It was the last day of school. I was putting my kids on the bus and giving them one last hug when one of my boys looked up at me and said "Miss W, if I get angry this summer I'll focus on my breath." Wait, what? Did he really say that? I was so excited, proud, happy and all the emotions but instead of saying anything, all I could think was: fist bump!
We'd practiced Morning Mindfulness all year and focused a lot on breath awareness, but I was worried what I'd taught wouldn't stick. For this kid, it stuck (#proudteachermoment).
All of my students naturally crave mindfulness practice. They crave stillness. They crave a sense of peace and calm. Not only do they crave these feelings but they also deserve them. In just one school day kids can be completely overwhelmed socially, emotionally and academically. They may not know how to verbalize their emotions but often times their sense of overwhelm can manifest as attention-seeking behaviors. I, like most teachers, have tried a myriad of classroom management strategies. Some stick, some don't. But I've never found anything as powerful as mindfulness practice. I'm going to repeat that because it's just that important: I've never found anything as powerful as mindfulness practice.
What is mindfulness? Although there are many different definitions, mindfulness is essentially the practice of being present in each moment, creating a relaxed and aware state of mind. It's about noticing and observing emotions and thoughts without judgement; viewing yourself from a place of compassion.
So, what does this look like for our digital native students who frequently experience sensory overload, attention difficulty, anxiety, or depression? It's challenging. It takes practice. It takes patience.
When I first introduced my 2nd graders to mindfulness through a breathing exercise nearly the whole class was fidgeting, giggling or shouting out. The concept of calming their mind was very new to them. After just a couple weeks of practice my students would beg to do more. I observed changes in their behavior, particularly in their interactions with one another. Rather than being quick to judge or assume, they became better listeners. They listened more attentively to me, they listened to their peers, they listened to themselves. Was mindfulness practice the solution to all behavior issues in my classroom? Absolutely not. But it did make things better. I've learned as a teacher that I can't strive for perfection, but I can most definitely strive for better. Mindfulness makes things better.
As a student and teacher of yoga, mindfulness practice has been an important foundation in my life for years. I thought that if this practice could do powerful things in my life then surely it could work for my students, too. Upon studying the brain research of mindfulness practice in kids I learned that frequent practice actually leads to structural changes in the brain, allowing for a myriad of positive outcomes. Here are just a few of the benefits of mindfulness practice:
"Mindfulness allows you to be fully present in the here and the now in order to enjoy the wonders of life that have the power to heal, transform, and nourish us." -Thich Nhat Hanh
- listening skills toward others
- increases executive function
- better impulse control
- longer attention spans
Here are few simple steps for bringing mindfulness into your classroom:
1. Learn More:
The science behind mindfulness is pretty incredible and I must admit it's interesting to read! Check out some of my favorite articles about mindfulness:
- Mindfulness in the Classroom: A Conscious Road to Success
- Why Children Need Mindfulness Just as Much as Adults Do
- The Science of Mindfulness
2. Practice Mindfulness
In order to teach it to your students it's important to try it out on your own. You won't regret it. Mindfulness practice can include anything from yoga, to meditation, and even washing the dishes! "What? Washing the dishes?!" Yes, practicing mindfulness is all about being aware of the present moment--your thoughts, your feelings, sensations in your body. Mindfulness can be practiced anytime, anywhere. If you're interested in a more structured form of mindfulness practice, check out the Calm App. It's a great place to start. It's free and has serval meditations to choose from. I recommend doing it right when you wake up, or right before you go to sleep.
Even just one minute a day of active mindfulness is better than none at all.
3. Start Small
There are so many incredible ways to practice mindfulness; it can be easy to get overwhelmed. Especially if you're someone like me who loves to do #allthethings. In your own personal practice and in your practice with your students, it's okay to choose just ONE thing to try out. Here are some simple suggestions to get started:
- Create your own mindful moments: Choose a time during your daily routine where you can commit to being more present, aware of your body, your breathing, your thoughts and your feelings. Maybe it's when you're driving to work, or taking a shower, or even doing the dishes. If you're present and intentional, you're practicing mindfulness and your brain with get the benefits!
- Introduce mindful moments in your classroom: These can be 30 seconds to 5 minutes or more but the idea is to get your students to pause and rest their minds. They can close their eyes, and just feel their breathing, noticing their inhales and exhales.
- Take a mindful walk as a class:This could even be done during transitions to lunch, recess, and specialists. Ask your students to use all of their senses as they walk. Ask them to observe. What do they see? Hear? Smell? Feel? Reflect on mindful walking and you'll be amazed at what they share.
- Practice mindful eating during breakfast and lunch: Encourage kids to eat slowly and taste every single bite of their food. You may even have a chance to discuss where their food comes from and all the hard work that goes in to making the food they eat.
- Create a sanctuary space or calm corner in your classroom: This should be a special place where all students feel safe. Provide coloring books, colored pencils, paper to journal, comfortable pillows or cushions. Depending on the age of your students, it may be helpful to have stuffed animals or favorite books. The idea is that kids can go here to reflect and reset.
- Read books about mindfulness.There are so many incredible options out there! Check out my top picks for mindfulness books in this blog post.
4. Stay Consistent
Even if you choose one aspect of mindfulness--like being present during your drive to work, or doing a mindful moment with your students--be consistent. The more you do it, the closer you are to making it a habit and eventually, part of your lifestyle. Your brain and body will thank you!