Mindfulness is a hot topic in educational circles and in schools around the world at the minute. For good reason too. The demands on children's performance academically are only getting tougher (and at earlier ages too!). 73% of teachers agreed that "anxiety disorders were a pressing concern (statistic from Children's Mental Health Ontario). The amount of curriculum to cover is nearly impossible and it leaves little space for non-academic issues. However mindfulness practise is starting to find space inside the classroom. It's a great alternative to disciplinary actions and working with children who display challenging behaviour. So what exactly is it?
A quick google search will provide you with this definition: a mental state achieved by focusing one's awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one's feelings, thoughts and bodily sensations.
In other words, it teaches children how to handle their emotions and actions or reactions. A lot of adults are probably thinking they could still use this training themselves (hands up here - we are learning right along with our little ones!).
It is one thing to be aware of a need and a whole other thing to be able to approach that need practically. As a teacher, I know how useful it is to have great tools on hand. So far, the best thing we have found is this kit from Generation Mindful. They began with a Kickstarter campaign and have been spreading their respectful and peaceful message around the world ever since. You can read more about the wonderful lady who started the company and the products in general, on their website HERE.
You can buy all different tools, but we went for the whole package. To start with, there are the Peacemakers playing cards (pictured above) which are beautifully designed with 7 themed animals, each holding a message that can be used to generate conversation. They can be used in conjunction with the poster and stickers, as you work through each theme. There is another poster explaining the themes (forgiveness, intuition, peace, love, balance, joy and power) and linking them to various emotions. There are also emotion posters, which are adorably illustrated to show these emotions to kids (fabulous for younger learners or any aged visual learner). There is a poster which offers strategies for calming down - again with great visuals. I think this poster has been the most used in our house. It is on the bedroom wall next to the 'Calming Corner' poster - another one in the pack. Our 5 year old will go here when he is upset to remind himself of what tools he can use. Being a book lover, he is a huge fan of the 'read a book' calming suggestion.
Now I can't say that his explosive behaviour has disappeared because of this kit. It is very hard to get him to remember the calming steps when he is full blown angry or upset. And that is okay. Now I have learned how I should react in those situations and just let those moments pass. When he is calmer we talk about it and end up having very sweet conversations. We will keep working on it. Every day. Because life isn't going to get any easier for this kid!
Get your hands on this book here:
Part of our work on recognising our emotions and learning to calm down has led us to doing yoga as a family. Well...trying to at least! I did yoga through both pregnancies (the second pregnancy was fun - doing yoga with a toddler on your back really helps balance that big belly) and unfortunately haven't found time to continue doing it. Until recently.
My son came home from kindergarten one day telling me that they had done yoga and he loved it. They followed a YouTube series called Cosmic Kids, which I admit is pretty cute. They tell stories and the yoga moves are the actions to go along with the stories. Buuuuut...it is still TV or screen time in my mind. Which sort of goes against what yoga is about. I let them do it for fun sometimes but I really prefer to work through the moves together with out them zoning out on the screen.
Get your hands on this book here:
So off we went to the library in search of some books! Would you believe there are a fabulous bunch of books out there, all about yoga for kids?! Of course there are, you're thinking. There are books about everything! Well they're new to me and I am loving them.
Our favourite time to use the books are before bed as part of our bedtime routine and on weekends when things are starting to get a bit crazy and we need something to help us wind down. We've been doing it for a number of months now and we've gotten to the point that my 2 year old will randomly bust out a downward dog in the grocery aisle.
Want to give it a try in your house? These are our favourite books (so far):
By Laurie Jordan and Diana Mayo
This book is really perfect before bedtime. It is written in rhyme and describes how to do the moves with easy to follow descriptions. The illustrations also show step by step moves for each pose. Every page is a bit like being in a dream with kids drawn inside seashells and floating in space with butterfly wings.
By Brian Russo
This is more of an actual story book, with a little bunny who wants his animal friends to stay and do a bit of yoga with him. Each friend refuses, using excuses that probably sound familiar (I have no time! I'm in a hurry! etc). By the end, they join in and connect with each other properly. This is a great book to use to introduce the idea of stopping and being still together.
I Am Yoga
by Susan Verde and Peter H. Reynolds
Both I Am Yoga and I Am Peace are visually stunning books, drawn in bright watercolour swirls. I Am Yoga obviously focuses on yoga poses and uses short descriptions of each move. It is really easy to follow and kids can use it on their own.
With I Am Peace, I like to work through it as a talking point with my kids. With statements like, "I can watch my worries gently pop and disappear. I let things go" you are likely to really challenge kids to think about how they handle situations. A great tool for homes and classrooms too.
What the world needs now, is love, sweet love. No just not for some, but for everyone. Those words were first sung in 1965 by Jackie DeShannon but they couldn't be more true today. I can't even begin to comment on all the hate in the world right now. I just don't understand why anyone would choose to live filled with hate. So let's focus on the love. This month is Pride Month and to me, that means LOVE! Pure and simple love.
My son started school this past year and wow - he certainly hears a lot of interesting things from other kids. Unfortunately it isn't always the nicest stuff. That is what life will be full of though and I know my job is to make sure he recognises the unkind stuff and counters it with kindness. I know most of what he says comes from an innocent place and provides us with great learning opportunities. I'm lucky to have friends with an array of skin colours - so it never even occurred to me that he would suddenly start picking up on that. I almost died the day he told one of my closest friends that their skin looked like poo. He was three at that point. I apologised profusely. I was flustered. I turned red. I know my friends don't think I taught him this, but then I hadn't taught him what was more appropriate.
At age 3, his comment about skin colour was merely an observation. Also, the world of a 3 year old (at least my 3 year old) revolves around poo! So making a comparison to it shouldn't have surprised me. From that day on though I realised the importance of talking about how our choice of words can make people feel. We discussed trying to put ourselves in other people's shoes (which is really hard for kids this age - they are still very much egocentric). He might not be able to fully grasp it, but it doesn't mean we can't discuss it and work on it.
Skin colour is out in the open. It is there for kids to see and comment on and they will comment! They comment on everything! However other things are not always out in the open and ripe for little mouths to point out and question. What someone's family looks like. Who someone's parents are. What someone likes to do or doesn't like to do. Those are things I feel I need to discuss before they arise in the school yard. I want to make sure my kids are loving towards everyone, not just accepting. I want them to appreciate everyone's differences, not just be okay with them. I want them to be proud to be different from the people around them and also celebrate everyone else's differences. That is surely part of what Pride Month is, yes?
I want my kids to understand that all families and all people are different (but really the same!) in such wonderful ways. Books can be such a great way to start conversations about the diversity around us (after, of course, surrounding yourself by amazingly unique people). So I rounded up a bunch of books that have been recommended to me by various friends. I'm embarrassed to say I didn't own any of these yet, but was happy to find a good selection in our local library. I will certainly be purchasing our favourites from the group as soon as possible.
The best thing about reading these books so far has been watching my kids' reactions. Meaning - there was no real reaction. Everything is 'normal' to them at this age. I want to make sure when someone at school tries to tell them what is 'not normal', that they can stand up and say nonsense! I hope I can instil strength in them to be open minded and intelligent enough to stand up against any form of hatred.
So here are some of the books that beautifully illustrate the kind of world I want to live in. The kind of loving world I am teaching my kids to help create.
The Family Book by Todd Parr
The Sissy Duckling by Harvey Fierstein
King & King by Linda De Haan and Stern Nijland
Stella bring the family by Miriam B. Schiffer
Families, Families, Families by Suzanne Lang
Molly's Family by Nancy Garden
I will be posting all of our activities related to these books during the week on our Instagram account, so please do keep an eye out!
Happy Pride Month to everyone.
Links below to Instagram posts with more details on each activity we did!
The Family Book - activity 1
The Family Book - activity 2
The Family Book - activity 3
King & King - activity 1
Molly's Family - activity 1
Families, Families, Families - activity 1
The Sissy Duckling - activity 1
Hello! I'm Deb,
a book-toting mother of two and an elementary (primary) school teacher. I love making stories engaging and interactive for kids.
Find us here too: