Deep breathing, positive visualization and physicality as a recipe for inner peace and a healthier classroom.
This is the intent behind “Go Noodle”, “Flow” and “Think about It” – popular activities in a series of programs aimed at integrating mindfulness into the daily academic schedule.
Mindfulness is essentially a conscious focus on the present moment with a calm acceptance of our thoughts, feelings and any physical sensations we might be experiencing. Mindfulness activities create an awareness of our thoughts and body that has been shown to lower stress levels, improve concentration and self-control while helping to foster kindness and empathy towards others. It is a widely used therapeutic and lifestyle technique that has been introduced to the classroom.
In 28 years as an elementary school teacher, Suzanne Waholl has seen an array of behaviour and ability in students. Last year, there were 27 children in her class. Among them were students with autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), notable anxiety issues as well as those receiving mandated additional assistance for learning challenges. This sort of academic diversity has become fairly typical in the classroom.
While the focus of the day is obviously geared towards learning, Waholl says that for this to be effective students need to be in a receptive head space. She adds this is so much easier when they are periodically allowed to disengage and recharge.
Mindfulness activities let students take a break from their routine. Engaging in stimulating exercises that are complimentary to the lesson plan, while recognizing the psychological benefits of allowing them to move when they become restless.
Students only receive physical education twice a week and “GoNoodle” exercises get them out of their seats, running in place, practising breathing mechanics, doing yoga stretches and dancing. This sort of aerobic activity stimulates the cardiovascular system and releases endorphins. Right away the children feel better, invigorated and more inclined to work with one another. By the time they return to their seats the increased oxygen flow has primed the pumps, making them more receptive to learning.
There is a mindfulness activity for every mood. Waholl says each day after recess students sit down to participate in guided video exercises which help them to slow down, re-center and take control of emotions. “Flow” is a reflective thinking exercise wherein students visualize the concept of clearing their mind, focusing only on the present moment. For example, eliminating stress by visualizing their inhaled breath and following it through the body until the restless air is exhaled. Or letting go of worry by visualizing the slow release of a balloon up into the sky. Students are also guided to close their eyes and listen carefully to specific sounds around them – this encourages an awareness of their surroundings and a connection to the present moment.
It’s a great transition from the free-for-all of the outdoors to the structured setting of the classroom.
Waholl began pairing mindfulness activities with classwork two years ago and she has noticed big changes across the board: in their academic work, social interaction, physical mobility and confidence. She says the outcome of infusing conscious awareness into every day lessons have been wonderful for building a peaceful and supportive community within her classroom.
When it comes to improving social conscientiousness, “Think About It” is structured like a traditional Mantra or quote – repeating a positive statement to train the brain. It includes discussion topics dealing with anger, frustration, or a racing mind as well as awareness topics: “How do be a good friend”, “How to speak up”, “Being kind to the environment” or “Random Acts of Kindness”.
The mentality of training ourselves to become less reactive and more thoughtful, practicing introspection in terms of our behavior and what we are hoping to achieve through our actions. Developing the simple habit of breathing through stress to manage our anxiety.
Rediscovering our focus is to find mindfulness, in mindlessness.
Waholl says, ideally, bringing these philosophies home to share with family would help students integrate the concepts. Exposing kids to this kind of foundation is a focus with far-reaching potential, possibly setting the tone for a lifetime.
(Photo courtesy of GoNoodle.com)