Big Circle + Brain Gym: A Whole Brain, Whole Person Invitation into a Joyful Day

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Big Circle: More than just singing

At its core, Big Circle is a sacred community gathering that invites our entire Treehouse Learning community of children, staff, parents, and other adults into an integrated place of positive, joyful energy. At Treehouse Learning, our Whole-Person approach guides us to welcome, move towards, and seek integration of all parts of our brains, as well as seek integration between our thoughts (brains), our emotions/feelings (hearts), and our actions/behaviors/movements (bodies).

While validating the realness of all human emotions and holding space for each unique human to show up as they are, with the stories and experiences each of us brings into the day, we also harness the collective power of positive emotional contagion to intentionally infuse our building with encouraging and empowering feelings.

Just as it sounds, the positive, and joyful energy of a regulated and integrated person, is actually contagious and can spread to others as readily as germs blasted in a massive sneeze. A bad mood can do the same.

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At Treehouse Learning, we adults intentionally use the community-based experience of gathering together for songs and movements to organize and activate all parts of our brains, reconnect to our bodies and senses through movement, and attune to our ever-changing emotional landscapes. Integrated, joyful adults support integrated, joyful children!

As adults, we recognize the power and influence of our examples, much in the same way that older children are empowered to guide, lead, and model experiential, embodied learning experiences for younger children. When we adults activate our capacity to recognize, access, and cultivate joy, we benefit. In fact, all living things around us benefit, especially children!

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Big Circle: A Daily Community Wellness Ritual that leads to learning, thriving, and whole person wellbeing

Big Circle as a daily practice is a whole-person, whole-body, whole-brain, and whole-community learning experience. Big Circle combines specific learning objectives using the existing framework and structure of a daily routine that incorporates deep human connections, community, singing, movement, language, transition practices, brain integration, whole-person nourishment, and practicing tools for positively-anticipated joyful learning. 

As part of our CIRCLE Grant activities to embed Brain Gym into Treehouse Learning, we’re specifically using the venue of Big Circle to meet multiple overarching objectives. Our perspective of optimal environments based on attachment theory within optimal child development leads us to utilize the efficiency of playful, body-based, and sensory-based learning experiences.

We seek to engage all of our senses, but purposefully! Too much sensory stimulation too fast can also overwhelm the sensory-processing areas of the brain, and our brains get overwhelmed and shut down! Big Circle is designed to benefit everybody in the room, and it offers easy tools that anybody can use.

Intentional, respectful consideration of developmentally appropriate practices in early childhood experiences informs our Big Circle structure. Our mixed-age, inter-community celebration builds relationships and organizes the brain for all subsequent learning.

Our understanding and application of best practices in a quality early childhood educational setting is informed by the research-driven frameworks of interpersonal neurobiology, grounded theory research in self-compassion, vulnerability, child development, as well as indigenous perspectives on whole person/whole community well-being and lenses reflecting our desire to build a more just, compassionate, and equitable world.

Our songs are original to Treehouse Learning, a reflection in itself of the intentional access to our own creative, whole-brain capacities as leaders in the space of early childhood education. 

Big Circle: Whole Person Development and Integration in Action

Big Circle begins at 8:45 am each morning, with each classroom embarking on the voyage down the hall to their class blanket around the Big Room. Typically, big siblings join their younger siblings, and friendly faces see one another in a room.

The songs we sing are purposeful and intentional. We begin with Welcome to Treehouse Learning, followed by PACE, a physiological process to activate all parts of the brain into joyful cooperation (which we covered in detail in a series of blog posts). In the middle, we rotate through various songs, incorporating singing, clapping patterns, and large/small body motions. 

In the middle of the Big Circle “set list”, we’ve recently introduced three newly created Brain Gym© songs, called Owl, Monkey Song, and Dandelion Seed. The songs and melodies are simple and easy to remember. The rhyming word patterns support phonemic awareness and language/ literacy skills, and each song incorporates intentional whole-body movements that use the song to tell a story, which is itself a specific Brain Gym©.

Like spinach in a brownie, each song is an invitation to seamlessly integrate the whole brain and whole person (mind/heart/body) through joyful music-based experiences, and each Brain Gym© is a designed movement with a physiological intention to activate specific areas of the brain.

Big Circle Brain Gyms

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The Owl Song:

  • Primarily sung to support alignment, breath work, and side-to-side eye tracking. Big body arm motions engage whole-body movements and integrate the visual and auditory sensory modes.  The neck rotates side to side, supporting ease of lateral mobility. All increases in mobility and motion in all parts of our body (limbs, eyes, ears, midlines) positively activate and organize the parts of the brain that lead to optimal hearing, listening, and using the eyes and ears in harmony for thriving in our multidimensional world.

Monkey’s Thinking Cap:

  • Corresponding Brain Gym called “Thinking Cap,” Monkey’s Thinking Cap supports active hearing and listening by engaging all parts of the brain.  The Thinking Cap can also act as a filter when we are in overwhelm and need to self-regulate our auditory nervous systems to self-calm. We’ve also included cross-body climbing, whole-body movements, squatting, and visual tracking from side to side/near and far. 

Dandelion Seed Belly Breathing

  • A belly breathing exercise that tells the story of a dandelion seed slowly being blown away in the wind. Belly breathing exercises are incredibly calming and regulating and support the integration of the brain, body, and nervous system. There is abundant research, data, and shared wisdom behind the importance of breath in relationship to self-regulation and being in touch with our inner emotional landscapes. 

We’ve Got So Much to be Thankful For

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As Big Circle draws to a close, we intentionally activate gratitude with the repetition of a simple, yet profound song, “We’ve got so much to be thankful for.” Research on the complex interconnection of gratitude and joy confirms that gratitude is the natural and organic expression of joy and that actively practicing gratitude helps us all access joy.

This song was adapted from Nii Armah Sowah, a local Ghanaian singer and dancer, in an adult singing course called African Songs of Life. At Treehouse Learning, we accept the invitation into gratitude and sing this song with a shaker egg or tambourine, clapping hands, and dancing feet.

Children dance and spin, and the joyful contagion of gratitude expressed in words, music, and our bodies are so contagious that our entire building, including parents, prospective parents, visitors, children, staff, teachers, and administrators all catch the “thankful wave.” 

In fact, even our Nutrition and Nourishment team, head chef Mary Sullivan and Sous-Chef Ari Sederberg sing all morning long from the kitchen, literally infusing the food they make to nourish our children with the intentionality and sentiment of gratitude and a joyful and positive climate.

Let Your Light Shine 

Our last song, sung to the tune of “This Little Light of Mine,” names and dismisses each group of children individually. Children locate themselves as individuals part of a community bigger than themselves. This helps them build their concept of Self, as newer humans on the planet that aren’t simply miniature adults.

We learn about ourselves and our world through experience. Children who have only been on the planet a few short years look to trusted, safe people around them to observe, absorb, and make meaning of what it means to be a whole person.

We are each the cumulative and interwoven fabrics of the thoughts our brains think, the emotions our hearts feel, and the behaviors, actions, and experiences that we embody and emerge out of our bodies.

When we notice and attune to all of the parts of our physical, mental, and emotional worlds and where we are on the “whole person integration map,” especially when we find ourselves in any state of dis-integration, we can choose which tools to use as a route back into whole-Self integration. These moments of intentional “integration practice” are embedded into our curriculum and our community.

Integrated Adults Support Integrated Children

Every integrated person in the world is empowered to spread the positive emotional contagion of whole-person well-being to the world around us like we get to do every day at Big Circle. From a bottom-to-top approach, the world becomes kinder, more compassionate, and more just when integration occurs separately and simultaneously between the I, the We, and the World.

Our closing song is a reminder that change begins with us. Let us each be the change we want to see in the world, and let our lights shine. At Treehouse Learning, we are honored to be part of such a profound paradigm shift in regard to early childhood education and whole-person living. 

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