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Kikori Philosophy

What is Kikori?

Our goal is to engage the whole student - mind, body, and soul. Think of it as learning to ride a bike rather than just learning to label the parts!

Based on 50+ years of research on group development, Kikori activities develop a sense of belonging, leadership, and responsibility through experiences that involve active play followed by intentional reflection. Kikori is a platform that provides educators with thousands of experiential Social Emotional Learning (eSEL) activities designed to build community, support critical executive functioning and grow social skills within classrooms.

What is eSEL?

Following the Play, Reflect, Connect, Grow Model, Kikori engage the whole student in a cyclical process that deepens their understanding of experiences and how they relate to real life.

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Active Involvement

Experiential education is just what it sounds like - the belief that we should be providing students with rich experiences. This approach to education is based on research that shows the most change and growth takes place when students are actively (physically, socially, intellectually, emotionally) involved in their learning. 

Dewey’s Theory of Experience

Other approaches to education follow the “banking approach” where ideas and information are deposited in students' minds, making the learning process a passive, two-dimensional one. 

The Association of Experiential Education (AEE) has defined a new way to learn (based on Dewey’s Theory of Experience) where students are engaged in a purposeful experience followed by intentional reflection. This helps students develop critical SEL skills as they think about their actions and contributions, while deciding how they will grow and change their methods in the future. 


Why do we need eSEL?

Did you know that when students don’t feel safe and connected, their brains and bodies aren’t physically open to learning new things?

This fight or flight reaction is an evolutionary response - one that has been ingrained in us since the beginning of time as a method of protecting ourselves from danger. 

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Today, we may not be faced with saber-tooth tigers, but humans still experience the same chemical responses in their brains when we don’t feel safe - physically or emotionally.  Fun Fact: We are one of the only animals whose thoughts alone can trigger a fight or flight response.

So what happens if our classrooms don’t feel like safe spaces for students?

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When students receive information from any of their five senses that trigger alarm or fear, their lower brain and limbic system (sometimes referred to as their Reptile Brain) is triggered and takes over. This creates a chain reaction designed to protect humans that involves cortisol and adrenaline being released into the body:

  • Blood physically rushes away from the frontal lobe (the learning and thinking part of the brain) and into the arms and legs to prime students for fighting or running away.

  • Interestingly, the blood also moves away from the stomach (because digestion isn’t important if you’re being chased by a wild animal) and this is where “butterflies” come from when you are feeling anxious.

  • These triggering feelings of adrenaline or anxiety make students less perceptive of time, more reflexive, and more emotionally reactive. In other words, they’re not in an ideal state of mind for learning to take place.

Why Regulate?

The brain state a child is in impacts their ability to comprehend and process information.

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There is a significant difference between how one can process in a fear state than how they process when they are calm. Dr. Bruce Perry reports that in order for meaningful learning to happen, the solution to this phenomenon is that students need to regulate, then relate, then move on to reasoning. 

  1. Regulating means: moving from alarm into a calm state of mind.

  2. Relating supports the calm state by focusing on the relationship, which is the basis for building support.

  3. Reasoning: finally, once in the fully calm state, reasoning can occur, which will build a new brain memory, supporting the child with self-regulation skills to put in their toolbox for the future.


Therefore, before we take steps to help a child learn, or try to reason with a child before they are ready, we must first make sure they can regulate, relate, and reason. 

What is the Brain Science behind experiential learning / eSEL?

When our students are feeling safe, connected - and playing games, we have the opportunity to reach ALL areas of the brain!  


According to one of the top researchers in experiential education and neuroscience, James Zull, knowledge resides in a network of neurons in the neocortex. Learning from experience results in modification, growth, and pruning of these neurons, synapses and neural networks. Learning physically changes the brain and educating is the art of changing the brain.


And when students play a new activity, instead of linear learning, they actually have a spiral of learning where they assimilate the new knowledge into what they already knew!

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  • PLAY: Sensory Cortex (SC) receives information from the outside world through Core Experiences.

  • REFLECT: Back Integrative Cortex (BIC) creates meaning out of sensory information through our Reflective Observations.

  • CONNECT: Frontal Integrative Cortex (FIC) helps us think and plan through problems with abstract conceptualization.

  • GROW: Motor Cortex (MC) facilitates action. This reconnects processing inside the brain with the world!

Ready to bring research-based eSEL to your School, District or Organization?

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