Mindfulness in the Classroom- Every Little Bit Counts

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This past week has been a busy one for many Primary schools across England. It is collectively known as SATs (Standard Assessment Tests) Week for Year 6 children. The instructions for giving the tests are strict and must be given at specific times on specific days. Over a period of four days they take six different tests. Anyone who works in a primary school or is a parent of a Year 6 child, will know about the overwhelming stress that this puts on the children; particularly as they have become much harder over the last few years.

This year has been no different, except that I felt helpless with supporting the Year 6 children at my new school. The tests were scheduled for my third week of school! The school had not been teaching any of the strategies for mindfulness and it made me sad that I may not be able to help this group of children properly prepare themselves mentally to face the challenges the tests would present.

After some discussion with the class teacher, I decided to teach the children a few basic mindfulness strategies.

First, we discussed how they were feeling about the tests, considering the emotions that were attached to these feelings and how our body responds. Of course, what they told me was of no surprise; nervous, scared and anxious. We discussed how this was normal and then I explained what was happening in their body with the brain triggering stress hormones to set off the primitive “fight or flight” response. I then asked them if they would like to trick their mind and body into believing it was clam. They whole heartedly agreed.

We discussed three basic strategies:
(Click on each strategy to take you to details of the strategy.)

1- Basic Deep Mindful Breathing– Including the One Minute Meditation
2- Starfish Meditation– To support those more active and sensory based children
3- Guided Meditation, particularly Visualisation- We used The Magic Shell Meditation in full and used their “magic shells” each day of testing to hold on to their worries and concerns during the testing so the wouldn’t bother them.

During the testing week, in the morning before the tests began, I spent time on the first two days of the tests with the class, supporting them through some breathing and visualisation exercises they had learned. On day three and four, I was unable to do this because Ofsted (Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills) decided it was time to inspect the school (In my third week at the school! This is were my own mindfulness was significantly used and will be featured in another article.). However, the staff had paid close attention to my modelling and continued to use the strategies with the children the last two mornings.

The result?
I will let the children explain. (I received these letters and cards.)

Will this positively impact on their final results? I am not sure. It was only a few weeks. But, I do know that they have quickly learned a life long skill that has supported their mental health and well-being this past week and, with that success, many will continue to use the strategies as they move into secondary school.

Mindfulness, every little bit counts!

Mindfulness in the Classroom – Mindful Facial Massages

 

DesignThe development of mindfulness has, at its heart, the reduction of stress hormone levels. Teaching children a number of Mindfulness strategies allows children to find the ones that best meets their needs and successfully reduces their stress and anxiety.

Massage and the power of touch is naturally relaxing and is a way to reduce these stress hormones. Maria Hernandez-Reid is a researcher at the Touch Research Institute. She says that the lowering of stress hormones not only reduces the feelings of anxiety but also supports a healthier immune system.

Here are some simple personal facial massages that children and adults can do to support their own mindfulness.

Before you begin:

– Ensure that hands have been washed well.
– Play gentle meditation music in the background.
– Sit or lay down comfortably.
– Take some deep mindful breaths to kick start the relaxation

Chin Massage
– Use your index and middle finger of each hand.
– Begin at the top of your jaw near your ears on both sides at the same time and move in a small circular motion five times.
– Move your fingers down the jaw line and move then in a circular motion five times.
– Repeat the motions as you move down the jaw bone towards the chin.
– At the point of the chin, use one set of fingers and repeat the circular motion five times.
– Repeat the sequence as many times as desired.

Eyebrow Massage
– Use your thumb and index finger on each hand.
– Begin at the area between your eyebrows and softly pinch for a count of five.
– Move your fingers outwards over your eyebrows and, again, softly pinch for a count of fives.
– Repeat the motions as you move towards the temples.
– Repeat the sequence as many times as desired.

Ear Massage
– Use your entire hand and cup the top of each of your ears and gently squeeze for a count of five.
– Move down the ears, continuing to gently squeeze for a count of five.
– Finish by placing your thumbs in the dent behind the bottom of your ear lobe (where it joins your face) and apply gentle pressure for a count of five.
– Repeat the sequence as many times as desired.

Cat’s Whiskers Massage
– Use your three middle fingers of each hand and make a W.
– Place the fingers on either side of your mouth, applying gentle pressure.
– Gently sweep your fingers across the face with gentle pressure as if you were drawing cat’s whiskers.
– Repeat the sequence as many times as desired.

You can use one massage or a combination of massages. Try out a variety of ways to find what best fits you and your class.
Top tip: Encourage deep, even mindful breathing during all of the massages and have them focus on the feel of their fingers against their skin.

If you like this, try Mindful Head Massage.

Mindfulness In the Classroom – Spread Positivity!

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Sometimes, despite our best efforts in teaching children (and adults) about mindfulness, using mindfulness strategies and being mindful, we forget about it in the times of greatest distress unless it is truly embedded in our minds. This is why I believe it is important to have visual reminders that support that subliminal message to take control of our emotions and believe in ourselves.

This post is a simple one. It is filled with pictures that I have created over the last year that can be copied, saved and made into printable posters for your classroom and across the school. All I ask is that there is some acknowledgement that it came from Education’s Voice. Otherwise, use as is appropriate for you and your school.

Please note, some pictures are more appropriate for staff than children and we MUST NOT forget the adults in our schools! They need reminders as well.

 

 

 

Mindfulness in the Classroom – Top Test Taking Tips for PARENTS

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As outlined in the post, Mindfulness in the Classroom – Test Taking Tips, despite our best efforts as teachers in preparing children for these tests and ensuring they have the right skills to be successful on them, test anxiety can throw a spanner in the works; causing children to react in ways that sabotages their ability to show all they know.

The use of Mindfulness as we support children in preparing for the test can give them the edge to perform to their best ability and not allow the stress to impact on the greater spectrum of life. The lifelong skills of dealing with stress will support them not only for the test but for the general stresses in life.

We need to remember that Mindfulness is not about not having stress. It is about controlling how you react to the stress.

As parents, we can mindfully support our children before, during and after the test.

Before:
Support any homework:  We know that, at times, the homework can be confusing and frustrating for both the parent and child. This is a good time to practice a simple 10 Second Mindfulness exercise together, STOP.

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10 Second Mindfulness- STOP
This is a simple but effective strategy to refocus our attention.
S– Stop what you are doing.

T– Take a deep breathe. Breathe in for a count of 5, hold for a count of one and exhale for a count of 8.

O– Observe what is happening around you at this moment.

P– Proceed with what you were doing.

Remind your child that it is ok to get things wrong sometimes and not everyone is perfect.

– Discuss How They Are Feeling: 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. 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?

During:

SLEEP! The National Sleep Foundation recommends the following:

Children 6-13 years: Recommended- 9-11 hours Appropriate- 7-8 hours
Teenagers 14-17 years: Recommended- 8-10 hours Appropriate- 7-11 hours

We should never underestimate the power of good sleeping habits. Children who are persistently sleep-deprived seem irritable and overactive, seek constant stimulation, are easily distracted and don’t concentrate well.

To help ease your child to a peaceful sleep, use a Guided Sleep Meditation like one of the following:

Everything Will Be Ok: https://youtu.be/FPdANK5jLWE
Always Do Your Best: https://youtu.be/nRD-vwY95JM
Dealing With Emotions: https://youtu.be/OfeJ91mleFE
Deep Sleep (for teenagers): https://youtu.be/kUEUm0BcgBo

Eat Well! Make sure they have a good evening meal as well as a good breakfast. It gives them the energy to take on the challenges of the day. Add a simple Mindful Eating exercise to get the day started.

First Bite Mindful Eating Exercise

1- Have your LOOK at the food they will be eating. Silent,they are to observe what it looks like? What do you notice?
What colour is it?
Is it small or large?
2- Have your child smell the food.
Does it have a smell?
What does it smell like?
3- Have your child, very slowly, put the piece of food in their mouth but not chew it! Leave it on the tongue.
How does it feel on the tongue?
Can you taste anything?
Does it smell differently in your mouth?
5- Have your child begin to chew slowly; one mindful chew at a time.
Does the taste change?
How does it feel in the mouth?
6- Try to get them notice when they swallow, and see how far you can feel the food into your body.

Be Flexible and Calm: Don’t over plan the days your child will be taking their tests. Follow their lead and do as much or as little as they want on the evenings. Sure, you may have paid for a club on the evening of the tests. But, if they don’t feel like going don’t! Change it up! Go for a walk! Grab an ice cream! Watch a movie! Be FLEXIBLE!

Afterwards:

CELEBRATE! Remind them that it doesn’t matter what they get on the test. There are far more things that the test does not measure, like their love for art, their sporty skills, their kind heartedness, their passion for creativity, etc. Do something that celebrates THEM!

But, MOST IMPORTANT of them ALL is to teach them THIS TOP TEST TAKING TIP:

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Parenting is not easy. But, by adding some mindfulness into your life and the life of your child, you ease the journey you take together as they become adults.

Mindfulness in the Classroom – Test Taking Tips

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As national testing times begin to draw near in many countries around the world, our attention begins to fall on the stress our children are under during these times. With children as young as 6 years old being tested and scrutinised, we cannot get away from the fact that this is having an effect on their health and wellbeing.

Schools are very good at down playing the testing regime of our youngest children; making it a game and being good at putting our children at ease in a variety of creative ways.

However, as they reach 10-11 years old, there is no disguising the standardised test. Even if down played well by the school, the formality required of the test leaves nothing to the imagination. Then, by secondary school, there is no down playing. The stakes are high and results can begin to determine their future.

Despite our best efforts in preparing for these tests and ensuring they have the right skills to be successful on them, test anxiety can throw a spanner in the works; causing children to react in ways that sabotages their ability to show all they know.

The use of Mindfulness as we support children in preparing for the test can give them the edge to perform to their best ability and not allow the stress to impact on the greater spectrum of life. The lifelong skills of dealing with stress will support them not only for the test but for the general stresses in life.

Mindfulness is not about not having stress. It is about controlling how you react to the stress.

The signs of test anxiety can appear as, but are not limited to, irritability, poor performance despite being highly knowledgeable, distracted, over excited, lack of sleep, loose of appetite, excessive worrying, depression, negative, headaches and stomach pains. You also need to be aware that some children can hide their stress very well and that all academic levels of children can experience the stress, particularly high ability as they can be more acutely aware and put additional pressure on themselves to do well.

So, how can we use mindfulness to support children reduce the stress levels associated with testing so that they can be happier, healthier and perform to their best ability?

Top Mindfulness Test Busting Tips:

Mindfulness practiced should be taught, practiced and used BEFORE the week of the test. If you don’t already use mindfulness strategies in the classroom, you should begin approximately 5-6 weeks before the tests so that it can be effective.

1- Teach them how to breathe. Slow, deep controlled breathing tricks the brain into believing it is calm and reduces cortisol levels which increases our heart rates and puts us in a state of “fight or flight” which is a key feature of anxiety. The key is to exhale longer than you inhale. Get children to sit up, inhale for a count of five, pause and then exhale for a count of eight. Repeat this at least five times. Use this as a part of your everyday practice; at the beginning of the day, during transition times, when you see the class or a child becoming unsettled or before a test or difficult learning task. Explain to the children what Mindful Breathing does and encourage them to use it throughout the day. Be a good model and you use it when needed as well. Show them and have them practice identifying when they are becoming stress and using this simple technique during a test, particularly when they are finding a question difficult or they are becoming overwhelmed. (More on Mindful Breathing can be found here.)

2- Starfish Hand Meditation– This simple but effective meditation combines breathing with the use of touch to refocus and centre the mind thus allowing one to take control of their emotions and calm down. (Find Starfish Hand Meditation instructions here.)

3- Guided Meditations– 10 minutes of meditation can have a dramatic impact on a person’s mental health. Like anything else, practice makes perfect. At first, you will have some children that will find this difficult; staying quiet and focusing on one thing is as hard for some children as it is for some adults. Over time, they will start to relax and meditate in their own way. That is why it is important to develop the practice well before the time for the test. On the day of the test, ensure you allow time for meditation to set the mood of calmness. (Details on how to develop guided meditations in your class and links to free meditations can be found here.)

4- Talk About Their Emotions– Over the period of weeks, give time each week to all children to express how they are feeling and what they are doing to cope with those feelings. Good questions to start discussions are: 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?

5- Mindful Colouring– As teachers, we will feel the growing pressure to use every moment of the school day to focus on the learning and revision the closer we get to the test. However, we need to give children the time to release themselves from this ongoing pressure. Researchers have measured the anxiety levels of children before and after giving time to colour in mandalas and other pattern sheets compared to anxiety levels before and after free form colouring where children draw and colour their own patterns. The time spent colouring pattern sheets showed a significant decrease in anxiety as compared to free form which showed no difference to anxiety levels. The act of colouring allows the brain to relax and focus on one thing; being in the moment of colouring. It allows the brain time to rest and recuperate. (More information on Mindful Colouring can be found here.)

6- Mantra– Have children create individual or class mantras. Combine the mantras with steady, deep mindful breathing will support the development of positive mental attitude and self-belief. Use this as a part of everyday practice and use it just before the testing begins. Have the children create posters and plaster them around the class and school. An example of a class mantra can be found in the picture with this blog. Feel free to print and use as desired.

It is to be reminded that mindfulness is a lifelong skill. Thus,it is to be remembered that we need to develop mindfulness for life long positive mental health and well being. But, we can use key strategies to tackle test anxiety effectively.

Find more strategies here: Mindfulness in the Classroom

Mindful New Year’s Resolutions

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As 2016 quickly comes to an end, our minds reflect upon the year. If we are truly mindful in our reflections, we will accept the problems of the year without judgement and be grateful for those moments of happiness and joy.

It is also at this time of year that we begin to think of New Year’s Resolutions. I am not one to like resolutions. They can be a bit self-defeating at times. However, Resolutions do tend to give us some sort of hope and goal that usually can lead to something better.

This year my New Year’s Resolutions will be mindful.

My Mindful New Year’s Resolutions

To BREATHE: It is the most basic of life reflexes. However, too often we forget to breathe. We hold our breath waiting for things to change or work out better. But, this year, I will just BREATHE!

To Be Present: Life will pass us by if we don’t stop living in the past and worry too much about the future. I need to stop and smell the proverbial roses and enjoy life in this moment.

To Let Go: We seem to plan out our every moment. Sometimes, things just don’t work out in the way you envisioned. That is ok! I will learn from it and then let go.

To Be Grateful: We tend to allow things we are not happy with overshadow those amazing aspects of our lives. I will reflect on what truly matters and be grateful for being able to live this life in the first place.

To Be Positive: In a world filled with negativity, I refuse to stay on that downward spiral and choose to start my own spiral of positivity.

To Believe In Myself: We tend to be a world of pleasers. We try to please everyone and when we don’t succeed, we lose our confidence. I will believe in MYSELF! I will believe in what I am doing, my convictions and my desire to make a difference.

So, there you go! These are my New Year’s Resolutions.

How about you? I don’t mind sharing mine!

Prepare Now for a New Year of Mindfulness

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Ok, so you had the best of intentions to start the academic year mindfully. After a restful summer, you were determined to be mindful. But, before you knew it, you were knee deep in teaching, marking and new policies, all thoughts of mindfulness went out the window.

It happens! That is ok. Don’t beat yourself up about it. Make the development of your own mindfulness and the mindfulness of your class your New Years Resolution.

But, we all know that doing anything cold turkey can be counter productive. So, in preparation for the new Mindful year, get in a little mindfulness practice. Over five days, complete a new part.

Part 1 – Shoulder Relaxation

Part 2 – Mindful Object Meditation

Part 3 – Morning Mindfulnes

Part 4  – STOP Meditation

Part 5 – Meditation

Then, in January, join me for a #MonthOfMindfulness. Keep active in your thoughts and conversations mindfulness strategies. Like all things it takes practice and nurturing. Even if you have practiced mindfulness for a while, refreshing your practice will support your mental well being as well as the mental well being if your class and family.