iRest For Kids Ingredients:
Inner Resource—Safe Place
Experiencing Feelings, Emotions and their opposites
Experiencing Beliefs, images and memories and their opposites
Experiencing Joy and well-being
Experiencing Pure Awareness
iRest was recently integrated as a yearlong program in a Kindergarten classroom at a California School. In iRest, sensorial materials lay the foundation for all creative and intellectual work. These materials educate and refine a child’s senses through sequential exercises of materials that range in weight, texture, temperature, color, sound and smell. For iRest, the senses are considered the doorways into the universe through which children can learn skills that they can use for the rest of their lives. For instance, in iRest, BodySensing and BreathSensing lay the foundation for working with emotions, beliefs, joy and pure awareness.
During iRest, children learn about emotions and beliefs through hands-on activities, using various materials and reading literature. One of the many iRest materials we use is the Smiley Face Poster, which is comprised of many ‘tear away’ faces (see Fig. 1). Smiley Faces present children with opportunities to experience, explore and learn about their emotions and beliefs in a safe and constructive environment. iRest enables children to gain experience in locating emotions in their body as tactile sensation, discovering various kinesthetic qualities of emotions (sharp, smooth, rough, prickly, hot, cold, etc.), describing (vocabulary development), talking about, and respectfully expressing their emotions, while discovering opposite emotions (positive and negative) and locating beliefs associated with their emotions.
Sensorial materials compliment the iRest materials and enhance learning. For example, a child’s ability to recognize emotions in their earliest stages is cultivated by combining gradations of emotions (Fig. 2)...with gradations of color (Fig. 3).
iRest with 3-6 year-old Kids
The beauty of iRest lies in its flexibility. The various components of iRest can be tailored to meet the needs of children of all ages. iRest is a wonderfully creative and respectful assemblage of activities for working with children. For instance, the various components of iRest are easily blended into the regular array of classroom activities as they are being taught.
For example, while studying the human body, iRest BodySensing is introduced using the five senses, each sense becoming a portal for sensing the entire body.
The sense of taste is explored and enlivened with an exercise using chocolate (or some other suitable food). Children place a small piece of chocolate on their tongue and allow it to slowly melt. While the chocolate is melting, they are asked questions that direct their attention to sensation, first in their mouth, then into the rest of their body. Children are amazed at what they discover, finding and describing sensations in various places in their bodies: “I feel it under my knee caps”, “I feel it in my finger tips”, “I feel it all over my body like water when I'm taking a bath.”
Next, we bring the children’s attention to emotions, and then to memories that the taste of chocolate awakens in them. After the exercise lively discussions ensue as the children share what they have experienced.
Having children listening to the gentle ringing sound of a meditation bowl develops and heightens their sense of hearing. The bowl continues to ring for a long time after it has been struck, it’s sound gradually falling silent. The children listen to the sound of the bowl until it vanished into silence, then their attention is directed to the sound of silence itself, first as an outer experience of silence, and then to the silence and stillness that they experience inside of themselves.
The olfactory sense of smell is stimulated and developed using essential oils. The scent of vanilla is wonderful because it often awakens memories of baked cookies or cakes, holidays, good things to eat and feelings and emotions of warmth, pleasure, happiness and joy.
BodySensing and BreathSensing
Movement is another entry point that is developed and refined in iRest through BodySensing. A favorite game of children is to imagine that they are snowflakes, dancing and falling from the sky, softly landing on the ground, and slowly melting into motionless stillness.
The breath (BreathSensing) is another portal. Once the children are settled in comfortable positions, they place a small stuffed animal on their stomachs and are invited to gently rock the animal to sleep with the rise and fall of each breath.
As children become sensitive to their internal environment they become aware of subtle sensations such as “tingling” or flows of “energy” coursing through their body. There often describe a sense of wonder and delight when they discover their body as a system of energy, and some children will spontaneously go on to describe when and where they become aware of tingling sensations in their body throughout the rest of the school day.
Children enjoy sensing their body, and the accompanying experience of feeling relaxed, refreshed or rested afterwards. After her first body sensing experience, , age 5, said, “That felt really good. I think I am going to do this when I can't sleep at night.” Jack, age 5, thoroughly enjoyed BodySensing. His body often grew very still as he became absorbed in his inner world, remaining completely still for minutes after the exercise ended. And after participating in BodySensing, Blake, age 5, said, “My mouth felt huge, like it went all the way over to the other side of the room.”
Having a foundation in BodySensing benefits children in many ways. It’s an excellent tool children can use when, for example, they feel “nervous” energy in their bodies. Simple question such as, “Tell me what you are feeling right now?” or, “Where in your body do you feel it?” or, “Can you describe it?” help ground and cultivate the child’s ability to be self-aware.
Children can also develop skillfulness in their ability to describe what they are experiencing, so that when they encounter strong emotions within themselves or another, they are able to locate the emotion in their body and describe in detail the type and texture of the emotion.
Integrating iRest in the Classroom
Working with Separation Anxiety
With iRest we help students explore their feelings, emotions, thoughts and states of mind. In iRest we don’t impose, but help children come to their own understanding and resolution, in their own way. This helps them build self-esteem and their ability to find their own solutions to the problems they encounter in life. For instance, our kindergarten teacher reported a day when Mary, then 5 years old, was brought to school by her parents, crying. When asked what was going on Mary said, “I got up on the wrong side of the bed today.” When the teacher inquired with her as to what she was feeling, Mary reported feeling, “Sad” and pointed to her chest, while describing the sensation of sadness as “heavy” and “dark”.
The teacher then repeated back to Mary what she had said and sat with her for a few moments while Mary fully experienced her sadness and body sensations. After a little while the teacher, following the iRest protocol, inquired of Mary, “How would you feel if you had gotten up on the right side of the bed (the opposite experience)?” Mary grew very quiet, with a far away look on her face, imagining what it would feel like had she gotten up on the “right” side of the bed. After a few moments she smiled and said: “Great”. She then hopped off her chair and went merrily outside to play with her friends. The entire conversation had lasted only a few minutes and Mary had come to her own resolution by being supported to ‘be with’, welcome and explore her own experience.
The Smiley Faces Poster is another tool we use to help children who are experiencing separation anxiety. We ask the child to find the face that best represents how they are feeling, then locate in their body and describe the feeling or emotion using their own words and languaging. Child actively participate, pointing to Smiley Faces that show emotions that they are feeling, would like to feel, not like to feel, are curious about, etc. Rich and engaging dialogues often ensue, often drawing in other children who happen to be standing or working nearby.
iRest provides children with the opportunity to discover the range of emotions they and their friends are feeling when they miss their parents, such as sadness, anger, fear, worry, or feeling lost or alone. For instance, we invite children to find faces that show how they would feel if their parent(s) were able to stay with them at school all day. We have them locate the feeling in their body and then describe, draw, and/or act it out. There are so many possibilities and with iRest, all we do is follow the child’s lead.
Working with Conflict
A group of Kindergarten children were making Mother’s Day cards. Sally was creating lovely patterns on her card. Her artwork was so attractive that several of her friends decided to copy her artwork on their cards. Sally became upset and asked her friends to stop. In spite of Sally’s protest, her friends continued to copy her artwork, so Sally sought the teacher for assistance in resolving the conflict.
The teacher reported the following. “In my experience, this was one of those situations that wouldn’t be solved in a way that satisfied everyone’s desires. I tried the usual, suggesting that Sally continue her work away from her friends where they couldn’t see her artwork, which she wasn’t happy about. I also asked the other kids to stop copying Sally’s work, which was equally unsuccessful, and which sparked additional conflict as the other children denied that they were copying Sally’s work.
The complaining continued until it was time for everyone to meet for a circle activity. Most of the children were gathered in the circle when I noticed how sad Sally looked as she put away her artwork. I asked Sally what feelings were present and she said, “anger” and “sadness”. I asked her, “Anger because...?” to which she responded, “…Anger because everybody is copying me.” I asked her, “And sadness because...?” which she answered with, “...Sadness because I want my card to be special for my mom, with patterns and designs that are just for her, that no one else has, and it can’t be special when other kids copy me”.
As the other children listened in to our exchange, I observed that they were responding to Sally with compassion upon hearing her words, truly understanding for the first time why not being copied was so important to Sally. One of her friends said: “Oh, I didn’t know that’s why you didn’t want to be copied, but I get it now!” This brief exchange had a lasting effect with all the kids and Sally, and the other kids, left feeling a sense of being heard and listened to, which allowed her, and the others, to let go of all inner and outer conflict around the issue of copying.
Working with Boredom
Jerry, age 5, was a very bright child who was passionate about learning. However, when Jerry found himself between projects he complained about being bored, not knowing what to do with himself. When Jerry was bored his whole body showed what he was feeling with his spine and shoulders curved forward, arms hanging low, and his face with an expression of absolute misery. Feeling bored had been a theme for Jerry. His usual response when feeling bored was to turn down any suggestions of activities he might enjoy doing.
Since this pattern was not getting any of us anywhere, the next time he complained about being bored I decided to do iRest BodySensing and EmotionSensing with him in order to help him experience and explore his feeling of boredom. I invited Jerry to explore his feelings by saying, “I notice that when you feel bored your whole body and face show me how you feel.” He looked surprised, straightened up a little, and smiled. We walked over to a mirror where he could see what his face and body looked like when he was feeling bored. Again, he was surprised at what he saw.
I asked him where in his body he felt this feeling most strongly. Jerry drew an imaginary circle around his whole chest with one hand. I asked what it was like when that “bored” feeling was visiting him. After sensing the texture of his boredom, Jerry said it felt “heavy, foggy and grey”, and walked away from me with his shoulders forward, arms hanging low. A few minutes later he came back with a delighted smile and said: “It’s gone now!” From that point on we worked with his boredom in this manner. Boredom became less and less of an issue for Jerry as he became aware of his pattern with boredom and began using the iRest tools himself.
Working with Fear
The Inner Resource is an important component of iRest that we use when children are fearful, or need to feel safe.
Example of Using the Inner Resource with Children
During the school Halloween party, 3-year-old Samantha became frightened by the costumes some of the children were wearing. She sat next to me (the teacher) as we talked about what was scaring her. I asked her if there was a place at home where she felt really safe (an Inner Resource). She told me about the fort she and her brother had made under the living room table, and how much she liked having tea parties with her dolls in this fort. As she described this Inner Resource safe place, I could feel her whole body beginning to relax. I asked her where in her body she felt the feeling of safety and she put her hand on her heart. After a few moments she got up and joined the other kids feeling relaxed, over her fear, and able to participate again amidst her classmates during the remainder of the Halloween costume party.
In another instance, when we were teaching iRest to a group of homeless children at a local shelter, the kids reported that having their Inner Resource was a tool that was immediately helpful for them in dealing with their difficult circumstances.
Working with Confusion
During outside playtime the teacher became aware that several children were complaining about Martha over and over again. The teacher walked over to Martha and said: “I am hearing a lot of complaints from the other children about you. What are you feeling? Martha replied that she didn’t know what she was feeling. So I picked up a collection of Smiley Faces and placed them on the ground in front of her. I asked her to find a face that matched what she was feeling inside herself. Martha carefully studied all the faces while her friends gathered round, watching and waiting, curious to see what she would choose.
Martha eventually chose a face with a wide-open mouth and said with a look of surprise, “That…that’s what I feel... I’m tired!” I asked her if she was surprised by this discovery and she nodded yes. She then said that she had been up late the night before and hadn’t gotten enough sleep. All of a sudden Mary, who had been listening attentively, said, “Oh, I get it. Martha is tired and grumpy, and that’s why she is trying to make everybody else feel grumpy, so that she can feel better!” and smiled happily at her own insight.
I looked at Martha and asked if Mary’s comment sounded right to her and Martha nodded. I asked if she wanted to lie down and rest for a while to which she said, “No”. The other kids looked at Martha with newfound understanding of why she was being grumpy and together they went off to play. I did not receive any more complaints about Martha.
Working with Emotions and Beliefs
One day two of the Kindergarten girls, Joan and Ellen were not getting along. Their arguing and complaints about each other continued as their mood steadily grew from annoyance to anger. At one point I took Joan, who was by now really angry, aside with the Smiley Faces Poster. I asked her to find the face that matched the emotion she was feeling. Right away she pointed to the enraged face and said: “That’s what I am feeling.” The following conversation ensued.
B: Where in your body do you feel that?
J: All over!
B: If that feeling wasn’t there what would be there instead?
J: (Points to a face with a mean spirited sneaky expression) That! And I’d punch her in the head!
B: How would you feel then?
J: (Points to a less angry looking smiley face)
B: A little less mad?
J: Yeah, a little less mad!
B: Then what?
J: (Points to a smiling face) I would laugh, because I would trick her.
She tells me the trick she would play on Ellen and at this point she smiles delightedly.
J: Then I would feel this (pointing at a face with a bigger smile), and then this (pointing to a face that looked exuberantly happy).
J: I’m going to draw all of these faces (smiling happily to herself).
Before Joan started drawing she put her finger on the enraged looking smiley face that she had started with and traced her journey, face by face, all the way to the last one with the happy expression. Then she got a piece of paper and pencil, sat down in front of the poster and started drawing the faces. For the rest of the afternoon Joan was in a happy mood and got along well with Ellen again.
Joan was completely authentic with her feelings and thoughts. Because she didn’t repress her emotions, but was allowed to feel her feelings and think those “terrible” thoughts, emotional alchemy happened. Her journey started with rage and ended with happiness. Joan herself was aware and surprised at this transformation.
Working with Trauma
One morning at 9:00 am while the teacher was greeting the arriving children at the gate, Sally, 5 years old, after having been dropped off by her dad, continued to stay with the teacher while she was greeting the other children. The teacher reported the following.
I have known Sally for 2½ years and this was uncharacteristic behavior for her. She usually runs off to play with friends as soon as she gets to school. I asked if anything was bothering her. She replied that she was feeling shy and didn't feel like playing. I asked if anything unusual had happened at home during the morning and she said “No, nothing”. After I finished greeting the incoming children, Sally followed me to the playground where we sat down on a bench.
After watching the children play for a while, I asked Sally if she felt ready to join the other kids, but she was still feeling shy and told me that she was feeling cold as well. It was a beautiful sunny morning and it was getting warm so I was surprised to hear her say that she felt cold. I offered her my vest, which she put on. We again sat in silence for a few minutes.
I asked her: “Is the shy feeling still there?” Sally nodded. I asked where in her body she felt the shy feeling and she said, “All over”. Next I asked her about the quality of the shy feeling. “Is it hot or cold, soft, sharp, prickly, slippery?” She said it felt “sharp”. I pointed into the air in front of us and said: “Imagine a door there... it opens, and the shy feeling walks in. What would it look like?” Sally drew circles in the air with her finger and said, “It would look like circles... and the circles break up into tiny circles and cover my whole body. The circles came when I fell out of my (top) bunk bed this morning while I was sleeping. I woke up and I was on my back and all alone. I couldn't move. My little sister came in and tried to help me, but I couldn't move and I couldn't call for my parents.”
Sally was now sitting quietly next to me with a faraway look upon her face. When she looked at me again I asked: “If the circles wouldn't be there, what would be there instead?” Sally replied, “A square. But the square got knocked out of me when I fell out of bed, and the circles came instead, and now the square doesn't know how to find its way back.” I inquired, “What is the square?” Sally: “My happy feeling! There is also a triangle there... that's anger... and the triangle and the circle are clashing. They are fighting with each other like this (she points alternately with her left and right fist to the left and right side of her head). I was scared because I couldn't move, and I was angry because my sister made fun of me. She said I looked like a pig, because I was on my back with my feet and legs sticking up into the air, and that wasn't nice.”
I repeated in my own words what she had just said to make sure I understood her correctly. Sally nodded approvingly when I was done, letting me know I had heard her correctly. We watched the other children play for a while and then I asked, “Sally, where is the square now?”
Sally replied, “The circle and the triangle both pushed the square into a little corner down there... (pointing to her toes).” I asked, “So the square found it's way back to you!?” She nodded and smiled.
At this point Sally took off the vest because her body was becoming warm again. Two children came over to ask for my help in settling a disagreement. As I talk with them, Sally listened to us for a while and then walked off to find her friends. When I looked for her a few minutes later, she was playing with her friends. I checked in with Sally a few hours later and she stated that the shy feeling was gone and that the square, her feeling of happiness, had found its way all the way back into her body.
During this episode nothing was imposed. Open-ended questions, as well as active listening, allowed Sierra to put into words a vague and elusive traumatic event. What unfolded, flowed spontaneously out of her. Sierra was exited and pleased about her newly discovered skill of working with her feelings.
Working with Pain
Applying iRest principles is a wonderful way of working with children when they experience pain. iRest allows a teacher to meet the child’s pain, instead of distracting the child away from the pain. iRest teaches children tools that help them learn how to meet, greet, welcome and work with pain in the following manner.
We invite children to describe the felt sensation of their pain in detail, asking questions such as “Is it stinging, stabbing, burning, pounding, throbbing, hot, cold...?” “Does your pain have a color... a shape, etc.” We also bring a child's attention to another part of the body where they don’t feel pain. If a pain (or injury) is in their left leg, we might ask how the other leg feels, as well as how other parts of their body feels. “How about your arm, does your arm feel ok?” “How about your mouth?”
Investigating pain in this way allows children to realize that only a small part of them is hurt or is feeling pain. Feelings of overwhelming fear and pain may quickly subside, and the child may experience the pain that they are feeling become contained, and begin to relax. Once a child is feeling safe and in control, we ask them to return their attention to the injured or painful part of their body and invite them to describe the sensation that is present, asking what they notice. Children are delighted by the changes that they discover when they return their attention to the original painful site. If children are interested and willing, we sometimes invite them to go back and forth between the ‘pain’ and the ‘no pain’ several times.