I had the opportunity to see Jenny Mills, M. ED speak last week at the Eastern PA Special Education conference. Her topic was one that’s been gaining a lot of public traction in general, but also lately in education: Mindfulness. I’ve been reading about it for the past year and in some of my spare time I practice yoga, which definitely requires mindfulness. I also am a runner, and if any group of people knows how to practice getting comfortable with the uncomfortable, it’s runners. So, I’ve been seeking to be more mindful in my own life, but there’s so much to learn…and kids? How does that work? They’re hardly self-aware. Except that it’s the perfect compliment to their purest form. Jenny defined mindfulness as paying attention to what is happening right now with kindness and curiosity. Kindness and curiosity. Traits and states of being that kids often bring to their world naturally. Things that we often lose as we age… I’ll let that sit right there for a moment.
How often are we moving through the day non-judgmentally? How often are we being thoughtful in our “string of moments” called life? My guess is, if you’re anything like me, the answer is hardly to somewhat at best. I think about almost everyone I know (my family included) and we’re all so distracted by either a screen or the “chatter” that’s in our mind (do we have enough dog food, what am I going to make for dinner, I need to get stamps) that’s we’re not showing up to and in our moments with any kindness or curiosity. We show up critically and with all kinds of emotional reactivity because we don’t have a surfboard. We are not mindful, we are mind full.
So how do we begin to teach our children and students about mindfulness? How do we cultivate an environment of calm and focus? It has to start with us, the adults. Before we can ever expect for a child to know and understand “calm”, we have to show them. We have to show them that:
- Nothing is permanent. Not in a scary way, but in a way to show that feelings, thoughts, discomfort, all come and go. Sometimes it can take a while, but they always come and go. This can be anxiety producing, but it can also be very comforting for children to know that if they are feeling nervous or worried about a test, that the feeling will pass.
“Feelings come and go like clouds in a windy sky. Conscious breathing is my anchor.” ~Thich Nhat Hanh
2. Mindfulness isn’t about clearing the mind. It’s about being able to notice our distractions, our discomforts, and being aware enough to come back to our anchor, whether that’s our breath during an exercise, the teacher’s voice as she’s reading, or the task at hand.
“Mindfulness is the aware, balanced acceptance of the present experience. It isn’t more complicated than that. It is opening to or receiving the present moment, pleasant or unpleasant, just as it is, without either clinging to it or rejecting it.” ~Sylvia Boorstein
3. It’s simple, but not easy. It takes practice. Grown- ups and students need to practice and it’s great to share the process with each other.
Jenny summed it up best when she said that mindfulness is like giving kids a surfboard to ride the waves of emotions. Don’t all kids need help riding the waves of emotions??? The ones I know sure do.
To bring a few simple mindfulness activities to your day, your child’s day, or your classroom, check out these great articles/websites:
And of course, please head over to Jenny’s website www.rootsandwingsonline.org
Wishing you a happy and healthy end of October,
Candice Donnelly-Knox, OTR/L
Clinical Director, Pediatric Therapeutic Services
Team Capable Classroom