It’s been a few years now since I presented at the Montessori Schools of Massachusetts Conference about using labyrinths as a tool for cultivating mindfulness in a Montessori classroom. Since then, mindfulness has continued to be a big part of the way I teach. I recently participated in a few courses offered by an organization called Mindful Schools, and I have learned a plethora of new ways to integrate mindfulness into my classroom, as well as into my daily life.
One thing that has become increasingly clear to me through my continued studies is that mindfulness is not just silently sitting still. It is, in fact, in everything we do. Stop reading for a moment and listen to your breath for two inhales. There! You just practiced mindfulness. You became aware of what your body is doing, right here, right now. Any time you stop to recalibrate and notice what is happening in the moment, you are practicing mindfulness.
In a multi-age classroom, such as the ones we have here at Wellan, it is important to introduce mindfulness as, yes, sitting still and seemingly doing nothing. When children are young, it’s the easiest way to help them understand that when they close their eyes and breathe, they are becoming aware of their own bodies. They begin to realize they are not doing nothing! They are breathing. They are wiggling a little bit. They are slowing themselves down just enough to notice that maybe they do need to use the bathroom after all.
The children are also learning what is happening around them. One of the first things I teach is listening to the sounds around us as we sit in a silent classroom. Is it actually silent? No—noises usually heard are children from other classrooms, playground excitement, lights buzzing, or footsteps in the hallway.
Eventually, we begin talking about how thinking before we act or speak is actually a form of mindfulness. The children become aware of how others are feeling by stopping, taking a second to observe how a friend reacted, and thinking about the best way to communicate to resolve a misunderstanding. It’s amazing how acknowledging that another person’s feelings were hurt and having an idea about what to do next time can be an effective way to solve a conflict.
There is always more to learn about mindfulness and how to teach it to children, and I am constantly on the lookout for new resources to help me do my job more effectively.
Here are some ways to practice mindfulness at home:
Labyrinths. They allow you to trace a path to the center without obstacles, meaning you can truly calm your mind.
Download an app, such as Headspace, Mind Yeti, or Calm. These apps have special “Kids” sections that are tailored to children and appeal to their shorter attention spans.
Take a walk outside. You don’t need the woods to practice mindfulness through nature. Walking down the street and noticing the sights, sounds, smells, and even tangible objects help you focus on the here and now. If you prefer, you can most definitely find a quiet place in nature and listen to the world around you.
Take a deep breath before eating. Doing this brings your mind to the task at hand: food! You can set a nice, peaceful pace by taking a breath before digging in and eating too fast, especially if you are really hungry.
Sitting Still Like a Frog by Eline Snell
Mindful Kids: 50 Mindfulness Activities for Kindness, Focus, and Calm by Whitney Stewart and Mina Braum
Verdi by Janell Cannon
Charlotte and the Quiet Place by Deborah Sosin
I Am Peace: A Book of Mindfulness by Susan Verde