Social Emotional Learning is all about learning how to identify and manage our emotions, form healthy relationships, set and achieve positive goals as well as feel and show empathy for others.

Young children’s social and emotional skills
are learned through interactions with adults. What are you teaching young children through your day-to-day

About social emotional learning

and children’s bad behavior

Emotions are contagious. We are in the midst of an epidemic of bad behavior by both adults and children. It seems the world has gone mad. As a classroom teacher, school administrator, librarian or program director, too much time is spent just trying to make it through the day without incident.

Root causes of bad behavior
During Opening Minds 2018, we plan to host a series of sessions which get to the root causes of ‘bad behavior’, and how to make things go right! First and foremost, ‘bad behavior’ is an adult label. To be clear, children’s behaviors including crying, kicking, biting, hitting, and screaming, as examples, try the patience of adults, hence, why we label them as ‘bad behavior’. Why do children behave in this way?

Why do children behave in this way?
To tell us there is a problem. Adults talk about their feelings, children act about their feelings. Undesirable behaviors are typically a mask for underlying problems. Unlike adults, young children do not have the life experience, knowledge or the words to express their feelings and concerns. Young children’s language, social, emotional, and cognitive skills are in development. It is up to us, to make sense of what children’s actions tell us, and help children identify, communicate and manage through their strong and often confused feelings. Given the number of children you work with daily, we thought it important to focus on instructional strategies which dissect children’s behaviors, more quickly, in real time.

Expand your knowledge
For the purpose of Opening Minds 2018, we want to expand your knowledge base about potential root causes of undesirable behavior, and evidence based instructional practices and strategies you can use to make things go right. Developmentally appropriate practice has been the mainstay of early childhood education for years. However, content, lock-step curricula, and the 101 best activities to meet standards and make the grade have taken over as the mainstay for ‘best’ early childhood education instead of helping young children (and teachers) express their feelings, and develop the processes to learn and think for themselves. Further, we have new societal challenges and stressors. There are more opportunities than ever through television and social media to be exposed to many more atrocities and visual images of violence than ever before, which traumatize all of us. It is obvious, children who are exposed to abuse, neglect and violence experience trauma.

Intergenerational Trauma
What is not so obvious to most parents and early childhood education professionals are children’s expressions of familial, societal stress, and intergenerational trauma, trauma that has been passed on from generation to generation. Our colleagues at the American Academy of Pediatrics will present research on Intergenerational Trauma.

Our bodies remember trauma even when our minds seem to forget

Research tells us more and more that our bodies remember trauma even when our minds seem to forget. Most classroom teachers and program directors are not trained in therapeutic approaches such as EMDR or Play Therapy to heal trauma. However, we can become more attuned to how trauma and stress manifest in children’s behavior.

How to help them reduce their stress and yours?
We have included sessions on some very effective practices that have been around for years, such as yoga, meditation and eurhythmics. During Opening Minds 2018, learn how to integrate yoga and meditation practice to help children refocus and self-regulate, and become versed in an effective but not widely known cutting edge technique called the Dalcroze technique. Dalcroze technique is based on three tenets of eurhythmics: Movement (eurhythmics), Improvisation, and Solfege (ear training/singing). You do not need to be a dancer, a Second City Improviser, or even someone who can carry a tune to learn or incorporate Dalcroze in to your program, practice, or home.

Children have become adult’s shock absorbers

Although defense mechanisms are commonly talked about, the concept of ‘shock’ when not in an immediate crisis is seldom addressed in early childhood education. Adults are children’s emotional barometers. When the adults in children’s lives are under stress, so are they. Children have become adult’s shock absorbers. Consequently, children may feel overwhelmed by their stress, unable to process or integrate the emotions involved in their daily life experiences. One way to cope with overwhelming feelings is to shut down or freeze.

Adults may be unwittingly helping children stay stuck
We do this either by not recognizing the quiet child who doesn’t bother, or by extinguishing children’s fears and bad behaviors by just telling children to ‘stop’ emoting- to make it go away. We take short cuts in cultivating children’s emotional life. The unintended consequence, children do more emoting to catch our attention-deteriorating into more and more challenging behaviors and situations. Further, as children age, the hitting, kicking and biting take on new meaning in our society and we are left wondering how children grow up to hurt innocents or themselves rather than pursue that STEM career. All the efforts we put in to extinguishing, marginalizing or punishing children, temporarily, makes children’s behavior look better. However, in reality, we have pushed the hurt, fear, and misunderstandings about the world, underground. Unintentionally, we stomp on children’s motivation to experiment, create, or think differently.

STEM careers require capable independent thinkers.
This is where innovation emerges. This, too, is why taking our time to focus on social and emotional skill development in early childhood education is so very important. The greatest gift we can give children is the confidence to trust in themselves and their decisions.

Where does bias come from?

Given the geopolitical community tensions, both man-made and natural, here and abroad, we thought it important to include sessions on Emergency Preparedness, and do a deeper dive into Anti-Bias. Where does bias come from, and how can we incorporate anti-bias curricula into our classrooms? Bias is a complicated topic to address because of our personal belief systems. Best practice relies on our ability and capacity to recognize and sensitively address bias in ourselves and others. Further, we need to discuss how dehumanization in society may influence how we organize and facilitate groups, teams and collaborations in our programs and schools.

Part 1

Discuss Brené Brown’s new book, Braving the Wilderness
For the first time at Opening Minds, we are hosting a 3 hour book group and practicum session on Brené Brown’s new book, Braving the Wilderness. It is a way for all of us to have a conversation on bias and dehumanization. As you are aware, beliefs shape practice. How are your beliefs and others’ impacting your classroom on how you teach and care for the children?! The first part of the session will be a discussion around the ideas presented in Braving the Wilderness.

Part 2

Examine Anti-bias curricula and practices in early childhood education.
The second part of the session will delve into anti-bias curricula and practices in early childhood education by the YMCA of Metropolitan Chicago. The YMCA of Metropolitan Chicago’s anti-bias literacy approach, infuses anti-bias education with literacy development practices. This approach combines skill-based learning with platforms that address issues of personal and social identity, cultural competence, and social justice. Through this anti-bias framework, Y teachers engage children in interactive read alouds and small group representational drawing activities (i.e. storybooks created by the children) as a way for students to: express and communicate their real life experiences; develop collaboration skills; and become empowered through problem solving and storybook development.

A Preview of Sessions Planned

Self-Regulation and Brain Growth

For some young children, everyday interactions and choices, or executive function skills, can be a fundamental challenge. Research tells us that certain areas of the brain are responsible for these complex skills that we now know best predict academic and lifelong success.  Join Erin to investigate: (1)How executive function skills impact learning; (2) Brain growth as related to executive function; and (3) the positive and negative impacts of experiences and relationships on self-regulation.

         Erin Akers, M.Ed.

Erin Akers is an early educator, elementary educator, curriculum development specialist, and child advocate. She earned a M.Ed. in Curriculum and Instruction at Regent University in Virginia Beach, VA and a B.S. in Early Childhood Education from Rochester College in Rochester, MI.

Erin started her career as a Kindergarten teacher and since has held various educational roles including Early Education Director, and Elementary Principal for eight years. Erin then shifted her career focus to educational consulting took on the role as the Director of the National Lecture Staff for the Gesell Institute of Child Development. Currently, she is the Director of Education and Development at the Gesell Institute. She has a passion for developmentally appropriate curriculum and instruction, and consults with schools and organizations nationwide. Erin also conducts educational training for educators and parents across the country.

Erin and her husband Ryan are proud parents of four wonderful boys, and reside in Auburn Hills, Michigan.

Early Brain Development and Epigenetics Presented by Judy Romano, MD, FAAP

Stress and the Brain – A Developmental Approach

This session will discuss early childhood brain development, including the neuroscience and epigenetic effects that toxic stress (adverse childhood experiences) has on lifelong health. This session will also provide strategies to promote resilience in young children and their families.

The Partnership of Sensory Processing and Social Emotional Development

Come learn about types of social emotional learners from a sensory perspective, including avoiding versus seeking behaviors of body awareness.

Marge Holland, R.N., B.S.N., M.P.A., Ph.D.

Marge says, “As a nurse consultant, I visit early childhood classrooms across the states of Illinois and Wisconsin on a monthly basis. I regularly see teachers who have lost patience with young children who are constantly ‘misbehaving’ or ‘acting out’. What many adults comprehend as a child who needs discipline is often times a child who has sensory awareness that is not typical. By implementing simple, proactive, and low-cost methods these children are getting their sensory needs met, leading them to be positive contributors to the classroom. Over my last 20+ years of work, I have come to rely on a handful of strategies that have a near-perfect success rate with consistent implementation. My goal is to continue to spread the word so early childhood learning environments can be stress-free and positive!”

Triple P, Session 3: Raising Resilient Children

How can your child manage their emotions so they cope well with disappointment and in stressful situations?

Debrah Clark, MA, Certified Family Life Educator Director Infant Child Care Center (Joliet Township High School)

Erin Soto, MA ED., Education/Disabilities Mental Health Director (Governors State University)

Help Children Focus and Self Regulate with Dalcroze: Movement, Improvisation and Solfege

Dalcroze technique is based on three tenants of eurhythmics: Movement (eurhythmics), Improvisation, and Solfege (ear training/singing). You do not need to be a dancer, a Second City Improviser, or even someone who can carry a tune to learn or incorporate Dalcroze in to your program, practice, or home.

              Patrick Cerria

Patrick Cerria studied Dalcroze Eurhythmics at The Juilliard School in Manhattan. He has spent the last fifteen years teaching, and working with, varied populations of students — including in a self-contained school for autistic children, and another for students with physical disabilities and/or classified as medically fragile. He has worked extensively in inner-city urban education teaching grades kindergarten through middle school, and also in two alternative high schools: one for at-risk students, and the second for inner-city students with behavioral classifications. His movement based program, TumbleJam™, has been recognized and endorsed by occupational, physical, and speech therapists as well as special education teachers and administrators. Patrick also provides staff development workshops to educators and administrators to help create movement based classroom management strategies so they can better accommodate the varied learners they must now teach. Patrick will begin the next phase of his Dalcroze studies at Carnegie Mellon University in February. His first book, How Movement; Music Can Propel Education into the Twenty-First Century, is due to be published in 2018.

Build a Mindful Classroom: Strategies to Calm and Promote Attention

Practicing mindfulness reduces anxiety, problem behaviors, and supports healthy bodies. Come learn the why of a child’s stress response, strategies to calm, and basic infant/child massage practices. Jen is the Director of Assessment, Curriculum and Teaching for HSES, a Board-Certified Massage Therapist, and Infant Massage Instructor.

Director of Assessment, Curriculumand Teaching for HSES, a Board-Certified Massage Therapist, and Infant Massage Instructor.

The Importance of Early Developmental Screening. Presented by Mark Boyd, Director of Telehealth, The Scott Center for Autism Treatment on the campus of the Florida Institute of Technology

  “In the United States, about 13% of children 3 to 17 years of age have a developmental or behavioral disability such as autism, intellectual disability and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. However, less than half of children with problems are identified before starting school.”

Calm Classroom: Helping Students Develop Self-Awareness, Mental Focus and Emotional Resilience with 3-Minute Mindfulness-Based Techniques.

Presented by Jori Griffith and Maura Salisbury, participants learn to facilitate 1-2 minute mindfulness techniques to help children develop self-awareness and emotional resilience so that they can feel happy, healthy and engaged throughout the day. Calm Classroom is a research-based social-emotional learning program founded in 2007 by the NFP Luster Learning Institute. The program has been implemented school and district-wide in Chicago, Detroit, Los Angeles and Albany, as well as in individual classrooms world-wide. We provide educators with fun, simple mindfulness techniques to help young children learn how to regulate their emotions so that they can calm the body and mind anytime, anywhere.

               Jori Griffith

            Maura Salisbury


Master Class, Stonework Play, General Session 

Wednesday, February 7, 2018  9am-12:30pm

“Stonework Play is a form of creative learning. It engages the senses and animates imagination, allowing each person to tell a story or make a unique pattern suggested by handling the stones. The weight, form and texture of each stone suggest artistic choices that result in original work. Stonework Play responds to the idea of nature’s power to enrich the imagination. It helps the artist, no matter how young, to explore and express emotions, thoughts and feelings through stone arrangements and the stories they elicit. Stones are a kinesthetic medium, never fixed in their place or meaning, the ground an endless canvas, and small hands the brushes that move them.” Dr Diana Suskind

Diana Suskind, E.D., is an educator and international consultant for early childhood development and elementary education. She has implemented her Stonework/Stonework Play Program in museums and schools around the world, teaching young students to release their creative energy through touch and storytelling. Dr. Suskind is now introducing her Stonework Project to professionals in the field of early childhood education. Previously, Dr. Suskind was an associate professor of education at Fitchburg (Mass.) State University, where she focused on early childhood education and RIE parent-infant guidance classes.

During Opening Minds 2018, you have the opportunity to go deeper and even become a certified trainer of Stonework Play. First, you will need to attend 3.5 hours of training on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday on site at Opening Minds, and second, complete some follow-up work when you return home.

Click here, to review the follow-up practicum requirements to achieve certification by Diana Suskind.

Opening Minds will be offering professional development credit hours only for sessions completed on site during conference. Awarding of the Train the Trainers Certification in Stonework Play is at the discretion of Diana Suskind. 

The Executive Orders, Trauma, and Instilling Hope: Supporting refugees and undocumented immigrants through home visiting 

A panel of home visitors, clinicians, researchers, and home visiting model developers come together to discuss the use of home visitation to support families with young children, 0-3 years.

Aimee Hilado, PhD, LCSW Manager, The Wellness Program RefugeeOne

The backstory of the session: The Executive Orders, Trauma, and Instilling Hope
In early 2017, an Executive Order was issued that ordered a 120-day halt in the U.S. Refugee Program, placed additional limits on immigrants traveling with visas from seven Muslim-majority countries, and used language that some believe codifies discrimination based on country of origin, religion and immigration status. Immigrant and refugee populations were profoundly impacted as families were immediately separated and there was great confusion around detentions and blocked entry to the U.S. RefugeeOne provides mental health services to support impacted groups and we have learned that home visiting has been a unique and impactful way to support both early childhood and adult mental health among immigrant and refugee populations feeling vulnerable in the current climate.

This is just a preview of what’s planned. More sessions, descriptions, and presenters will be added, regularly. Follow us on Facebook, to get updates in real time. The full schedule of listings will be available in January.