This year, Jacksonville Country Day School teachers are incorporating mindfulness practice into Morning Meeting and other parts of the day such as “brain breaks.” In a recent Morning Meeting in Rose Ennis’ Kindergarten class, students used the described breathing technique — called “Spider Man Breathing” — before they transitioned into the day’s academic lessons.
Similarly, a mindfulness technique used in 3rd grade is called “Drain.” In this exercise, children exhale and relax all their muscles and drain out the stress. Another one is “Smile, Take a Deep Breath, and Relax” (STAR), which encourages breathing from the belly and helps children learn to exhale more slowly than they inhale. They also do “Pretzel,” a stretching exercise, and “Balloon,” which combines imagination and breathing into a pretend balloon. Using these techniques, students learn how to remain calm in tense situations, like when taking an important test. These four techniques come from the book Conscious Discipline, which teachers at JCDS have been studying as part of their professional development.
Teachers at JCDS see that these mindfulness techniques build their students’ self–control and self-regulation skills. This is important because “self-control is the foundation of good behavior,” 3rd grade Associate Teacher Teresa Gore said.
According to MindUp, a mindfulness program for young people developed by the Hawn Foundation, “By focusing attention and controlling breath, children can learn to reduce stress and optimize the learning capacity of the brain.” Similar mindfulness techniques are used “in training programs at companies like Google, Facebook, Aetna, General Mills, Ford, and Goldman Sachs,” the Harvard Business Review reported (October 2016).
Third grade student Catherine said, “If you’re really stressed, these exercises calm you down so you can focus.” Aayush, also in third grade at JCDS, added, “If your heart is beating fast, you can slow down the heart with breathing.” Another classmate, Zeenat, said, “If you’re out of control, you can use the breathing techniques to calm down.”
In addition to breathing techniques, many JCDS teachers, including 6th grade Lead Teacher Gomati Sutaria, have incorporated yoga stretches such as tree and eagle poses into daily classroom routines. “Students are learning how to use breathing to control what their bodies and minds do,” Ms. Sutaria said.
From an early age, children today experience stress (including the pressure to achieve). According to a joint National Association of Independent Schools and the Independent School Health Association study, stress and academic pressure were the most common student complaints during the 2013-14 school year. Further, most students feel more pressure from themselves than from parents of teachers, especially girls, the study reported.
Mindfulness practice has been shown to decrease stress and anxiety, increase attention, improve interpersonal relationships, and strengthen compassion. Tamar Mendelson, an associate professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health who specializes in mental health, told CNN, “giving these kids the chance to breathe deeply, to focus their attention on themselves rather than what's going on externally, can be an effective way to combat the stress, improve attention and usher in calm.
The mindfulness techniques students at JCDS are learning will help prepare them for future academic and career success by teaching them how to handle stress and pressure in positive and constructive ways. Students are learning to be in control of their emotions, and not the other way around.
Mindful Teaching and Learning
- Improve children’s self-control and self-regulation skills
- Strengthen children’s resiliency and decision-making skills
- Bolster children’s enthusiasm for learning
- Increase students’ academic success
- Reduce peer-to-peer conflict
- Develop children’s positive social skills, such as empathy, compassion, patience, and generosity