Jon Kabat-Zinn, Founding Director of the Stress Reduction Clinic at the University of Massachusetts Medical School offers this clear and simple definition of mindfulness: mindfulness is “paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally.” Mindfulness has been a recent subject of conversation in a multitude of mediums from USA Today to The Wall Street Journal. It’s a practice that is frequently used to mitigate stress, reduce anxiety and distress, and improve attention.
Mindfulness is also good for children! An emerging body of evidence indicates that mindfulness can help children improve their abilities to pay attention, to calm themselves when they are upset, and have greater compassion for both self and others. Mindfulness accomplishes this by changing the brain in positive ways: with regular mindfulness practice, the amygdala, or the portion of the brain that is aroused when detecting and reacting to strong or difficult emotions (such as fear), is less activated and contains less gray matter density; the hippocampus—the part of the brain that is critical to learning and memory, as well as helping to regulate the amygdala—is more active and has more gray matter density; and the prefrontal cortex, or the part of the brain most associated with maturity, including regulating emotions, behaviors, and decision-making, is also more activated. Thus, Brooksfield School views mindfulness as a tool for greater learning.
As a practice, faculty and staff help students to understand that mindfulness is being aware. It is taking notice of their thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, environment, and happenings right now. To this end, the purpose of teaching mindfulness to children is to give them skills to develop awareness of their inner and outer experiences, to identify their thoughts as “just thoughts,” to understand how emotions manifest in their bodies, to recognize when their attention has wandered, to provide tools for impulse control and reactivity, and to practice non-attachment to outcomes. Mindfulness is practiced throughout the school day at Brooksfield, infusing students’ days with opportunities to recharge, cultivate gratitude, and simply be present.
During circle times, for example, teachers may open this time together with a simple reflection on kindness, peace, gentleness, or gratitude. Deep breathing, seasonal topics that engage students’ “spidey senses,” deep breathing, walking meditations, or chimes are also frequently engaged during circle times to strengthen students’ ability to quiet their minds. Each day before lunch, children are encouraged to take to deep breaths to calm their bodies before enjoying their meal. Together, classmates light a peace candle then sing the “Peace Song:”
Peace is the world smiling,
Peace is a gentle dove,
Peace is caring,
Peace is sharing,
Peace is filling the world with love.
Multiple times a week, children are invited to take nature walks through the gardens and grounds of the school, listening and noticing the sounds, smells, textures, and sights around them. Providing children with opportunities to participate in the hands-on maintenance and care of the garden beds is meditative, calming, and nurturing for young minds.
At Brooksfield School, we are committed to equipping children with the skills and tools that allow students to grow into the healthiest, happiest, and most authentic versions of themselves that they can be.