Teacher & Leader Mindfulness- Autumn Meditation

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Stop! Take a deep breathe and look! Autumn seems to be firmly here.

The air has a new crispness, the trees are undressing themselves as the technicolor leaves whip around and fall to the ground as the wind blows around you. There is a new earthy scent. Autumn is here.

When did that happen? For those that work in schools, this time is filled with the fast pace of settling into a new school year, Parents’ Evenings, data analysis, resource making and more. We juggle our days either like novices or pros and it all depends upon the day or moment.

Stop! Take a deep breathe! Autumn is here!

Take five minutes now to take part in this lovely Autumn Mediation to help you relax and find peace within your Mindfulness practice.

Autumn Meditation

For this mediation, you will need a fallen Autumn leaf.

Find a space where you can have five uninterrupted minutes. Maybe it is in your back garden, in a local park, or a walk through some woodlands. It may even be that you collect a leaf while out and about and complete the meditation within the comfort of your home. It really doesn’t matter as long as you have your leaf.

– Pick up the leaf and lay it in your hands.
– Notice the colours, the different in shades of colours and fading of one colour to another colour.
– Notice the veins in the leaf, the main stem, the edges of the leaf.
– Feel the leaf. Run your fingers over the top and bottom; along the edges. Notice the differences. Rub it against your face or over the top of your hand. Use nerve endings that normally are not used to feel objects. Notice the difference.
– Smell the leaf. Note the scent. Inhale deeply and notice the memories it may bring up.

Close your eyes and take a minute to breathe deeply and allow yourself to be in awe and wonder of the moment you have had with the leaf.

Proceed with a new found calmness and appreciation.

Happy Autumn!

 

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Mindfulness In the Classroom – Mindful Language

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The highly respected psychiatrist, John H Reitman, once said that, “It takes an average person almost twice as long to understand a sentence that uses a negative approach than it does to understand a positive sentence”.

Everyday since most of us were about two years old we have spoken a countless number of words. It doesn’t matter which language we have spoken. Just the fact that we use words to convey our needs, wants, desires and emotions.

As a young child my parents taught me the saying, “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.” However, far too quickly, I learned that words could be even more powerful than sticks and stones and that words could hurt the deep psyche that can leave lasting scars. Those lasting scars lead to powerful emotions for most of our lives.

As educators, we need to be even more mindful of our words and consider what we are saying and why we are saying.

Negative vs Positive

Negative language often:
* tells the person what cannot be done.
*  has a subtle tone of blame.
*  includes words like can’t, won’t, unable to, not to or don’t.
* emphasises the negative behaviour over the desired positive behaviour.
* does not stress positive actions that would be appropriate, or positive consequences.
* Is ambiguous and doesn’t explain what you want them to do. “Don’t spill your drink! ” (How does a child not spill a drink?)

Positive language often:
* tells the person what can be done.
* suggests alternatives and choices available to the person.
* sounds helpful and encouraging rather than chastising.
* stresses positive actions and positive consequences that can be anticipated.

Examples of Positive Mindful Language choices:

– ” Mary is making right choices.”
– “Remember Mary, we make the right choice.”
– “You have two choices.” ( Then give two positive choices which you are willing to compromise on to get the desired behaviour. It allows a child to feel in control but in a safe range.)
– “I wonder why Mary has hit John.”
– “I like it when Mary sits in her place when she comes into class.”
– “Mary, shut the door quietly.”
– “I can tell you are not happy right now. You are breathing fast, your face is red and you have tears in your eyes. Take some deep breaths with me.”
– Give a child time to calm down with other mindful strategies and then discuss what has happened and LISTEN to what they have to say. Ask guiding questions and repeat your appreciation for how it made them feel and refer to how it has made you feel.
– When having lengthier conversations with a child about their behaviour, end with restating what they did well.
– In the Classroom, end the day on a high note by giving a minute to everyone reflecting on what one positive thing happened that day. Let that be their “exit ticket” at home time.

It is also important for you to encourage kindness and positivity in the words the children use to speak to you and others. Give some time to practice HOW we say things, how we use our words and explore how that makes us feel.

At the end of the day, we must remember that positive language leads to positive self-esteem. If a person has positive self-esteem, than they are likely to have a more even temperament and a healthy balance of the stress hormone, cortisol. Negative self-esteem keeps a person at a heightened stress point with high levels of cortisol which keeps them in the constant moment of fight, flight or freeze.

How positive is your language? Challenge your class and yourself this week, change one thing you say in a negative way and make it a powerful positive phrase. Let the child’s actions speak for themselves.

Note: In addition to positive language, one must also consider the importance of body language. (To be outlined in another post shortly.)

Mindfulness in the Classroom- Mindful Assemblies

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In my opinion, the development of Mindfulness should be a whole school initiative that sees the development of these life long skills by adults and children alike (and parents). It should be a part of the everyday life of the school and part of the school’s deeper ethos.

Whole School assemblies are a great way for the leaders of the school to use and model Mindfulness and emphasise the importance the practice has in your school. The use of basic mindfulness strategies can have positive impact on Assembly behaviour and continue calmness for children and staff following the Assembly. I have personally used the strategies with assemblies a big as 450-500 children.

Before using the strategies for the first time, set a basic ground rule.

Ground Rule:
If you choose not to take part in the mindful breathing, meditation or Follow Me game, they are to be respectful to all others who have chosen to partake and sit quietly. (This may have to be reminded a few times. But, the vast majority will take part and many who don’t at first Do eventually start participating or continue to be respectful.)

How do I use Mindfulness in Assemblies?

1- Meditation Music:  I ensure that meditation music is playing as the children come into the hall. The calm music sets the scene and expectations for the Assembly. (A variety of music can be found in the blog post Music or on my YouTube channel.) The expectation is silence. But, seldom do I have to remind the children of this expectation.

2- Follow Me game: It is similar to Simon Says without the verbal aspect. Children MUST be paying attention and following the hand movements you make. The hand movements are slow, deliberate movements that flow with the music being played. (The focused attention and concentration required for this activity is relaxing and puts children in the moment.)

3- Mindful Breathing: When the last class is being seated, the leader guides the children and staff through one of these breathing meditations:

– One Minute Meditation: You verbally guide the children through 15 deep mindful breaths (Various breathing techniques can be found here. However, the two that I am partial to for large assemblies are the basic breathing and the snake breaths.)

– Starfish Meditation: The strategy can be found here and is usually a whole school favourite.

4- Mindful Singing: Singing is made up of deep breaths and long exhales which is natural calming strategy. We also know that music itself can have meditative properties. How to use this strategy can be found here.

Note: At anytime during the Assembly that the children seem to be becoming more talkative or less attentive, guiding everyone through a few deep mindful breaths usually settles everyone. Also, end the Assembly with either Mindful Singing or Mindful Breathing.

The content of the Assembly is now yours to choose.
I hope to share some of the assemblies we do this year that have a clear, direct or indirect focus on Mindfulness development.

Top tips:

– Be in the hall BEFORE the first class arrives. This works best when everything is in place and you are playing the music and playing Follow Me as they come in and sit down.
– Periodically, remind children of what they are doing, why and how it helps them.
– If you are still unclear about how this work, please let me know and I will help accordingly.

When children see adults using Mindfulness strategies successfully, they will see the value of these skills.

Mindfulness in the Classroom- Top Mindfulness Tips for Supply/Substitute Teachers

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Being a supply/substitute teacher is not an easy gig. Many times you are walking into an unknown classroom filled with children that may find Ann known teacher distressing or a license to test the behaviour waters. A supply/substitute teacher needs to have a tool kit of quick and easy ways to support calm across the classroom. Many mindfulness activities can do just that!

Here are my Top Mindfulness Tips for Supply/Substitute Teachers:

1- BREATHE! Within the first few minutes, teach the children how to do Deep Mindful Breathing. Start off by explaining you are teaching them how they can trick their brain to believe they are calm. Explain the science of this technique. The strategy can be found here.
(You could even tell them it is a secret trick and show them one of the themed Breathing strategies.)

2- MEDITATION MUSIC Have a USB drive that you have downloaded a significant number of meditation songs or, better yet, download a 3-4 hour meditation music compilation from YouTube. Keep the music handy to play in the background while children are doing independent work. It will help to keep a sense of calm. More about this strategy can be found here.

3- MINDFUL DOODLING  Children are usually told NOT to doodle. Explain to them that this Doodling is special and will help them to remember what they have been taught today (relaxes the mind to allow the learning make connections in the brain. Play the meditation music in the background. The strategy is explained here.

4- MINDFUL LISTENING Explain to the children that the Headteacher/Principal has a special mission for them today. When they hear a special bell ring, they are to stop, close their eyes and just silently listen to all the things they can hear inside and outside the classroom. Then when you say stop, they are to quietly write the sounds down and go back to work. At the end of the day, all the lists are collected and given to the Headteacher/Principal. (You must give to the Headteacher/Principal as the children WILL as them!) You can find a special bell here.

5- GRATITUDE Throughout the day, get the children to stop, take three mindful breaths and silently write one thing they are thankful for on their special GRATITUDE LIST. By the end of the day, the list will be long and filled with happy thoughts. Send it home with the children to share with their parents. More information on Mindful Gratitude can be found here.

Sometimes it is the simple things that have the greatest impact.

Mindfulness for Children- Top Mindful Sleep Tips For Parents

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A common concern for parents is the lack of their child’s ability to fall asleep and/or stay asleep. According to research by the National Sleep Foundation, sleep deprivation  in children results in:

  • Poor concentration leading to a fall in academic performance.
  • Chronically sleep-deprived teenagers become more impulsive leading to risk-taking behaviours.
  • Sleeping problems increase the risk of disorders such as depression and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
  • Children start getting negative feelings which may lead to depression.

How Much Sleep Does a Child Need?

National-Sleep-Foundation-recommendations

A study showed that an increase in sleep time by approximately 30 minutes every night for 5 nights had an immediate impact on emotional ability and restless-impulsive behaviors of children in school. (1)

With this in mind, how can you, as a parent, support your child in getting the right amount of sleep each night?

Top Sleep Tips 

  • Bed Time:  Have a set bed time or wind-down time to bed time. Set patterns trigger the habit of sleep.
  • Mindful Breathing:  The breathing changes energy from tension to relaxation. It does this by turning off our sympathetic nervous system that produces stress hormones. This then turns on our parasympathetic nervous system, which turns off the stress hormone pump. So, deep breathing relaxes the body, decreases the heart rates lowers the blood pressure and creates the feeling of calmness.
    • Belly Breathing– Sit or lay comfortably. Place your hands on your belly and take a deep breath in for four counts, blowing up your belly like a balloon. Hold the breath for one count and then slowly exhale for five counts, deflating the balloon in your belly. Continue to do this for a few minutes until you see or feel calm and relaxed. (With young children, have them place their soft cuddly animal on their tummies to do this exercise.)
  • Mindful Gratitude– Once the child has relaxed with the mindful breathing, have them think of one thing they are thankful for or made them happy during the day. Have them imagine what it felt like, encouraging them to close their eyes and see it in their mind and smile.
  • Meditation Music:  Sometimes silence is worse than noise and can keep children awake. Playing soft meditation music can help children relax as they listen and drift off to sleep. (You can find several free options on my YouTube channel that can be found here.)
  • BEDTIME – GUIDED MEDITATIONS for Children:  Turn off the lights and play one of the following guided meditations (or find your own in my library of sleep meditations found here.)

If, after a period of time, this does not help your child drift off into a peaceful sleep and get the recommended sleep time, I suggest visiting your family doctor for support and advice.

(1) Gruber R, Cassoff J, Frenette S, Wiebe S, Carrier J. Impact of sleep extension and restriction on children’s emotional lability and impulsivity. Pediatrics. 2012 Nov;130(5):e1155-61. doi: 10.1542/peds.2012-0564. Epub 2012 Oct 15.

End the School Year with Mindful Gratitude

 

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I’m sitting here on a Sunday afternoon in the sunshine contemplating the last three weeks of the school year. There is so much to do. Reports have been finished but still need to be printed and signed, the end of year performance is in it’s last days of prep, school trips are being prepared along with the million of things to prepare for the new school year that begins in only two months time. Children are tired, staff are tired and parents are waiting anxiously for the “tag you’re it” hand over that will be coming shortly. We can get lost in the whirlwind of the last few days.

Thankfulness leads to increased well-being and, especially, positive moods by increasing our general happiness that is lasting. The residual effects of happiness stay with us, particularly if we are mindful of the happiness and choose to “waddle” in happiness.

Participating in Mindful Gratitude could be a great way to tackle the end of the year. Spending some time reflecting on the wonder of the year, the achievements, the changes and the time that has passed can offer a respite to the chaos the end of year brings.

Take a look through the Gratitude ideas that may be the perfect solution to celebrating the end of an exciting year.

Thankful Wall– Each day until the end of the year, give each child a post-it note and have the children write one thing they have been grateful for his year. It could be big like mastering multiplication or small like getting to be in the same class as their best friend. Watching the gratitude grow gives children a visual link to gratitude.

Gratitude/Thankful diary– Each child has their own diary that they write, draw or glue in things they are thankful for in their lives. In times of upset, they can look through their diaries to remind themselves of all the things that make them thankful.

Thank You cards or letters– Old school! But, it is a powerful tool allowing children a tangible outlet to show gratitude to the people who have made a difference in their lives!

Gratitude Video– Get the children to work in small groups to make a series of videos acting or telling everyone in a creative way the things they have been thankful for this past year as part of a “Welcome to Your New Class” video for the next year’s class.

ABC Gratitude Book– As a class or as small groups, create an ABC Gratitude book with each letter being something they are thankful for. Have the children illustrate and make into a book to share with younger children.

#WeekOfGratitude– This is a five day activity to help yourself and your children mindfully focus on the good things in life. It is all explained here: https://educationsvoice.wordpress.com/weekofgratitude-mindfulness-development/

Maybe you have a great idea! Share it with us in the comments below and help us all end the year being Mindfully Thankful. It will make us all feel good and focus on the important things in life.

Mindfulness in the Classroom- Calm Down Box

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Some children find it more difficult than others when being able to control their emotions. Sometimes they need some additional support in focusing themselves in using mindfulness strategies to calm down.

Calm Down Boxes help to encourage children to a more peaceful state when they are the most anxious by occupying them with tangible, mindful inducing objects. The boxes seem most effective for children with autism (or autistic tendencies), ADHD or Attachment Disorder.

These boxes should contain objects that appeal to the senses; look, touch, smell and sound.

The best boxes are ones that are tailored to the individual child and should have input into what are they have.

You will need:
– A box with a lid that is the size of a shoe box or smaller.
– A variety of sensory objects that the child can choose from. I suggest that they choose 5 different objects to begin with and then, slowly over time, allow them to add to their box later on.

Examples of objects:
– glitter bottle
– soft, squeeze ball
– harder, spiky ball
– stress ball
– play dough
– soft pipe cleaners
– sparkly pipe cleaners
– small, soft cuddly toy (I like to add a few drops of lavender oil.)
– textured cloth
– sea shell
– bendy straw
– small bean bag (add a few drops of lavender oil)
– tangle toy
– chew toy
– smooth river stones (worry stone)
– worry dolls
– stretchy toys
– small pin wheel
– small bottle of bubbles
– tissue paper
– photos of a favourite person or animal

 

How to use:

Encourage its use when the child begins to become anxious. As they are using the objects, encourage Deep Breathing to enhance the effects of the sensory objects and refrain from talking to them until they are visibly more calm and ready to put the box away.

Note: The objects should stay in the box when not being used to calm down.