Mindfulness Practices in the Classroom
Teachers have begun incorporating mindfulness techniques such as gratitude circles, peace corners, mindful walks and guided listening and contemplative breathing into their classroom activities, advisory and homerooms in ways that encourage focus and reduce stress.
Posted by Carlene Gordon
Our fourth graders are fully engaged in the benefits of mindfulness! Each day in the classroom, we start by opening all the windows, turning off the lights and ringing a chime to signal “Two minutes of mindful listening”. During these two minutes, students are encouraged to practice a recently learned breathing technique or affirmation. We use “square or triangle breathing”, “4:8 breathing” or “heart and belly breath”. Through the use of affirmations, students are learning to offer kind words to others and especially to ourselves. We began thinking of a loved one and then repeating silently in our minds, “May you be happy…May you be healthy…May you be safe…May you be strong”. Then we practiced this same matra focusing on ourselves. Students brainstormed more possible personal affirmations as well, “You are brave…You are kind…You are generous…”. Students were asked, “How do you feel after silently repeating an affirmation to yourself?” The responses included: “I feel safe, I feel calm, I feel ready for the day…”
Later in the day, at lunch time, our fourth graders combine mindfulness practice with leadership skills. Each day, two fourth graders ring the bell and announce to the student body what the chefs have prepared for lunch. Afterwards, the fourth graders lead the dining room in a breathing technique, yoga pose or affirmation before the food is served. This has served as a terrific way to center ourselves, take a moment to breath, acknowledge gratitude and realign for our afternoon at Unquowa. We are so proud of the commitment and leadership and mindfulness skills fourth graders are developing and sharing.
Posted by Faith Barbuto
The peace corner is typically an integral part of my classroom. In it students can find items to touch, shake or squeeze to learn to regulate their changing emotions and calm themselves down. This year, with COVID precautions limiting how many communal spaces and objects are part of our day, I was left looking for a way to recreate this space for each student. Enter mindfulness to go bags – each child has a labeled bag to keep in his or her chair pouch for easy access. We have added sensory items like bubble wrap, peacock feathers and pom-poms to soothe us when we are upset. Students loved harvesting lavender from the Unquowa garden to create sachets we use for aromatherapy. We even created some for our teachers! A favorite activity was making calm down jars filled with glitter and special sequins to symbolize the people and places that make us feel safe. Each day after lunch we take out our yoga mats and bring a special item from our kit to relax ourselves. Sometimes we do calming yoga together. It is my goal to help students identify their feelings and find appropriate strategies to handle them. I believe it is the most important tool I can give them for a happy life!
Posted by Carlene Gordon
Each day after dessert has been enjoyed and the tables are cleared, the final lunch time bell rings out and Lower School students’ attention turns toward the two fourth grade student leaders standing at the front of the room. These two fourth grade leaders announce and demonstrate the activity of the day. Some days it is a breathing technique such as square breathing or 4:8 breaths other days it is yoga pose or a mindful activity such as mirroring. The remaining fourth graders remain at their tables to help guide students and teachers there. Through these brief practices, all of the students are learning to take a few moments at the end of a meal to recenter, refocus and breath in preparation for an afternoon of continued learning, exploration and fun at The Unquowa School.
Posted by Wendy Kerr
On Monday, during Morning Meeting, third graders practiced 3-part breathing with a “breathing buddy.” Students learned that often we only use a small portion of our breathing capacity and that can make us feel unfocused and sluggish. The three part breath begins in the belly, expands through lungs and reaches all the way up to our shoulders! It helps to send freshly oxygenated blood throughout our body making us feel more focused and alert. This was a particularly useful strategy on our first morning back to school after a long break!
Next, students practiced “active listening” with their partners. One person shared about their experiences over the break, while the other truly listened and then repeated back what they had heard. Partners reported feeling that the other person was really listening and heard all that they had to say. We will continue to build our listening muscle in 2020!
Posted by Carlene Gordon
Each Thursday afternoon, our fourth graders participate in a new mindfulness activity. This week was an activity called, “Mirror Hands.” Facing a partner, partners rubbed their hands together to create warmth and then joined palms. One student lead the other student’s movements in silence. Students were required to focus on their partner’s subtle signals to follow moves. After a while, the teacher directed partners to switch and the activity continued. As a challenge, students were then instructed to switch leaders without a cue from the teachers and remain silent. Later the activity was attempted standing up without touching. Great focus and teamwork, fourth graders!
Posted by Lloyd Mitchell
The amount of noise in today’s world continues to grow, and sometimes we forget the genuine peace of the nature around us. Recently, seventh graders embarked on a mindful activity designed to help attune their senses to their surroundings. Each seventh grader chose a spot around the field area or woods where they were out of sight and earshot of each other and spent 25 minutes simply listening and reconnecting. At the end of the 25 minutes, they came back together to talk about what the experience was like and as always, many became much more aware of the nature around them! We plan to do this activity again in the winter when the elements play a role in the nature around us and for a longer period of time. The experience was enriching for all!
Our School-Wide Initiative
“Mindfulness in education brings active, open attention to the present moment into the classroom. Teachers and students who practice it can increase their focus and attention and reduce their anxiety.”
—Jon Kabat-Zinn, Founding Executive Director of the Center for Mindfulness
After a year of planning, researching and teacher training, Unquowa launched a school-wide mindfulness initiative in the fall of 2013 for our children, faculty and families.
In late August of 2013, several faculty participated in a weeklong mindfulness training for educators at The Omega Institute in New York, and Head of School, Sharon Lauer, attended a related weekend conference for school leaders. Our entire faculty spent two days on retreat prior to the start of school that year to familiarize themselves with the Inner Resilience Program, the curriculum chosen for our school. To launch the program, Linda Lantieri, director of The Inner Resilience Program and author of Building Emotional Intelligence, spoke to a group of one hundred Unquowa parents that fall about how this program would be integrated into our school life and consequently support the emotional and social components of our children’s lives, both in and out of school.
Roll-out of this initiative began in the fall of 2013 and has continued to grow. We are fortunate to have Linda Lantieri running a year-long training series for parents each year from November through March. Teachers have begun incorporating mindfulness techniques such as gratitude circles, peace corners, mindful walks and guided listening and contemplative breathing into their classroom activities, advisory and homerooms in ways that encourage focus and reduce stress.
Each year we send additional faculty to Daniel Rechtschaffen’s summer training for educators at The Omega Institute, and our school is deeply involved in writing and developing curriculum for building self-care and empathy through the Mind and Life Institute. Because this initiative is schoolwide, it allows for drawing some powerful conclusions about the impact mindful practices and connected social-emotional learning can have on children and the importance of including this practice as a standard part of teach training.