Universal Pre-Kindergarten Teacher: Do you like our mindful time?
“Yes, because we get to close our eyes and my mind relaxes. I’m not worried about anything.” ~Boy, Age 5
“Yeah I like it when we lay down in a comfortable position. Sometimes when we lay down we think of silly things. My body feels rested afterwards. I can learn more that way.”~Girl, Age 5
“Yes, I like that you can lay down or sit up. I like the calming music (it’s like the music I do ballet with). It is quiet so it helps me relax. It helps my mind think of the ocean and feel good. Sometimes I dream.”~Girl, Age 4.
The necessary hot topic right now relates to the epidemic of gun violence, particularly in schools. The NPR released an article called, Here’s How to Prevent the Next School Shooting, Experts Say which addresses taking a more “public health approach” within school settings. I have to agree with many of the points in the article; in particular cultivating a more positive, accepting and preventative school climate.
As a teacher of 12+ years, I can speak with validation to the daily experiences within a high-stress professional environment that we call school. It is often overlooked by the public. Not only are teachers responsible for researching and developing lesson plans that will ensure individualized academic growth to meet state and federal standards, engaging in and applying new skills learned in required professional development, managing student behavior and relationships, but we are also responsible for making student safety our number one priority. Without safety, nothing else can be accomplished. Safety comes in the form of verbal, emotional and physical safety. As hard as we may try to establish a culture of respect, responsibility, collaboration and kindness in our classroom, it all starts within the individual. Whether you are the staff member or the student, I believe that you must respect yourself, be kind to yourself and value yourself before positive, balanced relationships with others can be obtained.
Questions for my peer educators-How well are you taking care of you? Do you take time to relax? EVERYDAY? To feel silly? To not feel so worried? To feel like you are at peace by the ocean? To dream? What the 4 and 5 year olds feel is possible for you, too. By lowering your own stress levels, think about the positive effect it can (and does) have on your kiddos. Carve out a few minutes for yourself each day. Zone out and just be one with you.
Better yet, set a goal to start a little mindful time each day with your students. Do an inventory of how they feel or what they think about “mindfulness” before starting (Day 1) and then again after 30 days. I have no doubt that your findings would be astounding. Will it be perfect? Of course not. But I am confident that you will see growth in their positive mindsets.
If a crazy Pre-Kindergarten day happens to go by and we forget “Mindful Time,” a child will remind us of that fact before the end of the day arrives. I am sharing this because I believe that this is so telling. The FACT that our youngest students can verbalize the importance of taking time to just BE confirms that we are establishing core qualities of balanced, kind and responsible minds of the future. This is what we need to model. This is what we need to teach. Once this is established and underway, positive relationships and experiences will naturally fall into place. Just walk into our room any day, and you will witness how these little people go out of their way to help one another and to make each other feel accepted. Self-care. Self-love. Friends, this could be the key to the prevention of violence in our schools and in our society.
Let’s get real here. A stellar eye roll will accompany the thought of adding one more thing to our classroom plans or our home schedules. But what if a quick one minute activity could easily save you at least twice as much in time AND benefit the well-being of a child?
Attending and transitions can be time consuming for elementary kiddos (especially in the PreK/K age range). However, if we can find ways to tap their focus, we can potentially save time over the course of a day, week, and school year. I can attest to the experiences with my own young UPK-ers that the implementation of a few mindful practices each day has made a tremendous impact on their ability to attend, regain focus, and ultimately care for themselves and one another.
Mindful Minute Practices for Toddler, Preschool & Elementary-Aged Children:
Smell the Flower, Blow the Dandelion
This is all about deep breathing. We tap into the imagination and our senses with this exercise.
Script Sample: Imagine a field of yellow flowers. Reach down and pick up the perfect flower for you. Now hold it close to your nose. Breath in to smell it’s wonder; 1-2-3-4-5. Now, blow out to spread the dandelion seeds all over the field, 6-7-8-9-10. Repeat 2+ times.
The goal is that not only will this breathing activity help to regain focus in the current setting, but it is one that the child can learn to apply independently as needed.
(I also love that this secretly weaves in counting to 10 for our youngest learners!)
This experience activates a brief vacation from reality using the imagination. It is a focused activity with a phonological twist. The teacher, parent or lead student will choose a letter to guide the brief mindful minute (typically a little humorous).
Script Sample: The letter “M” is chosen. Close your eyes and picture the letter “M” symbol. Now I want you to picture a monkey. In your mind, say “monkey.” Feel the /m/ beginning sound on your lips. Now picture the monkey eating a meal of bananas. Peel the banana. Give the monkey a bite, now you take a bite. “Mmm” you both say. Along comes a monkey friend named Max. They decide to make banana milkshakes together. They blend up the bananas and the milk-can you hear the blender churning? Max reaches up and takes the top off...splat! The milk sprays all over and makes a huge mess!
You get the idea...;-) This is always “off the cuff” so as long as you have a decent imagination, you should be good to go!
Balancing Act (with Imaginative Toys)
Give each child a item. It can be anything-literally. We often use beanbags or plastic counting bears. The kiddos then use this item as a pretend favorite toy. We balance the item on different parts of the body. As we breathe in and out, we take note of the toy movements. The concentration will also help the “favorite toy” from falling to the ground.
Children can be sitting or lying down for this activity. Prompt them through body part isolations. That is, they “squish” their face in and then relax. Then they “squish” their arms in and relax. Continue to prompt from one end of the body to another. This is something that they can use as a coping tool during moments of anger or frustration, rather than acting out.
This is My Heart
This experience is about gratitude. Race/Jump/Hop/Skip/etc for 1 minute to get the heart rate up. Then freeze and feel the heartbeat. Think about what it feels like, sounds like, and what it would look like inside your body hard at work. As it is beating, circularly massage it 3x while whispering thank you for all that it gives to us in each moment (strength, love, friendship, etc).
These are just a handful of ideas that you now have the power to integrate into your classroom or home. I encourage you to pick just one to try for a week. You never know what you may discover within children, and yourself...
Rumor has it that it takes 30 days of consistent, focused behavior to create a habit. Our inspirational school leader loves to challenge us with new ideas. Tomorrow “The Principal’s 30 Day Challenge” begins. Our UPK classroom has chosen to be consistent with practicing whole group mindfulness for 3-5 minutes a day.
It is 10:45am and I grab my phone. After a handful of expectations and several prompts, the kids are ready for their first experience. I click on the Headspace App for Kids and choose “Focus” as our 3 minute mindful practice of the day. We close our eyes. “Andy” begins to walk us through a visualization journey with different animals of various sizes. Frogs, monkeys, chickens, elephants and fish make up the experience.
I peek through one eye and see a pair of brown eyes staring up at me on top of a big beautiful smile. I smile back, send the quiet signal, and gesture to close the eyes.
“Shhh,” I hear from across the room.
“Close your eyes!” another voice mumbles.
“Hey, move into your space,” a whisper calls.
I pause the mindful journey. It has been 23 seconds. Twenty-THREE!!
Do I abandon and start over tomorrow or continue on? I mean, technically the challenge hasn’t started yet...
Nope. Continue on we must. I take a deep breath to refocus, share a few reminders and then we close our eyes again.
I hear rustling. It is coming from every angle. I take a look. Legs are moving, bodies are shifting, booties are scooting, heads are wobbling….only 2 minutes to go. We can make it. We really can! I pause to give a prompt and we start again.
Once the lengthy stretch to the finish line was up, we took a minute to reflect.
“What animals did you picture?” I asked.
And the first answer to be shared is “A pink polar bear!”
I chuckled and wrapped up Day "0's" session. It can only grow from here...haha!
Lessons Learned by Day 2:
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I'm obsessed. This is fabulous. LOVE that you are doing this. The new way of being a student forces us to think outside the box and approach how we teach more dynamically.
~Derek, Father of 2 and Elementary School Principal
Just a girl with a dream to collectively build a healthy mind space for children, while creating a healthier mind space for ourselves.
Copyright Healthy Mind Space 2019