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Mindfulness to Calm, Focus, and Learn

May 5, 2022 / by Alexa Simon

Mindfulness is a health and well-being practice utilized by families from around the world.  Maybe you've dabbled in mindful activities such as yoga or meditation, or mindfulness may still seem somewhat of a mystery!  Either way, let's dive into what it means to be mindful, including ways to use mindfulness in your classroom (in the midst of chaos).  Mindfulness benefits everyone!

What is mindfulness?

Mindfulness is the act of being mindful.  Stating the obvious, mindfulness is allowing one's thoughts to slow, and using the breath to cultivate self-awareness.  Being mindful provides your body the space to calm and be present, allowing you to melt away stress and focus on what matters.  The end result from this focus is to feel joy and contentment: a lovely place to be.

Why is mindfulness needed?

Teachers are leaving the profession at alarming rates and children are being diagnosed with anxiety disorders at increasing numbers. Children as young as 3 years are showing signs of heightened anxiety. With statistics like these, it becomes apparent that educators need to begin implementing social and emotional strategies that support anti-stress behaviors.  Mindfulness can be a big piece to the puzzle in supporting those efforts.

How does mindfulness benefit children?

As you now know, mindfulness is created through actions that help focus the mind and slow the heart rate.  When our minds become decluttered and our bodies begin to calm, positive body reactions follow.  Children who are more mindful learn to be less distracted, and in turn, more engaged during lessons. With mindfulness, students are more motivated and are able to interact better with their peers.  Mindfulness has even been linked to improving humans' mood, confidence, sleep, self-awareness, focus, and anxiety. 

How can mindfulness help in the midst of a busy classroom?

Students and educators have been faced with unprecedented times. Between COVID-19, school closures, remote learning, and a shift in social distancing, we have all been emotionally impacted. These challenges, along with your traditional education disruptions, have contributed to a lot of classroom chaos.  Systemic and social challenges, along with traditional classroom disruptions, have contributed to an unsettled mindset in the classroom. When children aren't given the tools to regulate their emotions, they struggle to complete simple tasks.  I've heard many teachers report the need to consistently re-teach basic classroom rules and routines to allow students’ to manage their emotional regulation. With so many challenges, students have trouble understanding, focusing, and learning.

Mindful Moments can benefit the whole classroom when used as a re-set.  Mindful Moments are simple activities you as an educator can utilize with your class.  Let's learn about five basic Mindful Moments for classroom success. 

Mindfulness Moment #1

Practice breathing activities!  Whether you put on a short breathing video from goNoodle, or you use a breathing ball from Lakeshore Learning, there are countless ways to practice breathing with children.  I  love the simple idea of belly breathing: have students lie on their backs and place a stuffed animal or paper airplane on their bellies.  As they practice breathing, they can watch the object rise and fall, taking note of how calmness begins to engulf them.

Mindfulness Moment #2

Use self-affirmations.  Similar to mantras, self-affirmations involve repetition of speaking a positive phrase to yourself as an act of self-love. Students could repeat, “I can do this,” or “I haven’t solved it…YET.”

Mindfulness Moment #3

Your day is already packed with a list of to-d’s, but you and your students can find better success if you can stop, listen to music, and just be. The next time you feel your class becoming “stuck,” disengaged, or struggling to focus, turn off the lights….eyes. Then, turn on soft and calming music. One….thing!!

The next time your students are frustrated, bored, or checked-out of a lesson, try this.  Turn off the lights, close all the shades and doors, have everyone find a quiet space on the floor to lay down, and close their eyes.  Finally, turn on a soft instrumental song.  One of my favorites is "River Flows in You," by Yiruma. Music therapy is a real thing!

Mindfulness Moment #4

Color and decorate mandalas.  A quick Google search of “Free Mandala Coloring Sheets,” will provide hundreds of examples to share with your students. The repetitive action of coloring between black and white lines has a positive effect on the brain’s ability to become calm.  As a side benefit, coloring helps build gross motor skills and strong penmanship.

Mindfulness Moment #5

Stretch.  When you can visually see “the wiggles” happening while you are teaching, call for a stretch break!  Stretching, similar to yoga, can create endorphins in the body, which promotes joy and happiness.  Stretching also relieves built up tension in the muscles, which contributes to stress hormones.

There you have it!  Hopefully, you’ve learned a bit more about mindfulness and all of its benefits. Plus, you’ve learned how to use Mindful Moments to help your students get (and stay!) on track with focusing and learning. I hope you continue to find new ways to….blossom!

Topics: Resources, Teacher Wellness, Health, SEL, mindfulness

Alexa Simon

Written by Alexa Simon

Alexa Simon holds a Bachelors degree in Elementary Education from the College of St. Benedicts, a Masters degree in Special Education from Bethel University, and two Graduate Certificates, an Instructional Design (2021) Certificate from the University of Minnesota and a Leadership & Agility (coming 2022) Certificate from Cornell University. She was an elementary teacher for 7 years, has worked in early childhood centers as a specialist and as a professional development presenter, and has developed content for an online school. She currently works as an Engagement Manager for Teaching Channel. In addition to her big passion for education, she also enjoys yoga and mindfulness for children. Read other blogs on mindfulness from Alexa here: www.minnesotakidsyogaco.com

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