Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Mindfulness habits and Teaching Preschool

When I recently got through a family filled holiday season I started to reflect, as most people do, on why it was so stressful. Of course I had a lot of fun seeing family and friends, but there was a palpable relief when my flight home took off. I sought out something to help me make sense of the stress. I ended up stumbling upon an article about eight zen habits to use in family gatherings for mindfulness training, click here.

As I read each habit I grew more and more intrigued by the idea of connecting these thoughts with teaching preschool. At a recent staff meeting we had discussed practicing meditation and mindfulness while teaching at Tumbleweeds and pausing before you react to conflict was the main takeaway I had. Immediately after reading the first habit, I knew Tumbleweeds would be the first place I would try out these mindfulness techniques. Below are the eight habits put into the context of a preschool class along with my own reflections on each one.

#1: "Check in with your Body and Breath". The first point states "in the middle of things happening, take a few seconds to turn our attention inward." What a difficult, but important, task! Checking in with yourself before reacting allows you to notice where you are even if only for a few seconds. It can stop us from reacting with our gut instinct and give us the briefest of moments to focus. The stress or emotions that lead to quick reactions are overcome as we take this time to be present.

#2: "Notice your Self-Centeredness". The struggle most of us have with this is apparent when we truly look at why people frustrate or irritate us. The reason for conflict often comes from our own needs- specifically when our needs conflict with the needs of someone else. In any confrontation, we are equally at fault with the others involved. Without being mindful of our own needs and where they lie in the mix, it can be easy to place blame away from ourselves or justify our reasons for being upset. When we have expectations for certain outcomes within our community at Tumbleweeds, for example, we may be stressed or irritated. In these times, it's easy to forget to acknowledge the emotional awareness of everyone involved in the conflict. Taking a moment for each person to see where their needs are conflicting with others give us that breathing room to find compromise.

#3: "What does this person need". After you've taken the time to check in with yourself both emotionally and to notice your preoccupation with your own needs, the eight zen habits asks you to think about what the other person needs. When I read this habit, my thoughts floated to how often I think about what I want in the classroom: quiet focus, less running, less destruction... I realized I don't always remember to consider the needs of the others who share this space with me. By changing the perspective I use to see the needs of the classroom, I can include the needs of myself, the community as a whole, and most importantly: each individual child. The old adage "to walk in another person's shoes" comes to mind here. Without judgment, I can use empathy to truly respond to the needs of each individual child.

#4: “Just listen”. This habit sounds like the most simple but it is much harder done then said. I often try to focus on giving closure, support, understanding to a child when all they really might need just a caring ear. We often listen to a child when they ask for it but it is not always with 100% attention. If we listen without thinking of what to do or say next, we can feel what they might be feeling and that could be all they need.

#5: “Watch your thoughts arise”. This action is a powerful tool in meditation but is hard to practice in everyday life. In the preschool we are often multi tasking as best we can to ensure the safety of all the tumbleweeders and support their growth and inquiry. Just like the practice of asking what a child might want, when we take time to see our thoughts arise we can question our impulses and what drives them. When we can be an observer we can see the importance of acting, not acting immediately and not acting at all.

#6:  "Let go of control". Just the thought of this saying can bring up anxiety in any caregiver. Often we think letting go of control can mean that children will become wild just by unconsciously knowing there is no authority figure and chaos will ensue. In the classroom of course this is not what we mean by relieving control. It is more of a way for us as teachers to step back and practice not resisting what happens. In the Tumbleweed philosophy(mostly influenced by RIE) we let the children be self-care problem solvers and uphold our rules because they have helped create them. In this way when children inform other children not to hit we can reinforce that behavior simply by noticing it.

#7: "Make this task your universe". At our Preschool the routine is loosely structured and based on invitation. In this way we allow each child to get deeply immursed in whatever play they choose. This intention is permeable and also carries over into our group circle time. When there is nothing else but our circle we are able to go any place with our learning.

#8: "Practice Appreciation". This habit is as hard for teachers to practice as it is for the children in class. The difficultly lies in holding on to our thoughts that things should be different. Children often see that another child has a toy when there are so many other toys right around them. As teachers we hope to see the beauty in every child all the time no matter how stressful or difficult the situation. We take the extra step to focus on the wants and needs of both children when there is conflict.


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  2. Thank you so much for these wonderful tips and pieces of advice. I hope that people who are somehow engaged in education will pay attention to this useful information. One of the main problems with our education is that we focus on high schools and colleges and completely forget of such an important augment as a pre-school as it is exactly where everything takes its roots where small problems grow into big ones eventually.
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