If you have not yet instituted regular rituals with your children that develop mindfulness, it’s time. The research from neuroscience, education, child development, and positive psychology all agree. Practices that cultivate self-awareness and the ability to self-care enhance social-emotional learning and executive functions. They also nurture a positive affect or attitude, which has been shown to widen our literal and figurative vision. We know that feeling good, connected, and cared about improves problem-solving, academic performance, creativity, resilience, and health. In other words, not taking time to regularly participate in some kind of mindful exercise is actually inhibiting student potential and progress.
Where to begin?
As teacher/parent, you are the model and the music in the space so mindfulness begins with you. Start any sort of practice for yourself and commit to doing it regularly. It could be 10-20 minutes a day of loving kindness or any other kind of meditation, or 30 minutes 2-3 times a week of yoga or a walking meditation. It doesn’t matter what, except that it be an activity that you resonate with and feel more focused, settled, and present after practicing. This shift in your own regimen will source much of what you bring and eventually develop for your classroom or homeschooling schedule.
With younger children, it’s important to start with simple sensory activities and to do them regularly. Examples are: listening to the sound of the bell until it disappears, or feeling the raisin on your tongue melt, or noticing the rise and fall of your belly as it breathes, or watching the lines of the tree drawn on the water drawing board evaporate. The process of observing via one sense organically brings children into a present, focused, calm, and open state.
I recommend also introducing and practicing how to breathe fully and smoothly; how to slow inner speed to better notice, name, and reflect on what goes inside and outside; how to self-soothe and self-care; and how to ground and center body and mind through games and yoga. It’s wonderful to also include affirmations, uplifting songs, movement stories, and partner yoga. Note: as you read this, are you mentally sorting these activities to the “if there’s time” category? If so, please review the research highlights:
Embodied Self-Regulation Skills using Bilateral or Intentional Movement –
- Decrease off-task behavior in preschool age children (Dr. Jennifer Dustow, Cornerstone Educational Preschool 2-year Autism Project, Nov 10, 2009)
- Improve creative problem solving, language skills, and memory (Gwen Dewar, Ph.D., The Cognitive Benefits of Play: Effects on the Learning Brain)
- Increases attention span and ability to ignore distractions and concentrate better
- Enhances behavioral regulation, metacognition, and overall global executive function
(Effects of Mindful Awareness Practices on Executive Functions in Elementary School Children. Journal of Applied School Psychology Vol. 26, Iss. 1, 2010. Lisa Flook, Susan L. Smalley, M. Jennifer Kitil, Brian M. Galla, Susan Kaiser-Greenland, Jill Locke, Eric Ishijima, Connie Kasari)
Cardio Exercise –
- Over-rides the body’s physiological response to stress
- Improves the cognitive control of attention
- Enhances academic performance. The effect of acute treadmill walking on cognitive control and academic achievement in preadolescent children. Neuroscience. 2009 Mar 31;159(3):1044-54. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroscience.2009.01.057. Epub 2009 Feb 3. Hillman CH, Pontifex MB, Raine LB, Castelli DM, Hall EE, Kramer AF)
- Stimulates the release of BDNF, which grows the brain (Ratey, 2008)
- Improves the cognitive control of attention
- Enhances academic performance (Hillman, CH, Pontifex, MB, Raine, LB, Castelli, DM, Hall, EE, Kramer, AF, 2009)
Slow Intentional Movement – yoga
- Unifies (integrates) mind/body experience (Journal of Cognitive/Behavioral Practice 2009)
- Organizes whole-brain function for optimal learning (Dennison and Hannaford, 1999)
- Improves executive functions – not seen from aerobic exercise (Science 2011)
To empower you to introduce and integrate more mindfulness into your teaching, there are lots of resources.
We developed the 30-week Movement & Mindfulness Curriculum with the sole intention of helping you become a more effective teacher and enhance all your goals for children. Our program offers a wide range of mindfulness building activities intertwined with movement because science has shown that movement is integral to optimal development and the way into children’s joy, confidence, self-control, and executive functions.
We understand it’s challenging to institute new classroom rituals.
Like any lifestyle change, it takes desire and persistence.
We encourage you start where you are and take just one step.
Let yourself be inspired by the compelling research to access any of the resources and support available and launch even one mindfulness practice this year.