Incorporating 'mindfulness' practices into classroom activities is not a new concept. A quick Google search of "benefits of mindfulness for kids" gives you over a million hits. The research is clear - mindfulness practice helps to reduce anxiety, improve focus and clarity, fosters self-regulation and resiliency and promotes 21st Century success skills...and I could go on.
While the research is clear, there is still a challenge of putting mindfulness into effective practice. It is not that mindfulness is difficult to do, but it is not foolproof either, and there are a lot of considerations to make in order to do mindfulness well. Going into our fourth year of using mindfulness techniques, we continue to learn how to make practices more effective for our students. Here is what we've figured out so far:
1. Kids benefit far more from the practice when they understand the whats and whys of mindfulness. Mind-Up is a curriculum developed by the Hawn Foundation that does just that. It is based in neuroscience and teaches about the neurological effect that mindfulness can have.
2. There is not one mindful practice to suit everyone, or every instance. Tai Chi or a guided meditation may help start the day, but in a moment of frustration, a body scan or breathing exercise may be better for you. It is important that students learn and practice a variety techniques to learn which are best for them and when to use them.
3. Not all mindfulness resources are created equal. There is no shortage of resources to work with, be it books, apps, or internet resources. On YouTube alone, a search for "mindfulness for kids" produces about 150,000 videos. Make sure to vet what you intend to use and think about how your students might respond to it. Visitacion Valley Middle School has provided a great resource list for mindfulness practices found on Edutopia to get you started.
4. If the teachers do not 'buy in' to the practice, neither will the kids. Because we've made mindfulness an integral part of our daily schedule, we work on our own practice as well. Not only does this help us to guide the students more successfully, but it helps us to also be more calm and focused and allows us to get through busy days with more clarity and positivity. It just makes sense, doesn't it?
5. Consistency and flexibility are critical. Daily practice is necessary for kids to learn the methods and to see and feel the benefits. Starting the day or a particular class with practice is a great way to build consistency, but it also should not be limited to that particular time only. Mindfulness is most effective if kids are able to practice when they need it throughout the day, so helping students become aware of when they need mindful time, and then encouraging them and allowing them to take the time is important.
5. Developing mindfulness practices doesn't 'fix' everything students might be dealing with at at any particular time. It is a big and very valuable piece to the complex social and emotional toolkit that everyone (adults included) need to navigate the complexities of the 21st century.
Do you have a favourite resource or practice you use? Please share with us! Would you be interested in mindfulness workshops to build your own practice to support your child's practice at home? Let us know.