The concept of mindfulness in the classroom has become quite a buzz phrase over the past few years in education. This term floats around quite often, but what exactly does mindfulness in the classroom mean? As defined by a quick Google search, mindfulness is “a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations”. Given that our students in the classroom today lack many of the basic soft skills that previous generations have learned outside of the classroom, it is important to focus on mindfulness to help teach our students coping mechanisms, stress relief, and a general sense of awareness about themselves. There are several ways to take care of it in the classroom, but one easy way is to institute calming brain breaks.
Throughout our brain breaks series, we have talked about several different ways to utilize brain breaks in the classroom. We know that brain breaks could be made to energize or they could be made to relax our students. Calming brain breaks take care of the ladder. They allow just a few minutes for students to achieve a level of mindfulness that allows and their heart rates, anxieties, and energy levels to level out in a way that allows them to appropriately continue on their day in a more relaxed state.
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As with the rest of our brain break series, the number one way to ensure that this will work for your classroom is knowing your students and what they will buy into. If you walk into a classroom of rambunctious high school students with a crystal bowl and a series of yoga poses, you may be met with some serious resistance. It may be necessary to start small and move to “higher level” mindfulness practices during your calming brain breaks. Again, you need to know your students to know what to try and how to build upon it.
Calming Brain Breaks
Depending on what you have at your disposal in your classroom dictates how you can go about executing a calming brain break. The most basic levels allow you to work on focused attention practices with your students. Basically, you don’t need anything more than their bodies and their time to work on these. These activities usually last somewhere between a minute to a minute and a half and allow students an opportunity to quiet their minds, which helps the parasympathetic nervous system regulate itself. This helps with impulse control, coping mechanisms, and the ease of everyday frustrations. The easiest starting point is executing various breathing exercises. An easy option is to have students place one hand on their stomach and the other on their upper lip. As they breathe in, they will feel the hand on their stomach move and then as they breathe out they will feel the air on their hand. By doing this it allows them to focus on something external and yet internal at the same time, quieting the mind. Another good option is to lead the students to inhale for a count of 4, hold that breath for a count of four, and then exhale on a count of four. Keeping this rhythm will also help achieve the same goal. There are many different breathing exercises available; these are just two easy, quick options.
If you have access to technology there are a ton of videos on YouTube that can be utilized as well. Below I have a few different options that are appropriate for different grade levels. Again, listen to make sure you listen through these before you use them with your students and make sure they are appropriate for the students that you have. If you think that they may giggle and not take it seriously, I would suggest finding a different one. If you think it is something that they would buy into, then certainly go for it.
If you’re unfamiliar with GoNoodle, you’re in for a treat. This is a selection from their programming that is perfect for elementary aged students to help them find their center. They have a lot of cute options for calming brain breaks, but I particularly like the flow of this one:
This particular option is great for middle school as it helps them gain a greater awareness of their bodies and where they may be holding tension. This stage of adolescence is when stress really starts becoming more prevalent in more of our students, so not only is this a great exercise to help with grounding in general, but they can put it in their own personal toolboxes to start recognizing when they made need to center themselves.
High school really opens up a whole plethora of calming brain breaks. The issue here is buy-in. Once you get your students to buy-in to the mindfulness practice, the possibilities are endless. This particular video is a perfect starting point if your students have a bit of interest to start. It will help them to become grounded, focused, and move forward with a general sense of well being and balance.
I also love the video below because it is so stinking mesmerizing. Truly, I feel it can be used at any grade level, but of course, you can look around for a different one that may be more appropriate for your students. With this, it is almost like a kaleidoscope that you watch and you get absolutely sucked into it. It also helps with the parasympathetic nervous system and does everything that the other options do, just in a more visual way.
So in keeping with the trend of accepting (and needing) mindfulness in the classroom for our students, implementing calming brain breaks gets two birds with one stone. You have a way to allow your students the opportunity to learn how to regulate their own minds and bodies and also an opportunity to relax your whole class with a quick brain break. We will be helping them long term in their lives by spending just a few minutes a day on this, and I think that is something that we should always remember as we are trying to find those moments in our schedules.