Teaching kids to love themselves MetaKids workshops offer tools to help kids relax and take life in stride By Mandy Burrel :::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::

photo courtesy of MetaKids Yoga stretches are just one of the activities MetaKids teaches kids to help focus and learn to love themselves.

'I like myself. I am a cool kid. I love myself," chants 8-year-old Rachel Richter, her slightly embarrassed reflection giggling back at her from a hand-held mirror. Excitable, imaginative and smiley, Rachel is a cool kid. And her dad, Dave, figures it can't hurt if his daughter reminds herself of that as much as possible.

That's why he and Rachel spent two hours of their Saturday morning at a MetaKids workshop, taught by Susan Voigt, who led the Richters and other families in a variety of activities designed to help kids relax and focus on positive words, thoughts and actions.

Indeed, one of Voigt's primary goals for MetaKids is to help kids like Rachel stay "cool" long after they leave her class.

"Over-stimulation leaves kids racing, confused, off-center and sometimes fearful because they are no longer connected to their hearts," says Voigt. "More and more kids are being diagnosed and put on meds, and it's frightening. It's frightening to parents, too. They want other options, and this program gives them options."

In a typical MetaKids class, Voigt does just that, offering a variety of activities for children-dancing, drumming circles, meditation, guided visualizations, storytelling, crafts, qi gong and breath work. Some might be considered a little far out but according to Voigt, they are all designed to help children focus and build cooperation. Voigt also challenges her charges with a lesson that many adults are still struggling to learn: Accept yourself for who you are, even when others don't.

A different difference Tara McCarthy, 8, enjoys the classes she takes. Diagnosed with a learning disability- "I like to call it a difference," says mom, Regina McCarthy-Tara "has always been different and will always be different. And I never wanted that to be a problem. I just want her to be her."

McCarthy believes Voigt's teachings are "basic, authentic, nurturing and loving techniques" or what all children should learn from their parents in a perfect world. But she also knows that, like most kids, her daughter may listen more closely to the negative voices. "I'm hoping that she retains some of what she's learned, and down the road, when she needs some of the tools Susan's taught her, she'll remember them and pull them out," she says.

Voigt believes all kids need is mental practice to remember that they're perfect. "After you've told your mind a 100 times, it believes it and has no choice but to manifest," Voigt, 43, says matter-of-factly.

Bubbly and dynamic, Voigt practices what she teaches. Nearly two years ago, she created MetaKids, along with its counterparts for adolescents, MetaTeens. (More recently, she's also added MetaTots.) The mother of two grown girls, ages 20 and 23, Voigt ran a daycare program from her far northwest suburban Sleepy Hollow home for 13 years. She says she developed a knack for reaching aggressive and hyperactive kids and began to explore ways to soothe their behavior in earnest after she started taking classes with a holistic health practitioner six years ago.

Imagine a better place Though Voigt is glad her workshops have reached kids like Tara, she believes MetaKids is for all kids. Drumming circles, for instance, "are all about cooperation, about doing what other people are doing and changing your rhythm to do what other people are doing," says Voigt. Meditation, on the other hand, helps kids learn focus, stillness and willpower. "Your will is that thing that gets you to do stuff, like get out of bed and go to school in the morning-or stop thinking thoughts you don't want to think," she tells the kids. "Use your will."

Danny Heck, 9, says he's learned that lesson from Voigt. His mom, Tomi, says that Danny used to fixate on scary thoughts before bed and had a hard time falling asleep. While Danny says he had fun at the workshop playing the imagination game, what he took home with him is even better. "I do the breathing exercises and the yoga, and it helps me sleep," says Danny, who adds that it also seems to help him deal with his allergies.

Voigt says she's put her "total energy" into MetaKids, taking her daycare down from eight kids to four. In less than two years, MetaKids has grown from an idea to regular workshops and classes and a pilot for a local access TV show in Schaumburg. Voigt has even hired two teachers who help her run workshops, which take place at park districts, churches and community colleges throughout the Chicago area.

Indeed, Voigt has set no limits on MetaKids' growth. A national organization in Virginia called recently to ask her if they could adapt the program there, and Voigt was ready. "I've created it in such a way that it can go anywhere and be taught by anybody," she says. It's a good thing, too, because as Voigt points out, "Metakids manifests fast!"

Classes run about $9 per child and workshops cost $22 to $25 per family. To contact Susan Voigt about MetaKids, call (847) 369-0016 or check out

Mandy Burrell is a Chicago-based writer.

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