Mindfulness or mindful awareness continues to be a staple in my elementary school classroom. Children are learning to pay attention to the here and now, with kindness and curiosity, so they can begin to understand that there is a choice in how they interact with their own minds and with others. Leashing the Puppy, a mindful awareness technique, can be taught and practiced by children eight years and older. Through this method, they can learn to notice and harness the workings of a meandering mind and learn to refocus their attention.
Imagine: It's Monday morning. The children are filled with anticipation and possible dread of what the day holds. Kids are sitting in the meeting area: criss-cross on the rug, on benches, or in chairs. Their eyes are drifting around, friends are smiling at one another, fingers are tapping or poking a neighbor and many faces reveal that they might rather be somewhere else.
And we begin...
The bell ringer guides his/her peers to close or cover their eyes and listen to the sound of the bell. Raising a hand indicates that the sound of the bell has quieted, signifying to the children that some self-exploration might occur: inquiry hats can be put on and hearts can open a bit, or not.
Teacher: I am going to share information with you that may sound a bit odd or funny. The technique that we are going to try out today involves a few things like thinking, breathing, noticing and trying to train a puppy.
I've caught their attention; they are intrigued. Their eyes are open a bit wider and some facial expressions reveal wonder and anticipation that a puppy might bounce through our open door.
Teacher: Before we start talking about puppies, I have a question to ask all of you. What's something that you think about a lot, like your mind can be really preoccupied with this thing or idea?
Kids share: Video games, sports, a family medical issue, braces, a play date, dreams, Greek gods, not wanting to die, movies, homework, sleep.
Teacher: Does thinking about this thing ever get in the way of doing schoolwork or homework? (Heads nod and chatter starts!) Ok, let's try something. Let's take one minute now to be silent and see if we notice when we are thinking and/or notice what we are thinking about.
As I turn over the one minute sand timer kids drop their heads a bit, loosen their shoulders; most children close their eyes, while others look down or around.
Teacher: Ok, bring your attention back to my voice. Open your eyes or look up. Did anyone notice if they were thinking?
A few children share:
• No, I forgot what we were doing.
• Yes, I was thinking about my dream last night.
• Yes, I was thinking about piano practice.
• Yes, I was thinking about a fight with my sister.
• Yes, I'm hungry.
Teacher: Ok, now we are going to talk about puppies. What are puppies like?
Children: Fuzzy, playful, jumpy, filled with joy, all over the place, cute, floppy.
Teacher: How do you train a puppy?
Children: On a leash, with a trainer, in a cage, with treats... it's a hard thing to do!
Teacher: Ok, imagine our mind is like an untrained puppy. Our minds can wander around and think about whatever it wants. It can get cranky, happy, sad, angry, defiant or playful. Just as a puppy wanders around and chews on things like new sneakers, your mind can wander too, getting distracted and thinking about something else. Now, imagine your mind is like a puppy and your breath is like the leash. We can use our breath to help train our mind to think about what we want to think about.
Directions: Let your mind think. When you notice or if you notice that your mind is thinking, take a deep breath. Notice what happens to your thoughts. Does your thinking stay the same, does it change or does it go away: what happens?
While turning over the one-minute sand timer the children close their eyes or look down; some are fidgety while others are still.
Some observations about Leashing the Puppy.
• My thoughts get all foggy and it's like when I take a breath they are interrupted.
• When I take a breath the thinking like goes on pause for a second.
• When I take a breath the bad thoughts kind of go away.
• When I breathe in, nothing happened, but when I breathe out the thoughts go away and then come back or some other thought comes into my mind.
• Nothing happened.
• It all washed away when I took a breath.
• My thought blew away and then it came back.
• I didn't really think about anything, my mind was blank.
• It was like tie-dye... my thinking went from one idea to another idea.
• Whenever I took a breath my thinking stopped and then it trailed off and it went all the way back to the beginning and it started again and in the same place stopped and went back to the beginning... it was annoying.
• When I breathe in, my thought would go up and when I breathe out it would go to the side and out of my vision... I felt mad.
• When I took a deep breath. I lost my train of thought.
• The out breath flushed out my thoughts -- the breath messes them up.
Teacher: Ok. Let's try and practice today. When you are doing work and notice that your mind is wandering away from what you are doing, take a deep breath and see if you can refocus on your work.
How do you train your wandering puppy mind? What happens when your thoughts meander? What is it that you are thinking about? Take a breath, Leash the Puppy, and notice what happens. Could this mindful awareness technique help your puppy mind? Try practicing it!