By Deb Kelly
My grandkids, friends, and family call me Shanti. It means peace; that’s what I would love to see more of in this world. As a grandmother on a mission, I believe my grandchildren’s generation is a vital one that will create a kinder, more peaceful world. With a heart full of love, I am an advocate for my grandchildren’s and your children’s well-being. In 2009 I started volunteering to teach mindfulness to my granddaughter’s kindergarten class. Realizing the importance of promoting wellness and emotional intelligence, I embarked on a mission to create Life Ingredients, an online program that would help children develop life skills for their overall well-being.
It’s Not Your Fault
With the belief that teaching social and emotional skills was crucial, I saw the potential for a mindful evolution in classrooms. I believed students would become more aware, creative, and curious. After spending years developing Life Ingredients and bringing it to local classrooms, I started seeing promising shifts.
However, that bright moment faded with a plague and immense uncertainty surrounding us all that trickled down to the kids.
I found a society altered by the aftermath of Covid. Anxiety, distractions, and behavioral issues filled the classrooms, making it challenging for both students and teachers. I reminded teachers and parents, “It’s not your fault. The whole world feels anxious and uncertain. It’s essential to override these feelings by slowing down, not jumping to conclusions, asking questions, breathing deeply, and thinking with awareness prior to taking actions.” These steps help any classroom or family to begin to stabilize their thoughts, feelings, and actions to live with a more positive view of life.
Two Things Make a Difference
I didn’t give up on my mission to create a kinder world! I learned that two key elements were essential for success. First, have the teachers or parents embrace and model the lessons being taught. It’s always good to hear adults say to me, “I need your calm program as much as the kids do.” I made this program plug-and-play, limiting prep time and allowing adults and kids to learn together.
Secondly, the students had to experience what it felt like to be calm. Most kids thought it was the act of sleeping or thought they had to be still and do nothing. I explained to the kids, “That’s why I am here in the classroom, because I love life adventures and want to show you how to do the same. Calm is a state of being. That means when something comes up that is a problem, an accident, when you are confused, or feel anxious, you move your mind to a state of being calm. Calm is always with you, knock on its door with a deep breath. Calm is a superpower to help you find the solutions to your problems. Here are the important steps to get you there. Stop, breathe, feel the calm, and then respond with a clear mind. It’s a practice, and the more you practice, the better life will feel.”
Training the Brain
Training the brain to be calm is like training a puppy, requiring preparation and repeat exercises. While some students embraced the practice readily, others felt uncomfortable in this unfamiliar territory. But gradually, subtle changes began to emerge. Anxious students started suggesting they take a breath when they felt overwhelmed.
Then with more practice the students’ thoughts started cooling down, changing the energy in the classroom. Dr. Bruce Lipton, author of The Biology of Belief, states, “Our environment is constantly sending signals to our cells, and we have the power to choose how we respond to these signals. By choosing to focus on positive thoughts and beliefs, we can create an environment that promotes health and well-being.”
A Good Story Works for All Types of Learners
A pivotal moment arrived when I told the students that their thoughts were real, powerful, and mattered, but not always true. This idea surprised and intrigued them, leading to curiosity and the desire to learn more. I turned to storytelling, the most effective way to teach a lesson that works for all types of learners. Doug Stevenson, author of Never Be Boring Again, wrote in his book, “When you listen to a good storyteller, you hear the story with your head, heart and soul.” I like to believe a good story leaves footprints in the sand of the kids’ minds, shaping their understanding and perspectives.
The Life Ingredients program weaves in stories throughout its eight lessons of Thoughts, Calm, Clarity, Gratitude, Guidance, Observation, Perspective, and Truth. These are the key building blocks to developing emotional intelligence and heartfelt relationships. The stories come in the form of books, videos, music, and more to underscore the learning. For example, in the Observation lesson, we highlight the electromagnetic field, telling the story of kids playing a game with a radio playing nearby, and then their GPS (Good Powerful System) gets activated. The kids travel through the body and see how electromagnetic energy is a central force connecting everyone and everything together. When we share this story, kids have said, “That’s why my dog knows when I don’t feel good.”
Provide “Life Support”
Through these stories, I teach the children valuable life skills and tools. Nobel laureate James Heckman, an economist, conducted a 30-year study on early childhood education. He discovered quality instruction produced prosperous and healthy lives. The earlier we tell important stories based on life skills, the better we provide experiences that kids remember throughout their lives. (I still put half a sweet potato in a jar of water each winter. As the heart-shaped leaves appear, this simple lesson, learned 67 years ago while in kindergarten, still brings me the joy of watching something grow and evolve.)
The students at Tahoe’s Creekside Charter School had a transformative experience this year.
Fifth grade teacher Susan Bower explains, “My students practiced every morning taking time to breathe and listen to a story, while calming down and transitioning from home to school. After a few lessons students began to understand more about their behaviors, along with how life works. Discipline problems actually decreased, even at recess. The class had a sense of connection and community among them.”
The practice of breathing and storytelling is a source of “life support” for countless families and classrooms. With life skills and a sense of awareness, these young minds and the adults that guide them learn to navigate both their challenges and achievements with confidence and compassion. As a grandmother on a mission, I know these are the people that will create a friendlier world. Isn’t that what we want for our children’s future — a kinder, more peaceful world?
~ Deb Kelly is an eight-time children’s book author and founder of lifeingredients.com, an online wellness program for families and classrooms.
A Free Gift to Moonshine Ink Readers
The author has selected a video lesson called “The Thought Box” as a gift to you and your kids. Sign up here: lifeingredients.com/thoughtbox/