Mindfulness in the classroom: Mindful Moments

mindful moments in the classroom

You guys you guys, I discovered the best thing!! I’ve been trying to figure out practical, not-overwhelming-or-hard-or-time-consuming ways to bring mindfulness into my classroom, and when I came across this artist, I realized it was made just for me. Or so I’d like to believe. Anyway, her name is Kira Willey, and she is a singer/songwriter and yoga person who wanted to bring more mindfulness into kids’ lives. She has lots of albums filled with beautiful yoga-for-kids songs, but my absolute favorite is her new one, Mindful Moments for Kids. I highly recommend you get it.

mindful moments album cover

The songs are about a minute long, and have names like “Candle Breath,” “Imagine You’re a Tree,” and “Be a Bumblebee.” They give short and simple directions for calming your body, breathing in and out deeply (sometimes like a bumblebee, sometimes like you’re blowing out a candle), and centering your mind. The fun instructions (“pretend you’re holding a cup of hot cocoa…take a small sip and say mmmmm as you breathe out”) completely captivate my kids, and the songs get even the squirreliest bunch of kindergarteners to calm down and focus. The album has 32 different songs on it, so the kids always have a lot to choose from.

I especially like doing them when the class comes to the rug. If you think about it, transition times like coming to the rug are a really good time to take a minute for mindfulness. I realized recently that I don’t allow my kids to have slow transitions from one thing to the next. When writing time is wrapping up, I say “okay time to come to the rug for science” and expect them to be cleaned up, seated and quiet within minutes. We rush our kids from subject to subject, from room to room, from area to area. But sometimes they need time to refocus on the new topic at hand, or the new role they are expected to play (before I was a writer, now I am a scientist). These mindful moments from Kira Willey are a perfect way to help them do just that.

Raising race conscious children: having tough conversations

let's talk about race

I have a new blog obsession, one that was recommended to me by Families for Justice, a local group I started working with to bring conversations about race to our community. The blog is called Raising Race Conscious Children, and is one of the best resources I’ve come across for learning how to talk about race, gender, and sexuality with young children. While I’m not a parent, I do, in a sense, have kids – my kindergarten students, every day for eight hours, all year long. Tough conversations arise when I spend time with my kids, and I’ve started going to this blog for inspiration and advice on how to work through these tough conversations.

The blog authors publish articles on all sorts of topics that arise when you spend time with young children, such as “Momma, why aren’t there more boy teachers?” and “Black is not a bad word: Why I don’t talk in code with my children.

For example, check out this post on what happened when the author’s seven-year-old daughter encountered an act of sexism on her soccer team. A boy cut in front of her in line and said boys should go first. He also later told her it would be embarrassing if a girl beat a boy while playing soccer. Her daughter got upset and told him it wasn’t nice.

On the way home, instead of shying away from the topic, her mom asked her daughter to explain what happened, and told her she was proud of her for standing up for herself. But the mom felt some unease when she realized that she didn’t explain the root cause of this interaction – that the boy wasn’t just being mean, he was being sexist.

So that night, the author “circles back” and brings it up with her daughter again. She does some courageous things in the conversation, including defining the word “sexism” for her daughter, and explaining that this probably won’t be the last time she’ll face a situation like this.

And instead of being fearful or upset, her daughter responds with courage too, and connects it to Rosa Parks standing up for what she believed in.

The author’s experience was a powerful one, and confirms my belief that we need to talk about these issues with our young children, instead of pretending that they’ll go away if we ignore them long enough. The conversations are tough, but necessary, for bringing social justice transformation to our families, classrooms, and communities.

My favorite line from the article:

“I don’t know if I found the right line that day, but I definitely grew. I grew in respect for my daughter and her ability to analyze what’s really going on. And I grew in my clarity that supporting our children in naming the truth of their own experiences isn’t likely to make them small or afraid. It’s much more likely to make large and courageous their capacity to act with agency in the world.”

What happened when I defined sexism for my daughter

Mindfulness in the classroom: it starts with the teacher

mindfulness in the classroom

This school year has been harder than most for me. I have a big class, lots of kids with lots of needs, and I feel like I’m constantly stressed out. For some reason, the pressures of teaching and taking care of my students, plus adhering to all the other expectations that come with teaching in an elementary school these days, have left me feeling exhausted – even more exhausted than a normal kindergarten year. I’ve had more moments of disillusion this year than I have in the past (Am I really cut out for being a teacher? Am I losing my ability to be patient with my kids? Should I find another profession?)

It’s led me to a lot of soul searching. After lots of journaling, talking with colleagues, and reflecting, I’ve concluded is that yes, I still want to be a teacher, and am as dedicated as ever to teaching and reaching my students. But it’s been quite a while since I’ve been able to step back and deeply appreciate those beautiful moments that come with teaching young children. Their sense of wonder, the joy they bring to the smallest of tasks, the lessons they teach me about happiness and humanity.

What I need are more strategies for making my days slower, happier, more joyful. Yes, stress will always be part of teaching. But if I learn how to manage this stress in a way that’s healthy for both me and my students, I know that my days will be more joyful, and peaceful, again.

After lots of reading, I’ve figured out a potential strategy for managing this stress. Enter: mindfulness! I feel lucky to have jumped on the mindfulness bandwagon that is circulating the teaching field these days. Mindfulness in the classroom is a subtle but powerful concept that has brought hope back to the way I think about teaching. Our district requires us to do a professional development project each year, so I decided to take on mindfulness as my project this year. I plan to study mindfulness for teachers, students, and the curriculum – and share what I learn here.

The first lesson I’ve learned seems to be the most important: You can’t teach mindfulness to your students without practicing mindfulness in your life first.

Yoga, meditation, and journaling are all habits I use to bring more mindfulness into my life. Others use running, biking, walking, or restorative breathing. I’ve also heard of people who write a word like “awareness,” or a mantra like “breathe and let go,” on a stone, and put it on their desk in their classroom. This reminds them to take a pause and notice their body, notice how they are feeling, notice what they need to recenter themselves.

My favorite resources for learning the basics of mindfulness in the classroom, and how to adapt it in your own life first, are listed below.

Teach, Breathe, Learn: Mindfulness In and Out of the Classroom by Meena Srinivasan

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This book is written by a former teacher from India who now works on social-emotional development in the States. I love her short, informative chapters, her stories of the classroom, and her straightforward advice on bringing mindfulness into your life. She also provides an entire unit (geared towards 6th grade but adaptable for other ages) on mindfulness that would be perfect for the beginning of the year. I loved this book and it only took me about a week to read it.

Mindfulness for Teachers: Simple Skills for Peace and Productivity in the Classroom, by Patricia A. Jennings

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This book was a longer read, and full of tons of strategies and habits for adapting more mindfulness into your life and classroom. This is a good one to read after you’ve had a basic introduction (maybe from the previous book I mentioned). The author really emphasizes how teaching is an emotional profession, much more than most jobs, and the stress level can be very high – and mindfulness strategies can really target the emotional stress that teachers experience every day.

The Way of Mindful Education: Cultivating Well-Being in Teachers and Students, by Daniel Rechtschaffen

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I have to admit I haven’t read this one yet! It’s got a long waiting list at the library, so I’ll get to it eventually! The author is pretty well known in the field as a mindfulness educator, and I’ve heard a few interviews with him (including this one from the podcast Present Moment: Mindfulness Practice and Science – another awesome resource for learning more). I have no doubt it’ll be a good resource.

Wherever You Go, There You Are, by Jon Kabat-Zinn

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This was my first introduction to meditation and mindfulness. The author is well-known as one of the first to bring mindfulness meditation to a larger Western audience. The book is really easy to read, with short chapters that give lots of practical advice on how to develop a mindfulness practice. He has tons of other books, but this one is a sufficient introduction to developing the habit. It’s also really cheap and you can often used copies at thrift stores!

Next week I’ll share some of my tips on how to teach mindfulness to your students. And eventually I hope to share what I learn about the benefits of mindfulness and working towards a more peaceful classroom. Thanks for reading!

photo credit

Tips for becoming a runner: vol. 3…Go trail running

Tips for Becoming a Runner

As a result of my unrealistic desire to turn everyone into a runner, I’ve decided to share some tips about what helps me keep running. While I’m no expert, I’ve been running for seven years now, which, at the age of 29, is 25% of my life. Thus, I’ve accumulated a few ideas for how to go from running-is-miserable-torture to running-is-freedom.

These tips are in no particular order of helpfulness, and may not work for everyone. But I hope they inspire you just a little bit!

Tip #3: Go trail running.

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The words “trail” and “running” together sound really hard core, like going for a run will turn into navigating crevasses and avoiding rogue rattlesnakes.

In the midwest, however, trail running is often just another way of saying “run somewhere besides the sidewalk.” I have two sidewalk routes in my neighborhood that are my regular routes. They’re great during the week when I don’t want to put any effort into deciding where to run. (Even the smallest of barriers to running, like having to decide where to go, often become insurmountable during the school year.)

But on the weekends, those routes become really, well, routine, and I start to dread running past the same old scenery. As you probably figured out, I do everything I can to look FORWARD to running, instead of dreading it. So now I use trail running to find new places to go.

I’m lucky to live in an area full of hiking and biking trails, so finding trails hasn’t been difficult. I purchased one of those 60 Hikes Within Wherever You Live books, and use that as a sort of checklist to decide where to go. I usually find a trail that can take me 3 to 6 miles, and I make sure to bring a water bottle in the car for when I return.

Even if you don’t live near an extensive network of trails, find a river or park in your city where you could go. Switching locations will hopefully keep you motivated to go for a run. Your body will appreciate the break from pounding on sidewalk. (A lush carpeted forest is so much better for the knees.) And prairie flowers are much prettier to look at than old apartment buildings.

IMG_5244Happy running!

Tips for becoming a runner: Vol. 2…Listen to interesting things while you run.

Tips for Becoming a Runner

As a result of my unrealistic desire to turn everyone into a runner, I’ve decided to share some tips about what helps me keep running. While I’m no expert, I’ve been running for seven years now, which, at the age of 29, is 25% of my life. Thus, I’ve accumulated a few ideas for how to go from running-is-miserable-torture to running-is-freedom.

These tips are in no particular order of helpfulness, and may not work for everyone. But I hope they help a little!

Tip #2: Listen to interesting things while you run.

Now, this is a controversial one, because there are a lot of people out there who say you should run just for the pure joy of running. Be in touch with your body, pay attention to your surroundings, listen to your own thoughts, and all that.

If you’re one of those people who can run this way, I am extremely impressed. Keep it up.

I, however, am not one of those people. I don’t like listening to the sound of my labored breathing, and I get so bored focusing on my mind replaying the day over and over again. When I don’t have headphones to distract me, I end up dwelling on little aches and pains in my body, or the extreme level of humidity, or any other excuse to stop running. Thus, I am a big proponent of bringing along your ipod (or whatever) and listening to interesting things to help you get through the run. Such as…

MUSIC!

I make my own playlists, and always keep at least one playlist on my phone titled “Running.” The songs are usually upbeat, dance-y type songs, or else epic instrumentals that leave me feeling motivated. I also have playlists titled “Training,” (for really long runs) “Mellow,” (on those rare days when I can run to slow music) and “Life” (for nostalgic purposes).

Sometimes I listen to playlists that people have made on Spotify, like this one and this one. Also, Spotify just came up with a new program that tracks your steps per minute and makes a mix for you! I haven’t tried it yet but it looks pretty awesome.

I also love the podcast called Music that Matters, from Seattle radio station KEXP. They put out an hour of new music each week, and sometimes have ones called Runner Powered Podcasts. I love these and keep them on my phone even after I delete other episodes. The DJ plays perfect running songs and intersperses them with inspirational running quotes. The latest one is my current favorite!

PODCASTS!

It took me a long time to realize how genius it is to listen to podcasts while you run. It’s like reading, my favorite thing in the world, only you can do it while running! There are a million different podcasts out there, but I find the ones that work best for me to listen to while running are the story-telling podcasts. They keep me focused on the story, rather than my desire to stop running, and sometimes minutes (whole minutes!) can go by where I don’t think about how my body feels, but instead think about what will happen next in the gripping podcast story. Some favorites:

I also love ones that are more focused on teaching you something (rather than telling you a story), but are still engaging programs, like…

And last but not least, I often defer to my dad’s favorite show when I need some humor to distract me: Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me.

AUDIOBOOKS?

Okay so I had to include this, because it would seem logical that if I love podcasts, and reading, I would also love audiobooks. But for some reason, no matter how hard I try, I can NOT seem to get into them. I have successfully made it through probably five audiobooks in my lifetime, which is not for lack of trying. (My dad has an incredible list of hundreds of audiobooks that he has listened to, organized alphabetically, that puts me to shame.)

Anyway, I think some people do like running while listening to audiobooks, because it’s something to engage your mind on the trail. So I found some lists on the internet that seemed helpful. Who knows, maybe some day I will discover a latent love for audiobooks…

12 Audiobooks for Runners (these all sound awesome)

Read While You Run

Listening to Audiobooks While You Do Something Else is the Ultimate in Multitasking

 

Small things to make life better

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Making small changes in order to live a healthier life has been an obsession of mine for a while now. I love Gretchen Rubin and Zen Habits and all the other people out there who write meaningfully about this topic, without just making listicles like “12 Things to Do for Eternal Happiness.” So of course I was excited about the “One Small Thing” series from one of my favorite bloggers, Alicia at Jaybird! She and other bloggers write all about small, actionable things you can do to make yourself feel better and healthier – like making your bed every day, or storing your canvas bags more efficiently.

I get excited every time she posts a new one, and I was lucky enough to contribute as well! Click here to see my guest post on making grocery shopping faster, easier and more awesome. Just like the other ideas in her series, it’s a tiny thing that makes a big difference in reducing stress (which ultimately makes life better).

Tips for becoming a runner, from a former non-runner

In news that makes my soul very happy, my mom has started running! And so have two of my very favorite friends who are also baby mamas (thus making the accomplishment of running even more amazing since they are raising children at the same time).

Now, I realize that running isn’t for everyone. But it has done such wonders for my life that I feel like I want to convince everyone who ever lived to become a runner. Having trouble sleeping? Try running. Want to lose weight? Try running. Feeling sad about life? Try running. Need to feel powerful or motivated? Try running. Need some alone time? Try going for a run.

Now, I realize this is obnoxious, so I keep it to myself. In fact, I almost never talk about running unless someone brings it up first. (But if they do, I usually can’t shut up about it.) I remember exactly how it felt to be a non-runner, and see people I knew going for an effortless three mile run in the morning. They were lean and muscular and also very zen about the world. And they made it look so easy! I was an unhealthy, slightly sedentary college student, with my longest daily exercise being a 15 minute bike ride to campus. Running even one mile was like torture.

But fast forward to today, and I have done one marathon (whoa), quite a few half marathons, and lots of little races. I also run three miles a day regularly. As a result, I feel happier, healthier, better at sleeping, better at eating, better at life in general. And I want everyone to have this feeling! But it’s a huge uphill climb to go from being a non-runner to a runner.

(As a side note, the word “runner” is loaded and in my head people take it way too seriously. I think you’re a runner if you sometimes choose to go for a run. Or when you decide you want to be a runner. But it took me a long time to be comfortable calling myself that.)

As a result of my unrealistic desire to turn everyone into a runner, I’ve decided to share some tips about what helps me keep running. While I’m no expert, I’ve been running for seven years now, which, at the age of 29, is 25% of my life. Thus, I’ve accumulated a few ideas for how to go from running-is-miserable-torture to running-is-freedom.

These tips are in no particular order of helpfulness, and may not work for everyone. But they work for me!

Tips for Becoming a Runner

Tip #1: Read inspirational stuff on the internet.

Blogs help motivate me to do lots of things. I have a ridiculously long blogroll that I read each week. And while reading about running doesn’t make you actually go out and do it, I find that it helps me when I’m wavering between “I am really exhausted and would much rather lay around watching Game of Thrones” and “Maybe I should just get up and go for a run.” Fortunately there are so many inspirational things written about running on the interwebs! Here a just a few of my favorites:

Blogs

Articles

Boards

Like these ones on running and hiking and yogis and self improvement and happiness.

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Can do canning: Jar your garden to savor later

I love canning, even though it’s time-consuming and makes the kitchen really hot in the middle of summer. But the process is easy and, much like cooking, is a form of meditation for me. And in the middle of winter it makes me really happy to see jars of tomatoes and jam and pesto on my shelf.

I also happen to love infographics, so I especially liked this infographic on canning. Enjoy!
Can-Do Canning: Jar Your Garden to Savor Later  - MJJSales.com - Infographic

Homework checklist for kindergarten {editable}

Homework in kindergarten! As strongly as I feel that we are already overworking our kindergarteners, I have parents asking me every year for what they can do at home. For a few years, I tried just telling parents that they shouldn’t worry about homework this year – the amount their kids would receive in older grades would be enough for a lifetime! But inevitably parents would beg for homework, and I would put together makeshift math packets or sight word worksheets. This was time consuming and inconsistent, since I didn’t have a time to put together a new packet every week, and the stress it caused for me was not worth the gains the kids made (or more likely didn’t make).

But this year I finally found a solution that works – the Homework Checklist! I learned about the Homework Checklist from the phenomenal book Cultivating Joy and Wonder. The teacher-authors of this book use the checklist to disguise playing outside as “homework,” an idea that was right up my alley. Here’s how it works:

  1. Every Friday I send home the checklist. I ask that families choose five items to complete with their child, and bring it back by the following Friday.
  2. The first four items on the list are always the same. In my opinion, these are the five most important things that developing kindergarteners should be doing on a weekly (if not daily) basis:
    • Read a book to yourself.
    • Read a book with someone.
    • Exercise or play outside for 30 minutes.
    • Help someone in your family cook a meal.
  3. The rest of the items on the list change each week according to what we have been studying. I use this for all kinds of ideas, including but not limited to:
    • doing a shape hunt around the house during our shape unit
    • writing “how to” books with a family member during our How To Writer’s Workshop unit
    • assigning a sight word scavenger hunt in magazines at home
    • walking around the yard looking for signs of spring
    • practicing counting to 100 independently

Homework Checklist from teachruneat.com

I am so excited to have found a way to incorporate homework that is kid-friendly and developmentally appropriate. I make sure to let parents know that they are not required to do any of the items, and can in fact add their own ideas. I like to think that this encourages families to spend time working on fun and engaging tasks together with their kindergarten child, rather than just helping them complete worksheets in the traditional homework format.

If you’d like a copy of the checklist, I just posted an editable version on my Teachers Pay Teachers store! You can also click on the image above. I hope

Jane Goodall’s Roots & Shoots

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I work on the side at a local nature center, which is so much fun and such a great way to expand my abilities to teach environmental ed in the classroom. Recently I was asked to help lead a new effort for the nature center to become a Roots & Shoots service learning site. Roots & Shoots is an outreach organization created by Jane Goodall (one of my personal heroes) that encourages schools and community groups to do environmental service projects. Basically any project that helps the environment, wildlife or the human community will count as a service project, everything from clearing invasive species to building a butterfly garden or picking up trash. The nature center is a really easy place to set this up, since we have schools, Scouts and community groups coming to the nature center for earth-related service projects all the time. Now all we have to do is let them know that we are officially a Roots & Shoots service learning site!

I was thinking, though, that I could easily do Roots & Shoots service projects in my classroom as well! Why not? I’ve always wanted to do a large service project with my students as part of the science or social studies curriculum, and this could be an authentic way to carry one out. I could start by teaching about Jane Goodall and other scientists who study wildlife. Then we could brainstorm projects that would help the earth. Then, probably as part of a writing project, the kids could write up what we are doing and submit it to the website!

For more information on how to have your classroom or school become a Roots & Shoots site, click here. There is also a free online course this summer (that I’ll be taking) called Turning Learners into Leaders: Empowering Youth through Service in Education. It’s supposed to help train you on how to carry out service projects with your students. Perfect for my new plan! Here’s the flier for the online course:

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