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The Value of Self-Awareness
It is clear, listening to the evening news or reading the paper, that aggression, violence and self-destruction are growing throughout the United States and the world. According to social workers, tobacco and marijuana experimentation begins in the fourth grade, followed by inhalants, alcohol, and harder substances like cocaine and methamphetamine. In 2003, the US Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences stated: “Most types of antisocial behavior (e.g., aggression, bullying, violence) are already evident by third grade. Because middle childhood is a time when children’s beliefs about aggression and conflict resolution skills are developing, researchers have suggested that interventions aimed at preventing youth violence ought to begin at this time”.
By middle childhood (8 to 12 years of age), children should have well-developed skills of self-regulation, empathy, and caring. Many psychologists anticipate problem behaviors emerging in adolescence if these sociologic skills are not developed as expected. In fact, this is the case.
Many community agencies must focus on mitigating conditions after the fact. Drug and alcohol treatment centers attempt to rehabilitate individuals. Penal institutions lock up offenders. A variety of patches and techniques are available to help stop smoking. Weight loss clinics teach healthy eating habits.
More pro-active efforts are needed that positively impact the health and well being of children. Some school-based programs are in effect and some are effective. However, most of these drug, tobacco and health educational programs hold the information in a right-wrong, good-bad context. A child’s role in his or her future is often energized by threat and fear of the end result. Wholeschool offers a new, unique pro-active solution to this growing problem.
A Pro-Active Solution
Wholeschool, a nonprofit organization located in Spokane, Washington, provides courses in self-awareness to groups of children ages six to eleven, moving them toward self-appreciation, empathy and empowerment of others.
The program objectives are:
• Provide fun and engaging lesson for children as they explore who they are as human beings with children in four other locations via live web-conferencing.
• Guide these children to appreciate their bodies, minds, emotions and creative abilities.
• Create within these children an increased experience of self-esteem and empathy and affection for others
Wholeschool has created, produced and tested a course in self-awareness for elementary school-age children. Contained within a context called “The YETI Club”, this 12-lesson, six-week program is now available to children throughout North America. The next presentation will begin November 7 and end December 14. Another session will begin in January 2006 with new sessions following once a month. All that is needed to participate are 5 to 15 children who can gather around one computer with high-speed Internet connection and one facilitator.
The YETI Club is webcast live for one hour, twice a week. A Wholeschool Presenter presents material over the Internet to five groups of children in different geographic locations. Presentations are in multimedia format, with slideshows, videos, interactive presentations, animations, and stories with pictures. After each lesson presentation, a facilitator in each group helps children with an activity that allows children to experience and explore what they have been seeing and hearing. These activities are designed to be fun, interesting and provide a kinesthetic method of teaching the material.
For example, children learn about their miraculous organs and how the lungs, liver, kidneys, stomach and intestines work. They learn how they must take care of these organs by choosing the right foods and avoiding toxins. After learning about the complex function of the main organs of their body, children lie upon a large piece of paper and trace their body outline. Then they locate where on their body they learned that an organ is located, close their eyes, hold their hands over that body organ and picture it doing its job for a few moments before drawing and coloring it on their “paper you”.
Children also study their emotions and learn how their emotions protect them from harm. They watch a fun animated story about what goes on in a boy’s head when he hears a scary noise in his closet. Then they break into teams of two and paint an emotion on the other’s face while he or she tries to guess which emotion is being painted.
They learn of other cultures with their similarities (all bodies are the same inside and all have very similar facial expression from emotions) yet there are very different ways of living (houses, food, customs and art are different). They explore creativity and learn that everyone is creative. They take on the assignment of “Creativity Detective” and interview ten people to discover what is creative in each of them.
They then begin to distinguish their “self”—their body, their personality, their abilities and those things that may extend beyond their body, like their clothes, family and football team. They begin to observe themselves protecting all parts of their self.
Wholeschool provides all materials for children’s activities, a webcam for each group so children can be seen and heard. Facilitators are trained and receive a notebook containing a description of each day’s lessons and activities.
Self-awareness without judgment results in the “self” showing up only when appropriate and moving to the background naturally during other times, such as during play, sports activities and creativity. This state of being, known by athletes as the “zone”, allows natural capabilities to be expressed without the destructive judgmental comments often introduced by the self when it is present in the foreground.
Wholeschool’s self-awareness course encourages children to adopt self-regulation, empathy, and caring behaviors thereby reducing the potential risk factors of substance abuse, family conflict, and academic failure in late elementary school age children. Valuable insights often come to children that reveal deeper understanding of themselves and why they act and react as they do.
For example, a fifth grade teacher at Broadway Elementary in Spokane shared his experience as a facilitator of a pilot YETI Club program. A problematic student in his class had a breakthrough during the lessons on the body. The student shared with that he had a hole in his kidney that lead to further dialog. After this concerned exchange, the teacher reported a complete positive shift in their relationship and later this student became a leader on his basketball team.
The Director of School Indigo, a private elementary school in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho wrote, “The YETI Club was a great after school experience. I would highly recommend this program to any facility with a group of elementary school age children. The interaction with other locations was very fun for our students. We used our computer skills and our geography to figure out where our friends were located. The materials provided were very easy to use. The amount of preparation needed was minimal and the lessons were excellent. The children were very engaged in the process. The Club provided an identity for the students that encouraged cooperation and sharing.”
Three Boys and Girls Clubs in Washington State have participated in previous YETI Club programs, and all have enthusiastically approved the program. One facilitator said "The YETI Club 'IS' the mission of The Boys and Girls Clubs."
Wholeschool is presently developing a plan to measure the effectiveness of the program with the help of a professional outside evaluator. Two sets of outcomes will be evaluated. The first set is knowledge based associated with the curriculum. These outcomes are:
• Knowledge and appreciation of the body, its organs and their function.
• Knowledge and understanding of the emotions, their effect upon the body and their purpose.
• Knowledge and appreciation of the brain, its ability to think, form beliefs and to create.
• A beginning sense of “the self” and how this might be distinguished.
The second set of outcomes relate at attitude and behavior. These outcomes are:
• An improvement in physical well being, such as improved eating habits, rejection of drugs, tobacco and alcohol and increased physical activities.
• An improvement in emotional well being, such as self-esteem, general happiness and outlook on the future.
• An improvement in interaction with others, including behavior in the classroom toward teachers, at home with family members and with friends during play.
• A shift in attention from individual self outward, toward others and their world.
The first set of outcomes is measurable through surveys and interviews. The second set is more subjective and relies upon the perceptions of others and the perceptions of the child. However, certain aspects of these outcomes are measurable through statistics such as reduction in aggressive behavior, and improved school attendance and school performance.
About the Author: Robert N. Hager, Ph.D. is the founder and executive director of Wholeschool.org. He has a B.S. degree in Engineering Mechanics from the Georgia Institute of Technology, an M.S. degree in Physics from San Diego State University and a Ph.D. in Aerospace Engineering from the University of Florida. Dr. Hager has thirty years of experience in creating, operating and building businesses. He has experience in education and curriculum development as well. Much information on homeschool curriculum and character education lesson plans is available from the Wholeschool website at www.Wholeschool.org.