I’ve always been impressed with stories of teachers using meditation and/or mindfulness in their classrooms, helping their students to calm their minds and grasp strategies for self-regulation in a way that most people are too busy to attempt. Thinking that it should be something I set up at the beginning of the school year, I just never got around to fully dedicating time and effort to introducing the concept of mindfulness in my classroom. I felt that I was definitely far too busy to try (evidently, I needed some mindfulness) regardless of how I believed it would truly benefit not only my students, but my teaching practice as well. And then, a couple of weeks ago, I finally jumped in and gave it a try.
In a previous post, I wrote about how our students were involved to varying degrees in a brain inquiry. After having poked at the brain for about two weeks, we have now begun leading both classes in exercises of mindfulness. Using the book, “Mind Up!” as our guide, we began the introductory lesson and are amazed at how everyone has become engaged in the idea of thinking about how we think. Mapping the brain helps to identify key areas responsible for what the brain can do. The students have learned about the prefrontal cortex (called the “Wise Leader” in the “Mind Up!” program), the hippocampus (“Memory Bank”) and the amygdala (“Security Guard”). Now, the students are locating their thinking and reasoning for their actions in their heads. If I ask, for example, why they can remember how to count to 20, some students will say that it is because of their ‘Memory Bank’, while many of them, even some of my junior kindergarten students will readily drop the word, ‘hippocampus’ (because it’s a very cool word). We all smiled today when a jk student came up to me and said cheerily, “I heard a story today and then I put it in my hippocampus!”
We are also finding that giving the direction to “Use your Wise Leader” as they touch their foreheads to show that they remember where that part of the brain is, seems to be a little more meaningful for the students as they begin to explore the idea of self-regulation. Metacognition is a challenge for anyone. Without a means of helping children understand what the brain does and what it allows us to do, simply asking them to THINK about why they’ve done something can be too abstract. Now, they are building the foundation for understanding what their brains are capable of, and by extension, what they are capable of.
On the wall beside our carpet area, there is a poster of the brain with the three key areas highlighted and labeled so that we can refer to it when we gather for stories, the morning message, or knowledge building circles. To get everything started, we slipped the initial lesson about mindfulness into our day just after our morning message – it was a 10 minute introduction. Later in the day, we talked about it again, building on what we had begun talking about in the morning. Now, at any time of the day when the group is gathered together, we are able to have a quick lesson and keep slowly moving through the mindfulness program. It has become a regular aspect of our day, with the students understanding the power of their breathing, their emotions, and all of their senses. Maybe we are imagining things, but the classes seem to feel calmer and the students more grounded. We will definitely continue what we are doing.
There are many resources on mindfulness out there – from books to videos – and they all seem to be worthwhile. The book, “Mind UP” is just one of many. If you have ever considered bringing mindfulness into your classroom, my ECE partner and I can attest that you do not need to be an expert in the field. If you find something that seems like it would be appropriate for your students, I encourage you to take a deep breath, give it a go, and see what happens.