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How can we help your child create their best life-lived experience?

 
 

Personalized strategies to empower each child to optimize their own learning, social and emotional outcomes

Few educators are aware of the powerful connections between children’s minds and bodies, and how these connections can be leveraged to accelerate learning, increase regulation and more. It is well known that a child can be cranky when they’re sick, spacey when their allergies are reacting to trees in full bloom or struggle to retain what they learn when they haven’t had a good night’s sleep. But these are just the most obvious of the many ways in which our basic physiology informs our learning, social and emotional experiences.

Unfortunately, these scientific realities aren’t integrated into our cultural understandings about children. From teachers to parenting, adults are taught that “behaviors” indicate our children’s intents, and respond to them accordingly. Yet the reality is that while we may take actions to express our feelings most of the time, other “behaviors” are better understood as outward manifestations of physiological events or urges.

This approach misses the opportunity to build self-awareness and self-regulating skills for all children, but the results can be emotionally damaging for children who have atypical neurological development. Social expectations are set based on what most children can easily do most of the time as of a given age, and consequences flow accordingly. Yet for kids whose neurological development is atypical, when we impose these expectations without training them in how to improve the neurological functioning required to meet those expectations in the moment, all we accomplish is to create a conflict between that child and those he loves—or worse, laying the ground work for the child to feel shame over their inability to meet those expectations.

Take for example the child who grabs a book from a peer. At first glance, pop culture views this as an act of aggression, inappropriately invading the peer’s personal space. However, when we appreciate the balance, gross motor coordination and visual processing required to execute this task, multiple alternative explanations becomes apparent that are at least worth considering. Similarly, the child who suddenly lashes out in anger may need to learn how to “control his temper,” or he may be experiencing an overload of sensory inputs and need help training his brain in how to better integrate them. For the child who’s experienced trauma in their past, there might be all sorts of hidden emotional tripwires driving these actions as well.

From maintaining our postural control to integrating and filtering our sensory inputs, there are a myriad connections between our physiological experiences and our outward experiences. These connections present obvious challenges, but also opportunities, as they present physiological levers we can use to improve those social, emotional and cognitive outcomes.

Understanding and supporting the basic neuroscience behind how children’s bodies inform their social, emotional and learning experiences is fundamental to the Cajal Academy approach. We all want children to conduct themselves with integrity, kindness and empathy towards others, so we must appreciate that different learning pathways may be required to get there and invest in understanding the roadblocks standing in this particular child’s way.

Giving children “agency” through personalized strategies and individualized academic, social, emotional and body learnings

This premise flows through Cajal Academy’s individualized programs in three important ways. First, it drives our approach to discipline and for responding to behavioral events, through a neurologically-grounded extension of the techniques developed by the Trauma-Informed Schools movement.

Second, it is the foundation of our curricular approach, which explicitly includes not just academic content but social, emotional and body skills. Together, these skills combine to inform our life-lived experience, for better and for worse. These skills can be taught, just like math and reading. Thus, as we come to understand the specific vulnerabilities holding a child back, our expert therapeutic team applies long-established and research-backed techniques to increase their capacity in those areas. You can read more about our approach to each of these pillars here.

Finally, this premise flows through what is perhaps the most powerful part of our individualized programs: Personalized Strategies that each child can use to optimize their own learning, social and emotional outcomes as of each stage of the developmental or healing process. These strategies are developed by our therapeutic team as part of the initial deep dive into a child’s profile. For each identified area of challenge, the team identifies strategies that the child can use to predict and monitor their own reactions, eventually building towards strategies they can use to independently self-manage and self-advocate for their needs. For instance, a child with either sensory integration disorder or certain immunological instabilities may be trained in how to read their own state of regulation and then adjust it on their own by using specific sensory strategies to trigger neurochemical releases that re-regulate the brain. Similarly, a child who is relatively weak at visual spatial relationships can be coached to mask excess content, allowing the mind to concentrate its neurocognitive load. And, rather than a laundry list of siloed “to do’s,” strategies are integrated across areas of need. For instance, a single protocol can be developed incorporating a wide range of issues triggered by seated work, ranging from visual processing challenges to back pain, both of which interfere with a child’s readiness to engage in the work.

Coaching in how to apply these Personalized Strategies is embedded directly into the classroom, where they’re needed most. Our classrooms are co-taught by therapeutic experts, and all staff members are trained in each child’s profile and strategies. These are shared with the child’s family and any outside supporting therapeutic teams, creating the consistent approach across all settings that is critical to helping the child improve not only their learning experiences but their life-lived experiences.

 
Our aim isn’t just to create great scholars. Our aim is to empower children with the knowledge and the tools they need to optimize their own best learning, social and emotional outcomes.
— Cheryl Viirand, Cajal Academy Co-Founder
 
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Cajal Academy launches fall, 2019!

A neuroscience-driven, innovative program for twice-exceptional kids and their peers. Now accepting applications on a rolling basis for the 2019-20 school year.

 

What Makes Cajal Academy Different:

 

 

Resources

Watch these brief videos to find out more about how social, emotional and learning activities are inter-related, and the trauma-informed principles underneath our neuroscience-driven social-emotional and behavioral approach.