Mindfulness is a pathway to well-being that has been explored this year across D-E and especially within the Lower School. According to Psychology Today, “Mindfulness is a state of active, open attention to the present.” Here’s a look at how some Lower School teachers incorporate mindfulness in their work with the children each day.
Science and Mindfulness
Contributed by Beth Lemire, Fourth Grade Science Teacher
When studying the Hudson River this year, fourth graders were asked to consider many aspects of the river. They were to look not only from a scientific environmental viewpoint but also through cultural and personal lenses as well. Albert Einstein once said, “Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.” Using mindful practices to do just that brought new depth and understanding to the children’s thinking that I would not have been able to witness in any other way.
After learning how to focus on relaxing their bodies and breathing, the children were able to visualize being on top of Mount Marcy, where the Hudson River begins. Some beautifully vivid “guided imagery” stories were born from this activity. The children kept up this approach as they journeyed virtually all the way from the river’s source down to the North Atlantic, with descriptions of the sights and sounds being experienced along the way. When building their own miniature waterway within our Lower School Exploratorium, it was clear that the children had taken on the essence of the river and its contributions from an enhanced perspective, increasing their understanding of the environmental impact of this natural resource, and the importance of protecting and sustaining its health.
Art and Mindfulness
Contributed by Elisa Garcia, Fourth Grade Art Teacher
After developing a dedicated practice of yoga, tai chi, meditation and mindfulness in my personal life as well as immersing myself in nature, I have a deep appreciation for stillness. With a silent mind, it is easy to observe, recognize and let go of resistance in all forms.
While contemplating deepening our practice in visual art as a community of learners for the approaching school year, I signed up for a mindfulness seminar organized by the Dwight-Englewood Learning & Teaching Academy (DELTA). I can truly say this was one of the most profound educational workshops that I have attended. It was carefully crafted for the exposure of mindfulness in a learning community and provided ample participation as to lend itself to true future practice for myself and the other attendees. My Dwight-Englewood colleagues and I left the workshop exhilarated with the anticipation of using what we had learned.
During the workshop, the instructor shared multiple techniques for introducing mindfulness to children of all ages. Each technique had a different point of interest. The one that struck me the most and that I chose to incorporate was teaching children to focus on their breathing in order to improve attention. Each day, classes ranging from kindergarten through fourth grade would come to art and use the first few minutes to focus their attention on their breathing, allowing their minds to be still and create a deep quiet space, in which they could center themselves. Naturally, some children struggled with this initially, but there were others who quickly gave themselves over to the concept of stillness. In time, they each began to experience the benefits of creating a quiet mind and space.
Over the course of several weeks, I witnessed children coming into the studio requesting to lead or guide our focused sessions. The students would keep track of who was next to lead, thus fostering independence. Each child initiated his or her own style of mindfulness while verbally guiding the other children in relaxing the mind and focusing attention on breathing from their core. I began to notice that dedicating a few minutes at the beginning of each session gave meaning to our entire class. Children were more focused, intentional, and confident.
This soon grew to, “Ms. Garcia, today I really need it, I need at least four minutes, I need five minutes!” and “Ms. Garcia, I can’t wait! Can I lead our mindfulness right away?” Children began negotiating with me and with one another to demonstrate what mindfulness looks like and sounds like in a learning community. The children began sharing their own personal stories about how mindfulness has improved their quality of life. Children started reporting that they felt more tranquil, more peaceful inside; they no longer worried. When one student used to have trouble falling asleep at night, he practiced his deep breathing and found that he could experience deeper rest. There has been a flood of appreciation for our practice and journey together. Children looked forward to exchanging their experiences on a daily basis. Our mindfulness journey within our Swartley Gallery studio has led, I believe, to our children experiencing a glimpse of enlightenment!