Teaching Mindfulness and Heartfulness in Mercer Island Elementary Schools
Janine Bloomfield volunteers in classrooms to offer 15 – 20 minute mindfulness lessons to K-5 students at West Mercer Elementary. As a scientist, Janine sees a link between the observational skills in scientific research and the mindfulness practice of noticing “what is” in a nonjudgmental way. “If you’re going to take a sample of something, you have to determine exactly what’s there. You’re not going to determine ‘Well, I like that sample better than the other’…You can also apply this to emotions, thoughts, feelings, pain, the whole spectrum of the human experience. That’s the power of it.” (Quote from Mercer Island Reporter, 5.22.14)
Mindful Breathing and Noticing
- Start with a mindful body.
- Close your eyes or focus gently downward.
- Listen to the chime (optional).
- Put your hand on your anchor spot – where you feel your breath.
- Follow the movement of your breath.
- If you notice a distraction, that’s fine, everyone does. Notice it, observe what happened, distractions aren’t good or bad, they’re just what happens…and return to the breath.
What the teachers report
- “Whenever any of my students feels s/he is struggling with focus, we’ve agreed as a class that the student can place his/her hand on their anchor spot, close their eyes, and practice mindful breathing. It’s wonderful to see this throughout the day.” Trina Sherman, 3rd grade teacher
- “I have been able to incorporate this practice to create biofeedback for myself. I have and do use it to provide a calm backdrop on especially stressful days. As a teacher you don’t get to walk away, so having a small thing I can do to initiate stress reduction is critical.” Chris Cocklin Ray, 3rd grade teacher
- A teacher has given the same test every year. This year he led the class in mindful breathing and test taking visualization ahead of time. As a result, he recorded his best scores ever.
What the students say
- “I feel all my worries and thoughts go away and I feel free.” 4th grader
- “When I was at home it was a lot of stress because my siblings were chasing each other up and down the stairs when I was doing my homework so I used mindful breathing to calm down.” 3rd grader
- “I remember when we were taking a hard timed ITBS test that I got stressed on a hard problem and we only had 2 more minutes left and I did 30 seconds of mindfulness and all of a sudden I ran right through that problem easily and had some time to spare.” 4th grader
As a mental health counselor, Sivie Suckerman has been using the Mindful Schools curriculum at Island Park Elementary with grades K, 2, 3 and 5. Even the younger children recognize the importance of mindfulness. One kindergartner reported teaching mindful breathing to her American Girl doll!
Sivie is passionate about creating a mindfulness community that fosters heartfulness – the values of kindness, compassion, generosity and gratitude. To cultivate this community in her school, she facilitates a Mindful Monday Drop-in for teachers in the library. A big step toward her vision was taken recently; Island Park just adopted the Mindful Schools curriculum.
Ways to Nurture Heartfulness
- Send kind thoughts to oneself and others.
- Send friendly wishes to someone.
- I am grateful for _______.
- Notice the experience of generosity – what does it feel like to help someone?
- Reinforce how good we feel inside when being kind, generous, or compassionate to others. Examples: heart feels warm, tingly feeling, floating.
- Weave language that builds understanding and kindness into each day, for example, “I’m noticing the expression on Monica’s face. She looks sad. What can we do to help her feel better?”
Sivie believes compassion begins with helping students practice self-acceptance through nonjudgmental awareness. For example, one 5th grade boy remarked, “I realized that I worry a lot about things in the future.” Once recognized, he can notice when this occurs and choose to redirect his attention with kindness and compassion towards himself and consequently towards others. He can then feel less occupied with his own concerns and be more present and attentive to others’ needs.
- “When I walk into a 3rd grade classroom, some kids stop me and close their eyes, while telling me they are sending me kind thoughts.”
- “The 5th grade class became incredibly interested in noticing how many people are on electronic devices all the time instead of connecting with each other. One boy shared an experience in Starbucks, where he noticed that every customer was immersed in their electronic devices. So he walked up to the barista and started a conversation!”
- Heartfulness ripples out to global issues. A 3rd grader stated, “If we used our Mindful Eyes, then we would take better care of our environment.”
Janine Bloomfield, PhD. Janine teaches mindfulness at West Mercer Elementary, Mercer Island, WA. She is a scientist and parent of children in the school district. You can find out more about Janine and her program, along with parent resources and links, at her website: http://www.mindexplorekids.org.
Sivie Suckerman, MA, LMHC, CMHS. Sivie is a mental health counselor at Island Park Elementary, Mercer Island, WA. Sivie has a private practice where she utilizes mindfulness in a therapeutic setting: www.playful-minds.org.
Blog Series – Mercer Island Panel Discussion
- Mindfulness in the Mercer Island Schools. Introduction to a Panel Discussion held on May 22 in Mercer Island, WA. Includes background of presenters and links to mindfulness curriculums.
- Teaching Mindfulness and Heartfulness in Mercer Island Elementary Schools. Teaching the core mindfulness practice and creating a mindfulness community at the elementary school level. 6.30.14
- Teens Crave Mindful Moments – Mercer Island Schools. Teaching mindfulness at the middle and high school levels. 7.14.14
- Mindfulness in Education Research Highlights. Resources for research on mindfulness education. 10.15.14