- Early Childhood
We all have traits and qualities that we hope to instill in our children to help them thrive as adults. Perhaps it's perseverance to see things through even when frustrated, or patience when they would rather have something now than wait. Maybe your family values a generous heart and talks openly about giving or helping others. Many of these virtues become a habit that can last well into adulthood when we lay the foundation early with our children and practice often.
After what may have felt like an uncertain or confusing few months for our children, one of the qualities we want to introduce in preschool this year is mindfulness. We hope mindfulness can become a tool in our student’s toolbox that they can use often and use well.
What is mindfulness?
To become mindful we simply practice becoming aware. Our students will begin to learn the art of intentionally slowing down and becoming aware of their bodies, thoughts, and feelings. Did you know that the positive effects of something as simple as practicing gratefulness, such as writing down (or speaking aloud for our preschoolers) “three good things” that happened during a day, can have positive effects such as increased rates of optimism even months after stopping the activity?
The wonderful thing about becoming more mindful is that there are proven benefits at any age. As stated in Evidence for the Impact Of Mindfulness on Children and Young People by Katherine Weare, even as adults, mindfulness intervention can improve well-being and sleep, self-esteem, reduce worries, anxiety, distress, reactivity, and bad behavior, and bring about greater calmness, relaxation, and self-regulation. As students, the benefits of mindfulness can help improve how well they succeed in the classroom, on the sports field, in their extra-curricular endeavors, and at home.
How can we practice mindfulness?
While the littlest of our students may have difficulty labeling and speaking about their emotions aloud, they can certainly slow down enough to pay attention to what they are feeling inside instead of letting their emotions dictate their behavior. As teachers and parents, we can ask questions to help them navigate their minds and give them the words to match their emotions:
When you close your eyes and sit quietly, how does your body feel?
Are you excited about the day ahead and the things we’ll do in class?
Are you sad because you wanted to spend more time with your mom before she left?
Are you upset because your friend wouldn’t let you play the game you wanted to?
While mindfulness can be used with any emotion or moment, it becomes particularly beneficial when we feel upset. Research (as shared in The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology That Fuel Success and Performance at Work by Shawn Achor) has shown that when people feel high levels of distress, the ones who recover the quickest are those who can identify how they are feeling and put those feelings into words.
In conjunction with feelings, we can also ask our children to become aware of their breathing. A few years ago I was working through a stressful experience and was using exercise to help myself mentally. During one of my classes, the instructor kept reminding us to be mindful of how we spent the breaks between exercises. She didn’t want us to keel over and gasp for air but instead focus on taking one slow breath in and another slow breath out. At one point she told us, “They say nine deep breaths can completely reset your nervous system.” I’m not sure who “they” are, but the message stuck with me and I often pause and breathe deeply to the count of nine when I begin to feel overwhelmed or stressed.
These are the types of small routines we want to instill in students. To get to the point where those tools feel readily available for them, we can first teach them to pay attention to their breath, something constant and with us everywhere. For preschoolers, that exercise can be as simple as asking them to pause for a moment, close their eyes, and pretend that every time they breathe out they are filling the room with a bright color. The slower they breathe in and out the darker the color becomes, until it has painted the whole room. Mindfulness practice can start short and simple and grow longer and more interactive the older our children become.
Becoming mindful doesn’t always have to feel abstract either. As we’ve said, the goal of these practices is to simply become aware. One way to do this is to ask your child to walk around and press his or her toes into the ground. What do they feel under their feet? Don’t let them get away with just the word “grass” or “floor”. Is it soft? Is it scratchy? Do you feel like you may fall because it’s uneven?
Another fun exercise we can use is to find a nearby object. Ask the children to stop and really look at it, then describe it back to us as if we’ve never seen it before. What do we use this object for? Does it help us in some way or is it just for adding beauty?
With just a few simple questions, you’ve taken the mundane and inspired them to stop and really think about how they interact with everyday objects. Presto, mindfulness!
How often should you practice mindfulness?
The beautiful, wonderful news about becoming mindful is that you really can not do it wrong. There is no one right way to do this. Children crave routine and find security in knowing what to expect from their days, so it’s often helpful to take a few minutes to practice mindfulness at the same time each day. Maybe over the breakfast table in the morning, or in the car on the way home from school. Perhaps you would like to add a few moments of deep breathing together right before bed as a signal that the day is done and rest is coming. In our preschool rooms, we add little mindful activities in throughout the day to help us work through a problem or situation. We also pause together first thing in our meetings and last thing before we leave to become aware.
As both a parent and teacher I have found that children love mindfulness practices. They enjoy it when we slow down with them and ask questions. They often end up teaching us something new about themselves that we may not have otherwise learned during the hustle of a busy day. As we begin this school year together with some new steps and protocols in place, let’s also add in the practice of slowing down, breathing deeply, and really becoming tuned in to our thoughts and feelings.
Learn more about Little Renegades Mindful Kids Activity Cards.
About the Author
Preschool 4/5 Teacher