Washington Township—For the past five years, I have been bringing elements of Shining Mountain Center for Peaceful Childhood’s educational/therapeutic model to exceptional children at the Camp Shalom summer program at the Bergen County JCC in Washington Township, NJ.
Shining Mountain Center is dedicated to the work of Dr. Janusz Korczak (1879-1942), a Polish-Jewish pediatrician, children’s writer, educator, father of progressive orphanages and children’s rights. At the Shining Mountain Children’s Center Dr. Korczak’s ideas are put into practice, fundamental rights of the child are respected and all children are given the possibility to reach their highest potential no matter where they are currently in their development.
Prior to the start of the summer program, Camp Shalom’s staff attends training sessions provided by myself and a co-worker. They are introduced to the Five Star Program© which helps them find ways to motivate, calm down and have fun with the autistic and developmentally delayed children and adults in their care. They learn a subset of the Brain Gym1 educational model that uses movement to affect whole brain learning. The staff is taught how to meet the campers at their level, how to help them draw from within, and how to invite them to move forward in their development one small step at a time.
Brain Gym® movements imitate developmental movements that neuro-typical infants naturally do on their own as they are growing up. These simple movements stimulate the sensory system, coordinate teaming of eyes, ears, hands and feet, activate core postural muscles and create an awakening in the brain to support learning from inside out in a joyful and natural way.
Each day at Camp Shalom begins with Brain Gym® movements. These may be repeated throughout the day when a child feels insecure in an activity or environment, or shows signs of psychological, emotional or physical discomfort. Campers enjoy Brain Gym® music and specific art activities that help them stay focused and calm. Another important aspect of the Five Star Program© is a Take a Break Area, an area where campers who are having a meltdown or need to find a quiet space can go to relax and to integrate input from their senses.
At Camp Shalom, each room has a designated space for Brain Gym® movement, sensory integration and relaxation. Campers learn how to use the materials in the Take a Break Area and with time some of them are able to calm down by themselves.
The intention of using the Five Star© Program is to create an environment where learning can be fun and safe and where small, subtle daily advances can increase campers’ overall abilities. Camp Shalom staff looks forward to pre-camp training and with each year is eager to learn new tools to help campers. Many of the staff members use the tools they’ve learned on a regular basis for themselves when they are stressed, anxious, need to focus, before going to sleep, while studying, before a test or before athletic activity. Here is what some of the counselors said about the training they participated in:
“I liked it because it explained exactly what to expect and what to do with the children at the camp.”
“This was fascinating. I can’t wait to share it with my family, campers and friends.”
“I really enjoyed the alternative ways to calm and relax autistic and non-autistic people.”
“A calm approach to positive classroom management.”
During the school year, Camp Shalom’s program at the BJCC continues in an after- school program where all the group leaders use the Five Star Program©. Plans are also underway to provide sessions for parents and parent-child group sessions to allow parents to use the program at home with their children.
1 Brain Gym®: (a registered trademark of the Educational Kinesiology Foundation) is a movement-based program that offers specific tools to enhance whole brain learning. It was developed in 1989 by Dr. Paul E. Dennison and his wife, Gail E. Dennison who coined the sayings, “Movement is the door to learning” and “Move to Learn and Learn to Move.”
Mariola Strahlberg received a Masters of Science in Electrical Engineering/Computer Science from Columbia University in 1976. She earned her Masters of Science in Acupuncture with honors from Tri State College of Acupuncture in June 1999. She currently operates a private family practice (Shining Mountain Acupuncture, PLLC) in Rockland County, NY. Mariola is a chairperson of the Janusz Korczak Association of the U.S. (one of the 24 International Korczak Associations). She is the founder and executive director of the not-for-profit center, Shining Mountain Center for Peaceful Childhood, Inc., which opened its doors in January of 2008. The Center is helping children, their parents and teachers to find calmness, joy and balance in their otherwise hectic lives. To learn more about Shining Mountain Center and its integrated educational/therapeutic model, please visit www.shiningmtnforkids.com, email: shiningmtnny_aol.com or call 845- 425-7243. To learn more about Dr. Janusz Korczak and his educational ideas, please visit www.shiningmtnforkids.com or www.facebook.com/korczakUSA.
By Mariola Strahlberg, MS, Lac