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Archive for April, 2010

Studies in the field of neurology show that the pre-frontal areas of the brains of long-term meditators are larger than that of control groups.  Specifically, the larger areas of the brains of these test subjects are the areas that are used in the process of emotional regulation.  Beginning to develop these areas of the brain at an early age could be incredibly helpful to student learning. 

Researchers are beginning to study how mindfulness practice enhances the learning experience of children specifically.  Throughout the studies that have been conducted, the preliminary findings are encouraging.  These studies of children involved in mindfulness training show decreased student anxiety, depression, and ADHD type behavior, as well as increased self-esteem and gains in behavioral regulation, metacognition, and overall executive function.  We can see that training students in mindfulness techniques improves mental focus, increases academic performance, strengthens ability to emotionally regulate, and supports positive human qualities: kindness, empathy, compassion.

Our current knowledge of brain function and neuroplasticity, as well as recent research into the way mindfulness and meditation assist in student readiness for learning, point toward an integrated approach to student learning.  If “Life Skills” instruction should be fused within students’ academic study, then surely mindfulness and mediation work should be the hub of the learning experience. Inclusion of mindfulness practice at school benefits all of those involved in the learning experience, whether teachers or students.

 

References:

Saltzman, A. (n.d.). Mindfulness: A guide for teachers [Pamphlet]. Retrieved
     from http://www.contemplativemind.org/MindfulnessTeacherGuide.pdf

Schoeberlein, D. (2009). Mindful teaching and teaching mindfulness. Boston:
     Wisdom Publications.

Wheeler, M. (2009, May 12). How to build a bigger brain. UCLA News. Retrieved
     from http://www.newsroom.ucla.edu/portal/ucla/PRN-how-to-build-a-bigger-brain-91273.aspx

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Yesterday I practiced Lovingkindness Meditation with my first grade classes.  I have led a modified Metta practice with Middle School children, but never tried it with Lower School children.  We listened to Amy Saltzman‘s version on her CD Still Quiet Place.

The children are all familiar with most of the meditations on Amy’s CD.  So, they know her voice.  We’ve been meditating at the start of Library Class all year long, so they know how to lie on their back quietly or to take an upright posture (criss-cross or “warrior style”).  The children were excited to be given a choice of posture this time… and so we began.  Worried that the idea of “blowing kisses” to loved ones would provoke laughter, I got them settled and then carefully watched for the children’s reactions.  Save for the usual amount of wiggling, all seemed engaged.

We talked after the meditation was over.  (I always ask for comments and questions about the meditation we’ve just completed.)  EVERYONE wanted to share.  Whether it was their sick grandmother or their dog that was left home alone all day, all of the children enjoyed the opportunity to send love to some person or animal that meant something to them.  One child shared that they had sent love to a recently deceased grandparent.  Many enjoyed the aspect of sending love to the whole world.  One child even said they wanted to do this “all of the time.”

So, we’ll be practicing lovingkindness meditation again next week…  And I hope the children get the hang of doing it “all of the time.”

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When is the best time to help children learn to work with their emotions?

Children between the ages of three and seven have a golden opportunity to hone this ability and we can help our children learn to regulate their emotions all the way up to their mid twenties!  Sound good?  Read on…

For many years, educators have been aware of the important role that Executive Function plays in learning.  Executive Function is:

The cognitive process that regulates an individual’s ability to:

  • organize thoughts and activities,
  • prioritize tasks,
  • manage time efficiently, and
  • make decisions.

Impairment of executive function is seen in a range of disorders, including some pervasive developmental disorders and nonverbal learning disabilities.

Executive functions are carried out by an area of the brain called the Prefrontal Cortex (PFC). The PFC controls one’s ability to plan how one will react to their emotions and to then be able to control their reaction.  Social skills in children develop predominantly during the span of ages three and seven. Important skills in this category include paying attention, having self-control and calming down when one is upset.

Because a child can begin to recognize and talk about their emotions in the pre-school years, they are able to control their reaction to their emotions for the first time.  In Destructive EmotionsDaniel Goleman & the Dalai Lama write:

[The] prefrontal areas are the last part of the human brain to become fully mature, continuing to show anatomical growth into the mid-twenties–making life’s early years a key window of opportunity to help young people master the most helpful lessons for life.

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This summer, as a part of Engaging Minds, Inspiring Ideas, I am teaching a professional development workshop for teachers called: “Practicing Mindfulness and Meditation with Children.”  My workshop will be all day on Friday, June 18th at The Key School in Annapolis, Maryland.  The whole Summer Institute offers a wide variety of professional development opportunities, including Global Education, Outdoor Education, etc.  Check out the website for more details and registration — and pass this info on to other educators who might have an interest!

Here’s the full description of my workshop:

PRACTICING MINDFULNESS AND MEDITATION WITH CHILDREN

“If we knew a particular and readily available activity would increase concentration, learning, well-being, and social emotional growth, and catalyze transformative learning, we would be cheating our students to exclude it.”
–Tobin Hart “Opening the Contemplative Mind in the Classroom” Journal of Transformative Education

The stress and demands of an increasingly complex world too often interfere with a student’s academic performance and sense of well-being. Mindfulness, the ability to focus one’s attention, teaches the skills necessary for powerful learning and inner peace. This seminar will focus on the activities, tools and techniques that teach and cultivate mindfulness in students.

Seminar Topics:

  • Understanding the current scientific research on mindfulness and its benefits for the brain
  • Meditation techniques, including yoga, that can be introduced in the classroom
  • The benefits of adopting a personal mindfulness practice—a critical step in the process of bringing mindfulness to others
  • Hands-on, classroom-ready techniques to use with students of all ages

PRESENTER

Angela Baccala, librarian: Ms. Baccala has served as Pre and Lower School librarian at The Key School for ten years and teaches mindfulness meditation to a variety of age levels at the School. Angela shared her techniques at the Mindfulness in Education Network annual conferences in 2008 and 2009, and presented at the Association of Independent Maryland Schools annual conference in 2008.

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It seems that everyone’s excited for “The Buddha” on PBS.  If you haven’t heard the buzz yet, the film by David Grubin premiers on April 7th.  The Buddha even has a Facebook page and a Twitter feed!

PBS put together a marvelous educational website to go with the film.  If you’re an educator, you’ll definitely want to check it out.  Some highlights include:

I wish this kind of material was available when I first started integrating mindfulness work in my Library!  Please visit and take advantage of this helpful information — it’s just a click away.  Enjoy!

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Many definitions of mindfulness exist.  Dr. Amy Saltzman says that “the practice of mindfulness teaches students how to pay attention, and this way of paying attention enhances both academic and social-emotional learning.”  She also says that the “ability to pay attention is a natural, innate human capacity.”  Author Deborah Schoeberlein, in her book Mindful Teaching and Teaching Mindfulness writes that mindfulness is

“a conscious, purposeful way of tuning in to what’s happening in and around us.”

When I talk about mindfulness in the context of K-12 education, I am referring to the explicit practice of training the mind to pay attention through (secular) meditation and mindful movement.  Teaching mindfulness means teaching meditation, as well as activities such as yoga, walking meditation, walking a labyrinth, etc.

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