• Mindful Mondays: Mindfulness Supports Our Ability to Focus

    HOW CAN MINDFULNESS SUPPORT OUR ABILITY TO FOCUS?

    Children are often asked to focus and pay attention, but they’re not always explicitly told how to do it. Being able to focus can be extremely challenging for children and for adults.


    People often drive home without remembering if they stopped at all the stop signs, or they find themselves in a middle of a conversation they have lost track of, or, in the case of students, they may be unable to answer a question after having their names called upon repeatedly. This is because we often don’t even realize that we’ve lost focus. 

     

    In part this is because we are constantly bombarded with stimulus and information that our mind needs to sift through. Our phones add to the distraction and are shaping the way we interact with each other (increasingly via a screen) and the way we focus.

     

    Nicholas Carr, in his book The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains, describes how the way we think is being altered by the internet. He argues, “Calm, focused, undistracted, the linear mind is being pushed aside by a new kind of mind that wants and needs to take in and dole out information in short, disjointed, often overlapping bursts—the faster, the better.” Whether it is true that the internet is making us shallow thinkers, it’s safe to say that our mind is being asked to process and think in ways that a lot of us didn’t do just five to ten years ago.

     

    Our kids are being raised in a world that demands this kind of disjointed thinking, and they don’t know any other way. They are being asked to understand and interact in ways that are vastly different than the way most adults around them were asked to. Carr explains “a popular medium [such as a cell phones, computers, and the internet] molds what we see and how we see it—and eventually, if we use it enough, it changes who we are, as individuals and as a society.” This New York Times article collaborates these assertions by explaining how technology is rewiring our children’s minds so that they have a harder time focusing their attention and developing relationships outside of their digital persona.

     

    Perhaps that is part of the reason why so many students are disengaged from their education. Teachers College Record recently published Engaging Youth in Schools in which a study “using a sample of students from high-performing high schools . . . [found] that only 1/3 of the sample is regularly engaged affectively, behaviorally, and cognitively in schoolwork. This fully engaged minority, who tended to be higher achievers, were less likely to fall victim to a variety of health problems. On the other hand, lack of full engagement was associated with frequent worry, depression, anger, and compromised health outcomes.” Our students’ ability to engage with their education and benefit from it will depend on their ability to focus and maintain sustained focus.


    HOW DOES MINDFULNESS HELP?

    Mindfulness supports focus because it inserts a pause and slows us down enough so that we’re not jumping from one thought (or source of stimulus) to another.


    When we slow down or pause, we can realize we’ve lost focus and then place focus on what we need to be focusing on. These are two distinct skills—the ability to notice when we’ve lost focus and the ability to place our focus and attention where we want to place it. Mindfulness supports both by asking participants to pause and bring awareness to the moment and, if need be, to anchor their focus to help sustain attention.

     

    There is promising research on the way mindfulness supports youths’ ability for sustained attention and in reducing mind wandering. One study explains that “mindfulness-based interventions for youths have potential utility to improve attentional self-regulation.” The authors of the study call for more research to see how mindfulness operationally supports attention regulation. But they also believe there is enough empirical research suggesting that mindfulness training impacts our ability to regulate attention as measured by tasks that monitor conflicts in the information we’re processing.

     

    Another study describes undergraduate students in their early 20s who were randomly assigned to a two-week mindfulness intervention and then asked to complete a reading comprehension task based on the GRE and a working memory capacity task. It found that “mindfulness training improved both GRE reading-comprehension scores and working memory capacity while simultaneously reducing the occurrence of distracting thoughts during completion of the GRE and the measure of working memory.” While this study is with young adults, it shows promise in the ability that mindfulness training has in supporting all our students’ abilities to focus and succeed in school.

     

    If we really want to support our children to do better in schools and be able to develop the abilities to focus and have sustained attention, we have to help them develop those skills. Mindfulness activities can help.

     

    Little Flower Yoga introduces activities to support students in noticing when they’ve lost attention as well as activities that help them anchor their attention. This helps students strengthen their ability to place their focus where it needs to be. Remember that it’s not a question of whether our kids will lose focus but rather what skills and strategies our students have to employ when they do lose focus. 


    This article is part of our Mindful Mondays initiative. Receive weekly emails with instructions for the practices of the week, links to guided practices, and suggestions for implementation by registering. The program is free for all. Sign up now to access this week's recorded practices for you and your students!


    ABOUT ARGOS GONZALEZ:

    Argos Gonzalez is a teacher, lecturer, and mindfulness and yoga instructor.  He has 13 years of experience teaching high school in the Bronx and teaches pre-service and in-service teachers at Hunter College School of Education in NY.  Argos is certified through both Mindful Schools and Little Flower Yoga (LFY), and currently serves as the director of professional development for The School Yoga Project, a program of LFY. For more information about Little Flower Yoga and The School Yoga Project, visit www.littlefloweryoga.com. Contact Argos by email at argos@littlefloweryoga.com


    We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites. If you are interested in purchasing any of the resources mentioned above, you can help support free programs like Mindful Mondays by navigating to them through the included links. Thank you for your support!

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  • The Peace Corner: An Essential Classroom Resource

    The peace corner is a powerful and touching space in the classroom that supports self regulation. 


    It’s private. It’s structured. It includes choice. It’s an experiment. It’s inviting. It’s a movement toward independence onto the mat (or the desk or the rug spot) and ultimately into everyday life. It’s called the “peace corner” because there is something peaceful about simply being allowed to experience our feelings and take care of our self in the way that is right for us. The use of a peace corner can transform the culture of the classroom. In this article, we’ll look at why it’s so powerful and how you can create this space for your students.

    A peace corner is private

    There can be many reasons our students might need alone time to manage their feelings at school. Often times being in a group context is overwhelming to our students’ nervous system, especially given the length of time children spend at school. Something is happening inside of them, and processing that something might be overwhelming with others looking on. Being in a large group context can invite the feeling of being over stimulated. Even as adults, 5-10 minutes of quiet, alone time can do wonders for our level of participation in a group experience.

     

    This privacy also allows students to develop agency.  I find that I rarely ask students to go to the peace corner anymore. I may gently nudge a student to go. Self regulation looks like students initiating the experience. Mostly, students show the peace sign and I respond with a non-verbal cue for the student to leave the group and go to the peace corner. This private communication is more about me being aware of what is happening in the room and instruction not stopping than an ask for permission. I rarely say no when students show me the signal. I also ask students to show the peace sign at their heart so that it isn’t an announcement to the whole class, but a communication between us. 

     

    A peace corner is structured

    As we know, children crave boundaries to guide their explorations. I find a timer essential to guide students time in the peace corner. I include choice by providing 5 different sand timers so students can choose which one will meet their needs at the start of their peace corner experience. At the beginning of the year, I explain if they need more time to let me know, but it’s not a place to stay forever. It’s important to be intentional about emphasizing that the peace corner isn’t a place for escaping learning. It is a space that allows for students to check in with themselves, experience a break, and re-establish learning readiness.


    I describe the peace corner to students as a place to help manage feelings by exploring strategies that can give us what we need and in turn help us feel ready to learn again when it feels like the learning has stopped.


    As with any routine in our classroom, I explain the purpose at the beginning of the year, have students model how to use the peace corner, and revisit our agreements around its purpose when needed. In order to prevent the impulse for students to ask to go simply out of curiosity, it is helpful to offer all students a chance to explore the peace corner on their own at least once at the beginning of the year. Once the routine is up and running, it can also be useful to have a sign in system so that we are aware of how often students are requesting to leave the group. 

     

    A peace corner is an experiment

    Since we all need different things at different times, there isn’t one magic thing that students practice in the peace corner. Students get to  explore things on their  own and get a sense of what works best. This year I’ve decided that I want students to report to me privately what self care tool they used in the peace corner and if it worked or not. This is often completed through a letter or a quick check in. This emphasizes the purpose and function of the space as well as an integration of reflection and will help me support them!. There are many options on strategies and implementation but the activities should be practiced as a class before we can ask  students to try them on their own.

    A key element of the peace corner is choice to facilitate openness and curiosity toward self care. 


    VIDEO SAMPLE - Student choosing a self hug (self-love)


    Mindful Teaching with the Peace Corner

    The last thing I want to offer about my experience with the peace corner is a sense of kind awareness toward yourself (as the teacher) when a student asks to utilize the peace corner. It is useful to notice our response when a student asks to take a moment away from the group. Do I respond with tension or trust? Can I access a curiosity toward myself and my own impulses? Do I notice myself wanting to deny students the opportunity to spend time away from the group for some reason? Do I notice myself open to some students spending time in the peace corner and not open to others? Do I want to spend time in the peace corner myself? Our relationship to this area of our classroom is an interesting one to observe, as it can tell us a lot about our own needs and our beliefs about learning. It’s helpful to examine which “reasons” for going to the peace corner we value and which ones we find less worthy. If students are respecting the structure of the peace corner and not over using it, it’s not up to us to decide what is or is not a worthy cause for leaving the group. 

    The peace corner can also support our own mindfulness practice!

     

    Transfer of learning 

    Ultimately, we want students to gain independence by choosing strategies for themselves and understand what works for them in the peace corner.  The hope is they begin a habit of checking in and reflecting on what they need to support their well being. This reflection can begin in the peace corner but can transfer as self curiosity in areas of the day where a peace corner isn’t accessible. The world would be a different place if we all had a quiet space we could go to, close the door, and lovingly attend to our self.  If used consistently, the peace corner slowly integrates itself into everyday life, especially if we take the time to ask our students to reflect on what they tried and what worked in the peace corner. 

     

    Even though  the peace corner is an outer resource because of it’s place in the classroom it supports the cultivation of our student’s inner resources. The action of taking time alone, on purpose, is cultivating an inner resource that can be accessed when children feel disappointed with how things went, or how things didn’t go. Once students can reconnect with their inner knowing, they can go on, and be ready to rejoin the group. 

     

    Examples from students:

       

    Dear Ms. Love, One of the statageys i uses was shaking the glitter bottle. also i matched my breath with the breathing ball and i breathed also i shaked the ball. From Leila 

     

         

    I did wus used the Brething Ball and Brethd in and Brethd out for I can focise.

     

    I came to the Peace corner because today my dad left to Puirto rico to help people in need. I dont want him to go because he is leaving for a long time and I'm scared if something bad happens. I'm not going to be there to see or supporte. I alread miss him. I wanted to go with him I just dont want to be here.  i'm going to name my feeling and give myself a tight hug.  Love A

     


    List of items you might want to include in your Peace corner:

    1. Squishy "stress" ball
    2. Glitter ball or make your own glitter jar
    3. Emotional feelings sheet to help identify and record emotions
    4. Mirror to help identify emotions
    5. Blank paper, pens, and crayons to draw emotions, write a letter, or to reflect on strategies used in the peace corner
    6. Hoberman, breathing sphere
    7. Sand timer
    8. A soft, small blanket or even a weighted blanket for sensory reasons could be great

     

    The LFY team also created a list of children’s books you might want to include in your peace corner, but it could be great for the kids to make their own book (or video) about what to do in the peace corner:

     


    Kelli Love, M.Ed is an educator, presenter, and consultant in the field of children's mindfulness and yoga. She has 15+ years experience teaching in prek-5th grade contexts, first as a classroom teacher and currently a mindfulness and yoga content specialist at Girls Prep Bronx Elementary. Over 20 years of personal practice guides her teaching, as well as a foundation in Early Childhood Education from Naropa University, where contemplative practices are integrated into higher education experiences. She believes all children have a right to experience the empowering life skills that mindfulness and yoga offer and she hopes to inspire educators to utilize the skills for themselves and in their classrooms.

    Kelli is a registered children’s yoga teacher with Little Flower Yoga and is a certified Mindfulness Instructor through Mindful Schools. Little Flower Yoga and Mindful Schools deeply inform her teaching methodology.

     

    We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites. If you are interested in purchasing any of the resources mentioned above, you can help support free programs like Mindful Mondays by navigating to them through the included links. Thank you for your support!

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Mindful Mondays: Mindfulness Supports Our Ability to Focus
HOW CAN MINDFULNESS SUPPORT OUR ABILITY TO FOCUS? Children are often asked to focus and pay

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