A few years ago I began using a “mindfulness bell” with my students as a way to begin classes. I first heard about the specific type of bell I use at school from Susan Kaiser Greenland during a workshop for educators at the Barre Center for Buddhist Studies. My bell came from Mud Pie Productions. (Note: You’ll need to call and order the bell by phone, as they do not sell online.) West Music has a similar product they call an “Earth Bell” (pictured), although it’s smaller than my large bell from Mud Pie.
I ordered the large bell in a bright blue color. The noteworthy thing about this bell is that it does not in any way appear to be a religious bell — it’s not Tibetan, it’s not a bowl, etc. In a classroom setting, it becomes very important to separate a mindfulness practice from any sort of religious trappings.
The main way I use the bell is by playing “The Bell Game” at the start of class. I ring the bell. While the sound of the bell is loud and strong, students stand. As the sound of the bell becomes quieter, the students lower their bodies. As the sound of the bell stops, the students crouch down low. We repeat the action a second time. Then, on the third ring, the students come to a seated position, rather than crouching.
For very young students (or for students at desks) the same effect can be achieved through having the seated students raise and lower their arms to the sound of the bell. At the end of the third ring, their hands are in their lap and they are prepared for their lesson or story.
I also use the bell to begin and end short periods of meditation or guided imagery, or even just to get the attention of all of the students. Overuse of a bell can cause children to become used to the sound and then it is no longer a signal for a specific task, so I tend to use the bell just during the initial part of class, during our centering time.
Do you use a mindfulness bell in your classroom? Please share your techniques and stories by commenting on this post! :)
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When I first began integrating mindfulness in my work with children, I created lessons which explicitly taught mindfulness. One individual lesson for first graders quickly became a whole unit the following year, which led to beginning each class session with a meditation the year after that… Over time, teaching mindfulness seeped into all aspects of my work. Today, I thought I would share a few concrete examples of how to enhance existing lessons with meditative activities…
This year, I read Manfish: A Story of Jacques Cousteau by Jennifer Berne to 1st, 2nd, & 3rd graders. The book talks about the life of Cousteau, mostly focusing on his desire to swim under the sea and the calm he felt when connected with the underwater world. At the start of one lesson, I led the children through a visualization of being underwater. It went something like this:
Close your eyes and imagine that you are sitting cross-legged on the ocean floor. As you take your next “in breath,” imagine you are floating to the surface and taking a breath of fresh air. As you exhale or breathe out, imagine that you are sinking back down into the quiet of the deep ocean…
We continued with imagining the cool, calm depths of the ocean and focusing on our breath for a couple of minutes. I guided the students through the process. This activity worked beautifully as a way to introduce this book’s topic and simulaneously prepare the children to listen attentively.
Just this week, as part of a first grade unit of “Reading Around the World,” I read Love and Roast Chicken: A Trickster Tale from the Andes Mountains by Barbara Knutson. To begin class, we explored both standing and seated “mountain pose.” I guided the children through firmly planting their feet, taking an erect posture, and generally imagining that they were an immovable mountain. A second time I guided them, and this time they took their seats.
Bringing mindful breathing and yoga postures into the classroom can become a natural extension of any unit’s literature. Practice meditation on your own, be open to all of the possibilities a good book can offer and your own ideas will surface!
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