Playground Powow

Good morning All,

We encourage the kids to bring in ideas of games and activities that they will enjoy sharing with their group friends. We pride ourselves on incorporating those ideas and helping the kids to feel ownership of the curriculum. But the suggestion we get most often is the one we will never take. Why?

The most requested activity across all of the age groups is to use the playscape. I always say no, because by intentionally excluding that wonderful resource from our toolbox, something wonderful happens. Your children make playdates, with friends, on their own.

We have made a conscious decision to draw a metaphorical line across which the playground is outside of Kids Cooperate, which opens the opportunity for kids to easily and conveniently bridge their social interactions from Kids Cooperate to the outside world. One of the biggest challenges we face is helping the kids to take what they have learned during the highly scaffolded social interaction in groups and apply it to other contexts. When your child asks, "can I go to the playground with _____" that is exactly what they are doing.

I encourage you to build in a little extra time into your schedule when the weather is nice after your child gets out of group so that when they ask to play on the playground with a friend you can say yes. Take a minute to appreciate what an important mark of progress this represents!

thank you!


The Duchenne Smile

This week we discussed "Mind Hacks", the idea that we can make our lives happier, smarter, and awesome-er by understanding a little about neuroscience. The middle schoolers learned how to consistently win the game of Rock Paper Scissors by understanding the psychology behind the patterns people throw. We learned another mind hack, how facial expression sends powerful signals to the brain. A frown uses a muscle called the corrugator, which some studies show activates the amygdala, the portion of the brain responsible for coping with stress and danger. When scientists temporarily paralyzed the frowning muscle using botox injections, depressed people recovered faster. Conversely, a genuine smile which crinkles the eyes as well as mouth called the "Duchenne Smile" after the neurologist who studied it can increase feelings of joy, affect the immune system, and improve performance on cognitive tasks. An interesting fact is that the brain can spot a fake smile using only the mouth (the Pan Am smile) and it does not have the same positive effects.

Keep Smiling!

Secret Agent

This week in group we are exploring the benefits of feeling and expressing gratitude, and played "secret agent of gratitude". At the beginning of group each child received their secret assignment, the name of one of the other children. Throughout the group they had to secretly observe and note down the things about the other child that they were grateful for. At the end of group we revealed our undercover assignments and shared our gratitude. Big smiles all around!


Continuing on our curriculum of self-care for happiness, this week we will be focusing on one item in particular from the happiness challenge, gratitude

Making a new habit of taking a shared or private moment to recognize and name the things we are grateful for will have a ripple effect of happiness throughout your life and your child's life. Here are some of the ways to use that moment.

1. Reframe: take a second look at the challenges in your day and find the silver lining, even if it was only being presented with the chance to learn and grow.

2. Be Thankful: people do things for us all day long. From the barrista who brought you your morning drink to the people who give you unconditional love and support throughout your life, there is always an army of people who deserve our thanks but never ask for it. 

3. Positive Focus: The human mind has a powerful bias toward seeing what it's looking for. This is called the Reticular Activating System. Use this to your advantage by focusing on the positive in your life in order to highlight the hidden pockets of happiness that have gone unnoticed. 


Here is a reminder of the 10 items on the happiness challenge.

1. Smile
2. Write down three positive things that happened today
3. Get 7-8 hours of sleep tonight
4. Do a good deed for someone
5. Spend time with family or friends
6. Write down something you're grateful for
7. Eat healthy foods: skip processed foods and sweets today
8. Exercise: walk, go to the gym, dance. Just move!
9. Spend 10 minutes outside to get vitamin D
10. Make time for a hobby or activity you love

Two Truths and a Lie

The other night in group we played "Two truths and a lie" as an ice breaker. The point of this game is to share some facts about yourself so amazing that they sound like a fib. It is also an opportunity to watch body language for "tells" to reveal which fact might be untruthful. 

One of my amazing true facts is that I was once on Candid Camera. More amazing to me was that none of the kids had ever heard of the show. Finally one of them said, "oh, that's an old person show from the nineteen hundreds". Good grief!

The Happiness Challenge

Continuing our February Challenges (see the Better Communication Challenge from a few weeks ago), this week is the Happiness Challenge! Try out a few of the items below. We will be discussing them formally in groups. 

1. Smile
2. Write down three positive things that happened today
3. Get 7-8 hours of sleep tonight
4. Do a good deed for someone
5. Spend time with family or friends
6. Write down something you're grateful for
7. Eat healthy foods: skip processed foods and sweets today
8. Exercise: walk, go to the gym, dance. Just move!
9. Spend 10 minutes outside to get vitamin D
10. Make time for a hobby or activity you love

The Happiness Challenge is from

The Power of a Smile

One of the items on our Better Communication Challenge is to smile at someone. Here is a moving example of the power simple acts of kindness can have.

Six Word Memoirs

This week, six word memoirs.

It's a challenge to be parsimonious. 

Short stories push ideas into focus.

Carefully chosen words, have greater impact.


After Harvard, had baby with crackhead.
- Robin Templeton

70 years, few tears, hairy ears.
- Bill Querengesser

Watching quietly from every door frame.
- Nicole Resseguie

Catholic school backfired. Sin is in!
- Nikki Beland

Savior complex makes for many disappointments.
- Alanna Schubach

Nobody cared, then they did. Why?
- Chuck Klosterman

Some cross-eyed kid, forgotten then found.
- Diana Welch

She said she was negative. Damn.
- Ryan McRae

Born in the desert, still thirsty.
- Georgene Nunn

A sake mom, not soccer mom.
- Shawna Hausman

I asked. They answered. I wrote.
- Sebastian Junger

No future, no past. Not lost.
- Matt Brensilver

Extremely responsible, secretly longed for spontaneity.
- Sabra Jennings

Joined Army. Came out. Got booted.
- Johan Baumeister

Almost a victim of my family
- Chuck Sangster

The psychic said I'd be richer.
- Elizabeth Bernstein

Grumpy old soundman needs love, too.
- Lennie Rosengard

Mom died, Dad screwed us over.
- Lesley Kysely

Painful nerd kid, happy nerd adult.
- Linda Williamson


Excerpted from Not Quite What I Was Planning from Smith magazine, edited by Rachel Fershleiser and Larry Smith. Copyright 2008. Reproduced with permission of the publisher, Harper Perennial.

Sympathy for the Kragle

This week I took my son to see The Lego Movie. We loved it and as I watched it I couldn't help but see some archetypes that will be familiar to many of the kids who participate in Kids Cooperate social groups.  [Possible Spoiler Alert] The pantheon of bad guys is headed by President Business who, frustrated with the disorder of lego land devises a plan to freeze them all in place using his army of micromanaging machines led by Bad Cop, one of the most three dimensional and interesting characters who struggles with wild mood swings. Starting to sound familiar?

The hero of the story is Emmett, a lego guy who struggles to fit in and be accepted despite his best effort to listen to what his peers are listening to, watch what they are watching, and talk about what they are talking about. His attempts to fit in are perceived by his peers as something less than authentic, and he is ostracized in a way that is all the more painful because he is "doing everything right". Starting to sound familiar?  

In the end it is, ironically, Emmett's willingness to accept the ways he is different which reveals the way he is the same as everyone else in that each character harbors unique quirks of character that compliment each other. This should sound familiar if you have ever heard me talk about the Kids Cooperate philosophy of practice.  

Our curriculum is built around the dialectic idea that a person has to unconditionally accept themselves as they are before change is possible.  That is the principle behind the way curriculum is developed to support a space where the group members can share and find community in their idiosyncrasies, while gaining greater awareness of their social emotional strengths and challenges and learning tools to reach across what separates them from their peers in order to make connections. 

Talking About the Olympics

The Olympics are afoot. Watching them with your children can present a trove of valuable opportunities to talk about sportsmanship, resiliency, perseverance, and many other important principles. 

The Olympics began in Greece in 776BC with a five event combination of events involving variations on wrestling and racing. The rules were enforced by referees who used whips. The modern winter games are larger and gentler, with 15 events and high tech judging standards.

The athletes competing in the  2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi Russia agree to uphold the principles of respect, excellence, and friendship. It is a great opportunity to watch athletes compete as hard as they can, and then deal with victory and defeat with grace, neither gloating or having a tantrum.

Here are a few conversation prompts:

-Why do countries who disagree about so many important things come together to play games?

-How do athletes react who win a medal (facial expression, body language)?

-How do athletes who lose react?

-How would you feel if you won/lost an event?

-What are some ways the athletes can communicate with each other in the dorms without a common language?  


The Sochi Olympics in tandem with Russia's restrictive laws on homosexuality have highlighted the issue of the relationship between the awarding of the Olympic games and the host country's human rights record. The Olympic charter requires that each participating country not discriminate against athletes, but says nothing specifically about general human rights in the host country. Geo politics have been a consistent impact on the games including the 1936 Berlin Olympics (Nazis), the 1940 Tokyo Olympics (cancelled due to WWII), The 1944 Italian Olympics (cancelled due to WWII), the 1948 London Olympics (cancelled due to WWII), 1968 Mexico (U.S. civil rights), the 1972 Munich Olympics (Palestinian terrorists), The 1980 Soviet Games (boycotted due to the invasion of Afghanistan), and the 2008 Beijing games (concerns about human rights).


Autism Awareness Night at the XL

You won't want to miss this awesome night of hockey to raise awareness about Autism at the XL Center February 21st. Look for a special message from Kids Cooperate on the jumbotron ;)


Video Scavenge Hunt

This week in social group we created video scavenger hunts. The group split into two and each came up with a list of things for the other team to capture on video. Some of the items included "Say something nice to the person on your right" and "work together to create an obstacle course". 

Video is a particularly good medium for children on the autism spectrum or with ADHD. A study by Corbett & Abdullah (2005), found video feedback effective because it plays to the strengths of children who express:

  • over-selective attention (making them very prone to distraction)
  • restricted field of focus
  • preference for visual stimuli and visually cued instruction
  • avoidance of face-to-face interactions
  • ability to process visual information more readily than verbal information

Do any of these sound familiar?

6 Second Storytelling

I hope everyone is warm and sleeping in this morning!  I'm grateful that the snowstorm didn't come on the usual Tuesday night this week because we had a great social group last night. 

We created 6 second films using Vine (they did not get posted online), which is an application that is perfect for stop motion animation and creates a six second, looping video. The challenge to the kiddos was to use group decision making process (the negotiation skills we have been working on) to come up with a short story and then tell it in an innovative way using materials in the room in only six seconds. 

We had a song mashup between What Does the Fox Say and Let it Go from Frozen, a gorgeous animation on the chalkboard about a princess that escapes a tower, a lego adventure that ended well for the dragon but not the knight, and a heart stopping car crash/plane rescue. 

Here are 5 tips for remembering names that we went over at the start of group, taken from Entrepreneur Magazine. 

1. Repeat names throughout the exchange.

2. Make mental associations.

3. Study names in print.

4. Ask for clarification with difficult names.

5. If you forget a name, address it head on.

Build with Chrome

Next time you kiddo wants computer time, try this amazing virtual lego building site. You will need to use the Chrome Browser from Google. You're welcome.

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