Monday, October 1, 2012

5 Ways for Teachers to increase Mindful Awareness in the Classroom

As Mindfulness in schools goes mainstream, new and practical ways of classroom integration continue to be explored and enjoyed by teachers. Increasing mindful awareness in classrooms can help reduce teacher and student stress, increase attention and focus and foster social emotional competence. Although not a full mindfulness program, teachers can implement these quick and easy mindful based activities into their daily routine in order to help foster the awareness that comes from a full mindfulness practice. The following 5 activities can be implemented throughout the day in order to help students transfer between activities, de-stress after a test, and refocus after an exciting project or experiment. Although created for elementary age students, these ideas could easily be revised for high school or college age students as well.

1. Mindful Minutes- Mindful Breathing is the foundation of any Mindful practice and should be the first thing that is taught to children. This technique is best taught by teaching children to focus on a sound, then slowly transfer their attention to their own breathing. A mindfulness bell is a great way of transitioning between a sound and  breathing. By focusing on breathing children "anchor" themselves in the moment and focus inward. If you cannot find a mindfulness bell, a chime, triangle or singing bowl can also work. Once the sound goes away have the students focus on their breath for 1 "Mindful Minute". These Mindful Minutes can be included at any time of the day between any activity. It's especially good to start the day with a Mindful Minute or have one after coming back from lunch or recess. As children get better at focusing for the full minute you can increase the time to 2 minutes or 5 minutes.

2. Cool Down with Yoga- A simple series of Yoga poses are a great way to get children moving within a classroom and ground themselves in the moment. For teachers that are unfamiliar with Yoga there are a few classroom based Yoga programs that give more detail about how to infuse Yoga into a school setting such as Go Grounded Yoga, Yoga 4 Classrooms, and Yoga in My School. Learning a simple Sun Salutation and guiding your class through it, is a quick and easy way to get them moving and mindful of their bodies. Have your students focus on where their bodies are in space as well as how they feel after 1-2 rounds. Also encourage them to focus their attention on their breath, coordinating in and out breaths with each pose in the series. If there is not enough room to do sun salutations focus on some standing poses such as Tree, Mountain or Warrior. Here is the Grounded Flow Clock from the Go Grounded program which is a great visual to help student learn the classic sun salutation. A Yoga break is a great way to transition between activities and get kids blood flowing between long periods of sitting.

3. Mindful Seeing- This a great activity to build children's awareness and ability to sustain focused-attention. It helps children recognize the difference between just looking/labeling something vs. acknowledging/being aware of the personal experience of seeing something in its individuality. Mindful seeing can be accomplished with any object. I like using lemons. Grab about 6 different lemons and have your classroom break into 6 different groups. Assign each group a lemon and have them all look at the lemon very closely. Have them touch it, look for special bumps, notice the size and any individual characteristics. After five minutes collect all the lemons and put them in a basket. Shake the basket then pull out one lemon at a time and have each group try to decide if that is their lemon. This activity helps the children understand the multi-sensory aspects of memory as well as how we engage all of our senses during active observation.

4. Mindful Listening- As music lover I really enjoy this activity and often practice this on my own when I am listening to music or taking a walk. You can pick a children's song (there are a variety of children's songs out there) or a current song from the radio. Try to have the students actively listen to each instrument and melody in the song. It may be helpful to pause the music and hum the bass line, or the melody and then play the song again. Try to have the students focus on one particular part of the song and only that part of the song. For example the guitar may be playing a melody. Teach the students to recognize the guitar and focus on the guitar only. After a couple of minutes switch to another instrument. This is great activity to try during music class. Another listening activity that I enjoy is having students close their eyes and listen to the quiet room for thirty second. After thirty seconds have them list all the sounds that they came up with on the board. Try the same activity again and this time listen quietly in the room for a full minute. See if the class is able to  notice more sounds than before. This is a great activity to anchor students in the moment and practice focused attention and concentration.

5. Wishing Good Will-  Good will wishes are a great way to develop gratitude in your classroom as well as a positive classroom environment. Research has shown favorable results from positive affirmations as well as acknowledging gratitude. Positive Psychology is a growing field that touts neuroscience as support for the positive effects of optimism and other positive thoughts within a classroom setting. One activity to facilitate positivity and interconnectedness in the classroom is developing good will wishes. This can be completed by having students take a mindful minute (as stated above) and think about someone granting them one good will wish that can help someone else. They can send the wish to themselves silently saying "I wish that .....". Have them repeat the wish to themselves silently. Encourage them to notice how they feel when they say the wish. Next, after a minute or two, they can focus on a friend in the class or a family member. Send that person the wish and silently say " I wish that (person of choice)......" Again, encourage them to recognize how they feel when they wish good will to others. After about five minutes have them focus back on their breathing and slowly switch attention back to the classroom. These well wishes can be referred to throughout the day if disagreements arise. It is also a great way to start of the day or week.

By incorporating these ideas into their classrooms, teachers can begin to build mindful awareness and social emotional competence with their students. Although not a full curriculum, these activities can help to foster stress reduction and awareness. They can also help with transitions between activities and create a classroom culture that is ripe for learning. For more information regarding mindfulness in schools, refer to the following links:

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