"I very much count on young people to learn things that are not taught at school, such as mindful breathing, mindful walking, learning how to look deeply, and learning how to take care of anger". - Thich Nhat Hanh
By now most of us are familiar with the concept of mindfulness. It's benefits to our overall mental, physical and emotional health are being affirmed by the latest scientific studies. There have been breakthroughs in the treatment of emotional trauma and chronic stress using mindfulness practices. But did you know that there are school classrooms incorporating this practice into their curriculum?
Mindfulness is a way of calming our brain, slowing down our reactions and intentionally focusing our attention on something such as breathing in calm breaths. It is being taught in schools as a secular practice in an effort to be inclusive and widely available. Children are able to practice with child-friendly exercises and fun activities developed by mindfulness educators.
Dan Siegel, author of "The Whole Brain Child" is a neuropsychiatrist and researcher who has promoted the idea of mindfulness for adults and children as a pathway to improve mental health and overall well-being in families. Brain science is fascinating and scientists are now able to show how neural pathways are connected and repaired through mindfulness practices and loving human bonds that are emotionally secure and consistent over time.
Neuroplasticity is the brain's ability to reorganize itself by forming new neural connections throughout life. The good news is that we can change our brain at any age by changing our reactions to stress. What an opportunity for parents and educators alike to help our children learn to respond to stress in healthy ways early in life as their brains develop. And we adults benefit as well since learning mindfulness practices are a wonderful way to change our stress responses too.
As a parent educator I have used some mindfulness exercises with parents during parent ed that can easily be used with children at home. Any quick internet search will yield literally dozens of activities to practice mindfulness with children. I encourage you to seek some out to try yourself.
Here are a few fun ones that I recommend:
This fun mindful game is to sharpen concentration, practice empathy, and build community. Students are asked to silently pass a cup full of water without spilling. The first round tends to build confidence, but the second time they're asked to do it with eyes closed. This may be used in a classroom before taking tests to help kids focus and concentrate as well as shift their attention from one thing to another. It is also a fun game to play at home with family members or a group of friends. I have used this in parent ed to share a mindfulness experience with parents.
Pass something fragrant out to each child, such as a piece of fresh orange peel, a sprig of lavender or a jasmine flower. Ask them to close their eyes and breathe in the scent, focusing all of their attention only on the smell of that object. Scent can really be a powerful tool for anxiety-relief (among other things!).
Hand out a stuffed animal to each child (or another small object). If room allows, have the children lie down on the floor and place the stuffed animals on their bellies. Tell them to breathe in silence for one minute and notice how their Breathing Buddy moves up and down, and any other sensations that they notice. Tell them to imagine that the thoughts that come into their minds turn into bubbles and float away. The presence of the Breathing Buddy makes the meditation a little friendlier, and allows the kids to see how a playful activity doesn't necessarily have to be rowdy.
From the book The Moody Cow Meditates by Kerri Lee MacLean.
A "Mind Jar" is like a snow globe and you can make this yourself following the directions below. It is used as a focal point for thoughts and feelings and another way to teach and experience mindfulness with children. Adult supervision is necessary in making a mind jar. :)
You will need:
Fill the jar three-fourths full with warm tap water. Add glycerin, almost to the top- but not too close. Put in around four drops of liquid soap. Put the lid on tightly and shake the jar enough to dissolve the glycerin and soap in the warm water.
Take the lid off the jar.
Now you are ready to begin the meditation activity:
The water in the jar is your mind's natural state.
Put in a pinch of glitter/sparkles for each thought you notice. If you have more than one color of glitter, you can use different colored sparkles for different kinds of thoughts. For instance, you can use one color for angry thoughts, one color for fearful thoughts, and another color for other kinds of thoughts.
When you're ready, put the lid on tightly and mix it all up by turning the jar upside-down then right-side-up five or six times. Now you can see all the sparkles spinning and rushing around- this is your upset or busy mind.
Set the jar down, and breathe in and out slowly. You can gently ring a gong or bell if you have one. Watch how the sparkles settle slowly down to the bottom- as they do that, let your thoughts settle too.
When you're ready, ring the gong again- make sure you notice how the sound gets softer and softer before it disappears! Save the Mind Jar to shake up and use next time.
I hope you are inspired to try one or two of these mindfulness activities with your child. Most of them work well in a small group or with just your family members of almost any age. And remember... Keep Calm and Parent On.
The PAC Newsletter is produced by parents working in the PAC Communication Committee. The aim of the newsletter is to help co-ops communicate among themselves, inform families about important dates, ideas, related classes and seminars, Cooperative Preschool solutions and techniques from other preschools. It also advertises teacher openings, and fundraising activities.
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