Learning happens in the present moment
Mindfulness is a mind-body based approach that aims to be bring people into awareness of the present moment. It is useful to remember that learning can only really happen when we are in the present moment – and the same applies to children.
Many of the pupils I work with are emotionally preoccupied with what has happened in the past or are worrying about what will happen in the future. Perhaps they were kicked off the football pitch at break because they couldn’t play be the rules, their best friend has gone off with someone else or they are thinking about difficulties a home. This means that their minds are not free to focus on the educational task at hand in the classroom.
Mindfulness in Therapeutic Storywriting Groups
We use a short Mindfulness tuning exercise with the children (mostly KS2) at the beginning of Therapeutic Storywriting Groups. Pupils are asked first to listen to the sound of a resonant bell and notice when it has completely faded away. They are then asked to focus on body sensation. We start with the feet with the instruction, “Notice how your feet feel, notice if they are hot or cold, is there any tingling in your feet, notice if one feels different to the other…”. We then move slowly up through the whole body.
Building an Emotional Vocabulary
The children are then asked to “become aware of the emotions you have felt so far today. Recall waking up this morning. How did you feel? Can you name that feeling to yourself”? They are then guided through their day up to the present moment, and asked to write down 2 feeling words that best describe the feelings they have experienced so far today. After modelling by the teacher, they share these with the group before moving into the story writing activity.
By recording and sharing their feeling words the children gradually extend their emotional vocabulary. Only with this internalised language are children able to reflect on their feelings rather than just reacting to them.
Moving into Mainstream
Ten years ago hardly anyone in schools had heard of Mindfulness. Today when I deliver training, over half of the group usually has some experience of it. Well known figures who use Mindfulness such as Ruby Wax, Paul McCartney, and Oprah Winfrey have helped make it more mainstream. Also the work and writing of Jon Kabat-Zinn, who developed and researched Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction to support patients in his clinic deal with extreme pain has helped to give it credibility.
Keep it Kinaesthetic
I am amazed at how well the pupils, all of whom have been identified as having emotional, social or behavioural difficulties are able to engage with this activity. The exercise is actually quite kinaesthetic in nature as they always have something to do even though they are sitting still & silent. Just asking these pupils to sit still and be calm would be a bit of a non-starter. As the activity becomes a normal part of the group work, they become more and more relaxed with the exercise.
Mindfulness with the Whole School
A couple of schools we have worked with took the Mindfulness exercise from to a staff meeting and they decided to do it daily with the whole school. They reported that it helps the children settle after big play and get ready for the next educational task.
Research has shown a positive perception by pupils of the Mindfulness activity at the start of Therapeutic Storywriting Groups. One year 4 boy reported, “We have relaxation time to get all of your feelings out – if you’re sad you can get your sad feelings out and cheer up and it can really calm you down.”
A Year 6 girl commented, ‘Sometimes it’s annoying when I can’t put my friendship problems out of my head and I can’t concentrate. At the beginning of the group as we go through (the relaxation) it helps. It helps me more to get them out of my head’. (Nina Y6)
Training to deliver Mindfulness
If you are planning to lead pupils in a Mindfulness exercise it’s important that you have experience of doing it yourself beforehand. There are now plenty of organisations such as Mindfulness in Schools and Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction offering courses for adults.