Actress Amanda Seyfried among Allentown alumni behind Mindful Playhouse initiative

When one of Erica Simmons’ students at Sheridan Elementary School needs a mindful moment during a busy school day, they come to her office, climb into a cool cottage and practice a breathing exercise or two. Are.

“It’s kind of a level up from a quiet corner because it allows a little more privacy,” said Simmons, an Allentown school counselor, referring to the peaceful classroom spaces created by teachers to calm students.

The quiet cottage in Simmons’ office is one of 15 playhouses from the company Make It Cute that were recently donated to all Allentown School District elementary schools. The office of local State Farm agent Shawn Leigh sponsored the donation of the playhouse for use in counselors’ offices, as well as providing a year of mindfulness education for 15 students through the Mindful Child Initiative.

Make It Cute was founded in 2021 by Allentown School alumni Maureen North, Anne Hoehn, and award-winning actress Amanda Seyfried, best known for her role in “Mamma Mia!” She is known for her roles in. and “The Dropout.”

The three grew up together in the West End of Allentown and went through first Muhlenberg Elementary, then Trexler Middle School, and finally Allen High School, from which they graduated in 2003.

“There was a lot of Canary pride. It was fun,” Seyfried said in a recent interview with The Morning Call, noting the game gave the trio a sense of school spirit as teenagers.

Once they graduated, Seyfried, Hoehn and North left Allentown and went their separate ways, but remained in touch. The three friends lived together in New York City and were each pregnant with their first child at the same time in 2016.

During the height of the pandemic, they kept in touch via Zoom calls and created the idea for the Make It Cute Playhouse, as Hoehn explains, because “we all had little kids and our houses were covered in plastic, brightly colored We worked so hard to design these spaces for pre-kids.

Make It Cute launched in 2023 and offers two styles of decorative playhouses for $220 each. The three-dimensional playhouses stand approximately 4 feet high and are made partially of recycled materials. (For each playhouse, a tree is planted through The Canopy Project.)

“They provide a really safe, quiet place for kids. It also facilitates play therapy. It’s a great place for imaginative play, Hoehn said.

Simmons said the Playhouse has been a positive and effective tool for all elementary-age students at Sheridan.

“It allows a little more privacy, but for security reasons we can still see them,” she said. “When a child needs that quiet time and they’re really hot, or they’re really frustrated, it can make them feel like kids are watching them, so having a place to go It helps.”

Students can go inside a tranquil cottage, where they find posters with breathing exercises to encourage mindfulness.

“Your breath is with you all the time, so these tools, these mindfulness exercises are something you can have access to anywhere,” Simmons said.

The Quiet Cottage sponsorship program is a collaboration between Make It Cute and The Mindful Child Initiative, an Allentown nonprofit that provides weekly mindfulness instruction to all 415 Allentown elementary classrooms. The Mindful Child Initiative provides this instruction at no cost to 7,400 students in pre-kindergarten through fifth grade in the district, relying on grants, sponsors and donors, such as IronPigs Charities and the Kiwanis Club of Allentown, among others.

Mindfulness instructors teach students breathing techniques when they are anxious to make sure their bodies are getting enough oxygen.

“One of our breaths is balloon breath,” said Jason Sizemore, co-executive director of the nonprofit. “So you put your hand on your stomach, inhale and actually fill your stomach like a balloon and exhale slowly as if you were deflating the balloon.”

Another technique is five-finger breathing, Sizemore said, in which “you start on one side and trace your pinky as you breathe in, trace your pinky as you exhale” and work your way through all five fingers. Let’s continue from.

Calming Cottage has its own evidence-based breathing strategies that are linked to different parts of the playhouse, such as the window or stars on the ceiling.

With additional sponsors, the next focus will be on getting more comfortable cottages in common spaces such as special education classrooms and school libraries, Sizemore said.

“The whole idea behind it is that sometimes when you need a mindful moment, you need your space, you need a little space to feel safe that feels good to you, ” They said.

Morning Call reporter Jenny Roberts can be reached at jroberts@mcall.com.

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