We recently presented at the Utah Association for the Education of Young Children Conference (UAEYC). The following is a simple summary of our presentation for attendees to look back on and to give those who weren’t able to attend a brief insight.
We began our session with introductions of ourselves and our attendees. We had a broad mix of people who worked with a variety of ages and backgrounds. We also introduced Coriaria and shared why we care about what we do.
We first got insights from the class on what they think of when they think of Mindfulness. They shared some great words such as “intentional”, “thoughtful”, “present”, and “calm.” We then shared three details about Kabat-Zinn’s definition of mindfulness shown above: 1) “Moment-to-Moment” in relation to be present. 2) “One’s own expereince” in relation to being almost an outside observer of yourself and 3) “without judgement” in relation to letting things flow without labels.
We discussed a variety of types of mindfulness activities (we also had an additional slide we did not use that would have explained similar ideas via the Five Aggregate Model). We asked for ideas from the class on what they have tried in their classrooms. Some shared that they have done yoga with their students, others had sensory corners. We shared a personal experience in regards to nature saunters and examples of activities done in our elementary school (such as sound mapping and color observance).
We discussed the benefits of mindfulness both in personal observation as well as in peer-reviewed research.
We then made the jump to talk about mindfulness in a discipline setting. We clarified that by discipline we ultimately mean assisting a child (or yourself) in creating better personal discipline and self regulation. We discussed the difference between a time-out, which is solitary and exclusive and a “time-in”, which is a team-effort and and inclusive. We discussed why it is important to be present with children as they experience emotions and to remember that they are new to life and certain stimulatory experiences.
We continued by giving an example as to why Mindfulness works in helping a child gain control. We shared details from the book “Thinking Fast and Slow” which explains how we think in two different systems: system one (fast, more emotional thinking) and system two (slow, more deliberate thinking). By doing mindfulness activities, you’re able to walk a child from a system one thought process (instinctive and emotional) to system two (logical and deliberate). This helps a child gain control and prepare them to be able to talk with you about the situation.
We discussed how to use one-on-one mindful discipline with a child. First, you want to prepare the environment (with any materials needed and space away from any trigger). Second, make sure you use age-appropriate explanations of how to do the activity. Third, complete the activity with them. (This helps you switch systems thinking yourself, strengthens your relationship with the child, and helps them understand how to do the activty). Fourth, now that they are in system two thinking, you can talk to them about the situation and how it could change or improve. Finally, end with a positive reinforcer (which can be as simple as “thank you” or a hug). Other notes we discussed about this slide: 1. It will not go smoothly every time. Sometimes children are not capable of making the jump (often due to barriers such as hunger, lack of sleep, etc). It’s ok if it doesn’t go perfectly, but keep tying and be consistent. (We also referred to the documentary “Room to Breathe” which shows examples of this in a middle school). 2. Make sure you are weaving mindfulness into every day practices to ensure it does not become a “punishment.” Using it at non-crisis times will help children develop a toolset that is available when they need it at higher crisis times.
We then moved our focus out to discuss how you could apply this in a broader classroom scenario. (Note that there is overlap between the two). First, it is important that you as the teacher are practicing mindful discipline with yourself. Second, make it a habit in the classroom so that it is an easy go-to. Third, choose actives that are relevant to your classroom’s current needs. (If they need focus, chose a mindfulness activity that is specifically helpful for increasing focus. If they need calm, choose an activity that is specifically calming). Fourth, educate and memorize activities. Educate yourself, your classroom and especially the parents and family members. And finally end with positive reinforcement (such as gratitude for the participation even if it didn’t go exactly as planned).
This was one of the most important slides in our minds. We encouraged teachers and caregivers to connect any mindfulness they practice in the classroom with home. Building a mindful foundation with the families is what will help a child keep those skills beyond the classroom and make a life long difference. We talked about the importance of first educating and practicing with parents and family members. Then continuing the communication so that family members know exactly how mindfulness is being used in the classroom and finally we discussed the importance of giving a child something they can use to transition between school/daycare and home (such as a physical reminder, an actual mindfulness packet or object or something such as a My Mindful Mat that can be passed between places). Some other notes we discussed about this slide: 1. More important than teaching the families, is listening to them. Ask them how they approach it at home, listen to any insight they may have that could help you better practice mindfulness with their child at school. 2. Participants shared ways that they have found are useful for communicated with home such as in person meetings and apps such as bright wheel. 3. We emphasized the team effort – that you should be on your child’s team, your co-workers team and especially the child’s family’s team.
We then took a moment to do a mindful practice that involved breathing and mindful listening. Participants then shared their thoughts and personal experiences with practicing on their own (such as one mother that does mindful practices with her son who has ADHD every morning before leaving).
We then discussed the above questions, focusing mostly on #1 because of time. Participants shared some great insights such as one that was going to start by discussing that possibility of starting Mindful Discipline with an 18 month old child in her care. Another participant shared some fun insight on child-appropriate breathing techniques that others could try (such as blowing up a balloon, blowing out “candles” (finger), doing “pretzel” hands by twisting up your arms and feeling your heart beat). We unfortunately did not have time to go into much detail for questions 2 & 3, so if anyone would like to discuss those in more detail with us, we invited them to e-mail us ( [email protected]).
We very briefly went over this list of resources. My Mindful Mat was invented to help children comprehend, practice and take their mindful discipline with them. We noted that if you are going to use technology in teaching children, to make sure you are doing it with them as technically can often be counter productive to mindfulness. We pulled some of our teaching material from the videos on MindfulSchools.org (not affiliated) and explained that they have a great list of extra resources themselves.
We are so grateful for the opportunity we had to present at the UAEYC conference and are very grateful for the insights that our attendees shared. If you have more questions or if anyone is interested in having us speak more, you are welcome to e-mail us at
[email protected] THANKS!