Making Space

August 24th, 2019

As I sit here next to my window and sitting at this little desk/office/ spiritual place my wife and I created last weekend. It was one of those moments where she offered, “Hey do you want to move the living room around?” We have talked about it before but you know, you have to be in a good mood and feeling good to do practice Feng Shui. Is that what you say? I remember my choir director changed his office around and said he chose the colors intentionally to bring positive energy into the room. Or something like that. And to change and move things around is figuratively empowering and rejuvenating. By letting go of some things or if you don’t throw things away, you can give them away or put them in a closet (if  you have space and no time). But, besides the point, I have been wanting to sit near the window and because I read writers views on how your physical space can positively affect your writing and affect the way you feel, which then has the domino effect of helping you become more productive. If your area feels yummy then you will want to spend time there. Thats what this little corner is for me. It’s by the window, still connected and close to where my wife will be sitting and still part of the living room, compared to where my current desk/our dining table is-which is close to the wall near the kitchen. Ya know, a dining room. We had it like a ding room table before but then moved it to where it is now and it also feels very good to have a space for my office and to help us stay organized with important documents and materials like the colorful sharpies and kitty cat stamps and the pink stapler, (There is a stapler story but that’s for later…) I am grateful for all of the writers who have been inspiring to me who write about the writing process such as Anne Lamott and Dani Shapiro. They write the way that I do and even more free and clear. I am a writer and want to continue to write everyday and publish and share it. Either now or for my book. Also, I love that our diffuser is here with our essential oils nearby in a small cup. The cup actually used to be a jar for delicious gelato ice cream and I saved them when I was a preschool teacher and have ever since..even though my wife  said it’s trash.recyclables can become treasure!) See the picture below! For me, I need to engage my senses in order to be calm, regulated, and focused. 

The senses always come back to everything I do and everything that I am! We also have music on, the natural light coming through the window, my little buddha candle to my left and an Indian goddess to my right. Behind my computer, holding us, is our family. Thank you universe for my life, my family, my wife, my friends, and myself. I am truly grateful for you and trust and know that everything in my life is for a reason to affect something else. Last night, we met Alexandra Billings, and she is from transparent It was at this fundraising event for Penny Lane Foundation that supports children and youth and families LGBTQ+. We were invited by a parent from the toddler transition class. It’s funny because we totally forgot about it and then when I remembered, there were so many things that evening but I knew I needed and wanted to go to it. It was great to be together in this profound place and where it was meaningful for us and our future.  

Here’s to making space (literally and figuratively) in our environments and in our daily lives for ourselves. when we can make space for ourselves, we can let go of what we don’t need and create more of what we do want and then we will be more able to share our space with others. The old saying, filling our cup up first so that we can have enough to fill others up too..Or just be there as fully present as we can for others.

Thank you and love you! Sending light and love to you!

Love,

Rachael 

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Meditation is Magic

I feel like I always start my writing by taking a deep inhale, a deep breath. I also usually write that as the first two words but instead I decided to just talk about it. I’m not sure how much I have talked about meditation and mindfulness and the way it helps me everyday. But I had a realization last night when I was laying in bed next to my wife, is that since I was a child, I somewhat meditated. One day, I took a shower and had a feeling like what if I just tell my mind not to think the thoughts and just be. I don’t know how old I was but I definitely was old enough to take a shower by myself and young enough to not know what it was called or that meditation and mindfulness already exists. Funny how I am wearing a Hogwarts t-shirt that one of my good friends bought me at this moment and can see the reflection of the sorting hat on my computer. It makes me smile as I know in my heart and in my gut that magic does exist. It exists when you are open to it, it exists if you truly believe, it exists if you know the secret to life which is that we create our own reality by our thoughts and actions, it exists if you practice meditation on a daily basis (or as much as you possibly can). It exists if you exist. Trust yourself, trust when you know you need to put the phone down and take some time to breathe, sit, observe, and solely be. I promise those couple of minutes will enhance your mood, your way of being, and how you react and relate to others. The more we practice mindfulness and meditation, the more we are able to access this non-attached, presence which will positively effect our daily lives. I am grateful for my brain and body and for the existence of meditation and for you. Thank you for reading and have a magical mindful day!

The Magic Blanket

Mmm the Magic Blanket. Sounds magical right? Well it definitely is. It can transport you anywhere you would like to go while feeling safe, contained, and connected. This is a special tool that is very well known to Dance/Movement Therapists and perhaps other expressive art therapists, educators, or occupational therapists. I discovered this Body Band at an Expressive Arts Summit in New York a couple of years ago. The creative art therapists played in one of these to explore the benefits of it. I remember seeing these adults smiling and moving slowly in one of these props in the convention center near the bathroom. Of course I had to join in on the fun and once inside, I felt transported to a place of peace. I could see how this would be amazing for all humans but especially children. The year after this, I made the best purchase in my life and bought one at the Dance Therapy conference in San Diego.

Once I brought the body band to my classroom of toddlers at my previous preschool, Buckle My Shoe, the children and I named it the magic blanket. It definitely feels magical. While playing and using our imaginations inside of them, we take a journey to different places such as the ocean, a cave, or just a pure joyful game of hide and seek. The texture of the blanket is stretchy and it can envelope you or if you choose, you can keep it open. I have found that it is helpful for children who want to be part of the group but also want space to themselves. Through many experiences with the magic blanket, children and adults navigate the world balancing to interact or not to in social situations. To be with others or to be alone. We all have to manage this all of the time and it isn’t easy to do so all of the time. Sometimes we have to be around others even when we don’t feel like it. We also learn how to balance inter/intra personal skills and the magic blanket is an amazing way to do so.

We are also learning how to take turns, manage problem solving skills, and listening to your body to see what feels good and what doesn’t. When I come into work now at the preschool that I currently work at, the children of all ages come up to me asking for the magic blanket. Even though sometimes it feels like it’s a big deal to bring it out, I always remember that it is so exciting and fun for the children and that if they are enjoying something, it also means they’re learning. Today, when I brought it out for the children, We first tried to all go inside of it together. Then, once that there were about 8-10 kids squished next to each other’s bodies and all huddle together like they were porcupines in the winter, one of the children who is four years old said, “There are too many people in here.” I was amazed that she was able to express herself in that way instead of getting upset and just crying or pushing a child or exhibiting any other negative response. But then again, four year olds are much more verbal and self-aware than my little two year olds. So once she said that, I supported her completely and agreed. We all got out for a moment and then we talked about how many children do we think should be in at one time. Somehow we agreed and the quickest four kiddos were the lucky ones to try it first!

We took turns counting to 5 while one group was inside and they got to hide underneath it and have it fully covered. Also the first time that we did it, I was inside with them and then when we split the groups, I stood outside watching. This was a key part as well because I am always learning as a teacher how to balance interacting with the kids and joining, guiding them, and knowing when to step aside and really allow them to play on their own. Wow it really does come back to that idea of being with others and being away. Observing or Joining.

After the children took turns, the teachers came and said, “two more minutes left to play.” I made sure to tell them okay this is your last turn as a group and then the other group’s last turn too. I’m always trying to make sure to give warnings and sing songs during transitions with children. That has become one of my pet peeves when teachers don’t always give the children a heads up about what is happening. They are people too and need to know what is going on in their day. I am like that and I am 29 years old! Anywho, I know it gets tough to always sing the song or inform the children of what is next, but when we do it often, it becomes a habit and the children expect it too. Plus, telling them ahead of time, helps avoid tantrums and sad kiddos.

Lastly, it was time to say goodnight to the magic blanket and we said thank you to it as well. I put it back in my special white bag in the cupboard as the children ran to catch up to their teachers.

I am very grateful to 1. Have obtained my own magic blanket (body band) and to 2. Share it with the children at my school. It gets hard to be creative as a teacher and I am always thinking about new experiences to provide for them. I also forget that they help us be creative. If we fully listen to them and to their ideas and what they have to say, then our jobs will be easier, more fun, and more effective. Also, there are SO many ways to achieve inter/intra personal skills with children whether you have the body blanket or not. But making sure that we are always thinking about how do the children learn to be independent and social, and how do we help them learn what they need to be in social situations, whether it’s to have some space first, to take deep breaths, to ask for some sensory input from their teachers, etc. One way to support them in this, it by making sure to have a cozy area in the classroom is VERY important!

Ahhh. Well it feels so good to write and share about my day. I want to write everyday like Teacher Tom does. I know it will only make me a better teacher and a better human.

Check out the Magic Blanket and other sensory products here!

Thank you everything and everyone.

Love Rachael

The Tire Swing: Where learning and play happens

Ever since I was a kid, I always found tire swings to be exciting and fun! I remember when we had one for a little bit and it was the highlight of my day. It is such a simple-open ended material that is recycled but has so much power in bringing joy, movement, creativity, imagination, and problem solving and more!

Everyday, I attend a school with my client as his 1:1/Aide/Developmental specialist. My purpose is to support him in his transitions, seeing when his body is demonstrating he is becoming dysregulated and then helping him become aware of that and supporting him in finding other ways to express and calm himself instead of using his body to hurt others or any materials.

The school that he attends is all about social/emotional learning and there are two super clear “agreements” that they remind the children of:

1. Take care of the people

2. Take care of the things

The structure of the day is pretty typical to preschool settings and since they have an expansive playground, most of the time they spend is outside (depending on the weather of course). One of the tools that I use with my client and now he expects it, is a map. in the beginning of the year, we would do what everyone else did-Go outside, wait in line, get sunscreen, and go play on the lower yard of their playground. Now, there is an AMAZING dirt hill that used to be my client’s favorite place to play in. He could use the water from the hose and create dams with his peers and could get as messy as he wanted to! Even though going to the lower yard worked for awhile for him, it did take a lot of effort on my end to make sure he was being safe with others and that he was able to take turns with the people and use his words with them. After the first few months of school had passed and everyone became more comfortable, it was time for the whole school to allow the children to use the entire yard and go wherever they please as long as there wasn’t a cone in that area (which means that it is closed.)

Unfortunately, we had a change in our schedule due to my client having some particular difficult moments where he hurt others at school when he was feeling frustrated, dysregulated, and when his family was also going through transitions of their own. Since the school was worried about both my client and the other children at their school, they decided it would be best if he only had a half-day since they believed the incidences were due to the school being too big for him and the outside time being part of that challenge.

As time went on, my supervisor and I came up with a plan for my client that in order to avoid as many transitions, that I would help him in creating a map before going outside to the yard to play and start the outside time with a small group of peers where he can engage with others but on a smaller level than having to find someone to play with in a large space. His peers like to join us in making the map as well or at least in seeing what he put on it as they also seem to enjoy predictability, and I mean cmon, maps are pretty cool.

My client has come a long way and is now the one who draws the map pretty much on his own and he numbers them 1-4 of the choices he wants to play at. I also remind him to add in getting his backpack and then going to read books where we meet his parents at pick-up time. This map has become very helpful and has shown us that he does better with a plan and when he knows what to expect. Of course, things still happen but the difficult behaviors do occur less.

We all do best when we know what is going to happen-I have my calendar in my phone that I totally rely on everyday to know what is my schedule! If something changes or gets cancelled, I survive but I do have to pause and breathe and calm myself down to an extent. Change is hard and children do really well with knowing what to expect and usually LOVE making a plan/map.

The place my client loves going to the most is the tire swing. He joins his peers on there by asking who is going to start the swinging, who is going to slow it down, and who will stop it. I have helped him navigate this with his peers as well as reminding them to say if someone wants to get off or not. My client is now able to see from afar if there are three peers on the tire swing or not which then lets him know if there is space for him or not. Before, I was there to remind him that there were people on there and that he had to wait his turn. Supporting and developing Communication is a huge part of my work with my clients who have Autism. By providing them with various options of ways in communicating to his peers, they are able to have a tool box in their memory of ways that help them stay regulated and in getting what they need without using their body to express it.

The swinging of the tire is a safe haven for my client. Sometimes they pretend it is an airplane. Sometimes they pretend it is a jet, a boat, or a star wars ship. And sometimes, it is just a place for them to receive vestibular movement together, in a shared space, to either talk or not talk. Through this shared experience, they are navigating problem solving, communication, and critical thinking while also receiving sensory input in a playful way!

It is my pleasure to be able to observe, support, and engage with my client and his peers at his school and to continue to learn about myself as a therapist, a human, a teacher, and a playmate.

With love and positivity,

Rachael Anne Singer


Connecting through Dance

Every week I get the opportunity to support a 7 year old girl who has Autism Spectrum Disorder. She teaches me so much and it is always a joy to be with her. Not only am I utilizing DIR-Floortime Therapy, but I am also incorporating Dance/Movement Therapy in our sessions. She enjoys bouncing on her large ball to classical music and has a love for gross movement (running, jumping, climbing) but has difficulty moving to the rhythm and being more in her body. Since I have been with her for a couple of months now, we have a routine of what our session looks like. It varies every time of course, but she does like structure and routine and does better when we do some things that are the same and than also add in variation to help her to become more flexible and expand her experience.

Now when I come over, after we make a plan, either I will ask her if she wants to dance or she’ll go to my bag of tricks and take the drum out herself or my scarves and say in her limited speech, ” I play drum.” Her language and her ability to relate to others has improved so much.

We are constantly working with her to support her in expressing her emotions and feel more comfortable with the difficult feelings (is: sad and mad). The games that we “play” incorporate Zones of Regulation to further develop her awareness of feelings. We want to help her identify where they are in her body and to help alleviate the ick she has associated with feelings and support her to see that all feelings are important and we all experience them in different ways.

The games we play that now incorporate my Dance Therapy props all stemmed from her interests and previous games she has played with her other therapists.

One game we often play that utilizes Movement, feelings, and music, doesn’t have a name but we use this great number rug that they have. It is somewhat similar to the game we all know as Twister. Basically, one person sits on the couch (also sometimes with my Native American drum) and chooses either a number or a color that is on the rug and the other person has to jump to that space and then sometimes, pick up the color scarf that is on top of that, usually matching the color. I also have been including zones of regulation into our games, especially this one. When she picks up the scarves or when she drops them for me to pick them up, I embody the emotion that that color represents in the zones (ie: Blue: Sad, Red: Angry/frustrated, Green: Happy/Content, Yellow: Scared/Anxious, Purple: Excited).

I demonstrate each emotion using my facial expressions and my body language and either lower my whole body and curve my shoulders inward and change my face to sad by lowering my mouth and eyes, and move slower and then I say, “Oh blue, Sad.” Or if it is a green scarf, I move my shoulders back, stand taller, smile with my mouth and eyes and use a brighter tone to say, “Green-Happy!” The goal is to support her in becoming more in tune with her emotions and what better way to teach that but through movement and sound all under the umbrella of play.

In addition, during the moments that are difficult that sometimes occur in our sessions, we model and guide her then too on how to express herself in a clear and kind way. Through the different activities we do, I am always looking at things from a movement perspective as well as seeing the therapeutic play elements as well.

I am so grateful to be doing what I do and supporting children in learning how to better express themselves! Thanks for reading and feel free to comment with any questions or thoughts you might have!

Love and light,

Rachael Anne Singer

When your client does you a favor to help you slow down…

Ice pack on my pink and white striped socks that have foxes on them

Haven’t brushed my teeth yet

Chapped Lips

Dried tears turned into deep breaths 

You never realize how truly grateful you are for your body until something happens to it that gets in the way of you living your life. That’s why I think it makes sense why people who have had near death experiences or illnesses, tend to become very spiritual. We feel like we might be taking life for granted, our bodies for granted once we know what happens when you are limited to living life the way you were living it.

I had a foot injury the other day while at work. Even though the chair fell on my foot from a child who was angry/dysregulated, I don’t have negative feelings towards him. I know that this type of thing can and does happen with children with behavioral challenges and am surprised honestly that this is the first time its happened to me.

I mean, I have been hit and kicked before, (multiple times) but never have I had an injury at work from a child that made me really need to take time to rest. I have had so many emotions and feelings about this. One, I am so lucky and grateful for my family and for Jess who have been taking care of me and for stopping their daily lives to take care of me. While also, I hate that I need others to do things for me. But it does feel good to be loved and to have people who care about you. It’s about this child who has difficulty not using his body when he’s angry and how can I best support him and help him express himself better while also protecting myself and teaching him to not hurt others.

Thank you universe. Thank you everyone and everything. It’s another great reminder to slow down and take care of your mind, body, and heart. Thank you for this great lesson in caring for myself while also letting others care for me too and literally, staying off my feet.

Feet up, and loving the foot, icing the foot, bathing the foot, and thanking it for all that it always does for me and how much we use it on a daily basis and depend on them. Thank you to my entire body and all that it does everyday for me. 

Thank you and thank your bodies!

Love,

Rachael Anne Singer

Come Fly With Me

Everyday in some way or another, I get the chance to pretend to fly around the world with my co-pilot also known as my 10 year old client.

We dive into the sky together and learn and practice how to be co-pilots. We navigate sharing our ideas and expressing ourselves to each other when we need to express how we feel-physically, emotionally, and mentally in that moment.

This week is when this game really came to life. I arrived at their house as usual and got there a bit before the family did. I have come to the realization, it’s better for my client when he has some time to get settled at home before seeing me at their house or even inside of it if their nanny is home as well. After I arrived, I waited and gave a heads up to the family to know I will be waiting in my car for that reason as well. They agreed and when they came, I gave them time to get settled.

It turned out that he was playing a game in his families new mini van. He was climbing all over it and had an entire game by himself and was possibly playing this with his family before. I saw his dad and I waved and said hello and his dad gave him the heads up also that I was near and asked him if he wanted to tell me about his game.

He quickly dove into the whole story and seemed excited to share his game with me. He told me that he was looking to see what is wrong with the engine of the airplane and that he had to check it and that the airplane was miles and miles up in the sky.

I quickly put my bag down and joined his play by walking up to the car and began to attune to his body movements and noticing where he is as far as regulation while also listening to his words and being fully engaged and showing that in my face.

This is not always easy to do, but as a Dance/Movement therapist, I am able to access this other non-verbal expression and to mirror them, observe it, and depending on the person, one would either join the movement and copy what they are doing exactly or one might take on the energy of the person and either do the same or the opposite as they are. There is some great information about this in the Kestenburg Movement Profile! Check it out!

Throughout our game of airplane, we would go back and forth pretending and also then talking about our ideas for the game. This helps to give him perspective and to move from one part of the game to the next in a fluid way.

Once I noticed he was ready for me to join him, I asked if I can ride the airplane with him. He said yes and that I was his co-pilot. He told me we were Trying to fix the engine and that we won’t be rescued for 10 days and then had to wonder what we would do until we got rescued. We found food to eat in the airplane, we discovered a person who was flying through the air and who he named, “Molly.” And then made some calls to the airport using our pretend walkie talkies and asked for them to come rescue us.

Therapist: Do we have any passengers?

Child: No.

Therapist: Oh good, because they might be worried about when they need to land

Child: (Smiled) Actually yes. There are passengers. Can you say the words for them and be worried?

Therapist: Sure but where did the passengers come from?

Child: One was flying in the sky and he came onto our airplane with a parachute

Therapist: (Moves own shoulders to show relief) Oh good glad he is safe. Okay let’s play.

Throughout our “flight”, we would go in and out of playing pretend and also talking about the game itself. This seems to help him get from point A to point B and so on. I’m learning that he sometimes needs support of new ideas to expand his thinking and understanding and to make connections in the game so that it makes sense and that it has a beginning, middle, and end. He tends to have a hard time getting to the end of the game and perhaps, one way to look at this, (but not the only way!) is that he 1. can’t come up with other ways of resolving the conflict and 2. endings are difficult for all of us.

I would support him through the play to get to the rescuing part and ask how will we be rescued. He found a scooter in the mini van and we pretended that was the airplane to rescue us and take us and Ollie back to the airport and then home.

It was such a fun game that he asked to play it again the next day. Throughout our time together, We explore how to be together and how to handle conflicts or different ideas we might have. This is the work of floor-time Therapy combined with dance/Movement Therapy!

Can’t wait to take another flight with my co-pilot and explore being stuck on an airplane or being stuck in relationship together or stuck in our emotions and learning how to move through it together to have a safe journey home!