Mindfulness in the Math Classroom
Why Use Mindfulness in School?
If you've seen my content before you know that talking about math and number sense in early elementary is my jam it's what I love to share ideas, strategies, and tips. I also completely understand that sometimes our students come into the classroom and they are not at all ready for learning. If their basic needs Are not met they won't be able to engage in any learning that we are doing as a class. I had one year in particular where I had a lot of students who consistently came in unavailable for learning because of something that happened at home or something that had happened previously. I was struggling to figure out how to best help them move from the unrest they were feeling to feeling safe and letting themselves start to engage in academics and take ownership of their learning.
Trauma-informed practice is a journey I started looking into back in 2017-2018. I had been teaching kindergarten for a few years at this point and I had a year unlike any other. I had several students who had a lot of social-emotional needs and could be very volatile from day to day. For one reason or another, they would already be on edge and the slightest hiccup in the day could lead to a meltdown. That year was particularly difficult for me as a teacher to know how to support them and the rest of my students. A colleague of mine came across a video from Edutopia called Fall-Hamilton Elementary: Transitioning to Trauma-Informed Practices to Support Learning. From watching this video it set up a basis for supporting students who may have had a history of trauma. What we see might be chairs flying across the room or violence towards other students or emotional outbursts but there's something underneath that and what might we do as teachers to set up an environment that feels safe.
From there my team and I took a deep dive into the effects of trauma on students and what we can do at school to help them be successful. Several things can be done One of the easiest for me to implement was mindfulness in school. I had already started my own personal mindfulness journey and practice especially when I was never sure what kind of day I was going to be walking into. Since our children are so young they don't necessarily have the language or experience to realize when they are starting to go into a crisis and what they might do to stop themselves from getting into that crisis. One of the first practices I implemented was mindfulness during transitions that might be a little bit bigger. By that, I don't mean from one station to another it was more coming in from lunch or specials kind of like a reset to the day. https://www.echotraining.org/trauma-informed-support-for-children/
Mindfulness and Social-Emotional Learning
In my school, we teach the kids about the Zones of Regulation as a way for them to identify their emotions. There are four zones green red yellow and blue. during the school day, we hope that students are in the green zone which means they're ready for learning But no one is happy all the time and so the other zones are kind of groups of different emotions that go together. Yellow means excited, silly, frustrated, or worried. The Blue Zone might be sad tired sick bored Etc and the Red Zone the angry terrified panicked elated and overjoyed. We talked to the kids about all emotions being valid but recognizing their emotions can help them get back to the green zone where they're calm and ready for learning. Having this common language is very beneficial when talking with students who might be moving from the green zone into the yellow zone Red Zone or Blue Zone so that they can start to identify their emotions and start to be able to regulate their own emotions or realize that there's something that they need that they're currently not getting.
That is where mindfulness practice comes in. having a consistent routine is so important for having a trauma-informed classroom because a schedule and routine can have a comforting effect on students. if they know how their day is going to go they can prepare for that and not be thrown off by something that might lead them into a crisis. If your students are in a crisis that is not the time to have them take a few deep breaths at that point their brains are not in a space to be metacognitive about how they're feeling and they wouldn't be able to apply any new strategies or comic strategies until they are back in a more calm place.
How to Promote Mindfulness in School: Building Mindfulness into the School Day
The place to teach mindfulness skills strategies Etc is during a time when they are not in crisis so my nonnegotiable time that I like to build in mindfulness or deep breathing or guided meditation is during the big transition between major subjects as a reset.
I choose one mindfulness activity or mindfulness video per week and we use the same one every week so the students can practice it get better with it and add it to their mindfulness toolbox. if a specific technique really resonates with them that's something that they can continue to practice at any time when they feel they might need it and if they are familiar with it and you as a teacher noticed that they were in the green zone but are moving into the yellow or moving into the blue you could also prompt them to try the technique that they really enjoyed to get them back into the green zone. this can look different for different students and also they may need a lot of co-regulation where you're helping them regular their emotions before they're able to do it on their own or recognize that they need that.
There are lots of breathing techniques to choose from that appeal to Young students but I found that while they might enjoy a mindfulness video or a specific breathing technique just the act of recognizing that their body is not calm and becoming calm is so important and helpful for them as they move through school. That being said there are some mindfulness activities that my students have come to love. For some of the breathing techniques, I will usually tell them we're going to do this five times or play a one-minute peaceful music or Sound bath type song and they can go as quickly or as slowly as they like for that one minute or two minutes or however long you'd like your mindfulness to last.
The Cool Breath- My students like this one because when we do it they think they're cool but the reason it's called the cool breath is that you're supposed to Take a deep breath in like your lips around a straw and then breathe out the same way. When you breathe in and out the area where you're breathing in around your lips should feel cool hence the cool breath.
Up Up and Away Breath- For the up up and away breath you're supposed to take two to three quick breaths hold them for 2 to 5 Seconds and then take a long breath out.
Feather Breathing- For this mindfulness activity the students Will each need a feather I just got a pack from the craft store and what they're focusing on is the sensation of the feather and if they like that sensation or dislike that sensation. (I have never had a student who disliked it!) After we are done I usually have a few students share where they found the feather to feel most soothing and to remember that spot if they ever needed to use the peace corner or calm down area whatever you call it that there's a feather there available and they might want to use that to help them get back to the green zone. For this activity can really choose any kind of breath that they would like even if it's just a normal breath but what they're focusing on is the sensation of the feather on their skin.
Videos- There are also tons of mindfulness videos available on YouTube some of my favorites I will link below that are pretty short and sweet and others have a bit of a song and a rhythm to them for a little Variety in your mindfulness time.
Introducing A Breathing Technique
As I mentioned previously I usually choose one mindfulness technique that we're going to use for the entire week. on Monday I'll show them a visual of what our mindfulness activity will be and explain how it's done and have us all practice a few times before actually getting into the meditation or mindfulness activity. When I first started including mindfulness into my day it was the middle of the school year and I was worried there'd be a little resistance from the kids but I never had that problem they just kind of rolled with it which was nice. since then it has been built into my schedule from day one so it's just a routine for the students. mindfulness can be done anytime during any transition but I use it most often after a brain break when we've got a little bit excited. in between science or social studies and math I will have the kids do a brain break because they've either been sitting on the carpet at their desk and just need a little bit of a break and reset so we'll do some kind of dance video or Energizer to get us ready for math but sometimes they can get a little bit too excited a little bit in the yellow zone if they enjoyed a dance we did so mindfulness right after that is a perfect way to get us reset. we had our bodies move around got some blood pumping and now we're going to breathe it out calm down and get ready for learning and it works well for every class that I've used it with.
What do you think are you going to try to include mindfulness in your day?