Mindfulness for All, from ages one to ninety-nine

 Photo by  insung yoon  on  Unsplash

Photo by insung yoon on Unsplash

Last night, Wise Minds launched "Mindfulness and Social Emotional Learning for K-12" with partner and friend Julie Campilio of Radiant Beginnings. In this class, we have educators who work with kindergarteners and high schoolers, students who are neurotypical and students on the autism spectrum, students in AP classes and students in an alternative education program. How do we accommodate such a wide range of professionals? 

The principles of mindfulness stay the same.

Being mindful is paying attention to the present moment with compassion, whether you are one or ninety-nine. Those exact words may change to reflect the developmental capacity of the students with whom these educators work, but it is fundamentally the same principle.  The practices are so simple— bring awareness to anchors like sound, breath, and body, and train the mind towards kindness— that truly anyone can do them. We ask all of our educators to become personally familiar with mindfulness themselves so that they can model it and teach it from an embodied understanding. 

Educators make it their own.

Each educator will learn mindfulness in their own bodies and translate that learning to their students. Mindfulness is such a personal practice that it must be understood in this way first. Then, they can use that understanding and apply it to their student population. Each educator is an expert not just on their specific demographic, but on each individual student who they serve. How they will offer mindfulness to their specific students will depend on their personal connection to mindfulness and to their students.

Knowing their students will enable them to deliver these core principles effectively. One educator spoke of translating her definition of mindfulness into pictures for her nonverbal students, while others may want to speak to the full complexity and explore many different ways of understanding. Some students will immediately be able to sit in silence for long periods of time, while others will need movement and play as an entry point. Some will need hooks around great sports figures who use mindfulness to achieve peak performance, and others will want to know about the neuroscience that justifies these activities. 

Adaptations

With all that said, there are some helpful modifications that can be used for younger and older crowds. Here are some ideas about how to teach mindfulness across the grades, adapted from Daniel Rechtschaffen's The Mindful Education Workbook

Grades K-2:

  • keep it short! even just listening to the sound of the bell for 10 seconds is increasing familiarity with this kind awareness
  • make it fun! teach through games, stories, and puppetry
  • incorporate movement
  • use visuals and props
  • read books to help with some of the conceptual understanding! there are some great books about mindfulness out there now. Check out Ms Mahoney's Mindfulness Book Picks for ideas
  • leave time to share, both what they experienced when they practiced and how they are using their mindfulness at home. You will come away with some great stories.

Grades 3-5:

  • again, keep it short, and build up to longer practices (5-10 minutes, even) as students show attentional capacity
  • teach through games, stories, experiential lessons: continue with the play!
  • offer examples about why we practice mindfulness and how it can benefit us
  • compassion for self and others becomes especially important as kiddos start experiencing social insecurity

Grades 6-8:

  • emphasize the hook: the "why" because especially important at this age. Know your audience and collect articles and short videos around sports teams that practice mindfulness, musicians, corporations, neuroscience, metaphors to hook students' interest
  • use your life as an example: share how practicing mindfulness has helped you
  • start inviting students to n

    Grades 6-8:

  • emphasize the hook: the "why" because especially important at this age. Know your audience and collect articles and short videos around sports teams that practice mindfulness, musicians, corporations, neuroscience, metaphors to hook students' interest
  • use your life as an example: share how practicing mindfulness has helped you
  • start inviting students to notice difficult thoughts and let them go
  • journals can be a nice way to process that isn't as public and socially risky
  • a safe classroom becomes especially important as students become more socially aware and uncomfortable doing anything out of the norm
  • Grade 9-12:

  • again, speaking from personal experience is particularly meaningful at this age
  • explain the why and use hooks that you know will be meaningful for your students
  • discussions are so rich with this age group. Ask them about their own life experiences and connect to their lives
  • journals can be a useful way of processing experiences
  • start small and build up to longer practices. 10-20 minutes is not unreasonable for this group after they've had some practice
  • Have any specific suggestions or adaptations that you like? Please share them with us!

    otice difficult thoughts and let them go
  • a safe classroom becomes especially important as students become more socially aware and uncomfortable doing anything out of the norm

The Beginner's Mind: Newborn Edition

 Shiloh getting her mindfulness practice in.

Shiloh getting her mindfulness practice in.

I woke this morning with a start and didn't hear a peep. I quickly peered into the bassinet sandwiched against my bed. Is she breathing? I leaned my head over her chest and gave her a little rock until she emitted a familiar squeak. And I sighed. 

One week ago, I helped move Shiloh out of her cozy womb and into this large bright-lit world.  Having her has been such an amazing opportunity to reacquaint myself with the subtlest moments in a deeply appreciative way. Our lives have been so insular and quiet (except the late night pterodactyl-moments when she can't quite figure out what would make her feel better, nor can I), punctuated by walks in the woods, lengthy couch snuggles, and plenty of naps.

I have found that having Shiloh with me has narrowed my focus to the world around me, which subsequently has become much more vivid. The green wall of oaks that rustle in the fall-tinted wind draw me in. The mouth-watering lasagnas, enchiladas, Caprese sandwiches, and cakes that our community has made for us seem extra flavorful. My hot morning shower is so rich with sensation and comfort. I savor not just her hilarious facial expressions, gentle neck snuggles, and rise-and-fall of breath, but also the world that cocoons us. 

Simultaneously, I find myself feeling connected with others over this new little life.  My husband and I took her out for a walk the first day home and strutted around like peacocks looking for someone to show her off to. Luckily, our neighbor was outside gardening, so we could fulfill that desire to share and celebrate her existence. When I was pregnant, I said I wished that we all treated each other as well as I have been treated as a pregnant woman. The same can be said for having a newborn. The generosity and joy of strangers we get to experience because of her is such a gift. People even seem to give our car more space when they see the "Baby on Board" sticker with me perched in the back next to her car seat.  It feels like I now have access to some exclusive mama club. In the same way that reading about mindfulness will never give you the understanding of what it means to practice, so too I have found that as much as I talked to others about parenting and read what the experts had to say about it, I did not really understand until I had one of my own. So even as our world shrinks and sharpens, it grows through the connection through kindness that we have been able to share with others.

How deeply grateful I am to have this opportunity.

Happy Birthday, Wise Minds!

One of my personal birthday traditions is to think about the past year and take stock of highlights and accomplishments. So Happy Birthday, Wise Minds! Let's take a moment to look at what we've been up to this past year.

Two years ago I moved to Portland, Maine and decided to dedicate myself full time to sharing mindfulness with educators and students across New England. This grew out of my personal experience with developing my practice and sharing these tools while teaching middle school English in Washington, D.C. While not a business savvy individual (they don't teach that to education majors and Masters candidates), I took the plunge into the world of small business ownership to do the work I wanted. The amazing people I've met, and the impact I see firsthand, is well-worth the effort.

Offering direct mindfulness services to students has been incredibly valuable, and I am so grateful for my time with LearningWorks Afterschool students (South Portland), Lots to Gardens Youth Leaders (Lewiston), Chewonki campers (Wiscasset), Harrison Middle School Yogis (Yarmouth), and my Baxter Academy Students (Portland).

There are so many amazing moments of connection through this work. I loved when I finished my workshop with the Lots to Gardens Teen Leaders, and they asked me to write down the kind wishes we practiced sending to people who frustrated us, so they could do it on their own. I adored sitting around the fire ring with North Yarmouth Academy middle school boys at Chewonki and talking about how mindfulness contributed to Alex Hannold's 3,000 foot free solo climb of El Capitan. I still flush with pride when reflecting on the presentation my five Baxter Academy students gave to a room full of educators at the 2017 Creating Positive Youth Climate Conference.

BUILDING CAPACITY IN EDUCATORS

This year was also about building capacity in educators around New England, to ensure  they themselves have access to this deep well of knowledge and resources. We ran courses for Newburyport Public Schools, Cascade Brook School in Farmington, ME, two Portland-based trainings, Falmouth Middle and High School, and Boothbay elementary schools. Further, the pre- and post- data we collected on teachers' perceived stress and healthy regulation demonstrated that teachers saw a significant drop in perceived stress and increase in healthy self regulation. 

Just as I had found when I was teaching full time and practicing mindfulness, these teachers felt profoundly grateful not to just have tools to offer their students, but to help themselves live in a more present, mindful way.  In their own words:

"I looked forward to class each week. I always came with some residual stress from the day, but I left feeling relieved, relaxed, and ready to tackle my night-time tasks."

"The class time was incredibly valuable. This is where I got to see mindfulness in action, led by an instructor who really knew what she was doing. I also got to discuss how mindfulness was being used with fellow teachers that I may not have the chance to talk with otherwise."

"Thank you. This is an experience that will shape me and my work with students for the rest of my life!"

PERSONAL/PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT

I also did quite a bit of personal/professional development this year (in a field like this, the two are intricately intertwined). I had the pleasure of learning more about the specifics of Mindfulness and Difficult Emotions and Mindful Communication from Mindful Schools excellent faculty.  Additionally, I took a Trauma-informed Care for Professionals course through the Center for Adolescent Studies. I attended workshops and conferences on Mindfulness and Civic Engagement at Harvard and Antioch University. And, most importantly, I attended retreats in the fall and spring, to continue to develop my own personal practice, and committed to Insight Timer's 365 days of meditation challenge (I have yet to skip a day!)

SUSTAINABLE PARTNERSHIPS AND COLLABORATION

Wise Minds. second year has also been about building sustainable partnerships and collaborative efforts. This year, Wise Minds. started the Maine Mindfulness in Education Network, a group of educators from the Portland area who meet monthly and discuss what mindfulness looks like in their setting, and ask questions of other practitioners. I have found this an invaluable resource and a great way to build community. Through my work with The Collaborative for Perpetual Innovation, I presented a workshop on Mindfulness for Educators and then had the unique pleasure of presenting alongside my students at their Creating Positive Climates for Youth conference. I also worked with a local professor and social worker to develop curriculum around screen dependency and mindful technology use. Finally, I collaborated with a fabulous intern, developed a teen institute with a fellow Mindful Schools grad, and am currently collaborating with peer to create a mindfulness and social-emotional learning program!

LOOKING AHEAD

While Wise Minds. is my first baby, my life is about to shift with the arrival of my first (human) child. I will be taking the month of September completely off to focus on her needs, and then gradually return to Wise Minds. in early October. I am partnering with the Couloumbe Center with Lincoln Health and Maine Health to offer workshops on Mindfulness for Children. I am also excited that I will be working alongside Julie Campilio, owner of Radiant Beginnings Yoga, to offer a 6-week course in Mindfulness and Social Emotional Learning! Finally, I will be supporting Memorial Middle School in South Portland develop their own capacity through a unique mentoring program that will combine in person workshops with email support.

I feel tremendous gratitude for the opportunities I've had this past year and those who have worked alongside me to share mindfulness with others. I look forward to continuing to cultivate in our communities around New England.

BE IN TOUCH!

Are you interested in bringing mindfulness programming to your school? Would you like to attend one of our workshops? Are your parents interested in learning more about how to support their children in developing healthy technology habits? Please be in touch about how we can support you!