In my school this week, we are taking a dip in the sea of standardized testing. It is our yearly state assessment time. Students and staff alike are feeling the change in schedules, routines and the effects of hours of testing. I have been visiting third and fourth grade classrooms to practice taking “magical moments of focus.” During this time I have introduced three key tools, reminding students of the POWER of their imagination and their ability to access that power in any moment in order to feel good. As students learn to calm down their autonomic nervous systems, their executive functioning potential, or the problem-solving, focus potential found in the prefrontal cortex, is maximized for ultimate function.
1. Balloon Breath- Belly Breathing. Starting with the balloon breath, we practice taking a deep diaphragmatic breath, sending signals to the Autonomic Nervous System that we are ready to relax. Have students place a hand on the diaphragm, the long flat muscle that spans the center of the chest just above the belly button. As they breath in, they can see that their hands should push out as the lungs fill with air. Breathing out, their hand fall back down, the stomach flattens as the lungs let the air back out. Repeat several times.
2. Special Place Guided Imagery. Using a script from Charrlotte Resnicks, The Power of Your Child’s Imagination, I ask students to place their heads on their desks for a moment so that they can completely relax their bodies, and we take a short 1-minute journey to their very own special place. I remind them that any time they want to relax and re-focus, they can make this quick journey in their imaginations. Afterwards I allow students to share their experiences with their classmates. It is wonderful to see the many variations and creativity in the classroom. As the energy calms in the classroom, I make sure to draw their attention to it, to have them note how calm the classroom feels and to note the difference before and after the practice.
3. Doing Turtle for Focus. Finally, I have students “Do Turtle” I ask them all to imagine their turtle shells. As we slowly breathe in and out together, I ask them to pull their energy into their shells for BIG FOCUS. As they are imagining that their own energy is all collected and back to them, carefully guided inside their shells, I suggest that their focus is BIG, it is easy to pay attention and focus on their studies. I remind them that as we have our energy contained in our shells, we are super focused and ready for test taking.
If putting too much emphasis on test taking seems to make your class more anxious instead of more calm, then introduce this sequence without placing an emphasis on test taking and incorporate it into your regular daily classroom routine.