Calm ‘mindfulness’ is a hot topic in schools

Posted 3/12/20

Mindfulness has become a hot topic in the educational world in the last few years. Many schools, including The Pennfield School in Portsmouth, are incorporating mindfulness practices with all of …

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Calm ‘mindfulness’ is a hot topic in schools

Posted

Mindfulness has become a hot topic in the educational world in the last few years. Many schools, including The Pennfield School in Portsmouth, are incorporating mindfulness practices with all of their students.

At Pennfield, mindfulness techniques and yoga practice have been a part of the preschool, Pre-K, and kindergarten programs for several years. Students participate in weekly yoga practice, and use breathing and meditation to help support learning, relationship building and self awareness.

Mindfulness can be an important tool in the classroom. According to Mindful.org, mindfulness is “the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us.”

Some key aspects of this definition are being present, not stuck on the past (or what happened 15 minutes ago at recess) or worrying about the future (who will I sit with at lunch) and not being overly “reactive” and trying not to be “overwhelmed” or distracted by what is going around us (holding on to the frustration from recess or shutting down when the lunch room is so loud you cannot think straight and then you don’t eat your lunch and have a headache for the rest of the day).

These are very real minute-to-minute issues for students; the type of issues that can throw off their focus and ability to concentrate and/or ruin their whole day.

At Pennfield, they start the day in Pre-K with a group breathing exercise. Sometimes they use a Hoberman Sphere (or breathing ball) and as the teacher expands the sphere, students breathe in through their noses; as the teacher pushes the sphere back together, the class breathes out through their mouths.

This short (maybe 2 to 3 minutes) breathing practice is huge in preparing for the day. The children have a focal point with the Hoberman Sphere. They are also, as a group, aligning their minds with their bodies (their bodies have showed up at school but sometimes their minds are still somewhere else). This is a form of self-regulation — getting all the parts of yourself together and ready for the day.

After this, they usually give a brief run-down of what the day has in store and they find children retain the schedule so much better when their teachers take a few minutes to mindfully prepare them in this quiet way.

Transitions can be very difficult for children (and adults), so they have found that ringing a chime, putting a finger on their noses, taking a deep breath, and then listening for the next instruction really helps. Once the teacher rings the chime, all of the children know to stop any activity they may be engaged in and just listen to the chime. As a group, the class then takes a deep breath so that minds and bodies are ready for the instruction.

They also try to close their day with a focused mindful three-part mantra. Children gently touch their temples and say “kind thoughts,” then they touch their mouth and say “kind words,” and then put their hands on their heart and say “kind hearts.” Students have shared this practice with their families and the feedback has been very positive.

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Jim McGaw

A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.