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My kids, who are 5 and 7, are better at mindfulness than I am. They are little people with high-functioning neurodivergent brains and have been in occupational therapy since they were 2. They’ve learned deep breathing, calm-down strategies, and how to stay in touch with their bodies when they are dealing with big feelings. As a parent, incorporating mindfulness techniques when raising my young children was challenging when I wasn’t getting direct instruction from a therapist.
In comes Wondergrade to save the day. Wondergrade is a new app with a free trial for Apple and Google Play. I spoke to Kristi Coppa, the founder, who creates the company’s content. She is also mom to two girls my kids’ ages and has been my friend since our oldest children were tiny babies. And, she is a former nurse who is certified in mindfulness and kids’ yoga coaching. Kristi, along with her husband on the tech side of things, created Wondergrade while pandemic parenting. I know I’m biased since she’s my friend, but my kids honestly do love and use this app.
“Our children are struggling,” Kristi says, adding that it’s not getting better since “over the last year, kids have been asked to face immense stress with the continued pandemic.” But, it’s not only the kids. “Parents are being asked to play a bigger role in their kids' lives as services previously accessible have been reduced or cut off.” Basically, we all need help.
Wondergrade is for kids and parents to use together. “I see parents using the app to integrate calm down and regulation practice into their kids' routine through daily practice and as a go-to resource for times when their child is struggling to manage a big emotion and needs something tangible to help calm down.”
This is backed by science and research, and in practice, Wondergrade is a fun, game-based app with a lovable mascot that shows kids how to regulate their busy bodies through gentle movement.
The Wondergrade app works on phones and tablets, is colorful without being overwhelming, and is easy enough for a little kid to use on their own. However, my friend recommends using it with your child at first so you can learn how to use the skills along with them and “develop a shared language.”
Whether a child is thriving or struggling emotionally now, it is critical to teach them ways to handle life’s difficult moments in healthy ways from the start, so they can form the foundation to grow into confident, resilient adults.
The content is geared toward kids ages 3 to 8, but I can see some wiggle room on either side of that, depending on how it’s used. There is a separate free section for caretakers, with articles and resources Kristi says helps adults “gain insight about why coping tools are so critical during the early childhood period, the different techniques available to help their child manage stress, and how these techniques work to calm and regulate their kids. Instead of just giving the tools, I want parents to know how to use them.”
New content is added to the app frequently, which is great for my kids who seek novel experiences. But, there are a few exercises we go back to again and again and even use without the app. For my son who has the propensity to rage when frustrated, the “Lemon Squeeze” calm-down activity has come in handy. Even when he’s fully melting down, he’ll usually do the “lemon squeezy” as he calls it, and I see a huge difference in his physical state. His shoulders relax, his face no longer contorts, and he’s usually able to produce a cohesive thought and tell me about his feelings. My daughter, who is 7 going on 17, loves the activities, too, even though she’s on the older end of the age range.
The Coppas are constantly growing the business and app content. “We are also working to bring our activities offscreen to support those who are looking for more tangible resources … that complement and enhance the activities in the app, like coloring pages and cards,” Kristi says. She created a curriculum that can be used by schools and groups, which gives educators access to the app activities as well as detailed implementation tools and lesson plans.
I was lucky to have resources like occupational therapy for my kids starting at a young age, but all parents and kids deserve regulation resources. In fact, Kristi says even neurotypical kids need these skills.
“Whether a child is thriving or struggling emotionally now, it is critical to teach them ways to handle life’s difficult moments in healthy ways from the start, so they can form the foundation to grow into confident, resilient adults,” she says.
No one, child or adult, is perfectly calm and regulated all the time, nor should we expect them to be. My kids and I are learning fun, play-based games to help us navigate the weird world. I’m inspired by my kids’ hard work and the tools at my fingertips from Wondergrade to make sure my kids are set up for success in their emotional lives.