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The importance of social-emotional skills, mental health, and wellness in a childcare classroom [Podcast]

This week on The Preschool Podcast, we sit down with Denise Cesare! Denise is an Educator, Speech Language Pathologist, Social Emotional Learning Specialist, and Published Author of Moments in Motion with Love. Denise joins us to discuss the importance of social-emotional skills, mental health, and wellness in a preschool classroom. We chat about the importance of creative thinking and learning through play. She also shares her tips for getting all age groups to participate in mindful moments!

Denise cesare podcast quote

Denise has been an educator for over 25 years. However, due to an accident, she lost her voice for five of those years, and her passion for speech and language work has increased since then and given her a new perspective. During that time, she had to modify how she taught and the children had to modify how they learned. Denise showed her children that she could preserve and it was a challenge that allowed her to spark new things, such as becoming a published author!

A lot of the children Denise works with have autistism and it was challenging for them to pivot to online through technology during the pandemic. Therefore, she had to get very creative to keep them on the computer. By May 2020, she saw such a disconnect and light dimming in their eyes. This was devasting. She went to bed praying for change and woke up with a new book idea.

I learned how to stop and be in the moment. Covid taught us that the moment is now and we have to honor and stay in this moment to get to the next moment.”

Denise believes that preschool education is the foundational moment in a child’s life. Her book, Moments in Motion with Love, helps young children build and develop coping mechanisms. If we provide children with this foundation, whatever they are going through, they can learn to survive and thrive.

Mindful moments

Breathing moment: Take breaths. This is different than breathing to live. Take a minute, close your eyes, and breath in and out.

Nature moment: Listen, look, smell, and take a second.

Movement moment: singing, dancing, or walking.

Denise’s recommended resources:

Podcast episode transcript

Denise CESARE:

Even if you don’t see what your kindness does, believe that your kindness matters and that we have to really spark that initiative, that kindness matters in the world.

Ron SPREEUWENBERG: 

Denise, welcome to the Preschool Podcast!

CESARE:

Hi, Ron, thank you so much for having me!

SPREEUWENBERG: 

We are delighted to have with us on the show today Denise Cesare. She’s a speech language pathologist, a social-emotional learning specialist and a published author. And we’re going to learn a bit more about social-emotional skills, mental health and wellness in childcare programs in schools.

We’ll talk a little bit about Denise’s children’s book, called Moments In Motion With Love. Before we do that, let’s start off learning a little bit about you, Denise. Why did you decide to become a speech language pathologist? And also, what is that, for those of our listeners who might not be familiar with that?

CESARE:

That’s a great question. Why did I become a speech language pathologist? I’ve been doing it for almost over 25 years, so it’s a long time. And really, when I first started an education, curriculum – you teach curriculum and you have to present the material. But speech language pathology is a lot of science and a lot of learning about the brain.

So, when you take it apart, speech and language, there’s a component of how you produce sounds. And then there’s the other component on how we learn language, and that’s brain development. And that was very interesting to me, all the science. I really love that. So, that’s what really drove me to it. That’s why I was an educator. Then I studied and left and became a speech language pathologist.

SPREEUWENBERG: 

Cool. So, you’re now kind of connecting speech language pathology with your passion for working with children. Tell us a little bit more about how you’re connecting the dots there.

CESARE:

Okay, so connecting the dots with children… well, it’s ironic. I’m a speech pathologist, but in 2006 I lost my voice. So, I then I had a disability. I’m speaking with you now, but I didn’t have a voice for five years and I really still do not have a voice. I have to go for injections to speak. So, my passion at the beginning wasn’t as much as the passion is now because now I am a person with a disability, as opposed to when I first started at the beginning of my career.

So, that was a very interesting turn of events. But it also created such a different perspective for me to really work with my students because then I became the one with a disability that needed to modify how I taught. They have to modify how they learn, I had to modify how I taught. So, that was very interesting.

SPREEUWENBERG: 

Yeah, tell us a little bit more about that and how that’s changed the way you approach things or work with children, from a speech language perspective.

CESARE:

So yeah, so losing my voice to a condition called – I was in a car accident in 2006 – the condition is called spasmodic dysphonia. And it’s actually what your voice is… I know I have a raspy voice. That’s not what’s that happened from this condition. My voice was choked and strangled when you could not hear me. So, I really had to dig deep and figure out that I had a disability. And how was I going to work with these beautiful students that I had all this time?

So, what got me through it was the desire to never give up and to show them I actually could make a bridge, now that I had a disability. And then they in turn noticed and took notice of the differences of how I wanted to get through to them. So, it was a challenge but a challenge that created me to spark into new things that I have created up until today.

SPREEUWENBERG: 

So, let’s talk about some of those new things. What’s keeping you busy today? What are you spending your time on?

CESARE:

Okay, so I am a published author. And as you know I am, of course… what was very challenging in March of 2020, we all went with the COVID pandemic. And all of my students had to go virtual. So, this is part of the foundation that I’m going to explain to you, how my book came to be – Moments In Motion With Love – and how that came to be published.

So, during the pandemic in March, New York City schools closed down. We were all sent home with hardly no direction. But speech pathologists had to be on immediately. Resourcefully, we had to be on, live within minutes of the next two days. So, with that said, a lot of my students are autistic and they have a lot of needs.

So, for them to have to hop on with technology became other levels of challenges that just, besides the fact that we’re home and we don’t know what we’re dealing with, they had to deal with the technology. They had to deal with their own regulating of their emotions. They really could not cope with being on. So, I had to get very creative to keep them even on the computer, to look for them to stay there. Luckily I’m a little bit entertaining, so they stayed.

With that said, though, as time went on, March, April, May, by May, I saw such – and I get emotional when I say this – I saw such a disconnect and the light dimming in their eyes. And I said that this is not good. I actually went to sleep praying, “Please help me figure out what to do for my students and for these children.” Because it became then more to me than my students became, I saw a bigger picture that this whole the world is not coping. So, it became a bigger scope.

So, I went to bed one night and I said, “Oh, please help me.” And I woke up with a book, believe it or not. So, fortunately I had a publisher and I was working on something with else at the time. And because of all the things that I’ve gone through, I was publishing an adult book of self-help. But this book was very important and it came out of me.

And I said, “So, you need to listen to this book right away.” And sure enough, moment I read it to her, she said, “Yes, this has to be in the world.” And then my son, who was in college at the time, which he was not coping well either – college students, young students, preschool students, adults, we all were in this state of confusion. I read into him and he cried organic tears. And I knew I had something.

SPREEUWENBERG: 

So, tell us a bit more about it. It’s called Moments In Motion With Love. What’s the book about? And what’s the message or inspiration? You talked a bit about the inspiration. What’s the message of the book?

CESARE:

So, the message of the book is, it kind of illustrates the beauty of every moments. And it celebrates the children because they are our future. And it also creates a significant connection to our planet. So, there’s a lot of nature, watercolor prints of nature in the book, moving along with the words.

I also have curriculum at the back because I am an educator. So, I did add some extra stuff to kind of use as a tool for educators and psychologists and parents to bridge this mindfulness, how to stop for a minute to be in the moment. Because if anything COVID [19] taught all of us is that the moment is now and you have to honor and stay in this moment to get to the next moment.

SPREEUWENBERG: 

Yeah, absolutely. And I think that’s certainly something that would resonate with our listeners who are working with children in early-childhood education, that it’s the moments with the children where the meaningful development happens. Tell us a bit more about the book. Is there a certain characters? What’s the story?

CESARE:

So what happened, there are no characters because it’s kind of poetry-in-motion, in the book. So, it takes you on a journey out. It starts out with butterfly moments. And there are watercolor prints that soothe you through the book. I didn’t want it to be a character book because I wanted it to flow where they are kind of caught up in the moment of each page and could actually discuss each page with either their parents or just think about it within themselves. And just bring them for a journey of nature, like butterfly moments, or mountains standing tall moments, feeling brave when you feel so small. So, it takes you on a journey through all these watercolor pages. And it’s very soothing.

SPREEUWENBERG: 

Cool. And is there a certain age group that this is meant for?

CESARE:

There is an age group, but I would have to say, from my book signings and the different avenues that I’ve been around, people reading the book out loud, adults, I’ve had adults cry when I read it. It touches some kind of chord in people that really has them stop and think. So yes, I would say… is it preschool? Yes, to be read to mature preschool. But ages 5 to 11 is like a more zone.

But I’m very much an advocate for early intervention and preschool education because that’s the foundational knowledge of everything that we need to do next. If we don’t build a good –see, I’m going to get very emotional about this. If we’re not helping the students from that pre-K level, we’re doing a disservice. And right now there’s a lot of things that need to change in education because the mental health crisis is very, very prevalent. And there’s so many limited resources.

And they really, really… this is why I’m doing this. I have a passion now for this because I believe my book helps young children build and develop coping mechanisms. And no matter what they’re going through, if we don’t help them develop coping mechanisms, they can’t go far or go forward. But if we give them that foundation, no matter what they’re going through, they’re going to be able to survive and thrive.

SPREEUWENBERG: 

Yeah, cool. And where can folks find your book?

CESARE:

They can find my book on my website, www.DeniseCesare.com. But it’s also on Amazon, it’s at Barnes and Noble. It’s on different outlets, different indie bookstores. You can find it almost everywhere. But you have to know about it to find it, right?

SPREEUWENBERG: 

Yeah, and what’s next for you, Denise? Are you focused on trying to get in Moments In Motion With Love in more people’s hands because of the impact it can have? Do you think you’ll write another book? What are you spending your time on?

CESARE:

Yes, exactly, I need that book to be in every child’s hands and everybody’s hands because I want to team up to bring organizations or communities to get the book out there. I’m spearheading something called the Kindness Moments Matter Initiative because people don’t realize how fun kindness is. Just a smile could change someone’s day. So, I’m working on an initiative. I did a talk series for a group of people, that was called Kindness Moments Matter. And I just want people to know that even if you don’t see what your kindness does, even though I tell the story about how I sort of come back to me, believe that your kindness matters. And that we really have to spark that initiative, that kindness matters in the world.

And I also want to help… so, I am developing a program for educators and teachers for professional development and social-emotional learning because I was on the other side of it. I know how difficult it is to continue. They’re in this struggle themselves with those social-emotional things going on in the classroom, getting sick. Even myself, I had COVID three times. How there’s a lot of levels that we’re still trying to deal with.

What I want to ignite in teachers is having them get back to creativity. Getting this book into the classroom, and not giving professional development that they… I’ve been in school. I know, I went to school. I have to miss two degrees. I don’t need someone telling me what I learned already. I need to be inspired. They need to be inspired and given creativity back. And so that’s my mission, besides everybody having the book.

SPREEUWENBERG: 

Cool. And in your view, why do you feel like creativity is so important and the thing you’re going to really focus on?

CESARE:

Well, the teachers have to take back their power. And you have to give them… creativity sparks so many different things in children and adults. They need to have fun again and they need to be in the moment. Talking about my book, being in the moment, you have to not be afraid to do something.

And right now early education needs to step up in their creativity game of having early childhood coming back to the nursery rhymes. I know that some people don’t believe in it, but they need to dance, they need to move, they need to… All the readiness skills, no, let them be. Let them be children. Let them be in the moment of learning and wonder and creativity.

SPREEUWENBERG: 

Yeah, totally. Awesome. And for our listeners and their ongoing professional development, any resources you might suggest for them to check out for their continued learning on this subject? Or anything else that you think they should check out?

CESARE:

Yes. So, I read a lot, I love a lot of affirmations. And in my book, there’s also an affirmation that I present to the reader, but also that they could say to themselves everyday. So, there are a lot of affirmations. I love a lot of different poems to read. But what I would say is, Marc Brackett wrote book, Permission To Feel [Unlocking The Power Of Emotions To Help Our Kids, Ourselves, And Our Society Thrive]. It’s all about understanding your emotions. And it’s in a lot of schools, but they need to really step it up and read it and use it. It’s a good tool, it’s a ruler of how you cope and the different segments of emotions.

And then, of course, there’s [The Wholehearted] Parenting Manifesto by Brené Brown. I really love that. But teachers could read it, too, and I read it, too. I did read it to my son. But it’s all about being vulnerable and accepting who you are. And just like I said, being in the moment. But knowing that you’re important, that’s one of the themes in my book. You are our future, the children are our future and they’re so important in this world. And I have three tips, if you want them, for mindful moments?

SPREEUWENBERG: 

Yes, please share.

CESARE:

Okay, so when I say “mindful moments”, we think, “Well, what do you mean, be in the moment?? Sometimes it could get confusing. What does that really mean? Even for me, even though I wrote this book, I have to stop and really think about how am I going to be in the moment? So, my first tip, I call it the Breathing Moment. So, when we breathe, we breathe volitionally. Breathing is an act of life. You have to breathe to live. But I’m talking about taking breaths. That’s different than breathing.

So, if you take even like three times of breathing in and out, just putting your feet on the ground or even with your children playing, just take a minute, close your eyes, breathe in and breathe out. So, I call that the Breathing Moment, that’s one tip. Not enough breath, but breathing, taking a minute to do breathing.

And then I have Nature Moments. So, you could go outside, but not just… if you go outside, if you walk around, if there’s something, if you look up, tonight’s a full moon. Look up and look at the full moment. But what are you hearing? What are you listening for? In my book, there’s the ocean sounds, tide in and tide out. Really take a second to see what you could hear. Take up listening more. So, that’s what I call the Nature Moments.

And then I have Movement Moments. So dancing, music, singing, feeling the movement, the beat within your body. So, that gives you a moment of feeling, that energy. So, these are my tips and I hope everyone loves them.

SPREEUWENBERG: 

I do love them. And I also love how lots of times these tips apply both to young children as well as to adults, right?

CESARE:

Exactly.

SPREEUWENBERG: 

They’re so transferable, which I think just reinforces a lot of the important things we’re doing with young children and how those are really lasting things we need to keep in mind as we get older, as well.

CESARE:

Yes, I agree 1,000%. And thank you for having me today to share my passion about that.

SPREEUWENBERG: 

Yeah, it’s been our pleasure, so great to hear some of your tips and your experiences. We appreciate you sharing them with us. Before we wrap up, Denise, for those who would like to learn more about your work or get in touch with you, where’s the best place for them to go??

CESARE:

Well, they could go to my website [www.DeniseCesare.com], which shows a lot of things that I’m up to and doing. I am on Instagram, my name, @Denise.Cesare. And you could see some fun, inspirational things that I put up there. But really, go to my website and send me an email. I’ll get you the book. I’ll even, if you go to my email, I’ll send you an autographed copy, as opposed to buying it from Barnes and Noble. So, www.DeniseCesare.com. Or you could go to Instagram and send me a direct message. Social media is so accessible and just send me a message.

SPREEUWENBERG: 

Awesome. So, that website again is www.DeniseCaesar.com. You can find Denise’s book on there, Moments In Motion With Love. You can also find it on Amazon and Barnes and Noble. And you can find Denise has contact information there, as well. Denise, thank you so, so much for joining us on the Preschool Podcast!

CESARE:

Thank you for being in this moment with me!

Christie White

Christie is a Senior Content Marketing Specialist at HiMama. She is passionate about children's development, parenting, and supporting the child care industry. She has been working to support child care centers with their events and marketing for almost a decade. In her personal life, Christie lives in Stouffville, ON with her husband Kyle and dog Tucker. She enjoys going for walks, baking, cooking, and watching reality tv!

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