Mindful MomentsFri, 17th Mar 2017
Mindfulness is such a hot topic right now in schools both in Primary and Secondary. My son who is in year 8 told me the other day that they practice mindfulness before each maths class. I asked about what he actually does and here is his exact explanation... "She (my teacher) has relaxing music playing as we prepare our work spaces for the lesson and we do some deep breathing for about five minutes with our eyes closed. We just sit at our desks and sit really still with good posture and it helps us relax. Our lungs fill up with oxygen & it circulates around our body". I asked him if he thinks it helps to focus and concentrate in the class and he said "yeah, well, it helps everyone else 'cos they're all relaxed and everyone listens in class now and it's not noisy or disruptive anymore but I find it really hard to sit still so I just sort of sit there and try to stay still". I was still impressed and I know for a fact that he's doing better in maths this year than last year but more importantly, he's enjoying being in the class. I'm pretty sure it would have to have something to do with participating in a calmer and more productive classroom. I think it's wonderful that schools are embracing mindfulness techniques and valuing them as important for children's learning.
As a preschool teacher, I believe that it's just as important in children's early years to learn skills in being mindful. 'Being fully awake in each moment of life is something that everyone benefits from. Children tend to exhibit this quality quite naturally. However they can be taught to meditate'. (kidsmatter).
I thought I'd write this blog on the mindful opportunities I provide for my group of preschoolers from a practical approach. I choose to offer 'yoga' as it is something I've done myself for a long time and find it extremely beneficial for my own wellbeing. I don't claim to be an expert or a trained yoga teacher but I offer to the children what I do know and enjoy just like any other passion teachers may have and share with their groups of children. After a yoga class, my energy levels feel renewed and I am so much more productive throughout the day.
I've read many articles on the benefits of yoga for young children and have done professional development workshops in this area. My beautiful talented friend and colleague, Katherine Zachest has been an inspiration for me in teaching yoga and drama with young children. She has written her own book 'Drama for Early Childhood' that I recommend for every teacher! It's fantastic. In some ways, Yoga has elements of drama in that children are imagining/transforming themselves into something else and using their imaginations.
Yoga and meditation:
I have taught in a short sessional preschool program for a long time and found that I was 'squeezing' in the mindful sessions but did see it as a priority to plan for over some other things. In these shorter kinder sessions, I often evaluated whether or not it was worth offering time for yoga. Reflecting on the children's responses, it definitely was. I remember one child would often say when things got too noisy in the room or things were a little too busy..."Shaney, I think we need to do some yoga". How insightful for a five year old! The children appeared to enjoy it as they would quite often request it. Many children are already aware of it as their parents do yoga too!
Recently, I've moved to a neigbouring preschool (Sorrento) where the children stay for longer hours in their day. Their two longest days are from 9 until 3 pm and 9 until 2 pm consecutively.
From the very beginning of the year, we introduced yoga sessions to the children on our long days. Now, children are already in tune with the routine of the day (we also use a visual time table and use the 'calm' board maker sign for our yoga time). Straight after lunch, children put their things away, go for a bathroom break if they need to and independently get their blue yoga mat from their locker. We have a familiar ritual each session so children are in control of their own learning. These small rituals are important in maintaining a sense of calm in the room so as there isn't too much talking from the teacher in giving directions and children aren't asking what to do...they just know. Here is how we begin:
Children take their shoes off and 'put them in the shoe shop' (shoes lined up against a designated area in the room with socks tucked inside their shoes for finding them easily afterwards). The children do this quite independently and look out for each others shoes so they are all in place.
We always begin our yoga sessions in the same way each time. Children independently move themselves into the the candle pose (children sit cross legged on their mat hands in front of their heart with their eyes closed if they wish) and wait for everyone else to get settled.
Whilst children are settling into the candle pose, etc, I am closing the blinds, putting on the 'calm' music (Tony O' Connor) to 'set the scene' in creating an atmosphere of 'calm'.
Once everyone's settled, we 'light our candles' at the same time. We take three deep breaths and rub our hands together to 'light the flame' to warm our heart
We always end our sessions the same way too. After meditation, children move back into the candle pose and 'blow out their candle together'. We cup our hands and whisper into them, 'thank you for my healthy body' and 'thank you for the yoga'.
Children take time to 'fold' up their own (named) yoga blanket, put back into their locker and put their shoes back on (with adult help for some or children help each other).
We run these yoga sessions in half groups so that is calmer and easier to focus with less disruptions. (the other half of the group go outdoors with their educator for quiet reading, puzzles or drawing time under the shade of a our large autumn tree on mats). We swap over so each group has a go at both of the calm experiences.
I've been using the book 'Good night Yoga' by Mariam Gates as a playful and fun way to introduce yoga to young children. It's beautifully illustrated and it has so many possibilities for linking with other learning experiences in the program
There is also 'Good morning Yoga' by the same author that I am yet to get my hands on and introduce to the children.
The books are also available on You tube. I've introduced it on a large screen before with children following the flow but I prefer doing it with the book (showing them the pictures and modelling the poses myself so that there is time for children to comment and we can do it at out own pace. I also allow for children's spontaneity in making up their own poses and listening to their thoughts).
There is definitely an advantage to having it available on You Tube. I suggest it to parents of children that may be experiencing difficulties in getting to sleep at night. It's a lovely ritual that parents can do with their children together as part of a bedtime routine that may help children relax before bed.
Linking yoga with Art:
After a few yoga sessions, I invited a small group of children to draw their favourite poses from the book "Goodnight Yoga'. I just absolutely love these drawings. This experience in itself is offering a relaxed 'mindful' opportunity in drawing with a focus. It allows children to express what they know about the poses and what their body can do through non verbal communication.
Below is the 'tree pose' by a child aged 4.10 years old.
I photocopied the back of the book that has the 'flow chart' of each pose, laminated them and chopped them up to make small cards for children to refer to. I keep a set of these cards in our drawing/pre writing area for children to use in their own way any time during the sessions.
How wonderfully expressive is this drawing of the star pose (by the same child) I just love it!
This child just wanted to draw all the poses and enjoyed lining all the cards up around her
Our yoga sessions are fun, playful and enjoyable for each child. If a child doesn't feel like doing it that day, that's ok. Some children need more of an actual rest so they find a space with their blanker/mat in the room and close their eyes. Others enjoy just resting and watching their peers do yoga. I don't focus on the children doing the poses 'correctly'. I encourage the children to have a go and do the pose in what ever way feels comfortable for their own body.
Here are some 'sleeping butterflies'. Children are naturally flexible...wouldn't it be wonderful for us adults to still be like this ?
I've been using this cloud journey/visualisation (from Goodnight Yoga). It only takes about 5 minutes but you could stretch it out for longer depending on the children's engagement/moods on the day.
It asks the children to imagine their favourite place to go to...this wonderful place has colours to see, sounds to hear...'feel' how good it is to be there...
After we have meditated here for a while and children are truly still and calm, sometimes I go round to each child and ask them where their favourite place is and jot them down for documentation purposes: It's interesting to hear all their varied responses:
...to dragon land
...to place where unicorns live
...to a rainbow park
...to a jewelry store
...a big castle with horses
...a jungle with animals
Painted stones to use in meditation.
Placing a smooth river stone on the child's forehead whilst they are lying on their back (on the cloud), helps to create stillness in the body and the mind.
I created a set of painted stones myself as a resource to resemble the creatures and nature in the book 'Good night Yoga series'.The aim is for the children to make a connection with the stones and and yoga/mediation.
Of course this poses possibilities for children to paint their own stones too. It's incredibly relaxing painting stones and the process is like a meditation in itself.
Benefits of Yoga for children
(sourced from 'Stretched: Build your Yoga Business, Grow your Teaching Techniques'). For further reading on this, go to www.mindbodygreen.com
*Develop body awareness
*learn how to use their bodies in a healthy way
*Manage stress though breathing, awareness, meditation and healthy movement
*Increase their confidence and positive self -image
*Feel part of a healthy, non-competitive group
*Have an alternative to tuning out through constant attachment to electronic devices.
Links to the Victorian Early Years learning and Development Framework:
*Children become strong in their social, emotional and spiritual wellbeing:
Identify actions that promote health, safety and wellbeing
Examine health messages and how they relate to to health decisions and behaviours
*Children take increasing responsibility for their own health and physical wellbeing:
>Name parts of the body and describe how their body is growing and changing.
>Respond to music, expressing what they enjoy and why
identify and describe how their body moves in relation to effort, space, time, objects and people
>Explore how regular physical activity keeps individuals healthy and well
>Discuss the body's reactions to participating in physical activities
>Use trial and error to test solutions to movement challenges
Here's a list of resources that you may find useful in introducing yoga to young children:
*Rubber circle mats -from IkEA (they're actually place mats but work really well for doing yoga in a circle or playing yoga games- $2 each).
*Sets of printed yoga cards for children to refer to (there are so many on the market).
*Printables on the internet
*Moonbeam: A book of meditations my Maureen Garth
*Music: Tony O'connor's Rainforest Magic
*Polar fleece (Spotlight) cut into child sized blankets or 'mats'.
*'Calm jar' made from a VOSS water bottle, glitter, water and cell mix glue (when it's shaken it's like our busy minds and day, when the glitter settles, it's like our thoughts resting after a busy day)
*Smooth stones for meditation-natural or painted. (My painted set of 20 hand painted stones are $35). Made to order.
*A small box with lid that children can put their 'worries' in
*Smiling minds App for iphone or ipad (free)
Sitting still like a frog: Mindfulness exercises for kids (and their parents) By Eline Snel
A Handful of happiness in four pebbles By Thich Nhat Hanh
Peaceful Piggy Meditation by Kerry Lee Maclean
What does it mean to be present? By Rana DiOrio
Take the time: Mindfulness for kids By Maud Roegiers
Silence by Lemniscates
Zen Shorts By Jon J. Muth
Anh's Anger by Gail Silver
Visiting Feelings By Lauren Rubenstein
(visit www.noodle.com for descriptions of books)
***We'd love to hear what ideas you have or already do for mindfulness in your Early Learning Programs. Please share :)
Yoga Bunny by me.