When I decided to start the journey of mindfulness with my students, I knew that I needed to do more than tell them about it. I knew that it was going to be important to incorporate it into our every day. Since I teach middle school, I see my students for a 40 minute class and then they move on to other classes. I quickly realized from my reading that an ideal situation would be to get other teachers involved to give the students exposure to mindfulness throughout their entire day and not just in my room. That is now my project for next year.
I started by explaining to the students how their brains work. I gave them some of the facts from brain research. I also polled them through their journals to find out if they categorized themselves as “stressed” or “anxious”. It amazed me to read the results. So many of the students that I would label as stressed or those whose parents had told us stories of their child’s meltdowns didn’t always identify themselves as stressed. However, so many other students who seem to have things together day in and day out confessed to being ridden with stress and anxiety for various reasons. This exercise just solidified the need for this work in my classroom.
After explaining how the brain works and why we tend to feel anxious in different situations, I had them think about situations they have been in where stress and anxiety has taken over. We identified how our body reacts (how we feel, how we look, etc). Many students had no problem coming up with the typical symptoms of their heart racing, sweating, shaking, etc. I then told them that I was going to give them a tool to help them in situations of high stress, but also a tool that will just help to give their brains a break throughout the day. It is called our “Mindful Minute”. My goal for the class is to work up to a full minute, but at first a full minute is hard for the students to complete.
There are many websites and apps that you can use to teach meditation to children. I particularly like the guided meditations. My favorite site and the one that I chose to use with my students in the beginning is http://annakaharris.com/mindfulness-for-children/. It has a number of guided meditations both longer and shorter in length. They do a great job of walking the students through concentrating on their breathing and building up their abilities to do it longer and longer. Remember, mindfulness is the marathon and activities like meditations are the training for the marathon.
Once we have practiced the guided meditations a few times, I tell the students that we are going to do this every day to start class. Once the bell rings for class to begin, I have the expectation that students be in their seats and ready for our “Mindful Minute”. Since we do this every day, I have started using an app called Insight Timer . You can set the timer on the app for one minute (or however long you would like). You have a choice of different bells or sounds. Due to the fact that many of my students have a hard time being still for even a few seconds, I have set a few ground rules. One, they have to try their best to be as still as they can for the minute. They are not allowed to distract anyone else. Second, they do not have to close their eyes, but can instead just focus downward if they are uncomfortable (for some the act of closing their eyes creates anxiety). Third, they should focus on the sound of the bell for the entire length of its tone and then focus on their breathing. Once the bell rings for the second time, they should focus on the tone for its entire length before opening their eyes or looking up.
Now there are many days where it works so well. I have seen a real change in my students and their ability to get settled after changing classes and to be focused on what we are doing in class. For years teachers have been giving bell work to get students settled and ready to work. However, it is not often that teachers give students a break to rest their brains and focus. Then there are the days that I have kids who giggle and try to make one another laugh or who cannot sit still to save their lives. It is not always going to be perfect and that is OK. However, I know that it works and that a majority of the students are benefiting from it because if there is a day where for whatever reason we must skip our mindful minute (believe me it does not happen often!) they will collectively moan and ask why?! I have also had many students request to do a mindful minute before tests and quizzes. When writing in their daily journals, students have told me how they look forward to my class because that minute is the only time during the day that they get a change to relax.
Recently, I asked my students to write about the times that they have used the mindful minute outside of class. Many wrote about doing it on their own before a big hockey game or dance recital. Others have said that they actually focus on their breathing to help them fall asleep at night. Still others told me about how they try to do it as soon as they feel anxious about something. I cannot tell you how happy that made me to hear that they were actually applying this skill outside of the classroom. After all, that is what it is all about!