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!