Meet Jess Mcilveen of Kids Yoga Therapy: an incredible resource for kids with special needs

‘I am here to revolutionise the way we heal and transform the minds and lives of our children and teens with special needs and who’ve been affected by trauma.’ – Jess Mcilveen, Owner of Kids Yoga Therapy

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At mini Nanny Agency we understand the varied dynamics that can exist in different families, including the unique challenges (and joys!) that families with special needs children often face.

That means we are always on the look out for incredible resources for our mini families, and Jess, of Kids Yoga Therapy is one of the best out there! As a social worker and an incredible yogi, she’s tuned into the needs of kids who may struggle with anxiety, have special needs or been affected by trauma.

Here’s Jess’ story.

How did you find yourself as a social worker AND a yoga instructor?

As a child I was surrounded by depression, anxiety, suicide and addiction, which left me feeling helpless. This ultimately led me to becoming a social worker, as I wanted to be the guiding force for children who felt lost and alone.

After a few years working in Child Safety and Foster Care I realised that the services we were using weren’t teaching children techniques that could help them when they felt scared, fearful or angry.

About this time I started to have anxiety and panic attacks, which was utterly terrifying for me. I didn’t want to take medication so I committed to daily meditation and yoga. I was absolutely astounded when after a week and a half the scary sensations disappeared!

While travelling in Italy I came to the realisation that I no longer wanted to be a social worker. One day a friend said to me, ‘Why don’t you do yoga and meditation with the children you want to work with?’ My head began spinning. Could I really do that?

After some intense research, I booked my flights and enrolled in a Children’s Yoga Course. Kids Yoga Therapy was born two months later.

What impact has yoga had in your life?

When I started experiencing panic and anxiety attacks, I was terrified. I couldn’t eat, sleep or function and I was too scared to be alone with my thoughts.

Yoga and meditation absolutely changed my life. Once I started regularly practicing, the scary sensations disappeared. And now, when they show up again, I have tools that I trust and that I know work.

After my experience, I went through all the research available on the impacts of yoga and medication for special needs and trauma and it’s conclusive – it helps!


How do yoga and social work complement each other?

As a social worker I want to empower people to find solutions that work for them so they can live their best life possible, regardless of what they have experienced. Yoga complements this because it’s about finding the solutions within yourself.


How can yoga help kids who suffer from anxiety or trauma, or who have other special needs?

Yoga helps kids by reconnecting them with their bodies and bringing them back to the present moment. Yoga also works with breath, which is crucial in strengthening the relaxation response in the nervous system. This response is weakened when children have experienced trauma or anxiety.

Anxiety is future focussed, so bringing children back to the present moment with their body and breath helps reduce the anxious state of body and mind.


What kinds of programs does Kids Yoga Therapy offer?

Our main program is an eight-week whole family support package. This includes one-on-one sessions with the child, and access to the Parent Support Collective, which is coached by myself.


What impact has Kids Yoga Therapy had on your families?

The techniques I teach help kids face their fears. For example, a child who was attacked by a dog can now walk into a house with dogs without going into a fear meltdown.

We have also been able to help children who struggled to communicate their feelings find new methods to do so. And foster children who have participated in our programs now have learning tools to help them when they feel overwhelmed by the unpredictability in their world.


What is the most rewarding part of being a yoga teacher and working with kids?

Seeing children’s proud happy faces when they tell me how brave they have been in situations that previously would have left them overwhelmed with fear, and being able to support families during times of turmoil – these are the things that make me feel fulfilled as a yoga teacher and a social worker. Plus, working with children brings out my inner child, which I love!

If you’d like to know more about how Jess can help you or your family, she’d love to hear from you. Reach out here. And we always love to hear from our mini families at mini too! Drop us a line or give us a ring for a chat anytime!

6 Mindfulness Practices To Teach Your Minis

 
Teaching Mindfulness to your minis

I’m sure you’ve heard the buzzword, ‘mindfulness’ being thrown around lately and for good reason. A mindfulness practice has proven to increase mental health and cognitive function, increased emotional regulation and self-control, and a decrease of stress and psychological distress in adults.

 

What exactly does it mean to be mindful?

Mindfulness is the state of being fully awake to life and being aware and focused on the present rather than thinking about the past or worrying about the future, which often is our brain’s default mode. It's the human ability to be fully present in the moment and to be aware of ourselves and the space we occupy without being overly reactive to thoughts, emotions, or other stimuli.

In children specifically, mindfulness has shown to mitigate the effects of bullying, enhance focus in children with ADHD, and improve mental health and social skills. Teaching children how to practice mindfulness will set your children up with a strong foundation for emotional mitigation, empathy, and focusing techniques they will need later in life.

Michelle Moloney Yoga

The best thing parents and nannies can do to help children establish a mindfulness practice is by committing to a practice yourself, and role modelling your behaviour. Headspace is our favourite guided meditation app for a hectic schedule. All you need is a comfortable space and 5-10 minutes for your meditation with this app. You can also find community events for meditation classes and workshops in your area.

Mindfulness Practices for you children

Try not to complicate mindfulness activities with your children. Establishing a mindfulness routine takes significant time and practice, and is especially beneficial to you and your minis if you practice together. You can use these exercises before doing homework, settling down for bedtime, or getting over a fear or uncomfortable moments.

Mindful Hearing

Annaka Harris is a children’s book author and a volunteer mindfulness teacher for the Inner Kids Organisation. She has a guided mindful hearing meditation activity on her website that encourages children to guess the sources of a wide range of sounds to improve concentration. With practice, children can implement mindful hearing in their daily lives to connect them to the present.

Mindfulness With Children

Mindful Play

This is an activity the whole family can partake in. Dedicate a block of time for mindful play with your children by tuning out all distractions and making it a tech-free zone. If you find your mind wandering, simply bring it back to the present sensations of being with your child.

Mindful Cooking

Cooking is a whole sensory experience and a great way to spend quality time together for some mindful play. You can help your mini notice colours, smells, textures, and sounds in the kitchen.

Mindfulness with your kids

Mindful Breathing

Deep and slow breathing stimulates the nerve that connects the brainstem to the heart, lungs, and organs in the abdomen, the vagus nerve (part of the parasympathetic nervous system). In addition to slowing the heart rate, the vagus nerve controls the release of various neurotransmitters.

Left Brain Buddha shares a video of her son teaching different styles of mindfulness breathing. It helps your children visualise their breath and gives them something to focus their attention on. This is a skill they can take anywhere to relax both the body and mind in times of stress, pain, or concentration.

Mindful Stroll

Take your mindfulness practice outdoors with and engage your “spidey-senses.” You can both point out observations you’ve never noticed before in the neighbourhood and then commit another portion of your walk to complete silence simply noticing the sights, sounds, and smells from your walk.

Mindfulness Journals

This is where you can let your child’s creativity run free with their mindfulness practice. You can both commit to a mindfulness journal where you write or draw the things you’ve noticed on your mindful stroll.

The journal can also be a gratitude space where you write or draw something you are grateful for that day. Practising gratitude enhances empathy and reduces aggression. According to a study published in Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being, people who practice gratitude journaling have better sleep.


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How to Raise Your Kids to Love Maths (even if you don’t)

 
how to raise your kids to love maths

Maths is that subject that kids either really love, or makes kids and even adults want to rip their hair out. Whether we like it or not, maths extends beyond the classroom into everyday life and developing a strong understanding of the basics of mathematics will be an asset in your child’s development. 

You’ve probably heard the saying “I’m not a maths person.” It’s one of those self-fulfilling prophecies if you find your child repeating the mantra. In a 2007 National Institutes of Health Public Access Twin Study the results estimate that genes account for 32%-45% of mathematical skill at the age 10. [see our article here on how intelligence is inherited from our mothers] This means that 55% to 68% of mathematical skill must come from other factors such as an individual’s interest and effort. These studies prove that inborn talent has much less of an impact than hard-work and self-confidence in higher test results. So if you and your child aren’t “maths people” good news, you can learn to love it and excel at it! 

What makes maths so difficult to grasp? 

Young boy frustrated at maths

Math seems difficult because it takes a lot time and energy to fully comprehend abstract ideas. Abstraction in mathematics is the process of extracting the underlying essence of a mathematical concept and removing any dependence on real world objects and thus generalising the principal for wider applications. This does not come easy to many people, and it’s a skill we need to exercise to strengthen. 

Maths is a cumulative discipline, meaning you need to have a good grasp in one area to understand the next level of maths because the applications build upon each other. Prematurely moving beyond an area leads to a shaky foundation for the next curriculum, and fast-paced classroom environments don’t always have the time to slow down and review concepts with students before opening up the next chapter in the unit making some children feel left behind and discouraged. This is why maths homework and bringing maths into the home beyond the school curriculum is so important for giving your child the opportunity to excel at math. 

 

What can we do to help our children with maths?  

1. Change your attitude about maths

Children mimic our attitudes in all kinds of ways. If you’re a parent who is not fond of math, shift your attitude into a more positive one. We’ve established that statements like “I’m not a maths person” is a self-fulfilling prophecy, so try to refrain from saying it around your children even if you don’t feel particularly good about helping your child with maths. Think about it as something to work on together. 

 

2. Make it fun! 

Maths is everywhere in our day-to-day life. Encourage mind-math games such as adding up numbers on license plates as quickly as possible or try grocery-shop budgeting with your older children. If we can only spend $50 at the grocery shop today, how can we make sure everything in our basket comes to under $50 given our shopping list. Or do some baking together for a tasty lesson in maths! 

Baking for math!

3. Get your child some Legos or other building toys

Lego or block play fosters a wide spread of skills including creativity, motor skills, spatial skills, problem-solving, and communication. When a child is building, they must analyse the parts in front of them, perceive how it fits into a whole and how the pieces fit together. 

For 3-5-year-olds, you can put together a model of three lego blocks and ask your child to recreate your design in order to exercise the importance of counting tips and placing the next part on the proper section of the lego blocks. There is substantial evidence that spatial skills can be improved through play, so kids who spend more free time playing with puzzles or building blocks have increased scoring results. 

 

4. Play online maths games! 

If you have a child who is a gamer at heart, encourage some maths themed games! This website has everything from sudoku puzzles, basketball multiplication, and RPGs using maths to make your way through the adventure. 

 

Here is a list of our favourite iPhone maths games for on the go entertainment. 

Monster Maths

(available for addition/ subtraction and multiplication/ division)

 

Quick Maths Jr.

(Intended for kids aged 3-7)

 

Tricky Test 2: Genius Brain

 

Lumosity

Brain training for adults) 


What are some of your favourite maths games with you minis? 

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Best Plants to Grow to Teach Your Children How to Garden

 
Gardening with Children

Children are natural gardeners. They are curious, quick learners through hands-on experience, and love to get a little messy in the dirt. Gardening is a healthy and fun activity for all ages, but it's especially beneficial for kids. Gardening teaches a multitude of skills and fosters an appreciation for science and nature. 

Key findings suggest that when young children are participating in garden and greenhouse activities they are: (1) communicating their knowledge about the world to others, (2) conveying (and learning to process and manage) emotions, and (3) developing important skills (e.g., initiative, self-confidence, literacy, math, science skills) that will help them be more successful in school and better navigate the world. 

 

Benefits of Teaching your Children Gardening Includes:

 

1. Nurtures a sense of responsibility:

Without proper care, their plants will not grow. Gardening teaches them valuable life lessons at a young age. 

2. Reasoning and discovery skills:

Learning how to problem solve. discover science and nature of plants through research and real-life experiments. 

3. Self-confidence:

Gardening gives them the tools to grow their own food and achieve goals.

4. Love of nature:

Inspires awe and appreciation for the outdoors in a safe and pleasant environment.

5. Physical activity:

Gardening gets kids outdoors, using their hands to create.

6. Creativity:

Finding new and exciting ways to grow food and becoming inspired by nature.

Kyle Ellefson - Children garden dirt

Here are some of the best plants to start with kids:

1. Lettuce

Lettuce are quick and reliable crop with fast results. Lettuce likes party shady environments. Lettuce seeds will germinate in 7-10 days and the growing season is about 1-2 months.

 

2. Snow peas

can easily pick right off the vine and eat. 10 days to germinate and mature in about 2 months. They prefer cooler, partly shaded areas in the garden.

 

3. Sunflowers

Stanislav stajer - garden sunflowers

Plant just a few 'confectionery' sunflower seeds (used for food), since sunflowers take up a lot of space in a garden. Their seeds can be dried and roasted for snacks. Be sure to save some seeds to grow the next season too. Sunflower seeds tend to sprout in a week and should be about 30 cm in a month. Harvest your sunflowers when their petals become dry and the green base of the sunflower head turns yellow to brown. 

 

4. Cherry tomatoes

Cherry tomatoes enjoy full sun, and if you can, purchase seedlings from the local grocery store rather than seed since they can be difficult to germinate. Plant a pole or a stake about 60 cm tall for the tomato vine to wrap around. Cherry tomatoes add vibrant colour to your garden, and they're a sweet, juicy treat! 

 

5. Potatoes

Linh Pham - Garden Potatoes with children

Potatoes are a versatile vegetable, and can be prepared in many tasty recipes. Red potatoes mature faster than white varieties. Cut seed potatoes into chunks with at least 2 'eyes' per and plant them about 35 cm apart with the eyes pointing to the sky and mound the soil up around the plant as it grows. It's ready for harvest when the plant collapses. 

 

6. Zucchini

Start these seeds in a small container indoors first. You can up-cycle egg cartons and plant the seeds in about 1 cm of soil. Keep the soil moist, and when you have a strong sprout with roots, you can transfer the egg carton directly into the soil outside. Make sure your soil is rich in nutrition, or you can add fertiliser to your soil. 

 

Other interesting plants to grow:

 

1. Avocado Pits

Avocado Grow seeds with kids

Wash your avocado seed and use 3 toothpicks to suspend it broad-end down in a glass of water covering about 2.5 cm of the seed. Place the glass in a warm place indoors out of direct sunlight and replenish the water as needed. You should see sprouts in about 2-6 weeks. 

 

2. Top of a pineapple

Once you bring your pineapple home and are about to cut it up into a snack, save the top to plant just about 3 cm below the leaves then remove some of the lowest leaves from the stalk and cut out the remaining fruit flesh. Plant in your garden or a decorative pot. Keep the plant soil moist until roots develop at around 6-8 weeks. Pineapple tops enjoy bright, indirect sunlight. 

 

3. Venus Fly Traps

Venus Fly Traps

Growing Venus Fly traps from seed can be a tricky, takes about a year, and requires special soil to germinate the seed. You can purchase Venus flytraps at almost any plant store and re-pot them in a terrarium. Place gravel below the soil to ensure proper drainage. Good air circulation is key for these plants and it's best to water with distilled water when caring for these plants because tap water tends to have too many minerals for this sensitive plant. They make for an interesting plant to add to your child's collection.

The fun thing about this plant, is that it actually eats bugs as it's a carnivorous plant! Fun fact: There are 54 species of these carnivorous plant in Australia. Learn how to feed your Venus fly trap here. 

 
Child garden

Gardening teaches children about science and nutrition plus gives them a sense of responsibility and accomplishment. There are a variety of engaging activities in gardening your child can participate in such as buying seeds and equipment, planting, mulching, weeding, and cooking. 

Make sure your garden is a safe place. Store sharp tools away from child's reach, use suitable equipment, fences, gates, and paths for children to use. 

 

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