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 Lloyd Mitchell
Over the last few weeks, seventh graders have been exploring the idea of what it means to be an active listener. Building on our recent activities with practice of listening with our peers, today we took the experience in a new direction by exploring the idea of being an active listener in nature. Taking advantage of the beautiful weather, we went to our outdoor classroom and each person found a spot where they were not within eye-sight of anyone else and sat for 20 minutes in silence. As the activity carried on, man-made noises came into the picture and heightened our experience. After the time was up, we reconvened as a group and talked about the experience. Many commented on noticing that as they sat, their hearing became attuned to the animals and leaves. Others noted the feeling of the wind and as they sat, the more they could feel the chill in the air. Many commented on how difficult the noise made the experience as more noise became a factor. The experience was a success. Students were able to heighten their senses and at the same time realize how busy our own lives are and how necessary it is to take the time to become attuned to nature. We ended our activity watching a short Ted Talk by Louie Schwartzberg on Nature and Gratitude which gave great closure to our activity.
Posted by Faith Barbuto
Halloween is the perfect backdrop to delve into fears! Together, our kindergarten community talked about the things that frighten us, discussing how what is scary to one person may not be to another. We pondered why people sometimes like being scared, how it feels to be scared and most importantly, how to deal with it. We wrote about and drew pictures of our nightmares and shared them as a group. During one activity, we took the drawings and stamped on them and crumpled them up, saying ” You aren’t real! You don’t scare me!” The crumpled up nightmares were hidden away in a closet for safekeeping. Another day we wrote about the scariest things we could think of – spiders, monsters, dying and I explained that being scared of things doesn’t make them go away, in fact worrying about them just makes them seem more real! Instead, we decided we would not let these things scare us! We gleefully ripped our papers into pieces and threw them into the air shouting, ” I am not afraid anymore!”
Posted by Krissy Ponden
The sixth graders journeyed into Unquowa’s outdoor campus and worked in small groups to create environmental artworks inspired by Andy Goldsworthy. Using the most ubiquitous of materials to create incredible sculptures of ephemeral wonder, Goldsworthy designs intricate manipulations of the natural world which highlight the subtle beauty and elegance inherent in everything around us. He frequently tempts the inevitable tides of rivers by placing his fragile sculptures in the path of the water’s flow. Goldsworthy explains that it is what happens after he does his part that is the true art–the changes and evolution spurred on by the environment. Our students enjoyed this exercise in mindful design, and younger students are sure to be inspired to create their own works of art during their outdoor time!
Posted by Craig Knebel
In sixth grade, we continue to stretch the definition of what it means to “be mindful.” Both in our homeroom TLS, dynamic, stress reduction exercises, and in advisory we learn about the term through hands on practice. Recently, we set up stations out on the field so sixth graders could explore and compare mindfulness practices three ways. One way was through sensory deprivation and mindful awareness with Mr. Knebel; another was mindfulness when around others with Mrs. Sylvestro; and the third was a quiet mindfulness walk in the woods with Mr. Werner.
Posted by Faith Barbuto
The Unquowa kindergarten class has embarked on a quest for kindness! It started with us writing kind notes to each other. Next, we sneakily left notes of kindness on all the cars in the parking lot. So many people’s days were made by our simple sentiments! Inspired by the idea of one kindergartner, we undertook a daunting task to write a note for every student in our school. We really enjoyed writing the notes and then sneaking around the school to leave them in cubbies or slipped into lockers! Once they found a note from us, students were asked to post them on the bulletin board in the main hall and then to take a blank heart to pay the kindness forward! We were thrilled to then find notes in our cubbies, showing how an act of kindness can come full circle! Special eighth grade helpers collaborated with us to write personal notes to each of their own classmates. After discussing ways to share kindness at home, students wrote about how they showed kindness to their family members. One student remarked, “It makes me feel good inside when I do something nice for my brother!” We explored showing kindness to all living things. We even turned it into a science activity, using a tank of water to show how even tiny acts of kindness can cause ripples! Last but certainly not least, we used yoga and positive thinking to practice being kind to ourselves. Our next goal is perform acts of kindness in the community. You can see the fruits of our labor as you walk through the main hall, please be inspired to share some kindness in your day.
Posted by Krissy Ponden
The eighth graders have been working on a printing project involving radial design to create elaborate mandalas. From the Sanskrit, “mandala” means essence or center and is closely related to the idea of a circle. In many Eastern religions, mandalas have been used as a spiritual teaching tool to help focus one’s thoughts and evoke peace. Most impressive are the ephemeral sand mandalas, painstakingly created by Buddhist monks as a form of meditation on the concept of impermanence. The students started their mandalas with an eighth of a circle. They created a design and then carved it into a printing block. If the design was symmetrical, they were ready to print. If not, they had to carve the reverse of their design onto the back of the block. They then printed eight times in a circle to complete the pattern. Next, they designed an extension of the image in the margins of the paper. This image was then copied over and over until the radial pattern was finished, and the intricate mandalas were then colored with markers and chalk.
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.