Saturday, March 18, 2017

Mindful Games: Activities to Teach Mindfulness in the Classroom

My mantra I use in my class "Breathe, eyes closed, hear your blood flow, heart beat, mind seek, the quiet. Open your eyes and see the path, the goal of the day, and travel forward." Breathing and focusing mind and body may seem silly, but after a few weeks of doing this with my students for just a minute a day, their awareness and attention has become more focused and personal. They are using this strategy more and more. There are other simple techniques I have been incorporating slowly but surely into my classroom as well: riddles, how you see it, mindful eating, and noticing gaps, all of which I gained insight about in the book Mindful Teaching and Teaching Mindfulness: A Guide for Anyone Who Teaches Anything by Deborah Schoeberlein David and Suki Sheth PH.D.

Riddles are quick easy way to get students deeply focused and engaged, at least 12 year old's. They do love to figure things out and decipher clues. An example I used, science based of course is: Who eats a lot of iron without getting sick? (rust) There of course are endless riddles to choose from. The reason I use them is sometimes, during class after finishing a lab or activity and they are a bit hyper and I need to calm them down. So I have them get quiet close their eyes and think through the riddle. Not saying anything aloud. Then they write it down and hold up their answer quietly. This focuses them and calms them before our next task. It also clears their mind and helps them transition into another topic. Using riddles not only connects with student interest, competition and participation it also ties to connection and community because it brings the class together to solve a common problem.

How you see it is a great, quick way for students to make a connection with the tools or objects being used in a lab or activity before they begin. Mindfulness is making a distinct connection to ones own awareness. By not merely using a tool but seeing the tool (even if only mentally), understanding its shape and purpose. An activity I used was placing a paper bag with different objects on each table. Then after eyes closed/blind-folded, I dump the objects into the middle of the table for them to investigate. Mindful seeing is holding an object eyes closed, giving students about a minute to turn it over and feel it from all angles (even a screw-driver or ruler can look or feel different if we take the time to truly see and feel them). I have students make a mental list of its shape, odor if any, color, design, dimensions etc. Teach them to refocus on the object by taking deep breaths if they get distracted. Feel and sense every edge, corner, chips and texture. They can not look at the item. Then have them place all table items in a bag. I then collect the bags and dump all items onto one large table. Then I have each table group come up and identify their object and take it back to their table to investigate further and reflect. This activity calms them but also draws their focus to seeing things from a different perspective. Then during the lab or activity deeper meaning becomes apparent as they truly understand the purpose of each object used.

Let's face it, kids love to eat. Anytime they can have a snack or piece of candy, their eyes widen and smiles abound. So how can we incorporate this simple moment into a learning experience? Mindful eating. I give each student a small cup of about 4-5 goldfish or skittles. Of course checking for allergies first. Then I tell them go ahead and eat one, just one. They chomp it down not even noticing the taste or texture. This sets the baseline, so I give them no instructions except to eat one. Then I say, take another one, look at it: shape, size, smell, texture etc. Then place it in your mouth, do not chew it, just feel it on your tongue, does it dissolve? does the flavor change over time? Then chew it slowly noticing its change in consistency and taste. Feel it travel down as you swallow. Is there any after-taste? Focus on the process again with another piece, notice every detail. Then eat another one like normal. Reflect on the differences between mindful eating and mindless eating. Students actually love this one. They see how important it is to slow down and enjoy the flavors of food, to discover the subtle differences between spices and textures and taste.

Finally, noticing gaps is another technique I use to help my students find the calm and focus needed to drive their own awareness and attention. This is the hardest to implement only because they are very silly for the first few times. It is hard for me to get this focused, let alone a 12 year old. But with some mindful practice at the beginning and end of class in short bursts, about a minute or so, they are now responding to this activity with calm and patience. I have students close their eyes and breathe slowly, listening to the quiet and their heartbeat. But when they get distracted (which will happen guaranteed) I have them redirect their focus by in their mind saying "I need to think about my breathing." Have them find the gaps in their calm, identify what takes them out of the moment, distracts them. Have them find a focal point they can always return to, to help them be mindful and aware of their goals. Once they learn to direct their awareness and attention this will apply not to only the quiet reflective moments but the organized chaotic ones as well. A strategy that can be used to design and create their own calm place for reflection and mindfulness.

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