Mindfulness in school – Part 3

Where can teachers find good resources to use when running mindfulness sessions with pupils?

Image by John Hain

First you may want to set the scene or create an atmosphere by preparing the environment and marking a change to usual lessons. Think in terms of all the senses: something special to look at, something nice to smell, touch or hear.

You may want to start by using some relaxing music or background sounds You tube (please see here for You tube access in schools) has plenty of choice, some of my favourites are:

This song is 6.5 mins long ‘Feel the rhythm of your heartbeat’ with memorable, slow, rhythmic, drum beat, very grounding and calming.

Here are a nice recording of rainfall that is relaxing.

For an object to focus on and to start a session this film of a burning candle is useful:

but obviously not quite as good as the real thing!

In addition the free App ‘Insight Timer’ has useful chimes/singing bowls sounding out in timed intervals that you can use for the beginning and end of a session.

For mindfulness activities there are many different places to go for gathering resources: books, Youtube, Ebay and of course your school’s music cupboard to name but a few. Audio Network from LGfL also has a range of tracks that can be used in schools

Young children can be asked to bring in their favourite soft toy to cuddle while doing slow breathing exercises as it helps them to focus on the physical changes of their tummy or chest going in and out as they breath. This expandable toy helps in a similar way. There are also a series of ideas of using the breathe ball here from The Mindful.org

Finding simple, attractive picture books that incorporate mindfulness practices or messages suitable for reading to primary aged children can be challenging but I have found parts of the following books great:

Sitting still like a frog’ by Eline Snel  Aimed at parents. It comes with a CD with recordings of mindfulness practises in an American, female voice which may suit Key Stage 2 children.

‘A Handful of Quiet’ By Thitch Nhat Hanh. This book certainly has some lovely drawings, useful scripts and a few nice practical ideas e.g how to use objects from nature such as pebbles to initiate discussion and introduce mindfulness concepts. It gave me ideas for props and analogies.

For a free online resource for young children nursery to Year 2 Cosmic Kids Yoga, Peace Out and Zen Den are very popular.

For older children this is a great 12 minute meditation with a female english voice

Making resources for a mindfulness session can give it more importance and links to other planning such as DT, Music or ART. For example you could make home made rain sticks or calming musical compositions with garageband or the like.

Calming a busy mind can be demonstrated and visualised by making a jumbled thoughts jar  (e.g. glitter in a jar of water) and can then later be used as a self-calming resource too.

Children are encouraged to shake it about and look through it and watch how if you stop and wait, your view of the world (or through your jar) becomes clearer. I have found children with complex needs autism, early years and Key Stage one classes love making their own to take home but don’t forget to explain their special purpose to parents otherwise they may get thrown out. There is a simple guide to how to make here.

Another winner to improve focus is using an egg timer to practice concentrating by keeping eyes utterly fixed on the falling sand until it runs out and then increasing the length of time and timer.

I have sometimes given out egg timer certificates for different lengths of time to incentivise those who need something a little more concrete to show how they are learning to pay attention to the present moment on purpose for increasing amounts of time.

Helping children to better know their own minds through these simple activities can have a profound effect on children’s ability to regulate their emotions and behaviour, socialisation, readiness to learn and resilience during exams if carried out with an open mind, sensitivity and regularity.

Many thanks to Marissa for sharing her expertise through these 3 blog posts, Marissa spoke at our Be Well conference this year and you can see her talk below:

Mindfulness in school – Part 2

How do the words we use make a difference in delivering a mindfulness session in class?

Image by Gordon Johnson

The tone of voice used by someone delivering a mindfulness activity can have a significant effect on people. So too can their choice of words. It is helpful to use words that are reassuring and encouraging to participants but they must also be words that you feel entirely comfortable to use. It can be useful to use phrases that are new and particular to just these sessions so that it all feels very different to what we normally do at school and a little bit special. If you are uncomfortable with them so will your pupils be!

Children and young people often fear the unknown and may come to a mindfulness session with preconceptions and expectations. So it is important to create an open, welcoming and relaxed environment that is different from their everyday school lesson experience. Dimming the lights, playing calming music and having a ‘bridging activity’ to enter the room like taking off shoes, can help the participants fully arrive as it were, in a different time and space separating them from some of the previous moments.

Our engagement and participation in an unfamiliar activity can be vastly increased if we don’t feel pressured to join in. So using phrases such as  ‘I invite you to …’ are often used. However, this might seem a step too far for some students or younger children so I tend to say ‘’You may want to try….’ Or ‘See if you can…’ instead. We want children and young people to actively choose to participate rather than feeling that they have to. Allowing them to make choices in how they take part helps enormously. Saying things like ‘some people like keeping their eyes open, some like to close them and that’s ok’ or ‘ some people choose to sit on a chair, some like to sit cross legged on the floor and that is all fine’.

Teaching self-compassion and kindness by saying such phrases as ‘……as best you can’ allows pupils to not feel that they have to be doing this new thing perfectly straight away. ‘I’m learning to …and I can’t yet…’ can be useful phrases. Analogies can work well to e.g. Be patient with yourself like you would to a puppy wandering off the lead or a baby learning to walk and falling many times before managing to walk. ‘Minds wander – that’s OK – that’s just what they do’. This helps people see that learning to be mindful takes time and practise with many hic-ups along the way. Like learning to ride a bike we fall often but keep trying.

Analogies reinforce by creating a picture in the mind.

For example:

  • thoughts are like clouds in the sky,
  • leaves floating down a river,
  • train carriages trundling past that you notice and then see pass.
  • We can name our thoughts ‘that’s worrying, that’s planning, that’s remembering’ and then ‘Let go of ….’ them and judgements.

To help bring attention to something we can use words such as

  • Concentrate on…
  • Pay attention to …
  • Notice without trying to change anything,
  • see what’s there however it is,
  • Focus on,
  • Move your attention to… s
  • See just how it is,
  • here, right now,
  • in the present moment’
  • ‘Bringing our attention to …’

This can be challenging and so participants need reassurance at regular intervals and affirming statements such as

  • ‘That’s right’.
  • That’s good’
  • ‘You might notice a feeling,
  • a thought, or you might not’
  • ‘You might feel…or … or nothing at all’

Careful use of questions is important keeping them as open and non-judgemental as possible to foster a comfortable atmosphere e.g.

  • ‘How was that?’
  • ‘does anyone want to share anything having tried that?’
  • ‘Tell me about that….and anything else?’

Teaching and practicing mindfulness using careful communication we intend not to block out thoughts or feelings but to develop a greater awareness and acceptance of them whether they are positive or negative.  We are all individuals who experience the world differently and ‘THAT’S OK!’.