Children learn better when they are in a safe and secure environment in which they are valued. With so much awareness around emotions, stress and mental health, teaching mindfulness is a necessity in every classroom. We often don't realize, but things get so busy during the school year and teachers can be so focused on teaching the syllabus that we forget to be present in the moment. Merely taking a moment to listen to what children have to say can be so beneficial when ensuring they feel a sense of belonging in the classroom setting.
What is Mindfulness?
As mentioned above, mindfulness refers to simply being present and involved in the moment. Basic mindfulness activities include focusing on your breathing, closing your eyes, or thinking about what you're feeling. If you're multitasking or thinking about something else, this contradicts mindfulness practices.
To put it simply, mindfulness is a technique that allows us to remain focused on our surroundings but, more importantly, concentrate on ourselves without our thoughts, emotions and worries affecting our ability to think. These practices are highly beneficial to children with disabilities or additional learning needs as disruptions are reduced, and it helps the working memory function more efficiently.
The primary purpose of teaching mindfulness at such a young age is to equip children with tools to connect with their thoughts and understand their inner feelings. It also helps them in coping with their emotions both now and in the future. TheNY Times summarisedthat one of the best methods to teach a child mindfulness is to embody, engage, and immerse children in it themselves.
How will children benefit from mindfulness in the classroom?
When children feel upset or frustrated, mindfulness techniques can help teach them how to pause, assess their emotions and react accordingly. Some of the benefits are summarized in American Psychological Association'sarticle on mindfulness for children. This includes:
Helping children regulate their emotions
Making children more aware of their sensory capabilities and feelings
Supporting children in developing empathy and kindness towards others
Reducing stress in children
Improving children's overall well-being
Many studies have also shown practising mindfulness regularly with students leads to better grades as children are more motivated and have better self-esteem.
Things you can do to promote mindfulness in the classroom
You do not need to feel alarmed or overwhelmed. Mindfulness is not too difficult to implement in the classroom. You might already be implementing things without knowing it is linked. To begin with, start with basic steps and then elaborate after more practice. Here are a few suggestions to get you started:
Incorporate mindfulness practices in routines and be consistent!
Make mindful activities a part of your daily or weekly routine. Treat it like an exercise and ensure it is practised regularly to be successful. As students are given more exposure to different strategies, they will slowly master techniques and practice them in their everyday lives. A teacher's ultimate goal should not only be for students to exercise mindfulness in the classroom but instead set them up for the future and prepare them with skills for life. Children often look up to their teachers, so make sure you are a good role model yourself.
Try to foster a culture of circle time in the classroom. Some of the most common practices for being present and listening to children can happen informally too. Asking students to brainstorm ideas and share their thoughts is ensures students' perspectives are both welcome and valued. Simple exercises such as a brief check-in before the day starts or end of the day discussion can help students build confidence and self-esteem to be more attentive. You can also try guided meditation and yoga to assist in teaching calming techniques.
Adjust the surrounding environment
If the classroom is cluttered and disorganized, students will not be able to focus. As teachers, we aim to maximize students' learning, so if things are scattered around, students may feel overwhelmed, leading to behavioural problems. A proper room arrangement and space management is crucial for students to feel a sense of calmness and tranquillity. Every teacher should create and promote a productive and beneficial learning environment for students.
Encourage gratitude within the classroom
Supporting children to practice gratitude goes beyond simply saying thank you. It's about appreciating and taking a minute to value what you have. A few examples of gratitude practice are: sharing one thing that made a child happy today for younger ones or keeping a gratitude journal for older children. Another fantastic idea that can be implemented if students would rather keep their thoughts to themselves is to give each child an empty jar at the end of the year. Each week, give students 5-10 minutes to write a little note of something they are pleased about. By the end of the year, students will have an entire jar of positive memories to cherish.
Be open to talking about emotions
An essential aspect of teaching emotional development is instilling the notion that 'it's okay not to be okay. Sometimes, students may have a bad day, but it's a teacher's responsibility to check up on them and support them. If talking about emotions is fostered early on, children will feel confident to share their thoughts. Learning social-emotional skills throughout early childhood will assist students in problem-solving and helping them manage their own emotions. A simple exercise is taking a quiet minute at the end of each day to do an emotional check-in and ask students to think about their feelings or write in their journals. This will encourage children to identify their feelings and help them be more assertive.
Add brain breaks to your routine!
Teaching content for long periods can sometimes be too draining for children! Taking small mental breaks can help students is a great opportunity for them to reset, relax and remain more focused. Incorporating quick brain games such as: I spy, Simon says, balloon volleyball etc., can be a great way to gather students together and take a break. Additionally, you can also add movement games such as dance or physical activity so students can stretch their muscles if they have been sitting too long.
Encourage mindfulness outside the classroom setting
These ideas are not only limited to the classroom but should be fostered beyond too.
Support parents and families to integrate some of these exercises at home! Families are one of the most important influences children have and play the most significant role models. Having open communication with parents will help advance children's social-emotional development.
Mindfulness is an essential skill that children should learn early on to equip them with lifelong coping skills to foster holistic growth. All teachers should try to weave emotional regulation into the curriculum for students to establish a routine and practice mindfulness techniques as much as possible. Whether you teach preschool, middle school or high school; equipping children with these skills will ensure a calmer classroom and more positive learning outcomes.