Back To School Need To Know-Part 3


Part 3 of our Back to School Need to Know Series
by Melissa ResekHomework Txt

Ah, homework. The one thing about school that everyone just loves to hate! Let’s just face it – it’s here to stay. So, what can we do to make it just a bit more manageable? Here are a few tips to help you out…

Routine – Make each and every day flow better with a homework routine. Following a schedule for after school makes evenings predictable for young and old alike. Decide on a schedule that works for your family, and stick with it. Here’s just one example…
– – – 4:00 – Get home and have a healthy snack.
– – – 4:15 – 5:00 – Play! Spend time OUTSIDE, running, jumping, laughing, and getting filled up on Vitamin D.
– – – 5:00 – Homework Time!

Endurance – Homework shouldn’t be an endurance sport! The general rule of thumb is that homework should take about 10 minutes for every year of schooling. (So, your 3rd grader should spend about 30 minutes on homework.) “But, it takes so much longer!”, you say. It’s time to evaluate the process.
– – – Do you have a consistent homework routine? If not, it’s time to get one started. You provide your child with a predictable after school schedule, and make the expectation for focused work time.
– – – Do you have a consistent homework space? If not, it’s time to choose one. A desk, the kitchen table, or the middle of the living room floor are all fine places for homework to happen. Make sure the tv and other devices stay in a full off mode to make sure the focus is on getting homework done correctly.
– – – How much time can your child focus in one stretch? If that 3rd grader can’t possibly sit still for 30 minutes, figure out how long she can stay focused, and chunk homework time into those more manageable bits. Three 10 minute bursts of homework completion are sometimes easier to manage than a stretch of 30 minutes.
– – – Teach the importance of prioritizing. If you know that the math homework is going to take the longest, save that one for the end of the homework session. Being able to cross tasks off of a list is motivating – there’s success and satisfaction in getting things done! You can use this to motivate your child to keep plugging on through that lengthier piece of work.
– – – Fill your child’s bucket! Make sure you praise your child for a job well done. Building your child up as he works makes it easier for him to believe in himself. Try phrases like, “Way to go! It makes me feel proud when you settle into your homework routine!” or “I know this is hard for you. I think you’re very brave for trying your best even when you’re so frustrated.”
– – – What if it keeps taking a REALLY LONG time for your child to get homework done? Reach out to the teacher. There might be something you can do together to make things less of a struggle when homework time rolls around.

Homework does have merit, even though it might be hard to see in the present. Your children learn the importance of routines and get opportunities for perfect practice of important skills. Help your child’s teacher reinforce what’s happening in the classroom by supporting a solid homework routine.

Back To School Need To Know- Part 2

Goal Setting

Part 2 of our Back to School Need to Know Series
by Melissa Resek

Rock BTS

When we set out on a trip we rarely do so without an end in mind.  For our kids, school isn’t much different!  But, unlike those family vacation trips, how often do we sit down and map out our kids’ school trips?  I’d wager a guess that the most popular answer is, “never”.  It’s important to think about how to start doing this.

Goal setting for our school age children is a fantastic way to start the school year off just right.  Setting goals can help us encourage them to do their best without creating pressure for perfection.  It opens doors to help them develop plans and boost self-confidence.  Goal setting encourages problem solving and builds the skills necessary for life-long success.  By helping your child set goals for himself, you’re teaching him that effort and learning is something you value.
So, how do you help your child set goals?
Well, first you need to remember that there’s no right or wrong way to do it!  Have a conversation with your child and list out the things that she feels that she is “good at”.  Be sure to include what you feel she is good at doing, too!  Then, list a small handful of things she needs to work on – those things that, with a little bit of focus and a heaping of planning, she can achieve.  And make sure you write them down!  Use this list to identify 1 or 2 things she wants to accomplish this school year – we will call these her LONG TERM GOALS. Next, identify 1 or 2 things she wants to accomplish in the first month of school – her SHORT TERM GOALS.  Write them down!
You’re not done yet.  As a team, you need to identify which Long Term and which Short Term Goal you will handle first.  By prioritizing your “To Do” list, you set your child and yourself up for success…no one can do everything all at once, and the sense of accomplishment after meeting one goal helps propel all of us into making the next one happen.  

Once you’ve chosen your starting point, get moving with a plan.  With your child, list out all of the steps that will make his goal a reality.  No step is too small – little bites are easier to handle.  Don’t forget to write it all down, and be sure to re-evaluate along the way.  Identify when things are going well, and rework the plan when they aren’t.  And finally, when a goal is reached, celebrate!  A special dessert or an extra few minutes of a preferred activity can be all the motivation your child needs to tackle the next goal on the list.
What if your child falls short, you ask?  Well, don’t lose it just yet.  Use it as an opportunity to talk about the decisions that went into getting from Point A to Point B.  Have your child reflect on what went well and what didn’t, and identify those things that could be done differently the next time.  Then, go after that next goal – together!

Back To School Need To Know – Part 1

It’s that time again! If you are wondering how to make back to school a little less frightening for you and your child, check out these tips from educator, parent and Kung Fu coach Melissa Resek.
It's Back

As the school year creeps quickly towards us, it’s time for the grown-ups to start thinking about the ways we can best support our learners.  What do we need to do to make sure that our children are set up for a successful year ahead?  Here are some thoughts for getting ready for back to school.


The recommended amount of sleep for children ages 6 – 13 years is 9 – 11 hours.  Those teenagers (ages 14-17) need 8-10 hours of sleep each night.  How close do your children come to getting the rest they need?  And what can you do to make sure he or she is well rested and ready to learn?

1. Set a bedtime that ensures your child will get the right amount of sleep, and STICK WITH IT.  Be consistent, even if it’s hard.
2. Make sure your youngsters are getting plenty of exercise during their day.  The more they run and play during the day, the more able they will be to settle in to rest at bedtime.
3. Get them out in the sunshine!  Ensuring that our kids get enough natural light exposure helps to balance their sleep-wake cycles.  Not to mention, fresh air, exercise, and sunshine are just good for them!
4. Unplug them.  An hour or so before bedtime, say no to tv, video games, and other electronic devices.  This helps your child’s brain begin to slow itself down, and gets their eyes ready for the sleep part of their sleep-wake cycle.  Devices fool your child’s brain, making it believe that bedtime is really time to keep on moving.  Also, as challenging as it might be, make it a priority to keep those devices and televisions out of your child’s bedroom.  Set that room aside for sleep.
5. Establish a regular, relaxing bedtime routine.  For example, a hot shower or bath followed by 10 or 15 minutes of reading (together for the little ones, alone for the older), some time coloring or drawing, or just talking about what everyone is looking forward to in the following day or something good that happened in the day that is ending.
6. Maintain the sleep routine every night, even on the weekends.


Was this helpful?

Stay tuned for the next installment…Setting Goals for the Year Ahead…

I am a martial artist

I’ve been doing some renovation work on my personal blog, including brushing up the “about me” text on my main sidebar and “About” page.  One of the things I put in “about me” is that I’m a martial artist.

I will confess that it took a little time to convince myself it was okay to say that out loud.

I mean, I know some martial artists, okay?  I have teachers who have won national competitions, who are multiple-level black belts, who have SKILLS.  I have fellow students who are currently winning competitions and learning all kinds of crazy awesome things.  I know martial artists.

But the words stick when I try to say I’m one of them.

shadow man

Me, a martial artist?  Har, har.  That’s a good one.  I know one or two things about tai chi and I don’t suck as much as I used to when I move around.  THAT’S not a real martial artist.  A real martial artist is REALLY FAST! and does AMAZING LEAPS! and BREAKS HARD STUFF with their FISTS!

I don’t do any of that.

Here’s a thing, though.  If this is my definition of a martial artist, then I’m not just disqualifying myself.  I’m disqualifying a lot of other people too.

Not everyone at the school does amazing leaps or goes really fast (especially in the tai chi program, because that’s sort of exactly not the point) or breaks things with their fists, or with anything else.  If I’m not a martial artist because I can’t do those things, a lot of other people get disqualified on the same basis.

In fact, not all of my teachers do that stuff anymore either.  They’ve moved on from there.  Does that mean they’re not really actually martial artists anymore?  Is there a grandfather clause they need to invoke?

I know for a fact that this is not what being a martial artist is really about.  I have never, ever heard ANYONE at my school teach that doing fast, cool, impressive-looking stuff is THE POINT.  Even the people who are teaching or learning how to do fast, cool, impressive-looking stuff.

THE POINT is to learn how to work hard.  To learn “wu de” (martial virtue) and how to use it in real life.  To gain confidence in oneself.  To be part of a community.  To learn how to both lead and follow.  To learn how to serve other people, which is what virtuous warriors have accepted as their true duty for millenia.

All that other stuff?  About punching and kicking and taking down the bad guys and breaking bricks with your [insert body part here] and showing off?  That’s not being a martial artist.  That’s Hollywood stuff.  That’s a twisted-around view we get from living inside this culture, and I’ve been infected with it.

In denying myself the title “martial artist,” I’ve been denying what martial artists truly are.  I’ve been making false distinctions among fellow students and among the martial arts community at large.  I don’t think they’ve leaked outside my own head, but I’m sorry they lasted so long inside it.

I am a martial artist.

Watch the Center

Yesterday Coach Jose posted a video to the Center’s Facebook group (you’re a part of the Center’s Facebook group, right?  Right?) of a fabulous wushu staff form.  It’s a beautiful display of kung fu, well worth a look if you haven’t seen it.)

I always marvel at the speed of great kung fu performers.  I found myself wondering how on earth you make that kind of speed happen, because in this form the staff just becomes a blur.

Coach Jose spearThen I realized there’s a trick involved — an optical illusion.  A long weapon emphasizes speed.  The longer the weapon, the faster the whole thing looks.

To understand what’s happening in a form like this, you can’t look at the stick.  You can barely see the stick.  You have to look at the center.  Watch the person in the middle of the weapon-blur, and then you can see how he or she does it.

It’s not just true for wushu.  Do you have a role model or mentor you want to be more like?  Are you impressed by the range of what they accomplish, and wonder how it’s possible to become more like them?

The secret is still to watch the center.  Don’t look at the extreme limits of what that person does, watch them.  Look at what’s important to them.  Look at their priorities.  Watch what they do every single day, without fail.  Figure out the passions that motivate them.  That’s what you need to emulate — if not their specific actions, then the way they go about choosing what to do, based on the results they want to get.  Then you can decide on the results YOU want, and start to make them happen.

All the Same

I’ve started a new tai chi adventure this year by joining our weapons class.  Right now we’re working on straight sword.

I have done very little weapons work to date, and I wondered how much more difficult I would find it than bare hand work.  After several weeks, it mostly just feels different, not more difficult.  I’m missing a lot of detail as yet, but in the broad strokes (no pun intended), the movement is not too unlike what I’m used to.

On Monday Coach Jose kindly complimented my quality of movement, saying I’m doing well for this stage of my weapons practice.  I noted that funnily enough, working with the straight sword is an awful lot like doing tai chi.  Which earned the laugh it was supposed to, because of course, it is tai chi.  Weapon or no, it’s all the same art.

It’s all tai chi.


I’ve been thinking that over since Monday.  It occurs to me that, when we’re doing something new or difficult, sometimes we get thrown by focusing too much on what’s different or strange than what’s familiar and easy.

Tai chi is tai chi.  Holding a weapon in your hand doesn’t change any fundamental movement principles.  On the contrary, those fundamental principles are what enable you to use a weapon effectively.

Movement is movement.  Besides tai chi, I’ve mostly used walking for exercise. I never wanted to try running, because running was always exhausting and hard — until I thought about running as a tai chi exercise.  That mental shift changed everything.  Now I want to add running to my repetoire.

What kinds of things are you treating as “hard?”  What if you could link them to something you find easier, something you enjoy?  What if you could find a way to use existing skills to help you with a new experience?

First quarter belt testing is coming up, and a lot of students find testing a challenge.  But wushu is wushu; tai chi is tai chi.  If you can move in class, you can move during a test.  Maybe it looks and feels different, but what you need to do is just the same.

Maybe you don’t mind testing your martial arts but you struggle with academic tests, or with big projects or presentations at work.  What does it take to do well at all of these types of tests?  Gong fu:  consistent work over time.  Put in the effort, and you can be confident in your knowledge.

Some people want to try competition, but feel like it’s going to be hard.  Going into a different environment with different people can be very distracting.  What’s common to both, though?  Yourself, your own body and mind and movement.  If you can move in one space, you can move in another.  If you have tested at our school, you can “test” in front of other judges.

Some folks find conversations easy but partner skills hard.  What do both have in common?  Communication.  Paying attention to the current moment and both people in it.  Acting and responding appropriately.

Here’s one that hurts after this winter:  some people hate to drive in bad weather.  You know what driving on snow is?  Tai chi.  It’s all about understanding momentum, kinetic and potential energy, and making appropriate choices to manage them.

I could make up examples all day.  In all kinds of things, we tend to look at what’s different or unfamiliar and get distracted, while disregarding what’s the same and familiar to us.  I think cultivating the ability to identify what we already know inside of a new situation can be a key to moving forward confidently and growing toward the people we want to be.

Moving a River (part 2)

As we saw last time, you can move a river “in place” by simply making some small changes in the riverbed to guide the water into different places. Likewise, you can “edit” a habit by making small and simple changes to your daily routines, especially if the changes you want to make are fairly small and build off of what you are already doing.

What if what you need, however, is a whole new river? In other words, what if you need to create a new habit out of scratch, or completely end a current habit?

Actually, these are not two separate questions. It’s practically impossible to end a habit by just stopping the old actions, without thinking about what replaces them. The best way to end a habit is to intentionally create a new one in its place.

So how can we do it?

Remember the “Rules”

While habits are not in every respect like rivers, remembering the basic rules of how rivers work helps us find the most effective ways to create a new habit. So remember this about rivers: when left to its own devices, water always flows downhill. You can make water move uphill, but it takes a lot more energy, because water will never trudge uphill by itself.

We have more choices about our actions than water does. We can trudge uphill. But it’s worth noting that this still takes more energy than going the other direction. It takes work and focus. This is the value of good habits: they are energy-conservers. They help us get necessary things done efficiently, just like water always takes the most efficient path it can find downhill.

Choose Your Landscape Wisely

Water is always happy to just keep flowing where it already flows. If you want to move a literal river to a new location, you’re going to have to dig out a new course for the river, one that lets the water flow downhill even more easily than its existing course.

If you don’t want to do a ton of extra work, smart planning is necessary. Imagine the Colorado River, flowing through the bottom of the Grand Canyon. Is that the smartest place to divert the river into a new course across the landscape? It would require tons of digging, literally — hundreds of tons of rock and dirt would need to get blasted out of the way.

Likewise, think seriously about the best time and place to plant your new habit. If you want to exercise, don’t plan it for the middle of your prime TV-watching time, after you’ve sunk into the couch and gotten all comfortable and involved in your favorite shows. If you want to change your diet, don’t try to do it while you’re in line at your favorite buffet. These choices are just not going to go well!

Start Digging

Even when you’ve got a smart place and time for your new habit, you’re not out of the woods. Remember that water only flows downhill. If you want your new habit to really become A HABIT, an action or set of actions which happen with very little conscious effort on your part, you’re going to need to do some pick-and-shovel work first. You’re going to need to take the right actions, consistently and intentionally, long enough for the routine to become automatic. This part is like digging the new course for the river, the hard, necessary work to make moving a river possible.

I have a quotation near my desk which seems to be the best advice for this stage: “The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new.”

Stay focused on your progress, not on how far you have left to go. Stay focused on your goal, not on how hard the work feels.

Know going in that it’s going to take time for your new habit to set in place. Current research suggests that habits take, on average, about 66 days to form — with a lot of variation depending on the specific habit and the specific person. A really easy habit may form in a few weeks. A difficult habit may take a lot longer. Regardless, the key in every case is to simply keep working, consistently and regularly, until the habit settles into your normal routines.

What do you think? What’s your experience with forming completely new habits, or what kind of difficulties do you encounter during the process? Leave a comment here or on Facebook to continue the conversation!

Moving a River (part 1)

How do you change a habit?  How do you pursue a new goal, of a kind you haven’t tried before?  Today we’re taking another look at how to do this through studying rivers.

A river is still our metaphor for habits that “flow” through our lives.  So if you want to change a habit, how do you do it?  If you wanted to move a river, how would you go about it?

There are at least two ways to think about this problem.  Either one may suit different situations better and worse.  Maybe you will find one more useful than the other.  We’ll discuss them both and you can decide.

You can move a river in place, or you can move it to a completely different location.

Moving in Place

This is the easier method, though it still takes work.  On the face of it, this may seem contradictory:  how do you move a river without changing its location?

Try this.  If you plant a big rock in the middle of a river, what happens?  The river splits.  At that point, you’ve moved the river out of its old space.

What if you added a layer of heavy stone to a river bed, to a depth of one foot?  You will have raised the river by one foot.  It’s not flowing exactly where it did before.

What if you dig out the banks in an area of a river to make a pool?  The water will flow into new places.  Again, you’ve moved the river.

“Editing” a Habit

Being a writer, I look at such changes as “editing” a river’s path.  It’s not a whole new river, but it’s not exactly the same old river either.

In some cases, instead of wholesale change, it’s useful to imagine “editing” a habit.  This is especially true when you’re already doing pretty well, but you’d like to make some modest improvements.

For example, maybe you take daily walks for exercise, but you’d like to add a little more cardio or some strength training.  You can easily add a little bit of running to your regular walks.  You might get a set of small hand weights or exercise bands and learn a few basic exercises.  These are changes, but not major ones, especially if you work them as complements to your existing habit of walking.

Maybe you’d like your house or office to be a little more tidy, even though you can generally live with the state in which you keep things.  You could identify one area which tends to get cluttery and set five minutes every day for clearing it off.  Five minutes is not much time.  If you make a regular habit of putting things away, you may not even need that much time.

“Editing” your normal patterns into new shapes is one of the most healthy and sustainable ways to change habits.  It doesn’t require the kind of effort and focus that massive change takes, which means it’s much more likely to succeed — especially in the middle of a busy life.

Give this a try for something you’d like to change.  Imagine how you might make one or two little “edits” to one of your regular habits and see what happens.  As always, we’d love to hear your feedback or cheer you on, please drop a comment here or on the Center’s Facebook group to let us know what you think!

Move like Water: What do rivers teach us about habits?

Last week we started looking at habits and change by looking at how rivers and tidal bores interact.  We observed that monumental but temporary effort doesn’t make for real change.  So what does?

If a river is our metaphor for habits, let’s take a closer look at rivers and see what we can learn:

  • Rivers don’t plan themselves.  Most of the time they take their shape by chance, because water just takes the easiest path — downhill.  A lot of habits form by chance, and they follow the path of least effort through our lives, even when that path is not the most healthy or useful.
  • Rivers deepen over time.  They carry away little bits of their foundation, digging the banks deeper, carving down through dirt and rock.  Habits tend to grow stronger over time, digging deeper “trenches” for themselves in our minds, emotions, and interactions with other people.
  • Though rivers are made of highly malleable stuff, this is actually a difficulty instead of a help.  Water in a small quantity is easy to control.  Water in large quantities is one of the hardest things to manage.  Habits may look deceptively small and simple — maybe they are made up of a single action or two.  But the force of habits is much stronger, because those individual actions are multiplied hundreds or thousands of times over weeks, months, and years.
  • Rivers carry a lot of energy.  A strong river current can easily sweep you right off your feet, whether you like it or not.  Habits play the boss in our lives, whether we like it or not, whether we even realize it or not.  Habits control a great portion of our behavior, for good or bad.

Those are some ways I can think of that rivers and habits are similar.  Can you think of any more?  Please leave a comment here or on the Center’s Facebook group.

If these examples ring true, then understanding how to control and move rivers can teach us some things about how to control and change habits.  More next week!

Tidal Bores and Pursuing Goals

If you set goals (or resolutions) for yourself at the beginning of the year, how are you doing?

If you’re like me, keeping goals for the first few days is pretty easy.  After that it can get tough quick.  Even when the goals are fairly modest and should be possible.

I’ve found an example which helps me think about this and understand how to go about making change happen.  It’s a natural phenomenon called a tidal bore.

Tidal bores only happen in a handful of places around the world, because they are created by a very specific set of natural features — a large tidal range, a long, narrow bay, and a river flowing into the bay’s upper end.  When the tide rises with enough height and force, the bay acts like a natural funnel, channeling the force of the tide and creating a wave which travels upriver, against the water’s natural flow.

The most dramatic tidal bore in the world is created on China’s Qiantang River, which empties into Hangzhou Bay south of Shanghai (Google Maps link).  Late in summer, when conditions are right for a large tidal surge, the bore wave is tall, fast, and violent:

Here’s the thing about a tidal bore, though.  No matter how dramatic and turbulent the waves, no matter how much water gets pushed upstream, the river always wins in the end.  The energy of the tide runs out, the waves settle down, and the river keeps flowing downhill toward the sea.  The bore wave is spectacular but momentary.  The river’s flow is quiet but lasting.

Do you see the connection to goals yet?

A lot of people set out to pursue goals like a tidal bore:  they apply a huge amount of effort with a narrow focus on their goal, and it actually works.  They push the river upstream.  But only temporarily.

This is the ordinary way people pursue New Year’s resolutions, and it’s the reason why those resolutions usually don’t stick.  That kind of effort isn’t sustainable, no more than the tide can keep rising forever.  Eventually the natural course of things resumes.  The gravity of old habits takes over, and any progress on the goal washes out to sea (so to speak).

If this is an ineffective way to pursue a goal, how do we do it?  Is there anything else we can learn from rivers and tidal bores?  I think so.  More next week.