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Mindfulness Matters

Instruction

Our youth are growing up in one of the most mentally stimulating times in history.  They are constantly receiving input from school, peers, families, and many media forms.  Just because they are children does not mean they do not also feel stress, frustration, or other overwhelming emotions.  In fact, they have less experience with expressing or dealing with these emotions than adults do.  Giving a child the tool of meditation will help them to find ways step back from all of the input they receive, take time to contemplate their emotions, and find ways to articulate their thoughts without becoming overwhelmed and stressed.  However, the benefits aren’t just for the students.  As their teacher, if I take the time to practice mindfulness with students, I can have a higher assurance that they’ll be able to focus on the task at hand.  

Terminology

  • Meditation – Focusing attention on the present moment, acknowledging one’s thoughts as they pass, and at times clearing one’s mind of thoughts unrelated to the present moment.  Sitting quietly and breathing, or chanting often achieves these goals.
  • Mindfulness – Being aware of one’s current state.  Being present. 

Pre-Assess Student Knowledge

Before even starting this activity, it’s worth finding out what students know about being present.  Spend some time trying to define “being present” with students.  I know I’ve been surprised with the depth and breadth of answers I get from students.  I also like to ask students about what common thoughts worry them and keep them from being in the present moment.  This is a chance to validate worrisome thoughts that students might be nervous about sharing with the group, so handling these responses positively and delicately is crucial.  Opening up that kind of conversation will help students understand the calm setting I’m trying to establish.

Creating a Safe and Peaceful Setting

This may be new for the facilitator and definitely for some students.  It’s important to make sure the setting is one where students feel safe enough to try something that is new and where they’re likely to feel vulnerable.  A quiet setting is helpful when first practicing meditation, so try placing this activity at a time where students’ energies might be able to match it; this will help set up students for success.  Following a high-energy song, skit, or game might make it tough for students to feel successful in this activity.  I like to establish clear expectations of what the energy and behavior ought to be during this activity.  I always acknowledge that meditation isn’t for everyone, but that everyone should still remain quiet and respect that it can be very enjoyable for others.

There are also cultural considerations when practicing meditation.  Since meditation is not a part of my own personal culture, I recognize that I am not trying to represent anyone else’s culture.  I acknowledge that many cultures use meditation, but that for the moment, I’m just using it as a tool for practicing mindfulness.  Once the facilitator’s background is established, the conversation can be taken deeper and still feel safe to students.  I like to ask students if they meditate at home or other ways they remain present in their home lives.

This is a Skill

Remind students that this isn’t something that will be easy right away!  Being mindful is a skill that they will develop their entire lives with practice.  Creating the understanding that meditation may be difficult at first will be helpful to building that safe atmosphere.  I share a personal story about a time I’ve struggled with remaining present to show that even adults have difficulty with this skill.

Guided Meditation

For those who’ve practiced meditation or simply have the attention span, sitting and breathing for a few minutes can seem easy.  For many anyone new to meditation however, it’s really helpful to have some guidance.  Giving some exercises that ask students to focus on some sensory experience will help them to be present during a meditation session.  Here are some different cues I use during a meditation with youth:

  • Use a bell or something with resonance.  This gives students something to focus on and also creates a solemn atmosphere.
  • Ask students to close their eyes and focus their attention to the bell or any other long lasting tone.  Tell students to touch their finger to their nose when they think they can no longer hear the bell.
  • Ring the bell once and have students focus on their breathing by counting each full breath (one inhalation and exhalation).  Ring the bell again after a period of time and have students hold up on their fingers how many full breaths they counted.  Try doing it again and see if that number changes.
  • Try for a longer period of time!  When beginning this meditation session, aim for 5 minutes at first.  As students start getting the wiggles, give new prompts.  Try telling them to focus on their breathing, the sounds around them, the air or light on their skin, or the feeling of the ground beneath them and how it supports them.

Remember, it’s important to continually remind students that if their mind wanders, acknowledge where it wanders, but to bring it back to the present moment.  Assure students that wandering thoughts are common to all people and that there’s nothing wrong with having a hard time focusing on the present.   

Moving Forward

I’ve found that students will bring up issues with mindfulness in many future lessons on their own.  Consider using this as a regular tool; it can lead to many fruitful conversations.  Try exploring other ways to remain present such as using the five senses, singing, walking, or even mindful eating!  Try brainstorming easy times to practice being present in day-to-day life.  Consider asking about difficulties and successes of practicing mindfulness.  I know I’ve been impressed with thoughtful conversations raised by students in regards to remaining present and I hope to continue building in room to practice meditation with students in the future.

Our youth are growing up in one of the most mentally stimulating times in history.  They are constantly receiving input from school, peers, families, and many media forms.  Just because they are children does not mean they do not also feel stress, frustration, or other overwhelming emotions.  In fact, they have less experience with expressing or dealing with these emotions than adults do.  Giving a child the tool of meditation will help them to find ways step back from all of the input they receive, take time to contemplate their emotions, and find ways to articulate their thoughts without becoming overwhelmed and stressed.  However, the benefits aren’t just for the students.  As their teacher, if I take the time to practice mindfulness with students, I can have a higher assurance that they’ll be able to focus on the task at hand.  

Terminology

  • Meditation – Focusing attention on the present moment, acknowledging one’s thoughts as they pass, and at times clearing one’s mind of thoughts unrelated to the present moment.  Sitting quietly and breathing, or chanting often achieves these goals.
  • Mindfulness – Being aware of one’s current state.  Being present. 

Pre-Assess Student Knowledge

Before even starting this activity, it’s worth finding out what students know about being present.  Spend some time trying to define “being present” with students.  I know I’ve been surprised with the depth and breadth of answers I get from students.  I also like to ask students about what common thoughts worry them and keep them from being in the present moment.  This is a chance to validate worrisome thoughts that students might be nervous about sharing with the group, so handling these responses positively and delicately is crucial.  Opening up that kind of conversation will help students understand the calm setting I’m trying to establish.

Creating a Safe and Peaceful Setting

This may be new for the facilitator and definitely for some students.  It’s important to make sure the setting is one where students feel safe enough to try something that is new and where they’re likely to feel vulnerable.  A quiet setting is helpful when first practicing meditation, so try placing this activity at a time where students’ energies might be able to match it; this will help set up students for success.  Following a high-energy song, skit, or game might make it tough for students to feel successful in this activity.  I like to establish clear expectations of what the energy and behavior ought to be during this activity.  I always acknowledge that meditation isn’t for everyone, but that everyone should still remain quiet and respect that it can be very enjoyable for others.

There are also cultural considerations when practicing meditation.  Since meditation is not a part of my own personal culture, I recognize that I am not trying to represent anyone else’s culture.  I acknowledge that many cultures use meditation, but that for the moment, I’m just using it as a tool for practicing mindfulness.  Once the facilitator’s background is established, the conversation can be taken deeper and still feel safe to students.  I like to ask students if they meditate at home or other ways they remain present in their home lives.

This is a Skill

Remind students that this isn’t something that will be easy right away!  Being mindful is a skill that they will develop their entire lives with practice.  Creating the understanding that meditation may be difficult at first will be helpful to building that safe atmosphere.  I share a personal story about a time I’ve struggled with remaining present to show that even adults have difficulty with this skill.

Guided Meditation

For those who’ve practiced meditation or simply have the attention span, sitting and breathing for a few minutes can seem easy.  For many anyone new to meditation however, it’s really helpful to have some guidance.  Giving some exercises that ask students to focus on some sensory experience will help them to be present during a meditation session.  Here are some different cues I use during a meditation with youth:

  • Use a bell or something with resonance.  This gives students something to focus on and also creates a solemn atmosphere.
  • Ask students to close their eyes and focus their attention to the bell or any other long lasting tone.  Tell students to touch their finger to their nose when they think they can no longer hear the bell.
  • Ring the bell once and have students focus on their breathing by counting each full breath (one inhalation and exhalation).  Ring the bell again after a period of time and have students hold up on their fingers how many full breaths they counted.  Try doing it again and see if that number changes.
  • Try for a longer period of time!  When beginning this meditation session, aim for 5 minutes at first.  As students start getting the wiggles, give new prompts.  Try telling them to focus on their breathing, the sounds around them, the air or light on their skin, or the feeling of the ground beneath them and how it supports them.

Remember, it’s important to continually remind students that if their mind wanders, acknowledge where it wanders, but to bring it back to the present moment.  Assure students that wandering thoughts are common to all people and that there’s nothing wrong with having a hard time focusing on the present.   

Moving Forward

I’ve found that students will bring up issues with mindfulness in many future lessons on their own.  Consider using this as a regular tool; it can lead to many fruitful conversations.  Try exploring other ways to remain present such as using the five senses, singing, walking, or even mindful eating!  Try brainstorming easy times to practice being present in day-to-day life.  Consider asking about difficulties and successes of practicing mindfulness.  I know I’ve been impressed with thoughtful conversations raised by students in regards to remaining present and I hope to continue building in room to practice meditation with students in the future.

About the Author
Max Honch
Author: Max Honch
Max Honch began his teaching career in Thailand, staring back at the 600 faces of his 8th grade class. After seeing how different students learned in a rote, 8th grade classroom versus a multi-age learning center for refugees, Max has decided to continue exploring different forms of alternative education. He previously received a B.A. in History and Religion from the University of Puget Sound. Currently, Max is an Environment for Education and Community Instructor at IslandWood, working to complete his Masters in Education through the University of Washington.