Mindfulness in the Classroom by @HarveyHeals

The here and now of the classroom environment

Peace is the result of retraining your mind to process life as it is, rather than as you think it should be.” Dr Wayne W. Dyer

With half term over and schools back this week, I have that ‘back to school’ feeling going on.  I must admit it’s been an effort getting back into teaching routines again after being off. However, that said, after seeing my class arrive and hearing the children’s holiday news, I’m keen to settle them in and excited to start afresh for the new half term.

This is a re-blog post by Nicola Harvey and published with kind permission.

The original post can be found here.

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The challenge has been getting the children back into school mode. Yes, it’s only been a week off, but you’ll be surprised at how children lose focus and forget school habits.  On the first day back, some of the kids in my class were jet lagged after a week abroad; others were very chilled out after a relaxing week at home; and some were exhausted after a hectic week of holiday activities.   Mindfulness can help find a suitable balance for children in my class to feel settled back into routines, calmer, engaged and ready learn.

Mindfulness is a practice known to originate from Ancient Buddhism.  The Mental Health Foundation describe mindfulness as a “mental state achieved by focussing on one’s awareness of the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts and bodily sensations.”  Mindfulness has numerous benefits for children and adults alike, particularly in busy educational settings.  It can reduce stress and anxiety, increase cognitive flexibility, improve focus, boost working memory, enable better access to the curriculum, cut the recurrence of depression and enhance a better quality of life.

Emotional Intelligence, Meditation and Learning how to be Present, are some of the ways I like to encourage mindfulness in my classroom.

Emotions – We all encounter different feelings based on our moods, situations and relationships with others.  Feelings determine our emotional state at any given time. Our emotions affect our behaviour and how we experience the world around us. Mindfulness can be achieved by encouraging children to be aware of their emotions and teaching them to allow their emotions to arise without judging them.

Our emotional selves are children. And they never grow up. We just learn how to parent our emotional selves better.” Teal Scott

To help my class develop an understanding of their emotions, I use the Zones of Regulation.  Our emotions determine which one of the 4 zones we are in. If a child is in the RED Zone, they may be experiencing intense emotions and feel angry, enraged or terrified. If a child is in the YELLOW Zone, they may feel anxious, silly, nervous or excited; because their emotions are intense but less heightened than the RED Zone. If a child is in the GREEN Zone, they may feel calm and alert due to being happy, relaxed and ready to learn.  If a child is in the BLUE Zone, they may be down emotionally, due to feeling sad, bored and sleepy.

Ultimately, the idea is for a child to be in the GREEN ZONE, but it is never frowned upon or judged if they are in any other zone.  If this is the case, the child is given a choice of sensory toys or activities to help them return to the GREEN ZONE.  Activities can include deep breathing; drawing ‘Lazy 8s’ in the air; going for a walk; talking to an adult; push ups against the wall; or simply drinking a glass of water.  This has worked really well in my classroom and is highly visual.  Other teachers use a variety of methods including coloured lolly sticks to visually depict emotions of class members (see photo).

With regular use of the zones, children can develop an awareness of their emotions, learn that it is okay to have emotions, and with adult support, they can take practical mindful responsibility towards achieving peaceful emotional states.

Meditation – Mindful meditation is a way of finding peace when the mind is clear and calm. Regular meditation can help reduce stress and enable a person to achieve a balanced state of being. In a study, the University of Oxford found neuroimaging brain scans showed a positive change in brain activity for long term meditators.

Meditation can be achieved by sitting or lying with a straight spine; closing the eyes to shut off external stimuli (although meditation can be done with the eyes open); focussing on the breath filling and emptying the lungs; scanning the body and muscles to gently let go of any physical tension; then allowing any thoughts to naturally come up and drift away without attaching meaning to them.

In the classroom, I like to use meditation aides like Christine Kerr’s ‘Enchanted Meditations for Kids’, which is a lovely selection of guided recordings for children.  We also listen to and watch Kevin Macleod’s Relaxing Sounds of an Aquarium, which is both calming and peaceful, particularly for any children unable to sit in silence and listen to guided meditation for a period of time. Instead, children simply lie on their backs in a dimly lit classroom, relax their bodies and watch the fish in the aquarium float by on the large screen whilst breathing naturally to encourage a peaceful mind.

Our mind must make peace with our heart before we can witness peace in the world.”Unknown

Being Present – To some extent, it’s good to have a grounded approach to planning ahead and then reflecting on life’s events to help us improve. However, by living too much in the past or in the future, a person can become anxious or feel stuck and forget to live in the moment.  By becoming present, a person can achieve peace, be more aware of their immediate surroundings and in touch with their in current state.

In the classroom, it’s vital for children to pursue activities that help focus on the here and now because of the benefits for their well-being.  It is a very natural and calming process of being present, when a child focusses on their breath whilst noticing their chest and stomach move up and down.  To further achieve a state of presence, games and activities include: Kids Yoga; mirroring/copying a partner whilst listening to calm music; ‘Kim’s Memory Game’; and ‘Messy Sensory Play’.  These are fun activities which can improve concentration, build up use of the senses, develop early social skills and help children become creatively skilled.

By using some of the methods described above, I hope it helps you explore whether or not you have been living in the present moment and how you can create more mindfulness and compassion in your life.

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