Ritual and rhythm provides stability, predictability and reassurance for children. With ritual, children know what to expect and when to expect it and feel secure in the consistency that it provides. Mindfulness is a practice that embraces these sensibilities.
Mindfulness in children
Mary and I have initiated a very small ritual in our classroom to encourage mindfulness in the transition during recess to our afternoon work and play. The children gather in a circle and are asked to close their eyes. We ring a Tibetan Singing Bowl. The children open their eyes when they no longer hear a ringing tone. We ring the bowl three times but on the third ring we ask the children to let one word float to the surface describing the feelings they experienced during recess. We limit the palate and give the children four words to choose from including sad, happy, mad or scared.
Each child shares a feeling and attaches it to a story. For example, "I felt mad because I wanted to play Star Wars but was left out." Often these feelings and stories have been discussed on the playground with teachers but sometimes they are explained for the first time and so we stop and mend strings that have been cut. Sometimes the stories prompt others to share similar stories. The ritual requires that each community member shares without the option of declining participation. This helps some in our Kindergarten community to find their voice and feel empowered to share their feelings.
As we listen and respond, we practice and model some of the basic tenets of this work. We use these words throughout the ritual. Presence is remaining open and curious to the moment. Understanding includes active listening and compassion towards others as well as ourselves. Finally, the tenant of acceptance creates a risk-free environment void of judgement and seeking truth over perfection.
Is it ok to feel mad? Does everyone need to feel happy all the time?
"It is ok to be mad sometimes but then you need to talk to someone." Evan
The Happiness Trap is a part of our culture that makes sitting with discomfort something to avoid. We work hard to protect our children from feelings that bring disappointment or tears but it is through these hard feelings that change is brought about and important social-emotional learning occurs. Happiness feels good but sadness, anger and fear bring reflection.
As Mary and I sit at the end of recess and listen to each child state a feeling we hope to hear the word happy more often than sad, scared or mad but we recognize that it is the hard feelings that offer our community opportunities to learn strategies, resiliency and compassion for each other. In the weeks to come we anticipate children returning home with more questions and concerns about recess. The pot will be stirred but the hope is that with presence, understanding and acceptance students will trust that these moments of discomfort will pass. They will begin to learn the practice of mindfulness and consider it a tool that can be used now and in the years to come.