Introducing The Rainbow Inside Us with Rachel Potts
Rachel Potts has over 20 years of experience as an early childhood educator. She dedicates her career to improving literacy education for students of all backgrounds. Rachel is heavily involved in mentoring her colleagues, and her classroom serves as a model for other educators and administrators in her area of expertise.
When she is not teaching, Rachel is exploring her spirituality and what it means to live mindfully. She is an avid practitioner of yoga and meditation and finds joy in sharing some of those moments with her two kids, Alex and Julia. Even though she is busy, she makes sure to find time in her day to practice mindfulness.
Rachel has partnered with BOLDFISH to provide us with kid-friendly and educational mindfulness exercises that parents/guardians can do with their young ones. Rachel’s first series, The Rainbow Inside Us, is a fusion of her two passions: education and mindful living.
The Rainbow Inside Us – Episode 1
All of us have a channel of energy that runs through our bodies, and in each place where the energy forms, there is a special color associated with it. This meditation will introduce you to the power of all of the colors of the rainbow, where they are found in the body, and how they help us move through the world with confidence and care.
See below to learn more about Rachel and her thoughts about raising and teaching kids in the digital age.
As an educator for over two decades, you’ve seen the rise of the digital age. Could you please tell us both the positive and negative impact that technology has had on learning and education?
That is a big question! It seems to me to be true of any advancement, whether in science, technology — or really any field — that with progress comes repercussions. Assistive technology has changed the lives of countless students with special needs. Access to the internet has opened worlds up for kids who live in poverty.
However, with the rising use of technology in schools and classrooms, I have noticed a decreased engagement with hands-on materials and play-based activities, like books and board games. As a rule, I always tried to keep screens out of my instruction for two reasons: First, kids get plenty of screen time outside of school without a doubt! Secondly, it is my feeling that pathways are formed by doing…
The act of actually doing something helps kids to learn and hold onto new skills.
Many people believe Gen-Z will be the generation most negatively impacted by tech, especially due to mobile devices and social media platforms. As someone who works with younger children, are you worried about tech overuse?
Tech overuse is a definite concern for me personally. Kids need to know how to look up and actually talk with someone. People need to learn to use each other as resources. While there are undoubtedly benefits to interacting with technology on the go and through social media, the constant access can be overstimulating and difficult to disconnect from.
I think also, and I speak from experience as a parent myself, that many adults take the path of least resistance when it comes to tech use and their children. That seems to perpetuate the tech overuse.
It is definitely nice to have quiet kids when on a long trip or waiting for a table at a restaurant, but at what cost?
Referencing iGen by Jean Twenge, children are said to be less outdoorsy, less adventurous, and less independent which can be correlated to the ubiquity of technological advancements such as smartphones and social media. Do you see any changes in behavior or development between children when you first started your career and now? Why do you think that is?
Sadly, I do.
With that said, childhood is so different from when I grew up. Even without technology, you really don’t see kids riding bikes in a neighborhood or at the park unsupervised. Everything tends to be highly structured for them, which results naturally in less resourceful and less independent kids.
But technology plays a part. Instead of seeing a friend, you meet up online. And while virtual play spaces have their merits, again, it is not the same real-time, concrete experience as socializing with a peer in person. We know that kids say things online that they wouldn’t otherwise say. There is a false sense of who one is or can be, and that can be both confusing and dangerous.
Many kids growing up “on tech” seem to be less comfortable with direct social interaction, group engagement (even in school) and if you read through decades of research on childhood development, collaborating with and considering the perspective of others is crucial to developing an understanding of cause and effect as well as empathy. Without those things, it is hard to navigate the world.
What are your thoughts about apps, programs, and digital content directed at kids? (YouTube Kids, Baby Shark, Netflix Kids, Peppa Pig, etc.) Are these effective means of learning and engagement or are they doing more harm than good?
For young children in particular, I would say that the “best” screen to allow access to is television because it remains an interactive medium. Parents and caregivers can talk about what kids are seeing and hearing. Putting young children on individual screens is essentially like putting blinders on them in many ways. The conversation that occurs naturally assists in language acquisition which then correlates to literacy learning. Interacting with apps takes away the opportunity for kids to ask questions and hear the inflection and explanation that comes with talking to a live person.
Do you have any suggestions for parents and guardians to use technology in a beneficial way for their children? Is there such a thing as “mindful tech?”
Yes! Looking up answers to kids’ seemingly never-ending questions can be engaging and fun for parents and kids to do together online. Listening to music or exercising together are other ways to use tech purposefully. And of course, introducing kids to things like yoga and breathing and meditation would count as “mindful tech.”
Do you regulate your children’s tech usage? If so, could you provide some pointers?
I do, and I can say that monitoring their usage is definitely not linear! Some things I have done since the outset of my son’s (my older, so subsequently the little one followed suit) usage, include:
- Having a central charging area where devices are kept when not in use and overnight (including my own phone!)
- No gaming during the week
- Using devices for music only on school nights
- No tech usage behind closed doors
- Homework is done on computers completed in a common space (like the kitchen)
- Enforcing time limits with frequent breaks on weekends
One thing I am currently putting into place is not having any devices with us when we are out and about (i.e. restaurants, visiting friends).
Ever since you started doing yoga and meditation with your kids, what benefits have you seen? What has changed since they were introduced to mindfulness?
When my son was younger, he would often get very physically agitated when either upset or excited. As early as him being 3 or 4, we explored self-regulation techniques together like deep-belly breathing and finding a quiet place to sit until those strong feelings passed. As a young teen now, he still has the capacity to say, even when upset, “Mom, do you mind leaving me alone for a while?”
My daughter has explored many different techniques to manage her emotions and worries—things like sensory focusing activities (i.e. focusing on a lollipop by singularly enjoying the taste and texture of it; doing jumping jacks to provide external physical input; closing her eyes to listen for sounds close by and far away). She also regularly practices yoga with me and I see definite changes in her when we finish. That’s to say she is calmer in both demeanor and activity. Slow, deep breaths are also something she can call upon entirely on her own now whenever she is feeling overwhelmed.
What is your favorite mindfulness activity you do with Alex and Julia?
Now that Alex is older, I have learned that the most mindful time I spend with him is similar to what we call “parallel play” in early childhood. He may be listening to music or reading a sports magazine or even watching videos on his computer while I am nearby reading my own book. Just sharing space with him and being present is what I am going for.
With Julia, we like to do one particular yoga practice called “Whale Yoga,” as well as attend family workshops at my local yoga studio where the teacher creates practices that incorporate themes of compassion, gratitude, and forgiveness.
Everyday when the kids leave for school, my mantra is the same, “Try your best and remember to be nice.” My hope is that those words in and of themselves create a little space for mindfulness for the kids.
How does introducing mindfulness help people with raising their children?
I think when adults can connect with something that makes sense for them in the mindfulness realm, it creates a way for them to remain in control even during the inevitable challenges that come with raising kids. For me, it looks something like this: when I feel frustrated or angry, I can more often pause before acting.
One benefit for mindful parents/caregivers is the increased ability to pause and respond as opposed to simply reacting. Taking a few really deep and slow breaths, stepping away for a moment, etc.—these things change the way your nervous system works. A calm adult can help turn a challenging situation into a constructive one. Being mindful also allows adults to be okay with all of their feelings instead of feeling bad about them.
It is ok to feel sad, overwhelmed, angry, or frustrated. Acknowledging that feelings are transient helps parents stay in the moment.
How would you best describe what mindfulness is to a child?
I would say to a child that being mindful has two parts: mindfulness of self and mindfulness of others.
For ourselves, it means we have the ability to feel all of our feelings and work with them. It means slowing down to notice the blue sky or the breeze on our skin.
Rippling that outward, it means remembering that all living things want to feel good and be happy. Smiling at someone or holding the door can be a mindful moment for a child.