If you have been keeping up with my blog, you know that I am a huge advocate for health and wellness. This does not only apply to the food we eat, although much of being healthy starts with the food you eat. But being mindful and mentally healthy is just as important.
I have been an elementary teacher for 3 years. I know it isn’t that long and you may not think I know what I am talking about, but trust me on this one. I have taught third grade and am currently teaching fifth grade. From my experience, children of all ages have so much on their plate at such a young age. From being incredibly active in sports, piano, tutoring, dance, art, and other obligations outside of school, to their home-life. Each group of kids I have been blessed to teach has been different in regards to their lives outside of school. But one thing that remains the same with each class; the students benefit from daily meditation and mindfulness practice.
I started teaching mindfulness in my second year of teaching. It was about 8 weeks before their first big End-of-Grade test. (In case you are unaware, students as young as 7-8 take multiple assessments each year to determine how effective their teacher is at teaching the curriculum, as well as to determine how proficient each child is with the curriculum standards.) My students were showing signs of intense stress and anxiety. I decided it was time to intervene with a different kind of test prep.
First, let me illustrate for you how my students were before meditation:
- very often they would enter the room each morning very sleepy or sluggish; not excited about being in school
- most were not giving it their best effort on most assignments, typically just circling answers to simply finish the assignment
- calming them down after lunch and recess was a nightmare and we often lost about 10 minutes of math instruction (precious time in the teaching world!)
- they had trouble focusing and paying attention to the lessons and/or assignments no matter how engaging I had made them
- during assessments similar to the EOG (end-of-grade test), they would get very squirmy and wiggly in their seats. During the EOG, the students are not allowed to move around in their seats or the room except once every 60 minutes. And even then, their break is only two minutes and it has to be dead silent. Find me an 8 year old who can sit perfectly still in their seat without wiggling or talking, all the while taking a 3 hour test. Good luck.
I had listened to a Rich Roll Podcast episode where he interviewed a guy named Andy Puddicombe (previously a monk who studied the art of meditation) who created a meditation app called Headspace. I decided to give it a try. What I discovered was incredible.
My findings once starting meditation:
- my students entered my class with a positive attitude each morning
- they began to accept challenges or more difficult problems and give it their best effort (even if they failed!)
- they began to stay calm in high-pressure situations (i.e. constant test prep)
- if they felt overwhelmed, they would stop what they were doing and take at least 5-10 deep breaths in and out, closing their eyes. My rule was that they could take their mental break for no more than 2 minutes. When it had been 2 minutes, I would lightly tap them on the shoulder, and that was their signal to get back to work.
- They were able to stay focused and attentive during lessons for longer periods of time
Today, I still incorporate Headspace into my daily morning routine with my fifth graders. They have learned that it is a part of our daily routine and they even look forward to it. If I do not start Headspace before starting my literacy lesson, they will let me know how they feel! (In a loving way, of course!) Sometimes I even incorporate it multiple times throughout the day, as each lesson is about 10 minutes. I have not purchased the app at the moment. The first ten lessons are free, so I typically just repeat those. If I sense that the class is getting squirmy and a little chatty, I will pause my lesson and take a quick detour to mindfulness meditation and let them calm themselves down. After meditating, they are ready to go and are more attentive to the lesson I was teaching.
Benefits of Mindfulness Meditation:
- Decreases stress and anxiety
- Increases creativity and divergent thinking
- Increase in ability to focus for longer periods of time
- Improve personal relationships (spouse, colleagues, etc.)
- Improve your self-love and self-respect (i.e. accepting who you are)
I strongly encourage giving mindfulness meditation a try; for yourself, your kids, or your class. It can benefit every one.