AJA Teachers Promote Mindfulness in the First Grade Classroom
First-graders at AJA learn mindful movement through yoga. Credit: Kayla Lane.
By Kayla Solomon-Lane
Nowadays, the importance of mindfulness is a mainstream idea, and teachers are urged to incorporate it as much as possible. While the concept is old, the term is novel. So what shifted to warrant mindfulness be taught explicitly? Teachers know that students are stressed, anxious and often not equipped with social and emotional skills to deal with these realities.
Mindfulness is being aware of all external and internal experiences in any given moment; it is being present. First grade is a momentous year of development for children, and mindfulness is a necessity with students, achieved through explicit exercises, activities and teacher modeling. Students, teachers and parents need it, and AJA teachers integrate mindfulness in the classroom in five different ways.
First, teachers build mindfulness through breathing. Breath controls how calm the body and mind are, and practicing different types of breathing allows students to develop this technique during angry or upsetting situations and transitions. Teachers model their own use of mindful breathing to students, and first-graders do breathing exercises such as four-square breathing, belly breaths, and exercises from Conscious Discipline, such as STAR (Smile, take a deep breath, and relax).
Second, AJA first-graders practice mindfulness through sensory engagement; students tune in to what they can taste, hear, smell, see and touch. This helps children focus on their surroundings, the external environment around them. Students play I Spy to find something they have not noticed before, go on noticing walks to listen for sounds of life, and write poems using mindful eating. Research abounds on the connection between being in nature and mindfulness, and AJA classes garden and interact daily with nature in many different ways.
Third, AJA first-graders learn about mindfulness through meditation practices. The class does guided imagery meditations and sound meditations to help preview new class topics, guide students through emotions, and practice focusing on what is happening right now.
Fourth, classes use movement to practice mindfulness, which is absolutely crucial for young children. First-graders at AJA do yoga at least twice a week, and slow-motion running connects students to being aware of the body.
Lastly, and arguably the most important, teachers use kindness practices to teach mindfulness, to be aware of others and learn compassion. During morning meeting, first-graders greet each other with mindfulness, using “eye-to-eye” to practice eye contact with each other. “Mindful kindness” is something teachers try to model out loud and incorporate into all the other practices.
A student’s parent once said, “Mindfulness is paying attention with kindness.” AJA is such a joyful place to work, and teachers love having the chance to practice mindfulness during so many different aspects of each day, believing it is one of the most important skills to help students foster in themselves. ■