Mindfulness is a hot topic in education these days. There are scores of research that can now unequivocally demonstrate the actual benefit of mindfulness in children’s ability to be present in learning. There are even organizations cropping up that will come to schools and consult on how to integrate mindfulness into the classroom.
As a longtime yogi and fairly consistent practitioner of meditation, I have been interested in the impact of mindfulness in early education and curious about how it is best approached in a classroom of active young children.
Last year, (see previous blog entries!) I had a challenging group of very physical, very competitive, very domineering boys in my class. I struggled during our meeting times to get these boys to settle down and give others a chance to talk. The group of them seemed so anxious to be heard, to be first, to be right … it was overwhelming for us all. There was a certain energy to these boys that seemed off; a quality different from the usual on-the-go 4 year old. They were in a frenzy and unfocused and unsettled.
I asked my yoga teacher one night if she had any experience teaching meditation to kids. It was hard to imagine this group being able to embrace a time of quiet introspection. The yoga teacher suggested I try a “bubble meditation” where each child is given a short time – say 2 minutes – of guided meditation where they imagine themselves in a bubble, alone, with all the things that make themselves feel peaceful and safe and happy. My job was to guide them through this meditation and then we would discuss after.
When I tried this for the first time, the kids took to it quickly. The particular group of boys kept wanting to shout out what was in their bubble but we established rules of silence until the end of the meditation. I let the kids who were most quiet describe what was in their bubble. As time went on, the class built up more and more endurance for this practice and they looked forward to it every day.
One particular little boy in the class surprised me. He was an aggressive and competitive kid and was exhausting for teachers to manage. And, yes, he loved the bubble meditation. He requested it on days it wasn’t on our schedule. When he was feeling off, he drew pictures of himself in his bubble.
When it was his turn to share, he explained that he was alone in his bubble and all the bad guys were outside the bubble floating around but couldn’t get in. The class laughed when he described his bubble – they thought he was joking. Most of the other kids had described bubbles full of glitter and nice music and soft clouds.
It occurred to me that mindfulness is sometimes about shutting yourself away from the bad, scary stuff. For a 4 or 5 year old, where fear tends to be such a big theme, this is the first rule of meditation. This little boy felt a sense of refuge, I imagined, when he was in the bubble and the bad guys were on the outside. And this kind of imagery was important for him to settle himself down.
He drew a picture of himself in his bubble one day when he was upset about something. He added some hearts in his bubble and a fantastic drawing of himself in the lotus position. I kept it and sometimes look at it when I want to be reminded of the power of mindfulness.