Mindfulness In the Classroom- Mindful Handwriting

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The key to Mindfulness in the Classroom is that it really does become part and parcel of the class itself. It is not an add-on that takes extra time; but part of the everyday life and mindful learning. So, consideration needs to be made when we consider the curriculum we are bound to deliver and the life skill of mindfulness. This consideration makes you a good role model for your children as they can see that mindfulness can be part of adult life.

The practice of handwriting can be a very mindful activity as long as we take appropriate consideration to the task at hand. The rhythmic motion and repetition required for handwriting, particularly for joined-up/cursive handwriting, can lead to true focus on the present moment.

In addition, research by Indiana University has shown that the brain activity from freehand drawing action was stronger, firing off in three different areas, while the tracing and typing motions barely stimulated the brain at all.

So, Mindful Handwriting can truly develop the mindfulness development of the brain while also stimulating other areas that support academic development.

How to do Mindful Handwriting:

  • Play a selection of meditation music for the length of time you want the children practicing their handwriting.
  • Before picking up the pen/pencil, have the children sit up tall (as if they are a puppet with a string at the top of their head that is pulling them up straight)  with their hands in their laps or on the table/desk they are to take three deep belly breaths, having them focus only on their breathing.
  • Then, they are to begin writing. During the time, gently remind them to focus on the movement of the pen/pencil and the marks they are making. Encourage them to recognise the feel of the movement and the vibrations created as the pen/pencil causes friction with the paper. Encourage the same rhythmic breathing as the writing flows.
  • When the music ends, have the children put down their pen/pencil, put their hands in their laps/table/desk and take three deep belly breaths.

In the beginning, you may want to have the children discuss how they were feeling during the handwriting session.

This mindfulness strategy can easily be integrated into the handwriting expectations of your class or school with no additional time required during the normal day.

Press Play

“You can’t stop the future
You can’t rewind the past
The only way to learn the secret
…is to press play.”
― Jay Asher

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I remember my first day of school. I was a five year old with hair pulled into pigtails on either side of my head. I was so excited as I carried my “Bedknobs and Broomsticks” snack box to my classroom. It was in the basement of an old three story school. The classroom was filled with wondrous things.

There was a long chalkboard on one side of the room with a long row of tables and a record player in the corner. The air smelled of damp chalk mixed with the fragrance of old kool-aid and oatmeal pies. Mrs Miller stood in the front of the class of eager eyed children and so my life in education began.

As I think about that classroom and look at the classrooms of my school, I note some of the similarities. There are no chalkboards. However, there are white marker boards. That smell of chalk dust is gone and it is replaces with the chemical smell of the erasable markers. The tables are still there. But, I notice that they are set up differently. There is a more collaborative feel to the environment. The record player is gone as well. There MIGHT be a CD player.

This is where the changes really begin. I notice the interactive boards in the front of class attached to the teacher’s laptop. On several tables I also see children working in collaboration on projects or research. There is an Ipad or two floating around the class and the class have their attention drawn to the board and the teacher from the next class over pops up on the screen. He begins to teach the children how to create their own animated video; encouraging them to have a go. The class teacher facilitates the learning, pausing the video and asking thought provoking questions. The children respond, make progress and collaborate in a way that would make Steve Jobs or Bill Gates proud!

This makes me think about how education has changed. The way I learned is a far cry from how children today learn. However, how I grew up is a far cry to how children are currently growing up.

For example, technology in my house while growing up consisted of the Clapper lamp that you clapped two times to turn off a light that was two inches from you and the child remote control which consisted of me standing next to the tv while my father called out, “Turn!”, so that I would turn the dial to the next channel, all ten of them! There were no mobile phones; we actually were on a party line! Who remembers them?! Digital clocks consisted of little plates flipping over to tell the time.

I could go on. I think you get the picture. So, because of this technology, our brains have been wired in a certain way and learning is a particular process not all that dissimilar from our own parent’s learning.

Fast forward to today. As soon as a child can sit up, they are learning how to manipulate technology! Within minutes, they learn how to make things happen on an iphone or ipad! I have seen two year old happily ‘reading’ a book, changing pages with the flick of a finger! How about the five year old creating a virtual world in Mindcraft? They know how to change channels on the tv with a remote control, flip through the 200+ channels, record a programme they like and pause to go to the toilet! Again, I could go on and on!

So, because of this technology, their brains ARE wired differently and the learning process IS different!

We can’t lament the change in the learning process. We can’t go back in time and MAKE children learn the way we did. It won’t happen! Should we even want to go back to the time of children sitting in rows while a teacher drones on about facts, telling off children for talking about their learning and insisting on only one way to do things ‘properly’!

We have children who are far more advanced in their learning than ever before. They ARE active learners. They know how to collaborate, discuss, imagine and create.

Our teachers have been reflective on this change and have been flexible in their own practice to support this change. They are becoming facilitators of this process and I have never been prouder of my profession Who have bravely and boldly held true to the needs of the children. It hasn’t been an easy job lately. However, our ethos supports our drive to stand up for our children.

Life is different. Our children are different. The future is an unwritten text that THEY have the responsibility to write. We can’t press the rewind button. It doesn’t exist! All we can do is be flexible to the change and press PLAY!

“The world as we have created it is a process of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking.”
― Albert Einstein

#PositivePostItDay – A Growing Mindfulness

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I want to thank you right now. I want to thank you because you have taken this moment in time to read this post and, that alone, makes me happy and if you do not read even one more word, I still will feel deep gratitude.

Do you really know what gratitude is? Have you ever pondered the idea?

Gratitude is an emotional state of mind. To be gracious means to have an attitude towards life that gives us, as humans, a sense of rational and personal well-being. It is a strong feel good emotion that releases endorphins that relaxes the body and makes us feel happy. That is why positivity begets positivity! It is ADDICTIVE!

On Tuesday, people around the world celebrated #PositivePostItDay. The day began a few years ago by a young lady in Canada called Caitlin Haacke. After being bullied herself, she decided to take a stand against bullying. She single handily started the movement of positivity that is sweeping the world. Her belief that positivity begets positivity that began as an anti-bullying campaign, has led to children and adults alike considering their words carefully and filling the world with kindness, love and appreciation.

Gratitude is a fundamental component of mindfulness. Teaching children (and adults) to be thankful for the abundance in their lives as opposed to focusing on the actual material objects refocuses on emotions and feelings that raises self-confidence.

As Tuesday unfolded, I was filled with happiness seeing thousands and thousands of children and adults showing gratitude for each other and for themselves! The power of words has never been stronger.

@ecsaibel from Marin, CA, USA

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The children showed a depth of perception that went beyond the simple, “Thank you!”.

@LeeAraoz from Broadway Campus in Long Island, New York, USA

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People became creative and symbolic in their notes. Love and compassion were at the heart of what was happening across the schools.

@SaccoEric and @CCGSMS from Clifton-Clyde Grade and Middle School in Kansas, USA

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The emphasis was on building, not just a positive day, but a positive culture. A positive culture is not a one day wonder. It needs to be repeated over and over again.

@principalkubiak from Cordelia Hills Elementary School in Sonoma, CA, USA

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The magnitude of the number of positive notes began to get mind boggling! Children were not happy with writing just one note, they had to write several notes. It was snow balling; leaving everyone in its wake on a wave of happiness!

@tsschmidty and @HarborViewElem from Harbor View Elementary in Corona del Mar, CA

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 Everyone left these schools feeling valued, loved, cared for and worthy of being a part of the community.

 @Ed_Tmprince and @Green_Lane_PA from Green Lane Primary Academy in Garforth, England

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Over and over, the power of the words the children had for each other was overwhelming and powerful!

The effects began to spread past the school gates. Green Lane Primary Academy received one to two written compliments from parents nearly every day this week!

So, what now? We can’t have #PositivePostItDay every day, right? Or… can we?

OF COURSE WE CAN!

One child asked his mother on Wednesday if we could be positive that day as well.

It is important that we are teaching the children and ourselves that we need to be mindful of our gratitude. We need to remind ourselves how it felt on #PositivePostItDay and remember that WE made that happen with our own attitude. The attitude is what made the difference on that day!

As stated before, gratitude is a fundamental component of mindfulness. It is a perfect way to either start the journey of teaching children the lifelong skill in being mindful or to enhance mindfulness already being developed.

If you want to find out more about #PositivePostItDay read #PositivePostItDay. It really can be done on ANY day you want it to happen. Get other schools to join you and MAKE it happen!

If you want some simple ideas on how to keep that snowball rolling in the development of gratitude, read Mindfulness in the Classroom- Gratitude.

In the meantime, share your ideas in the comments section. I would love to hear about the impact showing gratitude has had on your school or your own lives.

Mindfulness in the Classroom- Finger Labyrinth Meditation

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Labyrinths have been around for over 4,000 years with labyrinth stone wall carvings, clay tablets and coins dating back to the Bronze Age. Labyrinths have been featured in Greek and Roman mythology and, in the Middle Ages, they started to appear in churches and temples around the world. Labyrinths have been used by many different cultures and religions across time as they have been known to be used for relaxation, meditation and prayer that can bring spiritual and emotional well-being to the lives of those who used them.

Now, labyrinths can be found in hospital gardens, parks, schools and home gardens as they are known for their meditative properties.

What is a Labyrinth?

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A Labyrinth is not a maze; a maze has blind dead ends that are used to confuse and trick the mind. A labyrinth is a spiral course having a single, winding unobstructed path from the outside to the centre that is used to calm and relax.

What is a Finger Labyrinth?

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A finger labyrinth is similar to a full sized labyrinth you would walk except it is on a much smaller and more portable scale. The user traces the path to the centre using your finger rather than with their feet. There are many different kinds of labyrinths differing in size and complexity.

Finger Labyrinths are known to help children relax, feel better when they are sad or scared, deal with situations when they feel ashamed or embarrassed and help them to concentrate.

How to do a Finger Labyrinth Meditation?

  1. Take deep breaths to begin to relax and focus on the entrance to the labyrinth.
  2. Place your pointer finger from your non-dominate hand on the entrance of the labyrinth. If you find this too awkward at first, use your dominate hand. However, over time, keep trying your non-dominate hand. This helps keep the mind focused on the meditation due to the challenge it presents.
  3. Slowly trace the pattern of the labyrinth with your finger allowing your mind to clear from extra thought and focus solely on following the path of the labyrinth.
  4. “Walk” to the centre of the labyrinth and rest momentarily, taking deep breaths observing how you are feeling.
  5. Retrace your path out of the labyrinth.
  6. Sit back, breathe deeply and relax. Observe how you are feeling again.

Note: The same steps apply for a Walking Labyrinth, except you slowly walk the path.

Free Printable Finger Labyriths:

Other Activities:

  • Make a 3-D Finger Labyrinth: http://heatherplett.com/2015/01/make-finger-labyrinth-also-piece-art/
  • Challenge the children to create their own Finger Labyrinths by drawing or using small objects on a flat surface or drawing one in sand/salt/rice.
  • Create Walking Labyrinths using jumping ropes, construction bricks, cones, bean bags, chalk etc. outside or in the hall for children to walk.
  • Challenge children to create their own Walking Labyrinths using jumping ropes, construction bricks, cones, bean bags, etc. outside or in the hall for children to walk.

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Meditations can take many forms and have been around for centuries. The important part is allowing you to be in the moment and letting other thoughts float past.

Mindfulness in the Classroom- Mindful Doodling

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Time to doodle!

I can almost hear the collective intake of breath at the very idea that doodling can be good for you or have anything to do with mindfulness meditation.

Doodling, over the years, has received a bad rap!

Who hasn’t begun doodling in the margins of their notes during lessons or a meeting? According to a study published by the journal Applied Cognitive Psychology, doodling while listening can help with remembering details. During the research, subjects were given a doodling task while listening to a dull phone message. 29% of the people doodling improved recall compared to their non-doodling participants.

But, this type of doodling, good as it might be, is not a mindful activity.

The goal of Mindful Doodling is to fully engage with your doodles in a meditative way. It requires slowing down, focusing on the paper and pen and doodling repeatively with full intent. Thus, you become present in the moment.

Thus, mindful doodling:

  • focuses the mind
  • calms the body and mind
  • relieves stress
  • encourages relaxation
  • increases your sense of wellbeing
  • replaces negative or bored habits
  • allows you to be present and aware

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How to do Mindful Doodling?

You don’t need to have any drawing skills for this to work. (This is a good point as I DO NOT have good drawing skills!) There really isn’t any right or wrong way to mindfully doodle. It is not about the end result but about the process that is being taken.

  1. Draw, by freehand, a border around the outer edge.
  2. In this step you can do one of three things:
  • Draw a string inside your border. ( A string is a simple curved line/squiggle that will lend structure to your design as your pattern will emerge accordingly from the contours of the string. The string divides the border into sections.)
  • Draw straight or angled lines free hand within the border dividing the area into smaller sections.
  • Choose a corner of the border and begin step 3.
  1. Start creating your doodle with patterns drawn with a pen or marker along the contours of the string, lines or border. Allow the pattern to reveal itself naturally. There is no right or wrong. You can use very simple shapes, lines, dots, squiggles and more. Shade as you desire and be mindful of and deliberate with each stroke.
  2. Keep going until you are finished. You will know when this is.
  3. Enjoy your creation!

Remember: There are NO mistakes. So, no erasing is allowed. Embrace the mark you have made and use it to continue your meditative journey of mindfully doodling.

Top Tips:

  • You can use any size paper you desire. It can be as small as a post it note or as large as a poster. It is up to you. However, I suggest that in the beginning you start on a smaller sheet as you get the hang of this mindfulness activity.
  • The finer the points of the pens/markers, the finer the detail will be in the doodles.

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How to share Mindful Doodling with children?

Again, there is no right or wrong way to teach children to doodle mindfully except encouraging children to be present in the moment as they are doodling. Impress on the children that there is no mistakes in the process and allow each mark to lead to the next mark.

Playing music, as described in my post Mindfulness in the Classroom- Music, will support the meditative nature of the process.

Now, get to doodling!

*Note: Some people call this Zendoodling or Zentangle.

 

 

Mindfulness in the Classroom- Emotional Intelligence

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Some experts say that mindfulness is the foundation of emotional intelligence.

Google’s, Search Inside Yourself, programme looks at the latest research in neuroscience and ancient contemplative wisdom to help their leaders fight distraction and to grow emotional intelligence by being more present in the moment.

In the Google training, participants undergo attention and mindfulness training exercises designed to build emotional intelligences. Google believes that these skills are crucial for successful leadership and performance of its employees.

If Google, a highly successful multi-national business, puts this much significance on mindfulness and emotional intelligence, shouldn’t we, as educators, want to be developing these skills in all children to allow them to be successful as well?

Exactly what is emotional intelligence?

Emotional Intelligence is the capacity of individuals to recognize your own, and other people’s emotions, to discriminate between different feelings and label them appropriately, and to use emotional information to guide thinking and behavior.

Then, the first step in developing emotional intelligence is to get children to understand that their emotions are valid. It is not bad to have emotions, good or bad. It is how they deal with and react to these emotions that makes a difference.

What are a few mindful strategies to develop emotional intelligence in children?

  • Talk about emotions like you talk about the weather- Often and every day!
    • What emotion are you feeling right now? How does it feel? Is this a good emotion to have in control? How can we change emotions?
  • Use Inside Out (The Movie)- Many teachers find this movie a useful resource for teaching about emotions and controlling emotions.  There are a lot of resources online that have been created by teachers and parents using the movie.  A couple of useful free resources are:
  • Track your emotions with a diary or chart
    •  Have the children track their emotions for the day or at a certain time each day. Discuss how they are feeling? How does their body feel? Why do they believe they are feeling this way? What can they do to change their emotion if they are not happy with the emotion?
  •  Guided Reading- During guided reading sessions, have the children identify the emotions of the characters. Questions: Have you ever felt these emotions? Can you relate or empathise to how they are feeling? What could they do to change their emotion?
  • Recognising Emotions- Emotion Card Activity
    • This helps children to accurately recognise and name their own emotions and is appropriate for both ASD, children that have problems with emotional awareness and all other children. Emotion Cards
    • Using an Emotion Thermometer- Free printable emotional thermometer pictograms- Emotion Thermometer

 

What have you found successful in your classroom?

Mindfulness in the Classroom- A Teacher’s Mindfulness

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School staff stress is at an all time high! Changes in curriculum and testing, children’s behaviour, workload impact and teacher shortages are jeopardising the mental health of teachers on a daily basis. Anxiety, depression and complete mental breakdowns are becoming common place. It becomes a vicious cycle; one that seems impossible to break.

We know the importance of teaching children good mentally healthy strategies and habits. But, how can teaching this to children impact our own well-being?

According to research conducted by Katherine Weare for the .b Mindfulness in Schools Project in association with University of Exeter, in her report named, Impacts on the Wellbeing and Performance of School Staff, identifies that staff that use mindfulness strategies have been shown to:

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Many of the strategies outlined in my previous posts in the Mindfulness in the Classroom series can be practiced just as easily by adults. Refreshing yourself about these mindfulness strategies and trying them yourself will give you a taster for what works best for you.

Mindfulness in the Classroom series

Mindfulness Starts Here

Mindful Colouring

Meditation

Gratitude

Breathing

Starfish Hand Meditation

Mindful Listening

Mindful Walking

Mind Jar Meditation

Yoga

Music

Mindful Eating

Emotional Intelligence

Mindful Doodling

Finger Labyrinths Meditation

I hear you moan, “But, I just don’t have time! “, “I have too many things to do!” or “I have too many things running through my head!”.

STOP! YOUR MENTAL HEALTH IS IMPORTANT!

My favourite quote is, “If you always do what you always did, you’ll always get what you always got!” So, if what you are doing is leaving you stressed, anxious or depressed, then you have to do something different NOW!

Can you give yourself 5-10 minutes a day to be mindful?

Are YOU worth a few moments?

In addition to what has been outlined in previous posts, here are some other mindful techniques that can easily fit into your day.

Deep Breathing– This triggers the relaxation response. The key to deep breathing is ensuring the exhale is longer than the inhale. There is a nerve called the Vagus nerve that runs down the diaphragm that tells our brain to slow down the turn down the sympathetic nervous system (that releases stress hormones) and turn up the parasympathetic nervous system that supports the lowering of heart rate, breathing rate and blood pressure. This then calms us down. Top tip: On the exhale, ensure your shoulders relax.
-100 breathes technique– Breathe deeply 100 times, counting as you go. If this is too much, start off slowly with 10 breathes and add ten more each day or few days.
– 5 minute breathing– Set the timer on your phone and breathe deeply until the timer goes off.

Meditation– Meditation has shown to shrink the brain’s stress centre, the amygdaloid, and thickens the pre-frontal cortex that controls awareness, concentration and decision making. In short, the more you meditate the easier it becomes to meditate and find time for meditation.

Meditation does not require hours of sitting crossed legged while chanting. It does require you to be mindful of one present feeling.
– Everyday Activities– Simple everyday activities can become a meditation as long as you focus on the activity at hand; how it feels, how it smells, the sensations it brings, the sounds it makes. Examples: taking a shower, watching the kettle boil, drinking a cup of coffee/tea, brushing your teeth, sweeping the floor, putting on your clothes. Don’t multi task. Be mindful of the moment and allow other thoughts to float away.
– Guided meditations– There are many free guided meditations online in various lengths and with varying focus. There are also many free apps like Calm and Headspace. 5-10 minutes a day can mean saving hours of needless stress and anxiety that slows your pace.

Practising Gratitude– The act of kindness and gratitude triggers feelings of well-being. Remember, positivity begets positivity. Once you start to consciously show gratitude, it starts to become a good habit that happens naturally as that spiral of happiness feeds the cycle.
– #PositivePostItDay– Participate in things like #PositivePostItDay, Maybe make it your mission to do this everyday or once a week. An explaination can be found here: https://educationsvoice.wordpress.com/2016/02/21/positivepostitday/
– Random Acts of Kindness- This brightens everyone’s day. It doesn’t have to cost.
– ABC Appreciation Meditation– Mentally go through the alphabet and name one thing you are grateful for that starts with that letter; A- air I breathe B- Bobby my son, etc.

Hand/Mind Connection– If you find yourself in a stressful moment and the breathing techniques or simple meditations are not helping, immerse your hand in warm water (or rub your hands together quickly to warm them up). This opens the blood vessels and tricks your brain out of a stressful state.

The key is to find an inner peace that allows you to be the best teacher possible. Mindfulness may be what you are looking for to have a work life balance during these stressful times.

How do you practise mindfulness for your own mental health?

UPDATE:

Having problems meditating?

Read the post : A Teacher’s Mindfulness- I Can’t Stop Thinking!