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Boost Your Brain: The Dancing Goes On

April 25th, 2016

Movement is an important brain booster.  And dancing is a great way to bring in oxygen, get the blood and heart pumping, reduce stress, build friendships and have a good time.

For this week’s dance moves, these three steps are easy (supposedly) beginner moves that anyone can do – even those of us with two left feet!  Poll your teens – do these moves still make the cool list? Or do they help them get away with “looking” cool?


Adults Need Play in Their Lives, Too

April 22nd, 2016

We write about the value of games and play frequently for the development of youth and of groups.  And there is research to back that up.  But, adults, too, need play in their lives and this article shares way to build in play and reminds you of the research.  Enjoy!

Boost Your Brain: Dance Move #4

April 11th, 2016

For this week’s dance move that we learned from youth we know, we bring you the Running Man.

Ask your teens? Is this still hot? Or has it gone cold?  What IS the latest, greatest move?


Boost Your Brain: Dance Move #3

April 4th, 2016

Movement is an important brain booster.  And dancing is a great way to bring in oxygen, get the blood and heart pumping, reduce stress, build friendships and have a good time.

As Ann and I led a series for workshops, we tested various dance games.  We quickly learned that not all dance moves are universal . . . or equal.   As always, we love learning from youth . . .

Here’s this week’s moves that we learned. (One I can do!)

Ask your teens: are these moves in? Or are they now “so last year”?


Boost Your Brain: Dance #2

March 28th, 2016

Movement is an important brain booster.  And dancing is a great way to bring in oxygen, get the blood and heart pumping, reduce stress, build friendships and have a good time.

As Ann and I led a series for workshops, we tested various dance games.  We quickly learned that not all dance moves are universal . . . or equal.   As always, we love learning from youth . . .

Here’s this week’s moves that we learned.  Ask your teens: are these moves in? Or are they now “so last year”?



Offer Empathy, Not Sympathy

March 25th, 2016

Brene Brown shares the basic idea of how as human beings, we need empathy, not sympathy. She says “empathy fuels connection.” Its tenets are:

  • To get in their shoes, look from their perspective
  • Offer a sacred space, no judgment
  • Recognize the emotion in other people
  • And communicate that

The goal is to feel with people. That means courageously tapping into our own uncomfortable experiences where we can remind ourselves that we know what it’s like. But then, from that place, we can authentically share with them that they’re not alone. We’ve been there. We know.

And we don’t have to use words to communicate that knowing. We can simply offer presence. We can make the better choice to truly connect and admit our lack of answers: “I don’t know what to say. I’m just glad you told me.” We can choose to hold the sacred space for them in their struggle, honoring them and how they feel and not insult them by throwing out pat answers, false silver linings or just as bad – band-aid advice.

We can bare witness to the fact that they are going through a very human struggle with tumultuous feelings and what they face is real . . . and so are they. So is the situation.

In our work with youth, we recognize that some of what they face is part of being that age. If not careful, in a quick moment of non-attentiveness we could dismiss some of those moments that are earth-shattering to them as “this will pass, get over it” and do more damage than good.

We could easily fall victim to offering sympathy (which requires little emotional commitment, no true connection and a pat response based on the surface instead of actively listening). Brene Brown’s illustration nails our tendency: “ooo! It’s bad down here. Want a sandwich?” And then we go straight for the silver lining: “it may be bad, but at least” fill in the blank: you have X, you didn’t do Y, you know Z . . .

That’s like applying a band-aid to an open wound that needs serious attention. It doesn’t do much and it certainly doesn’t heal.

This, Not That

I can recall things I’ve heard said to youth that fit the band-aid approach:

  • “I didn’t make the team” . . . “at least you tried out!”
  • “I didn’t get a good grade on the test and I studied hard” . . . “at least you’re doing well in your other classes”
  • “Jack broke up with me” . . . “at least you had a boyfriend”
  • “My best friend hates me” . . . “at least you have other friends”
  • During high school, you get to meet a lot of people. You might lose several friends and seem to have a “one or none” experience . . . “At least you got to meet a lot of different people in the world.”

As you listen to youth, be mindful in offering silence, presence and the realness of your own depth. When you work to make an authentic connection, it pays off. They know it; they feel it; and you honor who and where they are when you really listen. Without the band-aids.  Without the sandwich.



Boost Your Brain With Dance

March 21st, 2016

Movement is an important brain booster.  It brings in oxygen, gets the blood and heart pumping, reduces stress and quite simply, it can be . . . just good ole’ wholesome fun.

When Ann and I lead workshops for camp, we often try out new games.  And our latest round of new games included dance moves.  In one game, instead of us telling them the moves to do for the game, we asked them for the dance moves.  And that’s where our education began . . . In the next few weeks, we’ll share the moves we learned and that made us “cool” with future teens and young adults.

It’s all in the moves. My personal favorite I learned while teaching Y-CAP summer camp staff (Vanderbilt football players primarily).  The guys taught me how to do the Whip.  Which came in quite handy a few months later when I was leading a training in New York and got the group’s attention by – yep, you guessed it – doing the Whip.

Cool dance move #1.  Enjoy!

Appreciation Challenge

March 17th, 2016

There have been a few times when I have created presents for other people that are simply lists or little booklets about the best of who they are.  Something along the lines of the “12 gifts of you.” The gift includes simple things that I note about the person that I appreciate about them and am thankful for. Sometimes they are things that I see that I’m not sure that they see about themselves.

It’s a simple gift but a thoughtful one.

This past week I got to be on the receiving end of such a gift. My sister decided to do five days of appreciation of me for my birthday.  Every day she sent me five things that she appreciated about me and she actually did this for five days. It was such an awesome gift of perspective and surprise.

I’ve always enjoyed being on the giving side of such a gift, but to be on the receiving end gave me a whole new perspective. Wow!

To jot down a few things you like about someone is such an easy way to express appreciation and to encourage them.  And, it ends up being a gift for both the giver and the receiver.

Here’s an example of what I’ve done.  I emailed my writing partner this morning.  The subject heading was “Appreciation Day.”  In the body, I said “I love that you . . . ” and then listed 4 or 5 (the number doesn’t matter) things that I love about her.

The things you appreciate don’t have to be huge. They can be quite simple.  For example, for Ann, one line was about how much she relishes chocolate and coffee with a big grin.  It makes her happy.  I also noted how she is so good at re-framing negatives into positives – a trait I admire.

Who could you take five minutes to send an appreciation note to?  Could you make it a weekly practice to send one note?  Or monthly?  Try it out. See what happens.  Making someone’s day doesn’t have to take money, a lot of time or energy.  It can be as easy as saying “I love you” or “I love the way you . . .”

Feeding the Brain: Snacks that are Brain Boosters

March 14th, 2016

More and more we learn about the brain and what it needs to be healthy – from movement to water to music to . . . good food.  Food – the right kinds of food – can nourish the brain and help it focus and concentrate. Consider these healthy snacks for the youth in your program, classroom or at home.

1.  Yogurt – this dairy gem has often had its horn tooted for helping digestive health.  Studies now indicate that it does more than help with digestion.  It also promotes brain health.

2. Nuts – not just any nuts, but walnuts to be exact! High in antioxidants, walnuts promote brain function.  Additionally, they contain valuable acids necessary for brain health and development. Just remember – all things in moderation!  An ounce a day is all that is needed for giving the brain this brain booster.

3. Dark Chocolate – it’s very difficult NOT to have something sweet from time to time.  Research has been giving us permission to indulge – but only if it’s dark chocolate.  We know (. . . er, from experience) that dark chocolate gives us an energy boost, but it’s “chocolatey” goodness doesn’t stop there.  It also promotes alertness and attentiveness (IF it’s 60 percent cacao content chocolate).

4. Blueberries – while perhaps not always first on our list to buy when out of season, perhaps they should be snuck into the program space.  Whether fresh, frozen or dried, blueberries are a brain booster that improve cognitive brain function.

5. Pumpkin seeds – perhaps a little easier on the wallet than blueberries, this snack completes this simple list of snacks that promote focus and concentration.

Add this one to your afternoon snacks:

Peppermint tea – throw out the cokes and hand them a glass of peppermint tea. While still a little early to claim full status as a brain booster, studies indicate that peppermint tea may improve cognitive performance and increase alertness as well as calmness. It’s worth adding to the mix.

To see more foods that feed the brain and learn more about the research behind these, click here to check out the article from which the above is based.

The Power of Re-directing

March 11th, 2016

Guest blogger: Vanessa Helbig

Vanessa shares about the intentional action steps she took as a result of attending one of the trainings towards getting her Youth Worker Certification.

I started working with the girls at my site on December 1st. They are a very lively and spirited group; however, they often channel this energy into negative outlets. The classroom was often in chaos with students speaking loudly, arguing, complaining, and acting unhappy with a variety of new teachers coming in and out throughout the semester. They were feeling abandoned, with little structure. So there I was, the third teacher these girls have had walk into their lives in the past three months. They were very skeptical of me and the changes I had to implement. Each day felt like a battle. I spent most days trying to quiet angry students and redirect everyone to positivity and completing tasks.  I started to notice that when I walked into the school, I was bracing myself for certain students to act out as they always had in the past.

However, in the training, we talked about not pre-judging our students and that has sat with me for a while. As much as I wanted to look at each student with new hope every day, I looked at them through my own survival mode. I noticed their misbehavior first, instead of the sharply-tuned skills they were trying to master. Most of their negative behaviors were their own survival modes. Some were guarding themselves from another person walking out of their lives, venting the overload of emotions from a dramatic day, or trying to navigate growing up. In those moments they were responding with their gifts and talents in the only way they knew how.

I wanted to guide them into finding positive outlets for their natural strengths for the betterment of the group.  I channeled my discouragement of loud students who always want to talk and be the center of attention to encouragement of the student’s talent for leadership and communication.  I would look at angry students who were always upset with someone, and value their passion for friendship and loyalty. When a student would act out and I was not able to reign them back in, we would step aside for a chat. I would tell them how thankful I was for their leadership, passion, etc., and I would make sure they knew how special their traits were. Then I would ask them to help me lead the classroom with respect and kindness. Then I would address their specific misbehavior.

With this change, I started to feel better when I looked at my students. I would look at them and see hope and possibilities. In addition, I now try daily to compliment each girl throughout the class time. I try to point out something positive in each one of them where everyone else can hear. In this way I am encouraging positive behaviors and building stronger relationships with my students.

Sadly, this story doesn’t end perfectly. A few of my students have been exited from the program for behavior issues, but each of them knew that I believed they could improve their behaviors and that I saw amazing gifts in them.  Through their behavior issues I had a chance to talk to them about their value and talents; this time was an opportunity we may not have had otherwise. I hope those seeds take root over time in their lives. However, I have still witnessed successes in each girl. When my girls start to get upset they will ask to speak with me so they can calm down and have a listening ear. These moments are huge successes for me because not only are they realizing that I care, but they are practicing a coping skill that will help them their whole lives.

They are learning to pause, take a breath, and communicate before acting out. In addition, one of my girls has opened up to me about her struggle to still be a good person. We are talking about all the good she is and wants to be, but she is struggling with navigating peer pressure and growing up. When she has a difficult behavior day, she always apologizes to me and we discuss what we can do for next time. That is such a big improvement, and I believe my curtailing judgement and giving of grace has helped this change take place.

My classroom is now a room where I give grace, highlight strengths, and start each day with new hope for each student! It does not always look neat, quiet and orderly but it is a place where each student is learning their value.

What action can you commit to trying to have a more positive influence on your youth?


Design for Change Global Conference – a Youth Perspective

March 7th, 2016

DESIGN FOR CHANGE (USA) is a global movement of young people who are changing the world!

This video shares a perspective from some of the students who attended in 2013.  Take a quick peek into what could be a life-changing experience for you and your team!

Learn more about how YOU can be the change here.


Design for Change USA Challenge Winning Project: Students Take on School Dropouts

February 29th, 2016

DESIGN FOR CHANGE (USA) is a global movement of young people who are changing the world!


We are pleased to share with you one of the Design for Change USA projects from young people across the nation.

What will you tackle to BE the CHANGE?

Find out what you need to do and how to enter here.

How to Teach Yourself to Live with Gratitude

February 26th, 2016

Research is revealing more and more the power of gratitude for our lives.  As a youth worker, if I want to pass on to my youth how to practice gratitude, then I need to practice it first myself.  Below is a link to a post I wrote on gratitude as a guest blogger for Church Press.  It shares the practice of reframing.



Design for Change USA Challenge: 5th Graders Tackle a Trap House

February 22nd, 2016

DESIGN FOR CHANGE (USA) is a global movement of young people who are changing the world!

Here is one of the Design for Change USA winning projects from young people across the nation. Check out what they did to make a real difference in their neighborhood!

DFC USA Winners 2014

Charles Rice Public School, Dallas

We hope you will join them in BEING THE CHANGE! Find out what you need to do and how to enter here.