Week of Mindfulness

Last month, two (awesome) colleagues and I led a "Week of Mindfulness" for our 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders.  The goal was to have teachers and students practicing some form of mindfulness each day in their classrooms, for about 5-10 minutes.  We kicked off the week by going into each classroom on Monday and teaching the teachers/kids what mindfulness is, how to have a mindful body, mindful breathing, and - if time allowed - a short mindful listening activity with the bell.  For the remainder of the week, teachers could choose from various activities (scripts, online recordings, etc.) to bring mindfulness into their classroom each day, preferably at some sort of transition time.  We pulled easy-to-implement ideas from resources such as The Mindful Child by Susan Kaiser Greenland, The Impact Curriculum, and the Smiling Minds program.  

The response from both teachers and kids was great!  Specifically, most teachers have reported* that the mindfulness activities were beneficial to their class and they'd like another Week of Mindfulness next school year. Ten of the 15 teachers who responded to our survey said they have continued mindfulness activities in their classroom, ranging from 1-2 times a week to 4-5 times a week.  Most teachers use Smiling Minds as their primary resource, although others use yoga breathing exercises and the Insight Timer.  Teachers who have continued mindfulness in their classroom rate student engagement in activities at an average of 7.2 (on a scale of 1-10). One hundred percent of teachers who responded to our survey said they would like to learn more about how to bring mindfulness into their classroom.  Open feedback included: "neat concept," "hugely beneficial practice for me and my class," "something we should be far more aware of," and "you guys rock!"  We also got some great feedback on how to improve the Week of Mindfulness in the future, specifically having whole grade kick-offs, and implementing "continuing ed" where the three of us come to classrooms periodically to introduce new ideas and mindfulness activities.  From my own perspective, I'd love to implement the Week of Mindfulness much earlier in the year, and involve all our early childhood students and all specialist teachers (e.g. PE, music, art, dance, drama, and library/tech). 

The response from the kids was also fantastic.  Comments were captured in Google docs, on post-its, and on classroom mindfulness board:

  • "When you're really angry or upset, it helps me to get calm."

  • "It cleared my thoughts that keep running through my head"

  • "After time, you get used to being calm"

  • "Once a day to get that feeling in you, it makes you really happy"

  • "You feel so relaxed when you can imagine"

  • Being mindful means to think before you speak or do something...“being mindful to other people or aware of something. I also think it means managing your distractions

  • I think that being mindful means to think before you do something and it means that having empathy plus staying calm.

  • ...Sometimes just listen to the noises around you.

  • Mindful means being careful and being focused and noticing what’s around you and being respectful.

  • I think it means think what you're going to say before you speak because it might hurt other people’s feelings.

  • Being mindful means thinking twice before you do anything...being aware and learning from your mistakes

  • Mindful means that you are paying attention to the person that is talking and you are  focus on the person & not thinking of something else in your mind , and you don’t get distracted.

* These results are preliminary and will be updated when/if more teachers respond to our survey :)

Mindfulness with Kinders

After Winter Break, I asked our four Kinder teachers if I could use my time with them (average of twice a week) to bring mindfulness practices to the kids.  They were happy to give it a go, so I dug right in. I began first with the Mindful Schools curriculum but lately have been branching out into activities and approaches culled from other curriculums, feedback from other practitioners, and books like  The Mindful Child and Little Flower Yoga

I will admit - it took us a little while to find our groove in the early sessions.  Turns out that starting Kinder students in a seated position with no props to learn mindful breathing is not such a stellar idea.  So I quickly brought in the Hoberman Sphere and "breathing buddies" (small animals to place on bellies and watch move up/down with the breath), and had the kids lie down to practice breath awareness.  After a few sessions of this, the buddies became more of a distraction and weren't as necessary, so away they went.  The kids naturally figured out postures (sitting up, in a chair, lying down) that work for them, and one of my smart little students introduced the idea of "self-space" - a space all your own in the classroom.  Now at the beginning of each session, I just say "go find your self-space away from friends and distractions" and the kids automatically find their little corner of the room to settle into.  Some kids find a teachers' lap which works wonders if they are having trouble focusing.  

From there we moved into "butterfly brain" and how our thoughts are always flying around our heads but can be tricky to catch.  Now the kids "catch" their "butterfly thoughts" with their hands during mindful breathing, and just put them in their lap to think about later.  Its become a routine for us during the first part of the sessions, and  I guide them with verbal cues to breath "in and out, in and out, and when you have a thought, just catch it like a butterfly." 

Now that the initial routine has been established, we have started to move on to mindful movements (e.g. yoga) and recognizing emotions.  For the latter, I actually got an idea from the book Search Inside Yourself, which is for adults but some of the activities can be easily modified for kids. The book talks about the "monsters" inside us that create various emotions throughout the day, and how not the "feed" the monsters. Inspired by this, I brought in a wolf puppet as my "monster" and visually showed how when I get angry, my wolf starts to snarl and growl and moves up from my stomach into my chest and finally into my throat, which makes me want to cry or yell.  And then I talked about how I can recognize when my wolf (e.g. my anger) starts creeping up, and use strategies like mindful breathing to keep him under control.  To do this, I had the puppet move up the front part of my body, but right when he got to my chest, I started to breath mindfully and he eventually moved back down my body and "went to sleep." The kids all shared things that make them angry, and then I had them start thinking about what it feels like in their body when their "monster" starts creeping up (i.e. tense fists, stomach hurts, hard to breath, want to cry etc.). The last part was challenging for the kids, but we'll keep working on it.  Next session, we're going to talk about "worry" monsters as student-led conferences are coming up :)

At the end of each session, we send "friendly wishes" (LovingKindness) to different people or to ourselves. Often I will start by asking if anyone is absent and we send friendly wishes to them.  But sometimes the wishes will be sent to kids who have moved, or to pets, or parents.  Initially we did the friendly wishes together as a group, but now that the kids are used to it, we usually do one wish together, and then the kids can share our their individual wishes for people/animals. It is such a lovely way to end the practice.  

While a bit of a learning curve at first, I feel like we are settling into the routine and the kids are starting to ask when I'm coming in next for mindfulness.  I'm starting to get creative with the lessons and figure out what might work best for each individual class.  I've had to let go of a lot of my expectations around how I think the sessions should go, and just relax into the natural rhythms created by these amazing little people.  A great learning experience for all of us :)  Stay tuned as I'm sure I'll be sharing more on this!

 

 

Mindfulness Bell

I have been focusing quite a bit on yoga lately, but that isn't to say that meditation hasn't been incorporated into the yoga lessons and classes.  It just hasn't been the primary focus.  That is about to change though next Fall though, so keep an eye out for more information about incorporating mindfulness into student and teacher days.

In the meantime, I wanted to share a small activity that has been a big hit with all of my yoga students from early childhood through upper elementary.  At the beginning of my classes, I have brought my Tibetan chimes and we have done a Mindful Listening activity that can be found through resources such as Thicht Nhat Hahn's Plum Village and the Mindful Schools Program.  Essentially the kids start by sitting still and breathing. I ask the kids to listen when I sound the chime and raise their hand only when they think the sound has completely left the room.  For the little kids I initially have to be quite visual with my own waiting and listening as they raise their hands as soon as the chimes sound rather than waiting. But once they see how long I wait before raising my hand, they seem to get the idea.  After a few turns, we try it with their eyes closed and it has blown me away each time how much longer they listen and attend to the chime before raising their hands.  No matter what age, this activity calms the kids, keeps them centered, and increases their listening skills.  After the activity, generally the kids are more relaxed and focused.  This short, simple, and powerful activity will become an essential component of my future classes with all ages.

Color Meditation

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Marcey’s kids are awesome, and always engage in our yoga and meditation activities.  Their insights especially after meditating are really bright and interesting, so they are a fun group to try new types of meditation with.  Up until now we have done more guided imagery of “real” places, so we decided this last go-round to try something more abstract. In consultation with the book Calm Kids, I drafted a script focusing on color.  The kids could pick any color they wanted and were asked to envision it filling up a bubble surrounding their body.  With the breath, they visualize breathing the color into their bodies and then breathing it out. 

What the kids shared after was beautiful.  More than one said that they saw smaller bubbles inside their bubble, and the smaller bubbles were filled with pictures of people or things they loved.  They all visualized their bubbles in different places; some were on the ground, others floating, some in a forest, some on the ocean.  Gorgeous.

To tie in the more abstract meditation, we did a sort of abstract writing assignment.  We had the kids do a “stream of consciousness” activity.  In all fairness, I swiped the idea for the activity from teachingideas.co.uk.  We talked through what stream of consciousness is, and I showed them a real-time example by typing out all my thoughts in a one-minute period via the SmartBoard so they could see the first part of the activity in action.  They were so excited and asked a ton of questions about what was allowed and what wasn’t.  Marcey and I dubbed it One Rule Writing - the only rule is that you can’t stop writing for 2 minutes. Paragraphs, spelling, and punctuation were out the window.  The only goal was to get all your thoughts down on paper to help guide future writing assignments.

It was brilliant.  Every kids put pen to paper for 2 minutes straight, even ones who usually take some time to get started.  They saw it as a game and at the end so many wanted to share their writing.  It was great insight for Marcey and I too, as we got to have a small glimpse into their minds, thoughts, worries, and interests.  It was a bummer that we ran out of time as we started to have the kids cross out half their words so they could create a poem/story from their writing (see the above link for the full activity). Hopefully they will find time to get back to it and complete it.  And for me, I will make sure next time to carve out enough time to at least have them start on the poems/stories.

Rainforest Meditation

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Marcey’s class (and the whole of 4th grade) recently did an inquiry unit on the Rainforest. To celebrate the unit and all they learned, the students hosted a Rainforest Conference. They split into different groups and presented to other students and teachers about a topic of their choosing.  Endangered animals and mining were among the topics, and the kids put a lot of effort into their tech-based presentations. 

But along with presentations comes the dreaded task of public speaking.  Marcey and I decided that a guided meditation about the rainforest might help calm the kids down before the conference, and get their mind focused and ready to talk about what they learned.

One thing that worked really well was the room we used.  We almost always do yoga and meditation in Marcey’s room, which requires us to move desks and the kids are laying down everywhere.  For this meditation, we used a more open music room space which allowed the kids to be in a group and less scattered during meditation. I’m also working on getting mats for the kids to help them maintain their space a bit more, as well as some weighted items that they can place on their legs or stomachs to help keep them grounded.  All in all, when the kids came in to the room, they were a bundle of nerves, and when they left they seemed more relaxed.  Hopefully that feeling stayed with them!

Writers Workshop

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My friend Marcey is a wonderful 4th grade teacher and an even more wonderful friend.  Three things came together so we could make a co-teaching lesson work.  1) We love working together; 2) she wanted to incorporate yoga and meditation into her classroom; and 3) our schedules matched up!

We decided to use Writers Workshop as our guiding factor for this lesson, specifically working on the narrative structure and descriptions.  Because a well described setting is the foundation for any good story, it seemed like a logical place to begin.  As you’ll see from the lesson plan and script below, the goal was to get the kids visualizing a peaceful place in their mind using the 5 senses and then to have them write about it in their writers notebook.  The end result was fantastic.  Even some of her students who struggle with writing came up with gorgeous descriptions from this exercise.

Lesson plan

Meditation Script

Samples of kids writing after meditation activity:

“…the coco was chocolate, hot and sweet…”

“…with horses trotting around me, while smelling the grass in the summer air…”

“…and I go upstairs and I grab a book, and I listen to peaceful music…”

“…I can hear the peaceful water dripping down from my heart…”

“…it felt good going on the grass with no shoes…”

“…I can taste the mouth-watering bacon…”

“..I hear the sound of the waves crashing down.  This is my peaceful place.”

“…the air smelled meaty.”