Understanding Instincts, Emotions & Personal Intelligence; the Hawn Foundation

This week 3Di has observed some exciting teaching that’s involved children learning about the parts of the brain that are responsible for “fight, flight or freeze” reactions.

This “instinctual intelligence” as we refer to it in our 3Di model of human intelligences can be responsible for our survival – and also for our downfall when it’s not tempered with input from our thinking brain, the intellect.

In our complex world it’s possible to get ourselves into a lot of trouble if we react unthinkingly to certain situations that provoke us to physical violence or to running away when someone or something frightens us or makes us angry or upset. In extreme cases children run away from home or from school. In extreme cases people are badly injured or even killed if they react to a problem or a provocation with physical violence.

On the other hand, people are sometimes injured or killed if their instincts fail to operate and they fail to run away or fail to defend themselves against attack. It’s complex – and children need time to understand instinctual behaviour and how it operates. With time, understanding and practice children can come to appreciate these fundamental processes that have served humans well throughout our evolution. They can also learn how to objectively observe themselves, to think about their instincts, and learn lessons from their reactions to situations.

The Year 2 children we observed this week were able to talk very knowledgeably about playground behaviour, for example, and how problems can arise through over-excitement and through selfish or aggressive behaviour. They are also aware of strategies they should use to stop themselves becoming victims of their own instincts. In a safe, supervised environment where there is an adult present, children should never allow their instinctual intelligence to cause them to either fight or to take flight from a classroom, a playground or a school. Yet hundreds of children do precisely these things every day. It’s all about learning.


This week we’ve been privileged to observe in a school where children have been supported in their personal, social and emotional learning by the MindUP programme of the Hawn Foundation. We’ve already blogged about the work of this foundation and its publications, including Goldie Hawn’s book – 10 Mindful Minutes.

The Hawn Foundation says this about its MindUP school partnerships:

“MindUP is a research-informed educational programme developed to improve the social and emotional wellbeing of children between the ages of 4 – 13 years. As a result of its successes in North America, MindUP is now being introduced to schools across the UK.

MindUP is a 15 lesson curriculum designed as a series of tools and techniques for children to be woven into a school’s curriculum and throughout the school culture. The programme begins with learning about the parts of the brain responsible for emotions, memory and cognition and how we can manage our minds to help us focus. The lessons progress to  . . . teaching how to choose optimism, savour happiness and feel gratitude. Children learn the core practice of mindful breathing or “Brain Breaks” to help them learn to focus their thoughts and feelings.

The programme provides children and young people with vital strategies and skills for navigating the challenges of modern life, and for tackling the ever-increasing stresses being placed on them.

Amongst the most important skills that the programme teaches are the following:

* Increasing concentration and focusing attention
* Increasing knowledge about themselves, their brains and their potential.
* Engaging in non-reactive reflection
* Paying mindful attention.

Children’s neurological functions are enhanced to develop confidence, optimism and motivation. They learn to harness their mental energy and effort, to persevere, and to think before acting.

As well as these invaluable skills, students are also taught the biology of the brain. The Foundation passionately believes that undestanding how the body’s most important organ works is fundamental to the successful implementation of the skills being taught.

MindUP has been developed to improve children’s academic performance and success, to assist students in becoming more alert. self-aware, optimistic, motivated, and focused, and to empower children to create balance and calm in their lives.”


3Di is 100% supportive of the Hawn Foundation’s goals and school partnerships. [We also strongly encourage schools to consider the benefits of working with our 3Di model of human intelligences, since we are aware of the benefits to both teachers and children of understanding the concept of multiple intelligences and how the six intelligences combine and work together when properly nurtured and developed.]

The Hawn Foundation UK is currently seeking primary schools interested in adopting MindUP and in becoming one of their partnership schools. It involves a three year commitment with the Foundation for training and support. The partnership package is currently available at a rate of £3,000 for the full 3 years. 3Di has met with Graham Watts, the Foundation’s UK Director of Education, and with Niamh Cooney, the Director of The Hawn Foundation UK. We’ve spoken with the headteacher of one of the MindUP pilot schools, and we’ve observed teachers working with MindUP materials & concepts with classes of Primary children. In our opinion the £3,000 represents very good value for money, and we would encourage schools to contact the Hawn Foundation to discuss their needs in these crucial areas of learning. At the present time the Foundation is offering free participation for up to eight Primary schools that can demonstrate their commitment to the scheme.


The Hawn Foundation’s website says this:

The power of the human spirit propels us on journeys of self-awareness . . . We can now explore the landscape of the mind itself. Neuroscientists say that the human brain is always changing; we can choose to transform it to give us the best out of life. Researchers have demonstrated tranquility, empathy, gratitude, and focused attention open the brain like a flower in bloom to help relieve stress, anxiety, boredom, and unhappiness. Emergent “heart-mind education”—better known as social and emotional learning (SEL)—and neuroscience are influencing cognitive theory, and more importantly how we teach children.

Children today are experiencing unprecedented challenges that make it difficult, if not impossible for them to reach their potential in school. Stress and anxiety, now endemic in our culture, compromise children’s ability to focus and pay attention and erode social and emotional competencies necessary for personal wellbeing and academic success.

How well do our children fare among their peers in industrialized nations? According to UNICEF’s Innocenti Report Card (2007), the United States ranks in the bottom third in five out of six key indicators of children’s health and wellbeing. Most notably, in the category of “Behavior and Risks,” measuring obesity, substance abuse, violence, and sexual risk-taking, the United States ranks 20 out of 21.

In the face of these challenges, how do we prepare this generation to meet the demands of our world as confident, optimistic individuals?

Through advocacy and educational, evidence-based programming in our schools, The Hawn Foundation seeks to provide children with the tools to succeed and thrive. Our objective is to develop and deliver social and emotional learning, supported by brain research, that nurtures children and ensures their future and ours.

By creating more optimistic classrooms and fostering more positive cultures in schools, we can help children lead happy, fulfilling lives.

We invite you to explore this website to learn how we are promoting children’s success in school and in life through social and emotional learning—and what you can do to help us realize our mission.


The Hawn Foundation seeks to help transform children’s lives by providing them with opportunities to acquire vital social and emotional skills,  to improve academic performance, enhance the quality of their lives, and help others in their community. We support research studies conducted by university associated social scientists and neuroscientists and develop evidence-based educational programs for children, such as MindUP™, using cutting-edge scientific research on the brain and social emotional learning. The Hawn Foundation is committed to helping children lead confident, happy, and successful lives. We also assist educators to create supportive learning and social environments that effectively address children’s mental and physical wellbeing while nurturing the growth of creative, reflective habits of mind.


About 3D Eye

Gary Foskett and Clare Blackhall are educationalists, writers and consultants. We work with schools and other organisations who share our vision of how schools, businesses, etc should work in the 21st Century. We also run courses and contribute to conferences - speaking about our three dimensional model of intelligences and how schools, colleges and universities can develop the full potential of all their staff and students. We also offer consultancy for businesses and public sector organisations to support staff training and organisational change and development. For more detailed information read our blog at https://3diassociates.wordpress.com/ or see our website at www.3diassociates.com.
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