Wholehearted (adjective) whole·heart·ed: completely and sincerely devoted, determined, or enthusiastic
Heartfulness (noun) heart·ful·ness: a beneficial state of positive qualities-like kindness, gratitude, and generosity-leading to greater well-being.
Heartfulness is a key support of mindfulness practice. In my opinion, this is where we can begin effective mindfulness practice with our youngest ones. Asking a two year old to practice “intentional sitting” can be tricky all in itself. They will likely just take off in the opposite direction on you -at least that is what my twins do! But that’s where we call in our creative side. Tap into our personal interests and the interests of our child(ren). I’m not suggesting that you have to go all out with this creativity, but rather just use things that you already have around the house. Keep it simple. ;-)
Creating the Space: Imagine creating space in our week to explore all of the people that we love. We can do this in a special seated location, such as on a pillow, blanket or cushion that is made especially for our little one. To keep the toddler hands occupied, add in an object that is special to the child; a toy, stuffed animal, crystal rock, plant or picture. Join your child in the same fashion as you share a few intimate minutes together in this unique, special space made just for you.
We will likely need to model the first few times, but once the habit is rolling, we may just find that it becomes the best part of the week as we savor the sweetness of a child’s heart. Listing the many people that we love, sending happy thoughts to someone that we miss, giving all of the reasons why we love someone on our list... these are the moments that can make our hearts FULL and get us through the more challenging ones.
Ever wonder about the scientific side of things? Emotional regulation is a key benefit of mindfulness. By creating this space in your week for heartfulness practice, you are strengthening the developing amygdala part of the brain that is responsible for emotional responses, as well as the prefrontal cortex that is responsible for making decisions in response to emotions. SOOOO, we are essentially training our child’s brain to pause after getting stepped on by a sibling and swinging back in response. Stimulus-Pause-Response. That’s a win in this house!!
Let’s get real here. A stellar eye roll will accompany the thought of adding one more thing to our classroom plans or our home schedules. But what if a quick one minute activity could easily save you at least twice as much in time AND benefit the well-being of a child?
Attending and transitions can be time consuming for elementary kiddos (especially in the PreK/K age range). However, if we can find ways to tap their focus, we can potentially save time over the course of a day, week, and school year. I can attest to the experiences with my own young UPK-ers that the implementation of a few mindful practices each day has made a tremendous impact on their ability to attend, regain focus, and ultimately care for themselves and one another.
Mindful Minute Practices for Toddler, Preschool & Elementary-Aged Children:
Smell the Flower, Blow the Dandelion
This is all about deep breathing. We tap into the imagination and our senses with this exercise.
Script Sample: Imagine a field of yellow flowers. Reach down and pick up the perfect flower for you. Now hold it close to your nose. Breath in to smell it’s wonder; 1-2-3-4-5. Now, blow out to spread the dandelion seeds all over the field, 6-7-8-9-10. Repeat 2+ times.
The goal is that not only will this breathing activity help to regain focus in the current setting, but it is one that the child can learn to apply independently as needed.
(I also love that this secretly weaves in counting to 10 for our youngest learners!)
This experience activates a brief vacation from reality using the imagination. It is a focused activity with a phonological twist. The teacher, parent or lead student will choose a letter to guide the brief mindful minute (typically a little humorous).
Script Sample: The letter “M” is chosen. Close your eyes and picture the letter “M” symbol. Now I want you to picture a monkey. In your mind, say “monkey.” Feel the /m/ beginning sound on your lips. Now picture the monkey eating a meal of bananas. Peel the banana. Give the monkey a bite, now you take a bite. “Mmm” you both say. Along comes a monkey friend named Max. They decide to make banana milkshakes together. They blend up the bananas and the milk-can you hear the blender churning? Max reaches up and takes the top off...splat! The milk sprays all over and makes a huge mess!
You get the idea...;-) This is always “off the cuff” so as long as you have a decent imagination, you should be good to go!
Balancing Act (with Imaginative Toys)
Give each child a item. It can be anything-literally. We often use beanbags or plastic counting bears. The kiddos then use this item as a pretend favorite toy. We balance the item on different parts of the body. As we breathe in and out, we take note of the toy movements. The concentration will also help the “favorite toy” from falling to the ground.
Children can be sitting or lying down for this activity. Prompt them through body part isolations. That is, they “squish” their face in and then relax. Then they “squish” their arms in and relax. Continue to prompt from one end of the body to another. This is something that they can use as a coping tool during moments of anger or frustration, rather than acting out.
This is My Heart
This experience is about gratitude. Race/Jump/Hop/Skip/etc for 1 minute to get the heart rate up. Then freeze and feel the heartbeat. Think about what it feels like, sounds like, and what it would look like inside your body hard at work. As it is beating, circularly massage it 3x while whispering thank you for all that it gives to us in each moment (strength, love, friendship, etc).
These are just a handful of ideas that you now have the power to integrate into your classroom or home. I encourage you to pick just one to try for a week. You never know what you may discover within children, and yourself...
Kindness given is kindness returned
Snowball Effect: descriptive of an entity or situation where something once small and relatively insignificant grows exponentially at a swift pace, engulfing everything in its path. As it descends down a snowy hill, it gathers more snow and whatever leaves, sticks, etc. are in its way. ~urbandictionary.com
Is this not something that we live for as parents? As educators? Moments when we realize that our children are empowering one another and creating a positive impact. If only were as easy it sounds! ;-)
As a pre-kindergarten teacher, we try our best to model acts of kindness and recognize them publicly when we witness tender actions being taken by children in our school community. However, often it comes primarily from the staff members recognizing the students, not necessarily the students recognizing each other. This was the path that my TA & I were on until December of this year when I came across an old picture. It was a photo of six of my fourth grade students speaking in front of a school-wide PBIS (Positive Behavioral Interventions & Supports) assembly. They held up a self-designed “SNI” logo, surrounded themselves with stacks of sticky notes and showcased smiles filled with pride and hope.
*SNI: Sticky Notes Incorporated. The idea that the kids were empowered to present to the school was one of student to student recognition. If you witnessed or experienced a random act of kindness, you were to jot it down on a sticky note and plop it onto the hallway walls. The goal being to cover the walls with kindness from end to end. And boy, did we do just that...and ensured a custodial nightmare for two weeks!
That memory challenged me. Yes, they were 10 year olds mindfully recognizing one another, but why couldn’t my 4 & 5 year olds try that, too? So we did. Shifting the ownership to the kiddos to cheerfully give and receive compliments took on a world of its own. Are they sometimes literal, such as “L told me that she likes my shirt,” and her pants, her shoes and her book bag...LOL. Of course they are! But they still make each other smile and they are purposeful moments created by being aware of the present.
As the days go on, the compliments and acts of kindness are gaining depth. Realizing that we were witnessing a true “snowball effect,” as new children joined in on creating moments of kindness each day, we don’t want to stop the descension on the snowy hill. There are still people to pick up along the way! With some basic white copy paper cut into circles and a bulletin board, our Mountain of Kindness is taking on an incredible slope of its own.
“Make an effort to live in cheerful kindness. When you are kind to others, you receive kindness in return.” ~Dr. Wayne W. Dyer
the blog Space
I'm obsessed. This is fabulous. LOVE that you are doing this. The new way of being a student forces us to think outside the box and approach how we teach more dynamically.
~Derek, Father of 2 and Elementary School Principal
Just a girl with a dream to collectively build a healthy mind space for children, while creating a healthier mind space for ourselves.
Copyright Healthy Mind Space 2019