Educating the Whole Child
We often ask children to pay attention but do we ever teach them how to actually do this? Over the past two years, a number of our schools have been involved in teaching mindfulness to children, engaging teachers in mindfulness practice as well as teaching children a range of strategies help them direct their attention to experiences 'in the moment'. Since September, Inspire has trained over thirty teachers in the foundation course and our twelve ITT students have also embarked on mindfulness training. In the spring term, we will train a further fifteen teachers so that they can bring mindfulness to their school. If you would like to pursue an eight week training course follow this link.
The foundation programme ensures that mindfulness is learned in an accessible and practical way. By practising a range of techniques, participants learn to direct their attention in a more focused way. Those who learn mindfulness not only become more skilful in these technique, they can also break unhelpful mental habits or impulsive behaviour which can help facilitate a sense of wellbeing, reduce anxiety and help all ages to learn more effectively. This year, we have learned about the potential benefits of mindfulness and the most successful way of bring it to young people. To find out more please read on…
Our Mindful Journey – Bring Children to Mindfulness
When children are first introduced to mindfulness they encounter a number of challenges. In some contexts, children can find it difficult to listen attentively to each other or find it difficult to resist negative peer influence. It is not uncommon for the children to initially appear self- conscious. Mindfulness can be unfamiliar territory for learners and very different for their from their usual classroom routines; this of course is largely dependent on the context in which mindfulness is being taught. Like all aspect of educating children, it is important to bring them to the learning, they need to identify what is in it for them.
Along our journey through teaching mindfulness we have come to realise that the emotional climate of the classroom is very important in shaping the children’s experience. Whether mindfulness is being taught by the class teacher or a visiting mindfulness practitioner, creating an environment in which children can take risks and feel in express themselves is very important. One of the key things to agree at the outset it the kind of respectful boundaries that adult and children alike will follow.
With skilful guidance, the children very quickly engage in practices. For us, bring mindfulness to children was about managing the pace of the sessions. We noticed that the process of engaging children in purposeful, deeper thinking needed to be carefully shaped to secure high levels of engagement. Pupils’ response tended to be strongest when they were engaged in practical activities that allowed them to practise techniques. The use of visual stimulus, such as slides, helped to sustain the children’s attention and concentration. A varied approach with a carefully timed change of stimulus or activity tended to facilitate children’s journey towards slower, deeper thinking. Practical activities also provided ideal opportunities for teachers to link across other curriculum areas and a real purpose for writing.
Some of the children’s notes to record their ideas about mindfulness
Some children were less practised at listening to others. Initially, managing the length of time that children were expected to listen was important. The most skilful teachers used a range of techniques that encouraged group discussion or provided a real purpose for listening. Higher levels of pupil engagement were also secured when feedback session were carefully timed so that a wide number of children were given an opportunity to express their views. As the children became more proficient in talking about their experience of mindfulness the length of listening time could be extended. Thinking carefully about opportunities for talk and interactive feedback mechanisms kept children switched on and active but calm.
Opportunities to discuss real life experiences were a favourite with the children. Where the training was most successful were instances where pupils could reflect on their home practice. Sharing their learning periodically throughout the lessons helped to reinforce the language of mindfulness and consolidate particular techniques. This approach helped to sustain mindfulness practices long after the lessons were complete so that the children could apply what they had learned in their everyday lives. A whole range of benefits were reported by the children which included: managing anger, calming down, helping with play times, managing better in tests, helping to concentrate, makes me happy and feeling listened to. As one pupil put it, quite simply “It helps me and I don’t want it to stop”.
Here are some examples of children reflecting on their behaviour and becoming more self-aware.
Perhaps the most important thing that we have learned throughout our journey is that it is the genuine commitment and understanding of the teacher that ultimately determines the successful implementation of mindfulness within a classroom. This alone is not enough but without it, mindfulness is just another ‘curriculum bolt on’ that has little meaning to children. That is why we have partnered with Misp (Mindfulness in Schools Project) to ensure that we deliver high quality training to existing teachers and those who we are training as student teachers. If you would like to train with us please follow this link.
The following summary may help you to successfully implement mindfulness in your context.
Mindfulness can be led by the class teacher, if they are suitably trained, or a visiting teacher skilled in mindfulness practice. From the projects undertaken in our schools we have found that outcomes for children are improved if…
- The leadership of the school has an understanding of, and commitment to, teaching mindfulness.
- The class teacher spends a brief time calming the children before the mindfulness practitioner arrives. This helps to secure a readiness to learn.
- Disruption is kept to a minimum by avoiding children leaving or entering the session unless absolutely necessary. This helps to support the children’s concentration.
- The class teacher is present during the sessions so that the children feel secured by the presence of a familiar adult.
- Teachers are engaged in the staff training sessions so that they can develop their own practice and support the children between sessions.
As part of our research and development, we have considered the potential impact mindfulness can have on developing learning behaviours. This is exploratory but we have noted some interesting things. To find out more, please look at our research and development information.