Mindfulness in The Classroom – Mindful Singing

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Mindfulness is about allowing yourself to be in the moment. It is allowing yourself to accept this moment without judgement and wallow in the present.

When we are teaching children the important life skill of mindfulness, we should endeavour to show children that mindful moments are all around them and that, with a little consideration, can help them to relax and joy life more fully.

Something that we know brings joy to many people is the act of singing and, with it part of the curriculum, this is another way to bring mindfulness to the forefront in an integrated way.

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. Thus, with just a little tweaking, we can also develop a mindful technique that can calm and relax children while also bringing joy. Many people sing when they are happy. With the right songs, they can make you happy when you are sad.

How to do Mindful Singing:

– Begin by having children sit up comfortably with their hands in their laps. Then have them take three deep belly breaths bringing their attention to their breath.

– Explain to children that while they are singing to ensure nice, deep breaths are taken and focus on how the sound vibrates through their bodies as they sing. How does the sound feel in your mouth? Against your tongue? In your throat? In your chest? How does singing make you feel emotionally?

The key is to bring awareness to the moment of signing and bask in the joy of the sound without judgement.

Some mindful songs for children that reinforces mindfulness can be found here, http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL76Tcrfnqwv4br4i_TG6Z9LlEp0L545tr , or here:

Sing as if no one is watching!

A Teacher’s Mindfulness- A New Year Begins Part 1 Shoulder Relaxation

imageEducation has an odd calendar.  When we talk about a “new year”, champagne, confetti and the lingering sounds of “Auld Lang Syne” are not echoing through the corridors. Instead, a “new year” means a classroom of new faces, coffee and the smell of dry erase markers. It is also a time of excitement and hope with additional stress and anxiety.

With only days left of the summer holidays instead of weeks, the signs  are already appearing.  Teachers waking up earlier, planning spread out across the dinning room table and worried looks appearing across faces.

But, this year will be different! Developing your own mindfulness will be good for your health and well-being and will support the health and well-being of your children.

Over the next few weeks, I will share some simple mindfulness strategies YOU can use in order to get your new year off to a mindful start.

Mindfulness is an integrative, mind-body based approach that helps people change the way they think and feel about their experiences, especially stressful experiences.

Many of us hold stress in our shoulders. As the day becomes more stressful, our shoulders become more tense and creep up towards our ears. It is like a primitive form of contracting our muscles to spring into the fight or flight mode. During the day, take a moment, without judgement, to relax your shoulders and accept the feeling of restfulness that accompanies the moment.

Shoulder Relaxation

– Breath deeply and, on the exhale, allow your shoulders to drop towards the floor as if someone is pressing them downward.

– Continue to breathe deeply for five breaths, allowing your shoulders to slightly rise on the inhale and then completely drop on the exhale.

– Recognise how the muscles feel in the shoulder and neck. Remember, do not judge the tension. Just recognise it is there and release the tension.

Do this at least five times during the day.

This is particularly useful technique to use when having to deal with situations that are escalating into an argument or emotional situation. I also encourage shoulder relaxation in basic deep breathing as part of the everyday practice.

 

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.

How To Start Developing Mindfulness in the Classroom

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You have made the decision to try teaching mindfulness in your classroom. What do you do next?

1- Take the time to consider your own mindfulness. My personal action research shows that the greatest impact in the development of a child’s mindfulness is the development of the teacher’s mindfulness. This doesn’t mean you need to be an expert. But, it does mean even a rudimentary understanding of how it supports your own well being will allow you the experience to explain it to children.

Have a look at the posts Teacher and Leader Mindfulness or take the #MonthOfMindfulness Challenge. These are great starting points. Also, follow me on this blog, on Twitter, @Ed_Tmprince, and/or on Facebook, https://m.facebook.com/educationsvoice/ . I post lots of ideas to support adults and children a like.

2- Read through the Mindfulness in the Classroom Series. Here you will find approximately 30 of the ideas that are coming in my forthcoming book, 100 Ideas for Primary Teachers: Mindfulness in the Classroom being published by Bloomsbury Publishing in 2017.

3- Choose a couple of mindfulness techniques you feel comfortable with, introduce them to your class and start using the. Have the strategy be part and parcel of your classroom practice. Practice it when they are calm and encourage its use when they are not.

My suggestion is that the first strategy taught and used on a daily basis is the breathing as this forms the basis of several strategies. Basic deep breathing is an easy strategy to teach and encourage through regular classroom practice.

I also suggest about 30 minutes of mindful practice a week which comes to 6 minutes a day. I also suggest that there is at least one guided meditation per week.

4- As you and your class get comfortable, add in new strategies.

Top Tips:

1- This is not a one off. You have to keep at it every day. Some teachers see immediate change and some take a few weeks. This is not a race. These are life long skills that requires a remodelling of thought processes and reactions.

2- Not every strategy will work with every child. That is ok! You will find the same with yourself. If it doesn’t seem to work, move on to a new strategy.

3- Be very clear about the strategies you are teaching them and why. Explain what you are doing and explain the science of it as well. Encourage them to support each other and YOU when they see upset, anger, sadness, anxiety, etc.

4- Let others working with your children know that when they are in the classroom, you are using these strategies and encouraging their use. It can seem a little odd or even naughty to see a child take themselves off to a quiet area, shake a glitter bottle (mind jar) and start doing deep breathing.

5- Let the children see YOU being mindful when required! Modelling the strategies when YOU need them is very powerful!

6- Mindfulness should be taught to a class as a whole and not just to vulnerable groups of children. ALL children need these life skills and when they see it is just a normal thing to do, they will all start doing it and it will have the impact you desire.

7- If all else fails, you need support, want training for yourself or your school or you want to share your successes, contact me through this blog, via Twitter @Ed_Tmprince or through my Facebook page, Education’s Voice- Mindfulness at https://m.facebook.com/educationsvoice/ .

CNow, take a deep breath and give it a try!

Mindfulness in the Classroom- Mini Meditations

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Clinical psychologists from the University of Sheffield have discovered young children’s concentration in class can be significantly improved by introducing mindfulness sessions into their school timetable.

When we think of mindfulness, many times our thoughts go directly to formal meditations. Guided meditations can be an integral part of developing a mindfulness practice; but you can also cultivate mindfulness informally by focusing their attention on the moment to moment sensations of individual activities. Doing one thing at a time and giving it your full attention allows a person to slow down the process and be fully present in the moment as it unfolds and allowing recognition of all senses.

Two Informal Mindfulness Activities

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Building Stone Towers

Stone Tower Building is like a mini-meditation. It gives children the opportunity to be quiet, think and focus just on what they are doing. Their silent fixed attention is fully in the moment of balancing the stones.

Materials required:
– A collection of stones of different sizes, ensure that a large amount have some flatness on each side. But also include a variety of colours and roundness.
– A few pictures of stone towers so that children get the idea of the task and a challenge, “How many stones can you use to make a tower?”
– A place to do the building
– Optional: a camera so the child can take a picture of their tower or paper and pencils so they can make a sketch of their finished tower.

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Chopstick Challenge

This activity is a bit more advance require greater concentration and skill as they have to focus not on the balancing of objects to build a tower but to also manipulate chopsticks to move and stack the objects.

Materials required:

– I bought a ready made kit from The Works (http://www.theworks.co.uk/p/games-puzzles/wooden-chopstick-challenge/5052089164628).

-However, it would be easy to make your own kit which includes a set of chopsticks and small building blocks.
-A few pictures so that children get the idea of the task and a challenge, “How many blocks can you use to make a tower?”
– A place to do the building.

Top Tip for Both Activities

– Remind children to practice active, slow, deep breathing when they are stacking.
– To keep calm, remind the children that if the tower falls, to close their eyes, take three mindful breaths and start again.

Both of these activities require complete focus in the moment and supports the on-going development of mindfulness.

Mindfulness in the Classroom- Body Scan

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Dealing with the aftermaths of uncontrolled emotions takes up a large percentage of time in schools. Children are learning, developing and dealing with a number of social situations. Most of the time, the situations are positive in nature and everything moves along smoothly. However, there are times that the situations are not positive to everyone and children become annoyed or upset with what is happening. It is during these times they are starting to lay the neuropaths in the brain on how they will react to those situations. They are beginning to develop the default habits.

Teaching children how to do a body scan will help them to identify the warning signs of annoyance and upset allowing them to then use other mindful strategies that allows them to deal with the situation in a better way. What needs to be pointed out is that it is ok to be annoyed or upset. These are valid emotions. But, we need to be in control of how we react to these emotions.

Body scans allow us to develop the skills to pay attention to how our body feels, allowing us to pick up the warning signs of subtle moods. Body scanning also teaches us how to notice, enjoy and nurture our positive feelings.

The key to teaching body scanning in the beginning is to practice it before the children are annoyed and angry in order for them to fully understand the process.

Basic Steps for a Body Scan:

1- Have children sit or lie comfortably with their hand relaxed in their lap or to the side and close their eyes.
2- Children are to take three deep breaths allowing their body to fully relax and sink into the floor on the exhale.
3- Then with each deep breath, they imagine the air going to a different part of the body, noticing the sensations in that part of the body and then exhaling any tension they may be feeling in that part of the body. Are they noticing tingling, warmth, coolness or pressure? Continue to move to each different part of the body as you scan either from the top of your head to the tips of your toes or vice versa.
a. Scalp
b. Face
c. Neck and shoulders
d. Torso
e. Arms
f. hands
g. Hips and bottom
h. Legs
i. feet
4- Once the whole body is scanned, have them take a deep breath, wiggle their fingers and toes and slowly open their eyes; bringing awareness to the whole body.
5- Questions to ask the children:
a. Does your body feel different or the same from before you started the body scan?
b. Where there any parts of your body that felt tense and you needed to relax?
6- Explain/remind children that when they become annoyed or upset, they can speed up this meditation to identify what is happening with their body in order to use their favourite mindful strategy to calm down.

When developing this practice with children, explore how they might be able to use this as a strategy when they are feeling annoyed or upset; identifying scenarios and even role playing situations that Body Scanning can change the outcome of difficult situations.

The idea is that children start to recognise the sensations they have in their body normally and when they are upset or angry. When the sensations of upset or anger start to appear, they choose to react in a positive manner in order to develop positive mindful reactions.

Body scans can also be used as a regular part of a class’s meditation practice as it is a very relaxing practice and builds on positive control of self.

Theses are some useful resources:

Children’s Body Scan Meditation Script: http://2bpresent.com/2012/11/childrens-body-scan-meditation/

Children’s Body Scan Guided Meditation: https://youtu.be/jJlozFWohz0

4 Minute Body Scan Guided Meditation: https://youtu.be/ZM3eYRODNbc

Body scan is another useful strategy for children and adults alike to develop mindfulness.

Mindfulness in the Classroom- It Can Make a Difference!

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This week has been a good week! My passion is teaching and as a Principal/Headteacher, the opportunities for me to teach have become fewer and fewer. So, when I get the opportunity to stand in front of a group of people and facilitate their learning of something new, I feel happy.

This week I put on a two hour training for teachers from four different schools on Mindfulness in the Classroom. If you have been following my blog and the Mindfulness in the Classroom series, you would have read about the strategies I shared. Add my passion and enthusiasm for mindfulness and my ever growing understanding of mindfulness and I was a bundle of bubbling energy sharing research of others and my own research and modelling the strategies.

There is no denying the impact that mindfulness has had on the children in the trial classes across my academy. Here is a sample of the impact on the number of times the children got angry/upset in a week and the points gained on a happiness scale. A total of 150 children took part in the trial and 47 children were surveyed before the mindfulness strategies were employed.  Children’s ages ranged from 5 years old to 11 years old. This short study was over a period of 10 weeks.

Class # of times per week child gets angry/upset Pre # of times per week child gets angry/upset Post Reduction of # of times per week child gets angry/upset Happiness Points Gained/child Amount of time per week spent on mindfulness
Class A 16.5 10.75 -0.64 +0.28 20 min/wk
Class B 35 9.75 -2.8 +1.44 35 min/wk
Class C 17 10.25 -0.68 +2 35 min/wk
Class D 60.5 22.5 -3.8 +1.5 30 min/wk
Class E 35.25 17 -2.03 +1 15 min/wk
Total 164.25 70.25 -2 +1.27 Average 27 min/wk

The trial teachers were given approximately 2 ½ hours of training on mindfulness strategies and encouraged to use whichever strategies they felt most comfortable with and were appropriate for their classroom.

All teachers recorded an increase in their own personal mindfulness. Those teachers who did show the greatest growth in their mindfulness development tended to have the classes that showed the greatest progress in the reduction of angry/upset incidences and an increase in their happiness scores.

One real success was a Year 1 child who scored his happiness at school as a 1/10. He expressed his displeasure at being at school and could recount very quickly how other children annoyed him, made him angry and disturbed him in and out of class. After 10 weeks, he scored his happiness at school as 9/10 and said he very seldom got angry or upset and when he did he used a combination of mindfulness strategies. The class teacher confirmed that the dramatic change in attitude seen in this child was significant and he was beginning to make excellent progress across all areas of learning.

But, don’t just take my word for it, here is what some of the children had to say about what they have learned.

The training was on Wednesday after school.  By Thursday afternoon, teachers were already reporting the impact of implementing the strategies the very next day!

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The entire Mindfulness in the Classroom series can be found at https://educationsvoice.wordpress.com/category/mindfulness-in-the-classroom/

Once you have tried a few strategies, please take a moment to comment and feedback on the effectiveness of those strategies.

Remember, breathe deeply and be mindful of the moment!