I continued this year to work on teaching mindfulness to my students. This year’s class had different dynamics than the previous year. We had several special needs students and a very inclusive group of children that allowed me to concentrate on our classroom community.
Many of this year’s group seemed to have had some exposure to meditation. When I first mentioned it, they quickly criss-crossed their legs, put their hands palms up on their knees and sat, eyes closed, making little “mmmmm” noises.
“This is meditation,” they told me.
We talked about breath and how it was an important part of meditation. Several kids began exaggeratedly hyper-ventilating. After trying that, they all decided that didn’t feel too calming. I had the kids put their hand on their belly and feel the air rise and fall slowly like a big balloon.
Every morning when we did this little ritual, many kids began to yawn. When kids are running around and not taking deep breaths, they often feel the need to yawn when they finally calm down. Yawning helps to get really deep, slow breaths and calm the nervous system.
As anyone who has worked with young children knows, it is difficult to get them to sit still and be present. This class’ meditation was about listening. Every morning, I would ask them to sit in a “super comfy” position. The whole class would shift around until they felt settled. Then I would ask them to get as still as they could and begin to listen to sounds around them.
In the beginning, they would shout out what they heard but as time went on, they learned to resist that urge and hold on until the end of the meditation. This was an important lesson in impulse control. We would sit together, me with my watch in my hand, for two minutes (it’s helpful for kids to know there is an end in sight and that someone is keeping track of it) and just listen in stillness.
We could hear the classroom fish tank gurgling. We could hear the kids in the classroom next door. We could hear the overhead fans. We could hear shuffling around of other teachers. We could hear cars driving by. The kids sat still and breathed and listened.
At the end of this meditation, I silently held up 10 fingers and counted down. For some kids, the end of the meditation was a relief. For others, it was a disappointment. We always whispered when it was time to share what we heard, just as a way of keeping in the mindset of listening.
This two-minute meditation became an important ritual in our classroom that the kids always reminded me of if I forgot. “We can’t forget our meditation!” They genuinely looked forward to it. It was a way for them to start their day being calm and present. Listening to sounds around them was a way to focus on something outside of themselves while still being very grounded in themselves.
In the end, this meditation felt like it reinforced our classroom community. The kids sat side by side in their little private meditation but all listening to the same world around them. Not only was it powerful as a self-regulation tool, but it was bonding in a way.
People who have meditated in a group know that it’s a vastly different experience than doing it alone. There is something about the group energy. In an early childhood classroom, you feel this too.
As our year progressed and the kids became professional little meditators, they would often turn to one another at the end and want to hear each other’s experiences. “What did you hear?” they would ask the person next to them. “Were you breathing?” This sense of belonging and shared experience may be one of the great benefits of mindfulness.