 2011 in Blog, Ideas in practice | 2 comments

Today’s post was written by Brenna Holzhauer to whom I am most grateful for sharing her knowledge and expertise as we continue to explore multiple intelligence. Please see her bio and additional information at the end of the post.   When Howard Gardner first outlined his theory of Multiple Intelligences (Frames of Mind, 1983) – a model of thought that differentiates “intelligence” into various sensory modalities, rather than seeing it as a single general ability – it did not include the Naturalist Intelligence. It wasn’t introduced to his list of intelligences until the late 90s (Intelligence Reframed, 1999), after Gardner realized that the understanding of nature and living things was not sufficiently covered by the original seven intelligences (verbal/linguistic; mathematical/logical; spatial; kinesthetic; musical; interpersonal; and intrapersonal intelligence). He introduced and defined the Naturalist Intelligence with: The very term naturalist combines a description of the core ability with a characterization of a role that many cultures value. A naturalist demonstrates expertise in the recognition and classification of the numerous species — the flora and fauna — of his or her environment (Gardner 1999: 48). (Read more here). In this chapter, Gardner stated that “the naturalist’s intelligence proves as firmly entrenched as the other intelligences,” of no less importance than any of the others, and “every culture prizes people who not only can recognize members of a species that are especially valuable or notably dangerous but also can appropriately categorize new or unfamiliar organisms.” In addition, he recognized that “just as most ordinary children readily master language at an early age, so too are most children predisposed to explore the world of nature;” however, some individuals display more acute disposition these skills and traits than others. Some characteristics of a “naturally intelligent” person include: Ability to make justifying distinctions, visually or non-visually, of both living and non-living items. Comfort and interest in the world of organisms. Talent in caring for or interacting with living species. Detection of novel patterns or styles. Drive to identify and classify natural and artificial objects. Early fascination with plants, animals, natural phenomena and the surrounding environment. Affinity for symbols (linguistic and taxonomic) – identifying, representing and recording features and phenomena. Basically, someone with a keen Naturalist Intelligence can recognize and classify individuals, species and ecological relationships, relate information to one’s surroundings, interact effectively with living creatures, and discern patterns of life and natural forces. Careers well-suited for these “nature smart” people include farmers, park rangers, gardeners, florists, naturalists, biologists, environmentalists, taxonomists, fishermen/women, zoo keepers and veterinarians. An interesting point that Gardner mentions is that most children seem innately predisposed to these traits and have an inherent interest in exploring the natural world (read this NWF blogpost about “Why Kids Explore Nature Better Than We Do.”) Unfortunately, with today’s children and adults spending nearly 99% of their day indoors, separated from nature and the environment, many individuals with Natural Intelligence may never identify their skills and interests in this area, and this natural curiosity in so many children slowly fades away. According to Gardner, and many other educators and proponents of his theory, individuals demonstrating certain intelligences should be nurtured and encouraged to explore and utilize their talents, fully reaching their potential, and pursuing career and lifestyle choices that are fulfilling and do not stifle their creativity and intelligence. With today’s busy schedules and increasingly urban lifestyles, families’ outdoor recreation time is reduced and children’s Naturalist Intelligence may not be discovered or developed. However, it is quite simple to determine if your child displays a Naturalist Intelligence, and there are many ways you can encourage them to realize and nurture these traits. Does your child:  Enjoy being outside or participating in activities such as camping, fishing...

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Helping Children Cope with Loss and Heartbreak

Posted by on May 23, 2011 in Thoughts | 4 comments

Today’s post is the continuation of a series of essays focused on coping with heartbreak. The first part dealt with understanding heartbreak, the second provided some thoughts on how we can cope with our own heartbreak. Today’s piece is a guest post on helping our children cope with heartbreak. I am most grateful to Amy Hillis for sharing her own tale of loss and heartbreak in bringing us this piece. Almost four months ago, my youngest son passed away. He was eight and a half months old. He and I had spent the five months leading up to his death in the PICU of Cincinnati Children’s Medical Center Hospital. Five very long months, that I spent away from the rest of my family. I have three older sons at home, Jacob (8), Jonathan (6) and Zachary (3). I’m a stay-at-home mom and my husband works nights. It was a difficult time for everyone. The boys were trying to make sense of David being so sick that I needed to be away from them for such a long time. Thank goodness my mother-in-law was able to step in and keep some semblance of normalcy going while I was gone. I firmly believed that their memories of David should be kept to the three months we had him home with us, as a complete family. I did not have them visit David during his hospitalization. I had a room at the Ronald McDonald House across the street from the hospital and the boys came to visit me there. Many people thought I should have spent more time at home (my husband included) leaving the care of my mostly unconscious infant son to the nurses. I disagreed. As it became more and more apparent that David would  never come home to be with his older brothers, I spent all my of energy and attention on the youngest member of the family. It was the only thing I could do for him. It’s part of what makes us mothers. The need to take care of our children. It was this very need that drove me in the early days after his death. I had to take care of my other children, regardless of the pain and sorrow I felt. I had to guide my boys through the heartbreak of losing their brother. In the early days, all three boys were very clingy and stayed close to me. Zachary, especially would cry when I left the room and insisted that I sleep with him. I’m not sure how much of this behavior was grief or fear I would leave again. Either way, even at three, he knew our world had shifted and would never be the same. My mother-in-law had told the boys early on that David was sick but that he’d get better. While the older boys understood that David was gone, permanently, Zachary didn’t. He would say things like “Davy’s sick, but he’ll get better” and “he’ll come home when he’s better”. It was those conversations that were the most difficult. Sometimes I couldn’t answer him, sometimes I would try to explain that David wasn’t coming home. I’ve never used the term We lost David or likened death to sleep. I didn’t want my very literal 3 year-old to think this was going to happen to him. Eventually he became less clingy. I no longer need to sleep with him at night and he doesn’t talk about David too much anymore. For a 3 year-old, out of sight is truly out of mind. Jonathan on the other hand, was very matter-a-fact, saying things like “David’s dead, he’s not...

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Thank you

Posted by on May 9, 2011 in Uncategorized | 1 comment

In honor of Mother’s Day, I would just like to take a few moments to say thank you: thank you to the mothers who have walked this path before, for with their knowledge and experience they have made it easier for me to join them. thank you to the mothers who share my journey, for they make good counsel when I am at a loss and welcome company when I need a friend. thank you to the mothers who are not afraid to be vulnerable, for their courage inspires me to  love despite the uncertainty of reciprocity and the certainty of pain. thank you to the mothers who are willing to share their challenges in parenting, for their lessons become mine to learn and their successes occasions to applaud. thank you to the mothers who refuse to give-up despite fear, pain, loss and heartbreak, for it is their steadfast commitment and love that begets a happy, healthy and beloved child. thank you to the mothers who give a voice to children, who empower them to pursue and achieve their full potential, for it is a life-long and challenging endeavor. … and thank you to the fathers, brothers, sisters, friends, spouses, partners and all who share the life of mothers, for you are what helps keep us on our path in this journey, strong in spite of our vulnerabilities, brave in spite of our failings, persistent in spite of our fears, and committed to an endeavor that defines who we are and will mark us throughout the rest of our life. Thank...

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The Power of Storytelling

Posted by on Apr 20, 2011 in Blog, Uncategorized | 1 comment

Today marks my 100th post on Tot Thoughts. Thank you all for your continued support and encouragement! To celebrate this momentous event, today’s post is on the power of storytelling. Our life is the ultimate storytelling experience. Everything we do and say, our thoughts and feelings, the way we react to the world around us and interact with others, it all becomes a part of our unique human narrative, building the story of who we are. As with any story, what makes our story meaningful is the degree to which we can make the storytelling experience one that adds value to our life and that of those with whom we share it. What makes storytelling so powerful is that it gives us the tools to do that, it teaches us precisely how to develop a meaningful narrative. Briefly and broadly, a story consists of a character, a setting, and a plot (which can be broken down into a problem and a solution). A story will be meaningful to the extent that it presents a relatable character and a certain complexity in the story (through the plot) that prompts the development of that character. Now, we develop and flourish as individuals through the process of resolving complexity. Every time we solve a problem, we add a new dimension to our self, one that incorporates the skills we acquired in solving the problem. This new dimension gives us another way of engaging with the world around us and that adds value to our life. It is the ability to add value what makes something meaningful. The power of storytelling is that, on the one hand, to the extent that the reader can relate to the character’s journey, he or she experiences this constructive process vicariously and upon internalizing it, is able to add that new dimension to his or her life. On the other hand, the storyteller is given the opportunity to add value to another’s life (the reader) by designing a unique complexity and guiding the reader through its resolution. As you know, a key focus of mine is on empowering children through the use of their intelligence and imagination. I believe that storytelling is one of the most effective ways of doing so. Our intelligence, allows us to experience different ways of perceiving, understanding and communicating information. From a storytelling standpoint, this helps us to not only identify the building blocks for our narrative complexity but to understand the resources at our disposal to resolve it. Our imagination propels us to envision ways of applying that information to transcend our current situation. In a story setting, it allows us to create complexity and envision resolutions to it. With this all in mind, I am excited to announce a new storytelling initiative that I am spearheading. The project is called Rock Thoughts. The rules are simple, participants paint “monster” rocks and hide them in public spaces for others to find. The finders of those rocks submit a story that relates to the rock they found. Those stories are uploaded onto our site and then the rocks are re-hidden for someone else to find and continue the narrative. Users are invited to comment on the stories on the site and help the storytellers expand upon them generating a collaborative storytelling experience. What I seek to achieve with this is simply to encourage children to connect with others in a meaningful way through storytelling. While the project is intended to serve as an inspiration to children, it is open to storytellers of all ages. If you are interested in getting involved, please send me an email at...

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