In reflecting on our current landscape, the word juxtaposition comes to mind. While many of us may feel stagnant in our day-to-day routines, we are surrounded by polarity. Polarity of health and sickness, of plentitude and scarcity. There is an overabundance of information that moves at an exhausting pace, yet without much shift in content. There is privilege alongside historically underserved groups. And then there is the polarity of our emotions, which may swing from optimistic to overwhelming at a moment’s notice. As a tool to manifest some groundedness amongst all of this, our teachers have been incorporating mindfulness practices into the distance learning curricula that we’re providing for families. As early childhood educators, we have always relied on the practice of social and emotional learning as a central pillar of education, mindfulness included.
The practice of mindfulness presents many benefits to our mental, emotional, and physical health. Benefits for the brain include increasing frontal cortex activity, which leads to expanded abilities for rational thinking and planning. Over time this practice can decrease feelings of fear and anxiety. This is especially important for young children, as described by David Gelles of The New York Times, “While our brains are constantly developing throughout our lives, connections in the prefrontal circuits are created at their fastest rate during childhood.”
When regularly in session at school, our older three year old class with Morah Katie and Morah Ellen have a daily practice of sharing in three cleansing breaths followed by a full minute of silence, which they now continue together over their Zoom calls each week. This takes on varying forms as the use of creative imagery guides them: dinosaurs, volcanic activity, or animals. I have joined their class for this exercise several times, and each time I am struck by how much more centered I feel afterwards. Here are some additional mindfulness practices for youth (or adults!) from our early childhood educators:
From Morah Erika (Toddler class)
“Our intent with “Nature Sitting” is to encourage your child to take a moment to observe what is going on around them in nature. It’s a way to slow down our bodies and our minds.
We can ask leading questions but remember that this is a calm activity. Silence is alright - we can hear the birds better that way, and you might even hear a squirrel going by. We’d like to validate whatever your child feels, hears, smells, or sees that they want to share with you, of course - maybe they point up to the sky, which would be a great time to validate them in what they’re seeing. Are they pointing at a cloud? Or a bird? Or the tops of the trees?”
Mindfulness Scavenger Hunt
From Morah Jade (Young three year olds)
“Here is a scavenger hunt that will encourage you to use those 5 incredible senses. What can you see, smell, hear, taste, and touch? Grab a bag or basket, and let’s see if you can collect items that utilize all your senses!
Find 3 things you can see.
Find 1 thing you can smell.
Find 2 things you can taste.
Find 5 things you can touch.
Find 2 things you can hear.”
The Gratitude Game
From Morah Kim (PreKindergarten)
This game uses the idea of “Pick up Sticks” as an opportunity to talk about the things that your family is grateful for. If you don’t have pick up sticks you can give your kiddo skewers or toothpicks to color. That would be fine motor activity that would also take some time and concentration. You could also add stickers to Jenga pieces and do it by sticker instead of color.
I hope you’ve found some inspiration in these ideas from our educators, and I encourage you to take a closer look at this article from The New York Times. It outlines the benefits of a mindfulness practice across age groups and suggests simple ways we can all bring the practice of mindfulness into our daily lives. I invite you to join me in manifesting some calm and groundedness in your life, one dinosaur breath at a time!