I always write about the little moments, things that happen; things that I know deep down inside are gigantic in the world of ‘importance’ and ‘all knowing’. Those moments can easily slip by if you’re not in the zone. Yes, in the zone. Ask any athlete how hard that is, and they’ll tell you. It’s the moment you are ‘there’: in the present, totally focused, and so much a part of what’s happening that anything else is out of your thinking. Mindfulness.
I played a game with children, ‘Hear the World’, that consists of cards with nine photos, and a handful of chips. You listen to a recording of different sounds from around the world and find the correct photo of that sound on your card. It’s not as easy as it sounds; identifying the sound of a baseball bat connecting with the ball and fans cheering, bagpipes, a tin whistle, and screeching monkeys takes full concentration.
So, how do children (or adults) get into a mindful state of being? We close our eyes, breathe, and then listen. Sound familiar? Hasn’t this been a successful practice for centuries in other countries? In my class, we pretend to pick a flower, smell it slowly and deeply, then hold up our first finger as a candle and blow out the candle. We do this three times. Then, we’re ready to listen. As such, children could really play “Hear the World” and recognize the sounds. Last week we listened to the sound of the ocean, as that is our current unit of study. Not knowing ahead of time what that sound would be forced the children to focus their minds. And, smelling the flower and blowing out the candle prepared the mind for readiness.
After listening to the ocean we ‘brainstormed’ how it made us feel. Children said, “I think of fish swimming and water and sharks.” “It makes me feel like summer”. “It makes me feel better.” “It makes me feel peaceful.” We were then ready for geography! First we looked at our Big Book Atlas and discovered that the world has more water than land. We talked about north and south and how that relates to cold and warm water temperatures. We then switched maps to a satellite map, which of course shows light and dark blue, and that prompted a long discussion on the depth of parts of the ocean. The following day we planned to learn about lantern fish, so this was a perfect preview. One child traced his finger along the coastline and asked why that water was so light blue. Liam immediately answered, “It’s shallow.” I doubt that my class could have stayed together that length of time in such a curious state of wanting to learn had we not prepared with mindfulness.
Schools throughout Massachusetts are incorporating mindful practices into the classroom, and it is often referred to as “a focus on well-being.” A featured article in the Boston Globe by James Vaznis on January 5, 2016 highlights schools in Reading, MA. As the article states, beyond helping children to simply focus so they can learn, this practice also addresses the social and emotional well-being of students. Teaching students to manage their emotions can help them deal with a multitude of serious issues, including bullying, mental illness, substance abuse, or trauma. It’s not simply “feel good” education. School teachers have deliberate conversations with children in order to connect and learn about the child. They also have ‘open circles’ so children can have free dialogue and discuss problems.
I had to smile when I read that, as lunch time in my classroom is intimate, full of conversations about each other, including ‘Jennie stories’. It’s detailed in one of my earliest postings on 5/13/1214. After all, if I want to learn about my students, they need to learn about me as well. I’m glad to know that I’ve been practicing many of these techniques for years. I knew in my heart I was doing the right thing. Now, I have expanded with more ‘tools’ in my belt.
And yes, as I hinted in my first mindfulness blog post, we have started to listen to classical music. Handel’s “Water Music” had children not only listening, but painting and dancing as well.