The Power of Mindfulness for Young Children

mindfulness meditating

MindfulnessLately, a lot of attention has been paid to mindfulness in education.  Schools are incorporating it into the curriculum; creating after school yoga programs; and even adding meditation classes. But what exactly is mindfulness?

The dictionary definition of mindfulness is the practice of maintaining a nonjudgmental state of heightened or complete awareness of one’s thoughts, emotions, or experiences on a moment-to-moment basis.  Essentially, mindfulness is the ability to clear your mind of all the extra thoughts and focus on the now. This provides a great foundation for learning – remove all the other thoughts from your mind so you can concentrate on what’s right in front of you.

The benefits of mindfulness are helpful throughout one’s life.   Mindfulness not only can help children (and adults) cope with stress and challenging moments, it can also reinforce appreciation of their own strength and kindness.  Additionally, mindfulness is also effective for young children because it promotes skills like focus and cognitive control, which impact development of critical skills including self-regulation, judgment and patience.

The prefrontal cortex is the part of the brain that controls these skills.  Because connections in the prefrontal circuits develop fastest in childhood, mindfulness is a habit that can be quickly developed in young children. (Source; David Gelles, New York Times – Well)

mindfulness meditatingMindfulness does not always come easily for young children.  It is a skill that can be taught and modeled by the adults that surround them.

It is relatively easy to start a mindfulness practice with your students.  It is about relaxing and breathing. Take a few minutes out of your day to create a peaceful environment, ask the children to close their eyes; then take a few breaths.

Play some music specifically developed for rest, relaxation and meditation.  Ask your students to create pictures in their head of what the music makes them feel like or what they think it sounds like. If you can make time for this every day, you will begin to see the benefits of mindfulness as your students develop skills they can draw upon throughout their lives.

Numerous, well-known studies show the benefits of mindfulness in reducing stress and enhancing self-awareness. (Read more in our article: Mindfulness Training in the Classroom.) But recently, there have been studies of adolescents and college students focused on the cognitive and academic benefits of mindfulness and linking it to increased memory function and better grades. (Sources: Journal of Adolescent Health, Journal of MindfulnessImpact of Mindfulness and academic performance)

Whether you include mindfulness in your daily routine for the developmental benefits or for the possible academic benefits, it can help your students thrive in the classroom.

Recommended recordings:

Sea Gulls – Music for Rest and Relaxation

A Child’s World of Lullabies

Quiet Places  

Quiet Time

 

Other Mindfulness information:

Mindful Schools Website

Mindfulness Exercise for Preschoolers

 

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Bully Prevention in the Classroom

Bully Prevention Photo

October is Bully Prevention Month. It’s a good time to step back and review what you do to promote safety and security in your classroom. Although bullying is not new, today’s teachers have several tools that help children understand what bullying is, how to recognize it and how they can deal with it.

Bully Prevention Photo

Help your students understand bullying. Generally, bullying is unwanted aggressive behavior that is repeated over time.  There are several types of bullying: verbal, social and physical.  When children know what bullying is, they can identify it and report it, or stop it.  Young kids especially need to understand that bullying is not okay.

Encourage children to talk to adults about bullying situations. For young children, an effective – yet fun – way to build the vocabulary they need to talk about bullying and the techniques they need to deal with bullying can be incorporated into your classroom through Music and Movement activities.  Bully Smart Kids is a great recording that uses easy-to-sing, catchy, danceable songs that help young children develop self-esteem and empathy, build awareness of bullying, learn how to handle negative feelings and cool off.  In addition to encouraging children to speak with adults, it stresses concepts like respecting other’s space, managing angry feelings and using conflict resolution to solve problems.

Another strategy is to have kids take part in activities, interests, and hobbies they like. When children get involved with activities that they enjoy, not only are they having fun and learning more about themselves, they are meeting others with the same interests. They can build confidence and friendships that help protect them from bullying.

Research also shows that in addition to awareness education and keeping kids active, teaching SEL (Social and Emotional Learning) is very effective in bully prevention.  Developing empathy in children has been shown to reduce bullying. When children understand and appreciate that everyone has feelings, they are equipped to treat others with kindness and respect. If you are interested in learning more about integrating SEL strategies into your classroom, read our article “Is Social Emotional Learning Coming to a School Near You?

Much of the research on bullying shows that the earlier we start to prevent this behavior, the better the results!

For more information on Bully Prevention visit Stopbullying.gov

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Incorporating Square Dancing Into Your PE Class

Happy International Square Dancing Month! Promenade and Do-si-do your way to a delightful dance form that children find intriguing and fun!  Square Dancing has been taught in elementary schools around the country for generations.  It’s easy to teach and has many benefits for everyone from children to adults.

While you may be aware of the physical benefits that dancing provides, there are many cognitive and SEL related skills that dancing also can offer children.  Square dancing, in particular, is great for the developing minds of young children.  The call and response style of square dancing helps teach the value of listening and reinforces the importance of following directions.  The calls are in patterns, a basic math skill.  The repetitive nature of the songs and steps are great for increasing coordination and rhythmic response. And, of course, dancing with a partner is an ideal way to teach cooperation, socialization and taking turns.

If you’re interested in incorporating square dance into your PE curriculum, the first thing you’ll need is a great square dance album with songs that children will enjoy. Our favorite, Get Ready to Square Dance , is easy to do – it starts off with simple calls and builds up to two complete dances.  Click here to watch a PE class using this recording to learn the promenade movement.

You can also check out more great Square Dancing music options on our website.  We know your children will have a great time and also gain some very important skills!

More video examples of square dancing in PE classes with the Get Ready to Square Dance recording:

Comin’ Round the Mountain

Oh Belinda

Capt. Jinks

Turkey in the Straw

Shoo Fly

 

Educational Activities, Inc. led the way of introducing square dancing to schools across the country.  Read “Our Story” to learn more!

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Enhance Play-Based Learning with Music and Movement

Are you ready for the new school year and your new students? There’s a flurry of new people and new experiences, which are exciting but may be overwhelming.  It’s not unusual for some children to be apprehensive.  Most children enjoy music and movement activities.  As the year begins, these activities can help calm fears, engage the children and be a way to introduce them to one another.  If your program is play-based or child-centered, there are many opportunities to use music and movement to not only “break the ice,” but also enhance your curriculum. 

Play – whether building with blocks, painting, dressing up, throwing a ball or jumping – is known to develop many skills.  Eye-hand coordination, fine and gross motor skills, problem solving, social skills and cognitive development are known to increase with play.  Incorporating music and movement into your play-based curriculum provides a wealth of benefits along with a lot of fun!

Songs, especially those developed intentionally, are classroom-tested and proven, can contribute to vocabulary development and physical development.  (Learning Basic Skills Through Music and Movement, Vol. 4 – Vocabulary)  A song about fast and slow, where children respond and move accordingly, gives kids a concrete understanding of the concepts.  (Walter the Waltzing Worm )

Songs can help children learn the names of body parts, the alphabet (Silly Willy Moves Through the ABCs) and numbers (Math Readiness).  Fingerplays develop fine motor skills critical to writing.  (Fingerplays and Footplays)

Music and movement can provide a social opportunity.  Songs that explore feelings, getting along with others and sharing help young children identify emotions and develop social skills. (Getting to Know Myself)

In most songs developed for the classroom, the notes and beats are patterned.  As children listen to the music, they intuitively learn the patterns – an important math skill.

Songs aid ELL students’ language acquisition while developing and reinforcing skills for ALL children.

Music and songs developed for early learning can easily be incorporated into your daily lessons. Most children have a natural joy for music.  Why not let them explore music as part of your play-based learning program?

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Physical Activity Important in Your Classroom

May is National Physical Fitness and Sports month, so this month’s blog focuses on physical fitness in the classroom.  Everyone knows that being physically active is good for you. There are obvious benefits to being active.  For instance, it helps reduce the risk of obesity and it helps build and maintain healthy bones and muscles. But did you know that physical activity also has some very important benefits for children in the classroom?

Reduces Stress

Regular activity has been shown to reduce anxiety and depression in children and adolescents.  Additionally, aerobic activity produces brain chemicals that promote a feeling of well-being.

 

Increases Self Confidence

Children who are regularly active have a higher sense of self efficacy, which means they have better confidence in their ability to complete tasks and learn new activities. (source: Active Academics)

 

Increases Concentration and Improves Academic Performance

Physical activity breaks during the school day have an effect on children’s behavior, attention span, ability to concentrate and test scores. In fact, studies have shown that students did better on standardized tests after moderate physical activity as compared to students who had been sitting for 20 minutes prior to testing. (source: Neuroscience, 2009)

 

Develops Empathy and Social Skills

Team sports and physical activity have been associated with improved self-esteem, better nutrition and less smoking and drug abuse among children.  Additionally, studies also show that physical activity fosters leadership skills and empathy in children and may also reinforce healthy lifestyle behaviors.

 

No Gym? P.E. in the Classroom

Many schools don’t have gyms.  Therefore, they don’t offer children the amount of physical activity needed to be successful.  Some have even cut out recess – a time for free play – from the school day entirely.  Here are some ideas you can use in your classroom to help your students get the physical activity they need.

  • Start the day off right with a quick 10-minute yoga sequence. Grab your students’ focus right from the start. Creative Yoga Exercises for Children incorporates relatable animal activities that are easy for children to learn.
  • During reading time, read a book aloud while the children walk around. When they hear an “action word” (verb) have them act it out.
  • Lessons on the go – Walk to an area (either indoors or out) where you can focus on your topic. For instance, if you are studying measurements, take the kids to different areas of the school to practice measuring different objects like the height of a step or the width of the hallway, let the kids stretch, squat and move around.
  • Hopscotch math – Have kids answer math questions by hopping onto the correct numbers on the floor.
  • Acting out – Try reviewing vocabulary words by playing charades. Children will act out the words as others try to guess them.
  • Take your science lesson outside – if you teach in an area where you can take the kids outside to experience hands on science, do it!
  • Take short (3-4 minute) activity breaks throughout the day to get the blood pumping, relieve boredom, reduce tension and increase your students’ level of alertness. A good way to do this is with music. Silly Willy Workout is an engaging album with songs that can be used individually for short breaks, or the entire album can be used as a physical education class.
  • Most importantly, don’t forget to stress the importance of being physically active to your students. According to the CDC, children should have at least 60 minutes of exercise per day. Encourage them to go to the park after school or participate in a sport.

 

For more information about physical activity in the classroom check out our other blog articles:

Encouraging Physical Activity Indoors  and Increase Student Focus with These 9 Movement Activities

 

For more information about the importance of children’s health on learning, visit the CDC’s Healthy Schools website.

 

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