Joined: 19 Oct 2011
Healthy Mind Diet for Children
Ask children about the food pyramid and the need for a balanced, healthy diet, and I would bet that many would be familiar with the concept.
Now, ask those kiddos about the need for a healthy, balanced diet for the mind, and I think you would lose them.
Recently, I have been fascinated with the work of Dr. Daniel Siegel, a clinical professor of psychiatry at the UCLA school of medicine, whose work includes the Healthy Mind Platter concept. The model proposes that in order to help develop brain integration and promote a healthy mind and well-being, the brain requires a daily dose of various mental nutrients. Those nutrients are as follows: focus time (time spent on goal-oriented tasks), play time (being spontaneous and creative), physical time (aerobic exercise, moving the body), connection time (developing relationships), time in (meditation, self-reflection), down time (no goals, giving the mind a chance to recharge), and sleep time (getting enough rest).
Siegel proposes that if children, and adults as well, practice these activities regularly, then they will experience optimal brain functioning, and mental attributes such as compassion and insight will naturally emerge. (For more information on Siegel’s research, visit http://drdansiegel.com/home/)
Think of the possibilities for the field of education. Instantly, I connected Siegel’s theories to my gifted students, and all the students at the school where I work. What would be the impact if students followed a schedule that allowed them to practice these mental activities? How would it impact test scores, memory and retention, and more importantly behavior and a child’s attitudes towards education, each other, and the world? It makes sense to start with the brain first, since it is the tool that affects everything else we are trying to accomplish through education.
As a little experiment, I thought I would imagine a schedule for my elementary gifted students that was based on the Healthy Mind Platter. Here is what I came up with:
7:30-8:30 a.m. Arrive at school a half-hour early to practice meditation or quiet time. Students would also reflect through journaling. They might be asked to respond to questions such as: What do I stand for? What are my best attributes and personality traits? What contribution do I want to make to society? What are my unique strengths and talents? How could I use those talents to help others? What do I want to happen today? What kind of relationships do I want?
8:30-8:45 a.m. Walk around the physical education track or participate in some other kind of exercise to get the blood flowing. Maybe karate, yoga or Tai Chi.
8:45-11:45 a.m. Attend classes in reading, writing, math, and science. Using Common Core standards, academic goals would be clearly laid out for students.
11:45-12:20 p.m. Lunch, students are allowed to socialize, sit where they want as long as they follow the rules of etiquette and behavior. On certain days, family members would be allowed to join their children for lunch. On other days, mentors, who would be professionals and other adults from the community, would join children at the tables to engage in discussions.
12:20-12:30 p.m. Down time, students can read a book, sit quietly on bean bags, “chill out.”
12:30-1:30 p.m. Students would engage in enrichment clusters, where they would work together to create products or services. They would also have the choice to work on independent study projects.
1:30-1:50 p.m. Recess. No agenda. Students choose an activity or can simply socialize, take a break.
1:50-2:20 p.m. Specials- students engage in physical education, art, music and other electives (as you can see, specials classes, which are often first on the budget chopping block, touch upon a number of the Healthy Mind activities).
2:20-2:55 p.m. Students continue academic studies, including history and technology classes.
3:00 p.m. Dismissal. Homework is limited to 30-45 minutes. Students are reminded to go to bed early and get a good night’s sleep.
Obviously, this is a wish list, but I see elements of the Healthy Mind Platter in my school’s existing schedule, such as the early morning walking/jogging club. Imagine if school systems expanded upon the Healthy Mind concept and designed learning and schedules around the activities. I think after you research the concept, you will begin to see ways to incorporate elements of it into your daily school routine, and in the process, observe whether it’s helping to create optimal brain functioning with your students. Let me know your thoughts.