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 – 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

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.

 

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.

#WeekOfGratitude

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It has been a turbulent year across the world, to say the least. The anxieties of children and adults have been at an all time high. Somehow, in the mist of this upset and confusion, negativity can start to spiral out of control leaving us in a state of disparity and we loose sight of what is good in our lives.

Sometimes, we just need to STOP and count our blessings. We have lots to be thankful for.

Thus, I declare the week of 21st November #WeekOfGratitude!
Exploring and celebrating gratitude allows us and our children to mindful consider the good things in life in a variety of ways. Supporting and encouraging the development of the “bright side of life” gives us the ability to evaluate life with more balance. Life is made of up good and bad things.

This gratitude strategy gets children to explore the different aspects of gratitude.
A Week of Gratitude:
– Determine how the children will record their week. Some ideas are:
o Simple table divided into five squares
o A large flower with five petals
o A circle with four inner rings creating five consecutively smaller sections
o Create a small booklet

– In the beginning, discuss with children (Document what they have said):
o What does gratitude mean?
o When do we feel gratitude?
o What is that feeling or feelings?
o How does it make others feel?
– Each day, give the class 5-10 minutes to write and/or draw according to the theme of the day
o Memory Monday- Describe a happy/good memory.
o Thoughtful Tuesday- How have others been helpful to you?
o Whimsical Wednesday- Describe a fun or funny memory.
o Thankful Thursday- What are they thankful for in their life?
o Family Friday- Describe what is good and special about their family.
– Finish the week with time to share, discuss and explain their work with partners, small groups or whole class. Discuss the questions explored before the week’s activities. How do they compare? Has their understanding of gratitude changed or grown? How? Why?

 

A Teacher’s Perspective of Mindfulness

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Today’s blog is written by Dan, a dedicated Year 1 teacher. At the heart of his teaching is always giving the children what they need to be successful. 
As a teacher there are lots of people who can help you with your job. Admin staff, colleagues and even the children! However there is one job though that no-one else can do and it is the most important thing you can do in your working day. BE KIND TO YOUR MIND. What do I mean by this?

As teachers and just simply human beings our minds have never been so full of things – American presidential elections, parent requests, assessment deadlines, Brexit, planning, childcare, economic recoveries, marking as well as other school and family related duties. The danger is that our minds are becoming very noisy with all the events going on around us. By noisy I mean simply we are ending up in a situation where we don’t even know what we think about anything because our minds are so full!! We can’t even think and we are supposed to be teachers!

STOP. Enter mindfulness. Probably the most vaulable skill I’ve learnt in four years of teaching. Why? It’s had a massive impact on my performance in the classroom and most importantly at home as a dad and a husband. I feel very blessed and privileged to have a Principal who takes the mental well-being of her staff so seriously she gives up 15 minutes every morning before school to allow all staff to come and empty their noisy minds through a guided meditation which she leads. I’ve learnt missing it is not an option. Why? From my own reflections over the past 12 months those 15 minutes lead to greater productivity, increased calmness and significantly clearer thinking in the classroom environment. After our guided meditations I have 15 minutes before opening the door and welcoming the children in . During this time I often change plans or get new ideas because I have been able to stop and hear myself think. The noise has gone. My mind is no longer full. I am calm, happy and ready to face the challenges of the day – thankful, positive and smiling. I make an effort to show that smile as I open the door. It’s a simple equation – calm and happy teacher = happy and calm children.

I hold onto this mantra – the past is history, the future is a mystery, this moment is a gift which is why it’s the present. I tell myself it a lot because my only regret about mindfulness is that I didn’t discover it earlier on in my teaching career as it would saved a LOT of stress and I would have managed situations very differently probably. When I do this though I have to stop that thought because the past is history and the only thing that matters is the present. I need to remember to be kind to my mind.

Why don’t you try mindfulness this week in your school? I can’t think of a more important time for teachers and head teachers to use it on a daily basis in their schools. The demands of working in a school are ever increasing – mindfulness could be the key step your school takes in managing the stress and workload and most importantly ensuring your school is a calm and happy place. You know what the end result is of creating a calm and happy environment? Answer – happy children, and that at the end of the day is what we want to achieve more than anything else. There is nothing like the present moment – seize it! Go on – be kind to your mind – even just for 5 minutes!

Dan