contributed by Kelly April Tyrrell and TeachThought Staff
While the scientists at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Center for Investigating Healthy Minds (CIHM) at the Waisman Center aren’t yet ready to issue evidence-based mindfulness curriculum practices, Flook and CIHM outreach specialists Lisa Thomas Prince and Lori Gustafson offer the following tips for families wishing to engage in mindfulness practices for a more positive classroom atmosphere.
10 Tips For Getting Started With Mindfulness In School at Any Grade Level
1. Create a quiet space in your classroom
Find a time and/or place where you and your students can pause for a few moments and develop a sense of comfort with the quiet. Notice how we may become aware of things around us and in us in a new and different way.
This can work for you as a teacher as you design instruction or respond to student work, or the spaces students work themselves. If you’re unable to create such a space for students, the use of white noise (simplynoise.com, for example) can help mask background noise or still ‘overactive’ minds. We even made our own blend of background noise for reading and writing, too.
2. Pay attention with purpose and curiosity
Have students try to notice sounds, textures, colors, shapes, and other characteristics of their environments. (These can be excellent writing prompts, too.)
As a teacher, if you’re able, try a mindful eating exercise and slowly, with quiet attention, explore a food item with all of the senses before eating it — noticing the smells, colors, textures and any sensations of pleasure or displeasure.
Being in the moment is both a cause and an effect of mindfulness. Mindfulness is rooted in the present. Thoughts about yesterday, tomorrow, or even your ‘self’ in the context of an afternoon or school year or activity is the opposite of presence in the present.
3. Use guided meditation daily
With students, explore the breath by having them close their eyes and explore a guided meditation each day before class. Sam Harris’ ‘Waking Up‘ app could be useful here for older students while Moshi is useful for younger students.
4. Offer caring wishes
Practice caring and compassion for ourselves and others by offering wishes such as, “May we be happy, may we be safe, may we be filled with love.” They might giggle in August, but by May? They may just wish you affection right back.
Caring wishes can be used when we experience discomfort before taking a test, when reading out loud, or simply to send kindness to another person, knowing that we all wish to be happy.
5. Practice gratitude
We can cultivate gratitude in simple ways; for example, we can take a few minutes to reflect on the good things that happened during the day, keep a list of people and things for which we are grateful and/or create a gratitude journal using words and pictures. Write about it, talk about it, reflect upon it.
6. Keep it simple
While advance mindfulness can be incredibly powerful, for the classroom, keep it playful, simple, and ‘child-centered’ (rather than ‘the practice of mindfulness-centered’).
7. Be patient
These ideas will take patience to develop as a capacity in students. Start small–quick activities. Accept challenges as they arise. Help students contextualize what they’re doing and why they’re doing it. There’s no reason mindfulness can’t be successful in any K-12 classroom.
8. Model it–or let others do so
Watch others ‘being mindful’ so that they can see what it looks like in different shapes, contexts, and applications. This can be done live, or through YouTube, or even videos the students make themselves.
Many people misunderstand mindfulness, Zen, meditation, and other ‘mystic’ practices which all often simply boil down to quieting the mind by losing the ‘self.’
9. Transfer it
Help them carry it beyond the classroom by offering tips, resources, ideas, and more to be mindful in their daily lives. (After all, isn’t that the point?)
10. Journal about it
What it is, what it’s not, when it ‘worked,’ when it didn’t, what the benefits have been, what other aspects of growth daily mindfulness practice could lead to, etc.
Other Tips For Teaching Mindfulness To Children at any Grade Level
11. You don’t have to make it ‘fun’ but you can’t make it dry. Make it ‘alive’ and vibrant because each moment is alive and vibrant.
12. Use a variety of ‘places’ and ‘opportunities’ for mindfulness: in the classroom, outside, standing in line, with eyes open and closed, before a test and after, with the lights on and off, etc.
13. Identify celebrities that meditate or practice mindfulness. (Here’s hip-hop artist Big Sean explaining that he ‘meditates daily’ and calling on schools to teach children about mental health though, note the explicit language before you simply play the song in your classroom.)
14. Explain the benefits–starting with cognitive wellness. Tell them they should treat their brain at least as well as they treat their body (that they brush and wash daily).
teaching mindfulness any grade
teaching mindfulness any grade