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.

 

5 Minute Mindfulness Strategy – Releasing Emotions

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Stress is a part of life. It always has been and it always will be. Trying to find mindfulness strategies to minimise how we react to stress is the key to life-long peace and well-being. The younger we are, the better we will be able to cope with what life gives us and use it to our advantage.

When we are stressed, our emotions overwhelm us. These emotions fight for attention and send our heart rates speeding. The emotions demand attention.

This simple 5 minute mindfulness strategy is a modified Japanese relaxation technique which allows us to give focused attention to various emotions in order to achieve peace and mindful relaxation.

This technique is appropriate for children and adults and requires only your hands and a quiet place.

How to:

Each of the fingers are associated with different feelings or attitudes.
* Thumb: Helps combat emotions like worry and anxiety.
* Index: Can help combat fear.
* Middle: Helps control anger and indignation.
* Ring: Emotions of sadness and depression; helps you to be more decisive.
* Pinky: Helps to calm anxiety, increases optimism.
Using the opposite hand, apply pressure to each finger by holding it tightly, focusing on that emotion and allowing yourself to release the negative energy of that emotion. Allow yourself to be a peace with the emotion without judging yourself. Breathe deeply for 15 breaths as you focus and release. You will begin to notice your pulse in the finger being held.

Complete the meditation, by applying gentle circular pressure to the palm of your hand as you smile and prepare for the rest of the day.

The key to this strategy is that you acknowledge your emotions, you give them some time that they demand. But, you control the way in which they are acknowledged and then put them to rest.

Christmas Mindfulness – Task 4

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AND BREATHE!

The last performance has been done and the class parties finished. The glitter is being swept up and it is time for a well deserved break.

With a week before Christmas Day, it is time to let go of thoughts of work and time to focus on families and friends. Sure, you may still have lots of shopping, family gatherings or baking to do. But, don’t forget to sit back and watch the twinkling lights!

This week’s task is to BREATHE!  Take time each day to sit back and watch the twinkling lights. It doesn’t matter when or where. It could be early in the morning while it is still dark or at a coffee shop while you take a rest from the hustle and bustle. Just make sure to take that time to focus on the lights and colour, take deep mindful breaths and remember that Christmas is not just about material things. It is a time to reflect and appreciate the present moment.

Merry Christmas!

Extra: Developing Mindfulness in the Classroom this month could also same your sanity. Why not try some simple strategies that will calm the children and bring the gift of mindfulness into their lives.

Christmas Mindfulness – Task 3

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As it gets closer to Christmas, the manic scramble continues. For most schools, there is only about a week left until the Christmas holidays. The panic begins to set in as gifts still need to be bought and wrapped, planning sorted for the new year, data concluded for the term, Christmas parties had and the last of the Christmas performances completed.

At the end of the day, there are the tell tale signs of preparations with glitter sticking to every part of your clothes making you twinkle like a star, chocolate wrappers in your pockets crackling like a log fire and coffee stains that remind you of your lack of sleep you had the night before. You are tending to EVERYONE else except for yourself!

This week’s task is to look after yourself! Yes, that is right! In this season of giving, give yourself the gift of personal time. Every day ensure you do something for yourself. It can be as simple as a nice hot chocolate or a hot bubbly bath or it can be a few minutes reading, watching a movie or doing an extra meditation. It doesn’t matter what it is. Just find yourself some time, take some deep breaths and relax into your time.

Extra: Developing Mindfulness in the Classroom this month could also same your sanity. Why not try some simple strategies that will calm the children and bring the gift of mindfulness into their lives.

 

 

Christmas Mindfulness – Task 2

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The Christmas trees are being decorated, the cards are being made, the gifts are being wrapped and the Christmas songs are being sung.

The chaos that makes up this time of the year can be exciting and stressful. There is no time like this time of the year where the pace is full steam ahead and our energy levels are dwindling quickly. All the jolliness and festive mood can effect us and our children in more ways than we can count; some good and some not so good.

When we are mindful, we learn that it is ok to have the emotions that are swirling around in our heads.  What matters most is how we react to those swirling emotions. This week we will continue on our Christmas Mindfulness journey together!

This week’s task is to JUST BREATHE! Use the holiday season for conscious moments of calm and peace of mind. Find moments to take three conscious breaths a day. Each day, choose a different focus for those breaths. It could be to notice a certain colour during the breaths, smell, sound, etc. Take a moment to just enjoy what is happening around you!

Extra: Developing Mindfulness in the Classroom this month could also same your sanity.  Why not try some simple strategies that will calm the children and bring the gift of mindfulness into their lives.