by Amanda Childers
Yes … another article on mindfulness. It seems to be everywhere. Whole magazines are devoted to nothing but mindfulness. Google the term ‘mindful classrooms’ and see how long it takes you to read all of those articles. Mindfulness is touted to be the cure for everything from ADHD to … well, to everything! If mindfulness were a Hollywood celebrity, I’d say his 15 minutes of fame are starting to wane.
What more can be said about the topic that every teacher hasn’t already heard or read or attended a webinar about? Why would a Montessori teacher even need to teach mindfulness? Isn’t it the natural outcome of a well prepared environment, developmentally correct lessons, and the right curriculum materials? Unfortunately, as much as it seems to be ubiquitous, mindfulness does not manifest out of thin air in a Montessori classroom but it can be a Montessorian’s tool of transformation.
Let’s remember that Dr. Montessori experimented with the Silence Game before practicing classroom silence became such an acceptable activity and long before mindfulness became a media buzzword. Today’s children can benefit from mindfulness more than any other generation before them. With the myriad of daily distractions that occupy even the youngest child, teaching them to be at peace in silence (without an electronic devise in hand!) is laying the groundwork for a self-attuned adult. Dr. Montessori wrote, “The child loves silence in itself; however, there is something to add: that silence disposes the soul of the immobile being to something special, in other words silence does not leave us as we were before.” Practicing silence changes us.
The silence we are talking about isn’t the harried parent distracting a child with Angry Birds on a cell phone. This is silence without a video on an iPad or a game on an iPhone or even a story on a tablet. Learning this type of silence is freedom from the need for all of those distractions. It is learning the ability to simply observe without reaction. Mindfulness gives a child the permission to take a pause. By teaching your students mindfulness, you are introducing them to their own internal witness who is able to observe the world around themselves from a slower, accepting, and less judgmental vantage point. Consider mindfulness a key to choose and isn’t choice part of the foundation of any Montessori classroom?
Mindfulness isn’t going to solve the problems of the world but it is a learnable skill that allows each of us the chance to choose how we react to the challenges we encounter in everyday life. With mindfulness, we are able to make thoughtful responses instead of immediate reactions. We are able to observe and analyze and see the scene on a wide screen. The mindful child is a more attentive child and that ability to simply pay attention will impact an entire future.
So, what is mindfulness? Deborah Schoeberlein David defines it simply as, “Mindfulness is a conscious, purposeful way of tuning in to what’s happening in and around us.” While another classic definition of mindfulness is from John Kabat-Zinn, “Mindfulness is paying attention to something, in a particular way, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally.” It is not solely paying attention but what choices do we make with what we witness? How do we relate to what we experience? Are we able to respond, not react? Do we give ourselves a pause or a moment before we speak or before we act? As Christopher Willard writes, mindfulness, “…is a wide-angle lens, a floodlight, an open and all-encompassing awareness.”
Mindfulness isn’t mystical or exotic. It is actually quite ordinary. We all have the ability already within ourselves to be mindful but like any skill, it does have to be practiced. It does need our deliberate contemplation throughout the course of a day in order to take hold. The benefits of mindfulness aren’t going to happen without on-going effort and this is where it can get tough. I can read a library full of mindfulness references but that just makes me well read about the topic, not actually mindful. Practice, practice, practice. Committing to continually bringing attention to the present moment and watching as that moment unfolds - that’s what will build the mindful individual.
So where to begin this lesson? Try with a most basic anchor - the breath. Introduce this exercise at the beginning of the day in order to set a mindful atmosphere in your classroom. For the first few mornings, you will need to give your students some initial instructions so that they will know where this activity is going. First, gather them together in their usual community circle, instructing them on sitting tall and allowing their bodies to become still. Invite them to close their eyes or look downward. Use words and instructions that are age appropriate and that come naturally to you. Let them know that you will be ringing the class chime and you would like for them to listen to the chime all the way to silence. This external sound becomes an anchor that settles their energy and brings the child’s focus inward as it gets quieter and quieter. Once they can no longer hear the chime, instruct them to allow their focus to shift to their own natural breath. Here again, keep your instructions simple and clear and natural for you. Guide them to pay attention to the way their breath fills up their lungs and then empties from their lungs. Acknowledge that their attention might wander off but when it does bring it back to the sensation of their breath moving in and out of their bodies. Slow and steady. Use the chime once again to draw awareness back into the classroom at the conclusion.
The timing of this practice is completely dependent upon the children in your classroom. For younger children, one minute might be the limit while older children will be comfortable with five minutes or even longer. Of course, with regular practice of this technique, the duration can be adjusted to the children’s growing skill level.
This practice can be used during other transitions throughout the day or before and after stress inducing events. This breath practice might just be the beginning for your students. Designate it as the class opener and then utilize other mindful practices throughout the day, especially when the children’s energy might wax or wane. Don’t worry! You don’t have to come up with them by yourself. Try a card deck like, “Growing Mindful” by Mitch Abblett and Chris Willard. Mindful suggestions range from “Tense and Release: Slowly tense and release all of your muscles from your head down to your toes. Feel what happens to your body AND your mind as you do” to “The Rainbow Connection (to the present moment): Gaze around the room…Can you spot one of every color of the rainbow?” You can use these as prompts as you guide your students into an expanding awareness of mindfulness.
So, back to my original question. Why does mindfulness seem to be everywhere right now and what does it offer you as an educator? I think that’s easy. Just think about the time it has taken you to read this article. How many times did your phone ding or beep? How many times did you look to see what emails had been delivered to your inbox? How many little distractions occurred that your conscious mind barely noticed? Our brains are not designed to allow us to continuously multi-task throughout the span of our day. The more input that our brain has to acknowledge and sort, the less efficient our brain becomes. Unfortunately, many of us are living somewhat frenzied lives, addicted to our own sense of busyness. I am important and have so much to do! And yet, how many of us would jump at the chance to spend an entire day doing one thing at a time? The idea of starting and completing one task before we move on to the next sounds like a dream.
Mindfulness to the rescue! Practicing mindfulness can break the “busyness” cycle. As an educator, you set the tone for the children you encounter. You are the model. Slow down deliberately and allow your internal observer to take over. Mindfulness is the ultimate in self-regulation and the more we practice it with, and model it for, our students, the less likely all of us are to be overwhelmed and caught up in the rising and falling emotions of every day. Give both yourself and your students the gift of calm clarity through the practice of mindfulness.
About the author:
Ms. Childers is a Registered Yoga Instructor, presenter and writer for the implementation of mindfulness in the classrooms and work facilities. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.