5 Ways Tai Chi Can Help Children


Many thanks to Marcus Clarke for providing this fascinating guest blog post.  Marcus regularly blogs at psysci, a psychology, science blog that examines the latest research and explains how findings can impact and improve people’s lives.


Tai Chi is a traditional Chinese martial art that integrates physical postures, slow body movements, and breathing and awareness exercises in order to train mental clarity and physical calm.

While the pervasive stereotype of Tai Chi is the image of aged Chinese monks practicing yogic poses in brightly coloured robes, recently scientists have done studies demonstrating that Tai Chi has numerous health benefits for all people and can benefit any age group – including children.

Here are five recent studies demonstrating the benefits of Tai Chi for kids:

1.    Children Become Able to Benefit from Tai Chi in Secondary School

One would think that a physical activity as advanced as Tai Chi could not be performed at a young age. However, a study of children in grades 7-9 provided support for the idea that even children as young as age 11 can benefit from Tai Chi.

The reason for this is that children of the secondary school age are at a place of cognitive transition, moving from “concrete operational thinking” to “formal operational thinking,” according to the stages of development identified by Jean Piaget. What this means is that children of this age are just developing the ability to understand abstract concepts like the future, and to imagine themselves in a future time.

The development of these new intellectual abilities means that secondary school children are just beginning to experience the internally-generated feelings of stress and anxiety for which Tai Chi can be beneficial. It also means that they have become capable of performing the abstract mental exercises related to Tai Chi, such as studying koans.

2.    Tai Chi Can Benefit Children with Severe Learning Disabilities

In many children with special needs, symptoms can include hyperactivity, lack of concentration, difficulty maintaining and focusing attention, as well as muscular tension. It is believed that in many learning disabilities, physical symptoms such as restlessness and heightened arousal co-occur with mental or emotional symptoms such as anxiety and mania.

This co-occurrence of mental and physical symptoms is why Tai Chi might be an effective treatment for children with severe learning disabilities. Tai Chi combines focus on the mind with focus on the body, and can help practitioners discover ways that attending to the body can calm the mind.

While some psychology studies have investigated this connection, more research is required to establish a firm link between Tai Chi and improvements in children with severe learning disabilities.

3.     Tai Chi May Improve Attention Deficits Occurring in ADHD

The most common way to combat the symptoms of Attention Deficit Hyper Disorder (ADHD) is pharmacological treatment with drugs such as Ritalin. The prescription and use of Ritalin is a matter of some controversy, however, and alternative methods of treating ADHD are important to investigate.

One study tested healthy adolescents for ADHD indicators before, during and after a 15-week introductory Tai Chi course. Results demonstrated that the students who had been performing Tai Chi during the 15 weeks reported improved abilities to pay attention relative to the students who had not been doing Tai Chi.

4.    The Vestibular Sensations of Tai Chi May Decrease Nightmares

Children can sometimes be affected by recurring night terrors or nightmares. In many of these dreams, a vestibular (balance-oriented) sensation occurs, such as a feeling of falling.

Tai Chi involves a large component of balance training, and so it is very intriguing to consider the possibility that there might be a connection between Tai Chi and vestibular sensations in dreams. One study showed that a population of college-age women who did Tai Chi reported decreased nightmares compared to a similar population who did stretching exercises that did not contain vestibular stimulation.

5.    Children Hoping to Benefit from Tai Chi Must Do It Often

While several studies demonstrate that children may benefit from performing Tai Chi, it is important to note that these benefits do not come about without consistent effort.

A study done on secondary school students (with an average age of 13 years old) did not find that Tai Chi had any significant benefits on levels of stress or anxiety, despite the Tai Chi sessions being well-attended. The authors of the study conjectured that this was because students only performed Tai Chi once a week for 10 weeks, and results might not have shown until later.

Tai Chi can definitely improve longevity, but that doesn’t mean it should only be performed by elderly people. With sustained effort and the right attitude, the practice of Tai Chi holds benefits for all, including children.

Fiddlin' Across America

Last summer, the six members of the Ferry family did something truly crazy.  We drove our 2003 Honda Odyssey nearly 7,000 miles from Richmond to Seattle and home again.  Needless to say, it was a very loud minivan.

Along the way we saw some of the most beautiful vistas our country has to offer.  Many of these were in the seven National Parks we visited: Mount Rushmore, the Badlands, Wind Cave, Grand Teton, Yellowstone, Glacier, and Shenandoah.  We planned to hit several more before returning to Virginia, but our transmission died in Boise.  What was supposed to be a relaxing week's drive became a three-day sprint so that we could get back in time for school. 

I had my violin with me, since I planned to play at our cousin's wedding (the reason for our epic journey).  Somehow I got the notion that it would be fun to play fiddle tunes and American favorites with these famous sites in the background.  Jenny agreed to film my performances, and they became the "Fiddlin' Across America" series on my YouTube channel.

In honor of the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service's founding, here are the videos we shot in the parks we enjoyed during our journey.



Want More Energy In The Kitchen? Teach Happiness!

What Teachers Really Want For Teacher Appreciation Week

Every year, students bring in baked goods, gift cards, handmade notes, and other presents during Teacher Appreciation Week.  Keep them coming - teachers love that stuff!  However, there's a FREE gift that teachers really want their students to carry with them into the classroom during Teacher Appreciation Week and the rest of the year.


It's called the growth mindset.  Students with a growth mindset will embrace challenges, persist when the going gets tough, value effort above natural ability, and achieve more in school and life.  If the whole classroom were filled with growth mindset kids, teachers could move mountains every day.


Wouldn't it be great if parents could help their kids develop the growth mindset?


Here are five tips for giving your kids a growth mindset:


- Avoid using words like "smart" and "talented."  It may be hard to break this habit at first, but try to find a different way to praise your child. 


- Show your kid that effort leads to success.  Did she bring home a stellar report card?  Tell her that her grades come from her hard work and discipline, not her natural ability.


- Tell your kids that there are few "overnight" success stories.  Whether you're talking about an athlete, a musician, a politician, or another type of celebrity, focus on the fact that he probably had to work for a long time before reaching the pinnacle.


- Embrace struggle.  Is your child having difficulty in a subject at school?  Praise her for persevering.  Let her know that self-discipline and grit will take her far in life (much further than the actual grade she receives in school).


- Celebrate victories, no matter how small.  Did your son's baseball team have an exciting come from behind victory?  Did your daughter master a difficult dance routine?  Did your kid do well on a test after preparing for it for weeks?  Take the time to celebrate success.  If we feel that our effort leads to positive results, we're more likely to try hard in the future.

Why Boredom Is Bad For You And Your Kids

"I'm bored!"


How often do you hear that as a parent?  How often do you say it, even to yourself?  Our hectic lives have not banished boredom from the face of the planet.  Whether it's at school, at work, or in other environments, boredom lingers and presents many threats to our health and happiness.


For example, people prone to boredom are more likely to engage in addictive behaviors such as binge eating and drinking, gambling, and other compulsions.  In addition, boredom is associated with unsafe driving habits.  Bored drivers tend to drive at higher speeds and are slower to react to unexpected hazards.  They also are more likely to drift over the center line into oncoming traffic.  Finally, boredom has a negative impact on kids.  Bored students are less able to learn and remember information, and bored teens are 50% more likely to experiment with smoking, drinking, and illegal drugs


Fear not, however, because we can eradicate boredom by practicing habits of happiness and creativity.  Dopamine-producing behaviors such as gratitude, kindness, and walking change our brain chemistry and make us more engaged.  Being creative is another way to inject enthusiasm into an otherwise mundane situation (check out my "10 Ways To Boost Creativity" blog post for ideas).  You can also fight boredom by learning something new and interesting.  Have you ever heard of Gaelic football or cheese rolling?  Start there! 




10 Ways To Boost Creativity

Creativity is a path to happiness.  It also is an essential aspect of innovation.  As kids many of us are naturally creative.  Unfortunately, our creativity tends to be eliminated as we enter school. 

The good news is that we can reclaim our creativity.  In addition, we can help our kids preserve and develop their creative capacity.

Here are ten (hopefully fun) activities that can boost your creativity.  Using each group of words, compose a short story, skit, poem, song, movie, dance, etc.  Let your mind roam free.  If this becomes hilarious and a bit chaotic, so be it!  Maybe you could try this exercise the next time you need an icebreaker in the office, the classroom, or anywhere else.  Plus, you might learn a thing or two by looking up the meanings of any people, places, or things you don't know about.  The more we learn, the more creative we can be!  By the way, if you enjoy these creativity activities, you'll love my Creativity Retreat In Ireland








James Bond

Walla Walla, Washington


Hula hoop



Onion rings




Millard Fillmore



Vatican City

Thin Mints

Al Capone



Golf cart



Guinea pig

Ronald Reagan


Oak tree



Lebron James






Babe Ruth











Silk Road

Flip flop



Louis Armstrong



Columbus Zoo

Hello Kitty! pencil

Can Being Busy Make Us Less Productive?

"Beware the barrenness of a busy life." - Socrates

As we identify and teach habits related to emotional well-being, it's important to think about the negative impact of busyness on our brains, moods, and output.  Thanks to modern technology, we can fill our plates with endless projects and diversions.  But should we? 

If productivity is our goal, we should think twice before embracing multitasking.  Recent research has revealed that multi-tasking can actually make us less productive.  By changing course while in the middle of completing one task, we ensure that it will take longer to finish both objectives; in fact, the time required increases by 25%.   

Busyness also impedes our ability to maintain calm and contented brains and emotional states.  Brain scans have demonstrated that extreme multitasking leads to lower brain density in the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), a region that helps us focus and concentrate.  In other words, being busy wires our brains to become more agitated, anxious, and unsettled. 

Despite the downsides of multitasking, many of us feel drawn to do it anyway.  Why is that?  Researchers at the University of Chicago suggest that part of the answer may be something known as "idleness aversion."  Since we see full schedules as emblematic of success, we may be too frightened to relax.  Whether or not we realize it, we are compelled to work harder than is necessary.

As Socrates said, a busy life leads to barrenness.  Since our objective is to create lives of joy and meaning, let's find ways to practice happiness habits while avoiding incessant activity. 


Kind Kids Will Create A Safer, Healthier Future

As you may know, teaching kindness is one of the best ways to guide our kids towards happier lives.  New research is showing that kindness has many other benefits as well.

According to this new study, children who show a high degree of "pro-social behavior" (cooperation, helpfulness, empathy, etc.) go on to have better educational outcomes and job prospects.  Such kids will also be less likely to have legal problems and mental illness as they grow up.  This research adds to the growing body of evidence linking kindness with emotional well-being and success in life.


By teaching kindness to the kids in our lives, we'll help them become happier people.  We'll also be doing our part to create a safer, more prosperous, and more sustainable future.   

Teaching Gratitude

Several years ago I had the opportunity to attend an education conference in San Francisco, CA. While I was there, I learned many exciting findings from the "science of happiness." That weekend revolutionized my perspectives related to teaching and parenting. Since then I have been on a quest to create a happier classroom and to help other teachers do the same thing.


One lesson I learned at the conference pertains to the relationship between happiness and success. As recent research has shown, success does not always lead to happiness. Many of us know this from experience. For example, landing a highly coveted job and buying your dream home may not necessarily result in a blissful state. On the other hand, people who are happy tend to find success in school, at work, and in every domain in life.


Grateful people tend to be happier, whether they are adults or kids. When we express gratitude, our brains release dopamine, the chemical known as the "happiness neurotransmitter." The more time we spend being grateful, the happier we are. So, if we can help kids become more grateful, they will be happier and more successful in the short run and down the road.

With this in mind, I start many of my sixth grade history classes with brief "moments of gratitude." I ask students to spend a few minutes drawing pictures of anything for which they are grateful. Wandering around the room, I encounter illustrations of dogs, cake, family gatherings, and other sources of delight. My hope is that gratitude will become habitual for my students, who will be happier as a result. In turn, greater happiness will make success more likely in the kids’ academic and personal lives.

Here are more ways to teach gratitude in the classroom:


- When a student is celebrating a birthday, have the other kids make a list of reasons why they are grateful for the birthday girl or boy. 


- If the skies are clear, talk about how grateful you are that the day is so beautiful. On a rainy day, proclaim that you are grateful for precipitation because our food chain depends on it.


- Begin class with the lights turned off. After awhile, turn them on. Discuss how grateful we should be to have electricity in our lives.   


- We are fortunate that we have the ability to calm our minds when we feel anxious or stressed. You may want to use the "Mindfulness Bell" in your classroom to help students relax before a test. 


- After returning from a holiday, go around the room and invite everyone share one positive experience that happened while you were away.


- How lucky are we to have antibiotics and other modern medicines? Work this into conversation when kids return to school from absences due to illness.


- Give extra credit when students list three things they are grateful for on their test papers. 


 While many of us may be "wired to whine," we can train our brains to become grateful.  As in other areas of life, practice makes perfect. By teaching gratitude we will direct our students towards better mental health, stronger academic performance, and adulthoods of meaning and fulfillment.    


10 Ways To Teach Kindness To Kids

Kindness is a cost-free way to improve your happiness.  Plus, it doesn't require a prescription!  When we are kind, our brains experience an infusion of dopamine, the "happiness neurotransmitter."  Plus, we will get better at being kind with practice.  Here is a list of ways that we can teach kindness to our kids.


1.  Model kindness.  Our kids are always paying attention to our actions, whether or not we realize it.  When interacting with other people, try your best to use a kind tone. 


2.  Give a generous tip.  If you're eating out with the kids, leave a tip that is more than expected. 


3.  Bake cookies for a neighbor. 

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