Mindful Moments for K-4

Last week, I started a six week program at Yarmouth Elementary School. After spending last year working with the K-1 school, this year I will be meeting with students grade 2-4. I am delighted to get to see the same group two years in a row. It means we will be able to build on the work we did last year and deepen into some of the practices.

Each week, we spend just fifteen minutes learning a new way of focusing our minds and being kind to ourselves. Teachers are given posters to remind students of the concept we learned and scripts to practice with them. I remind students that the only way they will strengthen their ability to pay attention and be kind is through practice, just like the only way we build strength in our muscles is through working out.

Every program I offer, I start by creating a safe container and defining mindfulness. At this point, there are usually students in the room who know what mindfulness is, so I can build on their understanding. My first lesson is always using our senses as anchors for our attention. I find this is the easiest point of entry for students, and I can offer it later on if students are having trouble with a new anchor point. Sometimes, the breath or body can be uncomfortable, so having sound to come back to means they have a safe space to practice. By building the capacity to focus the mind, students become more adept at ignoring distractions.

Week 1: Supersonic Senses!

mindfulartsclassroom.jpg

This week’s lesson is based on Andrew Jordan Nance’s mindful arts in the classroom book. Andrew has a great rhyming story in his book about super powers, and how our senses can function like super powers if we pay close attention. With the second and third graders, I tweaked this slightly by asking students to carry I beat while I rapped over the story. This was an easy way to keep students engaged (despite my terrible rapping skills). The story gives a chance to practice focusing on each of the senses before moving on to the next. Because I only had fifteen minutes, I focused primarily on the sense of sight and sound. With the fourth graders, we still focused on the same senses without the story.

Home challenge:

  1. See if you can find something in your house you’ve never noticed before

  2. Practice your mindful listening as a group. See if you can also practice outside and at home.




Bite-sized Mindful Moments, Part VII

Each week we will offer a few bite-sized mindful moments for you to bring to your life and the lives of your students.

MINDFUL MOMENT FOR YOU: Slow It Down

 Photo by  Kumoma Lab  on  Unsplash

Photo by Kumoma Lab on Unsplash

When we are busy, we often start to move more quickly. We rush, and this rushing can exacerbate an already tense nervous system, leading us to feel more frazzled. Half the time when we end up in this state, we lose time by dropping our papers everywhere, spilling our coffee down the front, or forgetting some quintessential item that we have to head back for. See what happens when you intentionally slow down your walking, even the slightest bit. Bring your attention to the feeling of the body moving, the feet hitting the floor. See what happens.

 

MINDFUL MOMENT FOR YOUR STUDENTS: Spiral Drawing

hand-draw-spiral.jpg

This one came from Sarah Carlson at Cascade Brook School: On a blank sheet of paper, have your students draw a spiral from the center of the page outwards, tracing out slightly wider with each line. Invite them to notice what it feels like to press the pencil/pen again the page, the movement of the hand, and to bring all of the awareness to this activity.

Sarah also does this as a back-and-forth between free writing as a way of keeping movement and momentum going for her students. 

 

 

 

Bite-sized Mindful Moments: Part VI

Each week we will offer a few bite-sized mindful moments for you to bring to your life and the lives of your students.

MINDFUL MOMENT FOR YOU: Kind thoughts

 Pixabay

Pixabay

This time of year, as students have a harder time staying focused and engaging appropriately, it can be helpful to intentionally remind ourselves of what we truly want for them. Before school, consider a student who has been triggering to you.

Close your eyes and picture that student happy. Remind yourself: They want to be happy, to be healthy, to be safe, to feel loved.

Then, wish them that: May you be happy. May you be healthy. May you be safe. May you feel loved. Repeat it a few times. See if you can take a few breaths in and savor any kindness you feel for that student.

MINDFUL MOMENT FOR YOUR STUDENTS: The Snarling Dog

 Wiki Commons

Wiki Commons

As students prepare for the end of the year, their nerves often start to fray and they may show less kindness towards one another. We can encourage our students to hold boundaries and speaking up for themselves in the context of compassion for the other person. It can be helpful to remind students that others tend to be cruel when they are hurting, not as an excuse, but to encourage a thoughtful response.

Try offering this story the next time a student feels like getting revenge:

"You are out for a walk when you come across a dog. As you reach out for it, it starts snarling and lunges. You jump back and start yelling at the dog, when you realize its leg is caught in a trap. The dog was reacting out of its own pain and frustration." 

Bite-sized Mindful Moments: Part V

Each week we will explore this question and offer a few bite-sized mindful moments for you to bring to your life and the lives of your students.

MINDFUL MOMENT FOR YOU: Body check

 Photo by  Richard Jaimes  on  Unsplash

At the end of each class and the school day, take a moment to check in with your body, especially in areas that carry stress like shoulders, jaw, forehead, and stomach. Then, as you inhale train your attention on each individual spot, hold for a count of three, and as you exhale invite that area to release. Notice what the body feels like after that release.

 

 

MINDFUL MOMENT FOR YOUR STUDENTS: Body check

 Photo by  Volkan Olmez  on  Unsplash

Photo by Volkan Olmez on Unsplash

Just as we can take these moments for ourselves, we can offer these moments to our students. Invite them, at the beginning or end of class, to close their eyes or gaze down, and notice any sensations in their forehead....jaw...shoulders...and belly. Then, invite them to scan again, this time taking one breath and inviting relaxation at each spot. Finally, have them notice what the body feels like after the release. 

Bite-sized Mindful Moments: Part IV

Each week we will explore this question and offer a few bite-sized mindful moments for you to bring to your life and the lives of your students.

MINDFUL MOMENT FOR YOU: Adopt a beginner's mind

 Photo by  Aaron Burden  on   

Photo by Aaron Burden on

 

Just for a day, set an intention to approach the world with a beginner's mind. Notice each experience you have throughout the day as if you've never had it before (because, technically, you haven't ever lived each of those specific moments before). Allow your students to delight you. Be curious about your colleagues. Marvel at the weather, the signs of spring, the simple experience of being alive.

Notice how it impacts your day (and perhaps consider setting a similar intention for the next day).

MINDFUL MOMENT FOR YOUR STUDENTS: Best self for a day

 Photo by  Andrea Tummons  on  Unsplash

Ask students to consider their best selves. What qualities would they bring forward into their day, regardless of the circumstances? How would they live? How would they treat others? Then, invite them, just for a day, or even a class, to try and make each decision as if they were that best self. 

The next day, or at the end of the period, ask them the ways that they were their best self.

 

Bite-sized Mindful Moments: Part III

Each week we will explore this question and offer a few bite-sized mindful moments for you to bring to your life and the lives of your students.

MINDFUL MOMENT FOR YOU: EAT YOUR LUNCH

One day of the week, make yourself a real lunch that delights you. Even if it is a simple sandwich, or carrots and hummus. Then, when the time comes to eat, do so with your full attention. Not with your computer in front of you, not with your phone out... Pause everything and tune your awareness into your lunch. Notice the texture, the shapes, the sound as you chew. Savor it. Even if you can only take one bite this way, give yourself that one bite to cherish. 

 

MINDFUL MOMENT FOR YOUR STUDENTS: Mindful Listening

 Photo by  Cassandra Hamer  on  Unsplash

Offer students one-two minute(s) at the start of class to quiet the mind and take in any sound they can hear. Have them notice sounds outside of the room, inside of the room, maybe even from within the body... Notice if there are any sounds that are pleasant or unpleasant. 

Let students know that if they ever feel overwhelmed by their thoughts, they can come back to anchoring their attention to sound.

Bite-sized Mindful Moments: Part II

Each week we will offer a few bite-sized mindful moments for you to bring to your life and the lives of your students.

MINDFUL MOMENT FOR YOU: 5 breath pause

Before getting out of your car, off your bike, or walking up to the school, take a moment to stop. Notice how you feel in the mind and body. Bring your attention to your breath, and follow 5 complete breaths in and out. Check in again with the mind and body. Proceed with your day, knowing you can come back to the breath when the mind gets too busy or emotions get too big.

 

 

MINDFUL MOMENT FOR YOUR STUDENTS: NOTICE the room

 Photo by  Nathaniel Shuman  on  Unsplash

In a moment when the room starts to feel chaotic/off task, turn off the lights, stand at the front of the room, and look each student kindly in the eye. Breathe deeply as you maintain your own stability, being ready to note rather than criticize. Wait until the room falls silent and you have their attention. Name what you see and ask for preparedness with getting back to it. (ex-"it felt _____ in here and so I thought we could take a pause to get back on task. Everyone ready?") 

 

Bite-sized Mindful Moments, Part I

Sometimes, when we first get started with a mindfulness practice, even carving out five minutes can feel overwhelming. Ellen Langer, a Harvard Professor of Psychology, does not even think we need the formal practice, but advocates for bringing awareness to our every day moments. 

So how can we infuse mindfulness into our lives and the lives of our students? Each week we will explore this question and offer a few bite-sized mindful moments for you to bring to your life and the lives of your students.

MINDFUL MOMENT FOR YOU: Tune into senses while commuting

 Photo by  Matheus Ferrero  on  Unsplash

While walking, biking, or driving to work in the morning, bring your full awareness to your senses. Take a moment to look up to the sky and take note of the patterns there. Take in the colors of the plants as you pass them by. Listen to the sounds of the cars around you. Feel the weight of your body in the seat and hands on the steering wheel, handlebars, or moving at your sides. Whenever the mind wanders to your To Do List, remind yourself, "Just for this drive, I will be present," and come back to the observing sensations. 

MINDFUL MOMENT FOR YOUR STUDENTS: Take the temperature of the room

 Photo by  Patrick Fore  on  Unsplash

Photo by Patrick Fore on Unsplash

At the beginning of class, ask students how they are doing, on scale of 1-5 (1= really struggling, 5 = really happy). They can respond either verbally, or by holding up the number with their fingers. Observe out loud what the trend in the room is, and maybe make a recommendation for how to proceed with that knowledge. (eg- "seems like we are collectively having a rough day, so let's take it easy on one another").

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.