Think about it: Teach your students about mindfulness
Friday, October 06, 2017
Mindfulness is not new. It originated with Eastern meditation practices around the art of "bringing one's complete attention to the present experience." Mindfulness is what makes us human — the capacity to be fully conscious and aware, or put another way, being present and aware of things happening in the current moment.
Live in the moment
Many of us live busy lives and find ourselves going on autopilot while driving from home to work, or multitasking while we cook dinner or mow the lawn, etc. Mindfulness helps us step away from our habitual, often unconscious emotional and physical reactions. It allows us to listen to our bodies, notice the good things, and learn how to become more cognizant of our thoughts, feelings and sensations.
If, as adults, we thrive with mindfulness training, how much more do our students need mindfulness to grow socially and emotionally into healthy human beings?
Studies have found many benefits and positive outcomes from using mindfulness practices in the classroom. For example, studies of mindfulness programs in schools have found that regular practice — even just a few minutes per day — improves students' self-control and increases their classroom participation, respect for others, happiness and self-acceptance levels (Shwartz, 2014; Hawn Foundation, 2011).
Mindfulness is a tool and a technique that can address a variety of student social and emotional behaviors:
- Impatience or a lack of impulse control
- A lack of focus on the lesson or their work
- Support needed for getting along with classmates
- Giving up when learning gets challenging or not understanding a concept
- Having experience with trauma or stress from home
Here are a two key mindfulness activities to get you started with implementing mindfulness training in your classroom :
1. Explicitly teach students about the brain
This helps students understand how their feelings arise and how to control and change what they do in response.
The three key parts of the brain involved in thinking and learning are:
- Amygdale: Regulates and blocks information from entering the prefrontal cortex so you can react quickly
- Prefontal cortex: The thinking center that helps us to focus, analyze and reason
- Hippocampus: Stores and processes our important facts, memories and learned information
Have students create anchor charts, comic strips, digital stories on the three parts of the brain. Play games such as Guess Who, Find Someone Who or Charades on key characteristics of the three parts of the brain. Kids Learning Tube and KidsHealth are just a few of many great videos on the brain.
2. Teach about the here and now
Create "pause moments" to give students a time-in of calmness and still breathing, allowing them an opportunity to check in with themselves to refocus their awareness and attention. Teach them about focus, breathing and a grateful mind:
- Focus: Play a one-minute clip of music (something instrumental that is calming or inspiring). Ask them to take a moment to simply listen with their eyes closed.
- Breathing: Have students find a comfortable spot and focus on their breathing. Perhaps say, "Please get into your mindful bodies (be sure to model this) — still and quiet, eyes closed and focus on your breathing. Use focus words or chimes to cue — "focus on your breathing," "just breathe in" and "just breathe out."
- Art of gratitude: Provide regular opportunities for students to practice gratitude. Instruct students to focus on one event or object and explain why they are thankful for it.
For even more great mindful strategies, pick up a copy of "Transformative Teaching: Changing Today's Classrooms Culturally, Academically, and Emotionally" by Kathleen Kryza, MaryAnn Brittingham and Alicia Duncan. If you're looking for courses on mindfulness, Breathe For Change, Passage Works Institute and Mindful Schools offer various session formats.
Mindfulness promotes students' growth as human beings and as learners. Try to find a few minutes a day on mindfulness training with students — it will not only benefit them but also your class community. And because we have ensured students are healthy emotionally, it will also increase their academic achievement.
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