The many challenges of this year have required people to cope with a range of external stressors. The United States is still navigating community response to George Floyd’s killing and racial inequities. Many are physically distancing and trying to survive economic fallout from the pandemic. As an adult, I find it hard to take things one day at a time, focus on my breath, and move forward with purpose and gratitude. Young people are looking for ways to cope and heal as well.
At our middle school in inner-city Oakland, we started incorporating mindfulness into our daily announcements and homeroom time. Mindfulness is intentionally focusing awareness on the present moment without judgment. Many people have a mindfulness practice even if they do not call it mindfulness explicitly. Researchshows that taking moments to practice and discuss mindfulness helps students thrive emotionally and academically by increasing focus and memory and reducing stress and anxiety. Distance learning creates a different context for mindfulness practice. Some simple strategies can help integrate mindfulness practice in distance learning.
SET THE GROUNDWORK
Begin by explaining how the brain works. Sometimes, knowing the science behind mindfulness can be just as important for a new practitioner as knowing what meditation is or how to do it. Explain to students the relationship between their amygdala, hippocampus, and prefrontal cortex. Students should know that an “amygdala hijack” is a physiological response to stress that makes it harder for them to think, learn, or remember. While it is not their fault, it is something that they can learn how to control through mindfulness practices.
Modeling mindfulness can show students how the process works. Do you start your day with a quiet cup of coffee or an inspirational quote? Talking about a ritual and why it excites you may add to a child’s bank of experiences even if they choose not to do the practice on their own. Modeling a mindfulness practice in online learning shows students that it can be a simple, quick, and accessible activity.
Offering choice is a way to show students the accessibility of a mindfulness practice. Allow students to pick an activity or exercise and do it with them. Apps and videos may be useful. My students and I love the guided meditations and mindful hip-hop from the Mindful Life Project app. Let the students guide which practice to do and when to use it. Ask for their suggestions about mindfulness in the daily school routine.
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