Mindfulness is usually thought of as bringing your attention fully into the present moment. I love the classical description provided by Susan Kaiser Greenland in her book, The Mindful Child: Mindfulness is a mirror of what’s happening in the present moment.
Working in the schools, I encounter many children who are experiencing a high level of overstimulation. Their experience is a fast-paced world where there is constant input from the outer environment. Their minds are being asked to focus in the classroom, but they are so inundated and oversaturated with information and stimuli, that an ever-increasing struggle with attention and lack of ability to focus ensues. I believe that our attention deficit epidemic is the result of many factors, but it is largely affected by instant gratification and the hugely stimulating environments that our children are exposed to on a daily, often moment to moment basis. Some frequent stimulators include: video games, incessant TV chatter, noisy unorganized households, packed busy schedules, crowd exposure and continuous shopping. Their little minds and bodies are searching for ways to focus, but they haven’t had the opporunity to learn how. With the mind on overload and experiencing a high level of disorganization, I can imagine it can feel to some children like they are sitting in Times Square while adults are asking thembeing asked to recite the alphabet and identify numbers. When children feel unsuccessful in the school environment, they can begin to act out and often inadequate academic growth follows. Many of us in the schools are beginning to understand the extent to which these little minds crave getting calm, focused and present so that they can experience success in school. We can begin by giving those little minds a break from all the noise and activity and then specifically show them how to approach tasks in a structured, clearly defined organized way.
How do we give those little minds a break? We do it by modeling and teaching. Every day we give them the change to sit and breathe for a few moments to begin to let their bodies aclimate to the creative world of silence. We set expectations around peaceful interactions. We monitor our own energy and what we are bringing to the environment. Once kids experience peace and how good it feels to simply focus for a few short minutes, they will be “game” to practice more. The idea is to experience success. Here are some tips for bringing basic mindfulness practice and increasing attention in the classroom:
1. Start with a routine in circle time each morning. The predictibility and repetition of a routing trains the brain for greater focus and oranization. Possible routines involve greeting each other around the circle with a handshake and/or salutation (traditional greetings from cultures around the world can spice up the process). Sing a song and practice a few breathing or relaxation games together and discuss your goals for the day. I have found children as old as fifth grade are willing to engage in circle time and begin to look forward to the opportunity to start and end the day peacefully, connecting with others in the class in a deeper way.
2. Before each test or before initiating independent seat work, use a signal that brings everyone’s attention into the present moment, (ring a bell or chime and breathe until the sound ends).
3. Clearly define and explicitly teach the step by step instructions for everything. Often we assume that children know the steps to getting ready for recess, but often they haven’t had step by step instruction at home and don’t know where to begin. Teaching the steps helps them to organize the information, understand sequential processing and learn how to initiate and experience greater task completion.
4. Set your own energy level to reflect your intention for the class. Consistently using a calm voice regardless of outward response eventually re-calibrates the classroom for calmness. The volume can fluctuate, but the calmness behind it remains stable.
While many of the activities on this site can be used to promote a sense of mindfulness, here is another one to try that is particularly well suited for the classroom.
Activity: The Photographic Memory Game
Play the photographic memory game. Explain to your students that our best attention happens when we are present in the moment, focused on what is happening. Instruct them that they are going to practice attention to detail by taking in all of the details of someone (i.e. what they are wearing, etc. . .). Then have that person leave the room and return with one thing changed on their appearance. Have everyone guess what is different. Instruct them that they have to pay very close attention in order to know what has changed.
The Mindful Child by Susan Kaiser Greenland
Building Emotional Intelligence: Techniques to Cultivate Inner Strength in Children by Linda Lantieri and Daniel Goleman