"AMY SALTZMAN, A RESEARCHER OF MINDFULNESS EDUCATION, STATES THAT, “ONE OF THE PRIMARY IRONIES OF MODERN EDUCATION IS THAT WE ASK STUDENTS TO “PAY ATTENTION” DOZENS OF TIMES A DAY, YET WE NEVER TEACH THEM HOW.”
At a time when teacher demands and student expectations are at an all-time high, one of the last things you would probably expect to see being embraced by educators and school administrators alike is the idea of teaching mindfulness to children in the classroom setting. However, all across the United States this is becoming a hot topic in education. The reason? It works!
What is Mindfulness?
Jon Kabat-Zinn, a leader in the mindfulness movement, defines mindfulness as paying attention in a particular way, on purpose, in the present and non-judgmentally. Amy Salzman, author of Still Quite Place, defines mindfulness as paying attention with kindness and curiosity, and then choosing your behavior.
To further expand on those definitions, Mindfulness is a meditation practice that begins with paying attention to breathing in order to focus on the here, not on what might have been or what you're worried could be. The ultimate goal is to give you enough distance from disturbing thoughts and emotions to be able to observe them without immediately reacting to them.
Why Teach Mindfulness?
Regardless of race, religion, or socioeconomic status, an alarming number of children and adolescents are being diagnosed with ADHD, depression, anxiety, obesity, eating disorders, and addictions, and engaging in cutting and other self-destructive behaviors, including suicide. (Luthar & Barkin, 2012) Patty O’Grady, a professor at the University of Tampa, makes the case that there must be a long term commitment to teaching emotional literacy as a priority in every classroom. The research is clear that teaching kindness and other emotional content, has significant positive effect on mental health, academic accomplishment, and overall well-being.
How Mindfulness Helps Students
Teaching Mindfulness to Students
Explain that by stopping and focusing on the breath, the students can clear their minds in order to be better prepared for learning. Set a timer for 5 minutes and guide the students through a short meditation. Sitting Still Like a Frog by Eline Snel is a fantastic resource that I use with my students that guides them through a variety of meditations geared specifically for children.
After the short mindfulness meditation, children are encouraged to open their eyes and examine the Mindful Jar. The jar will be clear as the sand, dirt, and glitter settled. Discuss that just like the jar, our minds can become clear and calm by stopping for a moment, closing our eyes, and focusing on our breathing.
4. Mindful Movement: Brain Gym is just one source for mindful movement. Brain Gym® movements, exercises, or activities refer to the original 26 Brain Gym movements, sometimes abbreviated as the 26. These activities recall the movements naturally done during the first years of life when learning to coordinate the eyes, ears, hands, and whole body. The twenty-six activities, along with a program for “learning through movement” were developed by educator and reading specialist Paul E. Dennison and his wife and colleague, Gail E. Dennison who say that the interdependence of movement, cognition, and applied learning is the basis of their work.
Another great source for simple mindful movements which can be implemented easily throughout a school day is Mindful Movements by Thich Nhat Hanh.
5. Mindful Tasting: Introducing mindful eating is a unique way to get children to focus in on using one of their senses. In this case, children will focus on the sense of taste. The traditional food used for mindful eating is a raisin, but oranges (or even chocolate) work great, too if you have a group that would be turned off by eating raisins.
6. Guided Visualizations: As mentioned above, one of my favorite CDs for guided visualizations for kids is Sitting Still like a Frog by Eline Snel. I also like Still Quiet Place for Children and Still Quiet Place for Teens by Amy Saltzman.
7. Yoga: There are many great Yoga for kids boxed card sets that work well in the classroom setting. My favorite is Yoga 4 Classrooms by Lisa Flynn. There are yoga poses that kids can do at their desks or right next to their desks with their shoes on and you don't need any fancy equipment. I do yoga throughout the day in may classroom when I see my students sleepy and having a hard time paying attention, when they are full of lots of energy and having a hard time paying attention, right before writing to help activate both sides of the brain, before a test to help calm the stress response, just to name a few.
8. Mindful Art: Zentangle art is a contemplative, relaxing art form that emplys structured and coordinated patterns as a means of creating beautiful and interesting pieces of art. There is no right or wrong way to create pattern. Its focus is on the journey, not the end result. There are many Zentangle "coloring" books to get children started in this fun, relaxing art form.
Do you or have you practiced mindfulness yourself or within your classroom? How?
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Lisa Joesten, M.Ed, E-RYT, has been an elementary special education teacher since 1991. In addition to teaching, Lisa has dedicated herself to the study, practice, and teaching of yoga since 2002. Her two passions intersected when she began bringing mindfulness and yoga into her own classroom and school. Lisa’s vision is to see mindfulness being embraced and taught in every school. She currently leads workshops for teachers, administrators, and parents on how to implement a mindfulness curriculum into the classroom setting. To learn more, you can contact Lisa at firstname.lastname@example.org or 219-728-8255.