I have been a child and family therapist for 25 years, using Gestalt play therapy as a primary intervention. In 2011, I began working with the MindUP program, learning how to teach kids about their brain, and developing a curriculum for parents. When I created FocusedKids™ four years ago, my work with MindUP and the use of their materials in my practice with kids convinced me that learning about the brain and using mindful techniques was invaluable and very empowering to growing children. Perhaps most impactful was a visit to the Momentous School in Dallas, Texas. There I watched 3-year-olds sit quietly, eyes closed, in their circles for three minutes before joyfully heading off for a day of preschool challenges. I was truly awed. They also understood their brains enough to verbalize that their amygdala was out of control when they felt dysregulated. I wanted that for our community of preschoolers!
In January 2013, an opportunity presented itself to offer a class to a local preschool. We called it “social-emotional” training, and the very simple lessons included learning about the brain and a few mindfulness techniques. The goal was to help reduce stress in a population of kids from families who experience daily trauma and extreme stress. Within a couple of weeks, we were hearing from parents. They asked, “What are you teaching my child?” “He’s telling me ‘mommy; you need to take a breath!’” And “I want to learn about this.” Together with the kids, we taught the parents. The need was clear, and we still teach both kids and parents today.
In year four, the lessons have grown a bit. We use puppets to teach the brain concepts, and we added a feelings awareness lesson. And the Calm Down Basket has a pivotal place in the classroom, as well as in the home. Kids learn more than a few calming and focusing techniques to help them master the art of self-regulation. They can practice these whenever they need on their own, or by going to the Calm Down Basket, choosing a tool, and using it to help themselves calm down or re-focus. Now we watch our 3-4-year-olds sit quietly in their circles, eyes closed, using their focusing tools to get ready to start their day! They are more aware of themselves, and others around them, and are able to focus their attention on the task that is in front of them.
Two years ago, during a site visit with a group from the Harvard Center for the Developing Child, the group witnessed our 3 and 4-year-olds, without disruption, going to the “Calm Down Basket.” Kids did this voluntarily, with no help from a teacher, and when finished returned to the class activity. Harvard liked this, and since then we have been collaborating with Harvard’s Foundations of Innovation to develop an evaluation plan. Our first pilot study will began in the fall of 2018 in the Roaring Fork School District.
Our work is informed by lots of great experts in the field, including Susan Kaiser Greenland, Mindful Child and Mindful Games, Dr. Amy Saltzman, Still Quiet Place, Tina Payne Bryson, Whole Brain Child and The Yes Brain, and Christopher Willard, Growing Up Mindful, just to name a few. If you decide to try FocusedKids™, take the “curriculum” I have written down and make it yours. To be successful in the way we have, we think you need to first have your own mindfulness practice (even if it is 10 minutes a day). The lessons are spelled out, and videos of each lesson will be available on the website. The bottom line is that you are unique in how you will teach, and that is great! Use the strategies and exercises for yourself and the kids in your care and enjoy. I know it will make a difference in both your’s and those kids’ lives.
Amanda grew up in St. Louis, Mo and found her dream destination when she moved to Durango, Colorado in 1998. There she attended Fort Lewis College. Amanda grew up with a passion of becoming a teacher and a love of kids.
In 2004, Amanda began working as a kindergarten teacher at Basalt Elementary School in Basalt, Colorado. For the past 12 years, she has taught first grade at BES. During her time at Basalt Elementary School, Amanda has been a leader in promoting and teaching programs that give students the tools they need to function social-emotionally so they are ready for academic success. These programs include MindUP, Capturing Kids Hearts, and FocusedKids™. Currently, Amanda is using FocusedKids™ lessons on a daily basis, which her students will tell you, help their brains work better, help them be focused on learning, and calm down when necessary.
After seeing the success that FocusedKids™ has brought to the students in her classroom, Amanda is at a point in her career where she is ready to share what she has learned with others in new capacities. She wants to use the tools she has gained from all of her years of teaching and the tools of FocusedKids™ to reach families and teachers so they can have the same success.
Since beginning her relationship with Kathy Hegberg, founder of FocusedKids™, she has had the opportunity to help Kathy grow and develop FocusedKids™. In the fall of 2017, she attended a science-based innovation training at Harvard University with Kathy. There she was part of a 3-day workshop presented by Harvard’s Center on the Developing Child. There they worked on developing FocusedKids™ with the research-based mindset of The Theory of Change.
Amanda is excited to continue on the journey of FocusedKids™. As well as working alongside Kathy, she will also begin her Masters of Arts degree in the fall of 2018. Her program will have an emphasis on clinical mental health.
I was born and raised in Peru, and I moved to the United States in 2009. Since the first minute I arrived in the Roaring Fork Valley, I knew this place was my home and have lived here ever since. I believe education is the engine that gives people the power to grow and enrich their lives as human beings. In 2014, I obtained my Associate's Degree in Arts with emphasis in Psychology from Colorado Mountain College. While pursuing my degree, I had the opportunity to work with first generation college Latino students who were facing difficulties adapting to the demands of post-secondary studies. This experience gave me a glimpse into the socio-economic barriers that the Latino community encounters daily in this Valley.
Since an early age, helping the most vulnerable has been my passion. In 2017, my dream came true when the Family Resource Center hired me to work as Family Liaison for Basalt Elementary School. Since then, my role has been to liaise families with community resources to help their children succeed academically. Our goal is to reduce or remove any socio-economic barrier that prevents children from focusing on their education. In that endeavor, the Family Resource Center is continually training its staff to serve our families in a better capacity. One of the trainings we received was the FocusedKids curriculum, which we share with the families we are working with. Ever since, I've been captivated by how fun, easy, and effective the FocusedKids content is to teach. During the last several years, in coordination with the FocusedKids team and Family Resource Center, I've had the opportunity to share the FocusedKids curriculum with parents of students in the Roaring Fork School District. During these parent classes, I became devoted to this program because I have witnessed its effectiveness firsthand.
While working at the Family Resource Center, I noticed the huge need for professionals to help the Latino community in the social-emotional area, and felt that I needed to do something about it. As a result, I enrolled in the Social Work Program at Metropolitan State University and continue to work with this population in a professional capacity.
I feel grateful that FocusedKids identified the same need in the Latino community and allows me to work with this population while I complete my social work degree. I am beyond excited to begin this journey.