'Making mindfulness part of our everyday is the key to its success'
Children are naturally very busy; they expend lots of energy on playing, learning and being!
At Shepherds Hill Nursery, it has always been important to us that we teach our children to relax and rest. Everyone understands that children have to learn to walk, talk and play but equally as important; children need to learn how to rest and relax. With this in mind, mindfulness has been an important part of our nursery day since the beginning.
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The aim of teaching our children to relax and still their minds is to support them in developing a skill which will help them through difficult and challenging situations in their lives. For our very young children it may be dealing with conflict over a toy, hurting themselves in the garden or missing their mums while they are at nursery. Because the deep breathing meditation is so familiar to them, it is easy for a member of staff to talk them through the steps until they feel calm and able to deal with the situation. It is also a lovely way to show children how to relax, enjoy a quiet moment, develop clarity of mind and resolve problems.
We usually practice mindfulness after the children have had their lunch. Led by one of the adults, we get comfortable and ready for our breathing meditation. As soon as the words âlegs crossed, back straight, hands gently held in lap' are said, the children begin to settle down, close their eyes and get ready for the deep breathing exercises. We ask the children to feel the cool air entering and the warm air leaving their nostrils. Sometimes we imagine the air as sparkling light filling our lungs and bodies or we ask the children to think about something which makes them feel happy. This always makes us smile as the children, unable to quietly think a thought, whisper words such as "superman", "ice-cream", "sweets" or "princesses".
Once the children are still and quiet, we read a story or tell a tale. The children are able to focus their full attention on the story, listening carefully and engaging with the plot and characters. They can concentrate for the duration of the session (usually about 10 minutes) after which we re-settle into our meditation pose and finish off with three deep breaths before the end of relaxation time. We may also use this practice before our daily 'Get Together Times' or when someone external comes in to talk to the nursery. On occasion, we follow a slightly different format: sometimes we might talk the children through a series of stretching exercises - from their toes to their heads - which they love as it gives them all an opportunity to laugh and have fun with it.
Making mindfulness part of our everyday is the key to its success. The children expect their relaxation time, view it positively and enjoy it. The staff and children practice together and this means that if a child finds it difficult to sit and focus they can be supported by an adult. We find that all but the very youngest of our children (17-24 months) are able to take part in the breathing meditation successfully and because this is a practice which is in place, new children learn very quickly how to take part.
Perhaps because mindfulness has always been part of our day at Shepherds Hill Nursery, it is not viewed as something special or different. The children and their parents accept it as normal, just as story time, lunch time and going for a walk. It is not unusual for the children to hold their own relaxation sessions at home as part of their role play. We share our ideas with parents of children who especially benefit from the skills (such as anxious children) so that they can provide continuity of practice when the need arises.
Everything that I know and understand about mindfulness leads me to believe that it is an essential skill that all children should be taught. Being able to relax, be quiet and be calm are skills which children have to learn; they do not just happen. Once a child has mastered this skill it can be used in any situation and at any time; my youngest daughter uses it to 'drop out', calm and clear her mind before she sits a test or exam at school. My oldest daughter used it recently to help her friend who was having a panic attack at a sleep over.
I believe that the challenge for schools is to de-mystify mindfulness. It needs to become part of our everyday routine, as normal as class assembly, maths, history or PE. The regular and effective teaching of mindfulness will be a powerful tool in helping schools to maintain discipline, motivate their children and support them to learn, but above all, to lead happy and productive lives.