I have recently taught lesson 6 of 12 of the ‘Paws B’ Mindfulness in Schools Project or MiSP – https://mindfulnessinschools.org/ – to my boisterous and lively class, who are aged between 8-9 years old. It has taken me 18 months of developing my own mindfulness meditation practise and training, to build up to qualifying to teach these lessons, and I have to hold my hands up and admit that it has been harder than I anticipated.
When I started to feel the benefits of beginning a mindfulness practise approximately 18 months ago, one of my first instincts was, ‘I wish someone would have taught me this when I was younger.’ I could instantly understand the benefits of a greater awareness of ourselves and our minds for young children, being a mother of young twin boys and a primary school teacher. All to well, I understood the stresses and demands of growing up and going too school – as a teacher or a pupil – in modern Britain and as the practises helped me to better cope with these pressures, I naturally wanted to share this invaluable tool with the children in my care. Luckily, my supportive headteacher, who recognised the difference it had made to me, was interested in what MiSP could potentially offer the pupils in our school. Her encouragement spared me on to pursue a teaching qualification.
Fast forward, 18 months later and I began my training course to teach Paws B; a 12 week course to introduce mindfulness to 7-11 year olds. The course was run in Liverpool by: Tabitha Sawyer -the founder of the course (for the first morning), Kate Norfolk and Emma Naisbett. These amazing women were truly inspirational and the course was probably the best training I’ve experienced as a professional, not least because my fellow trainees were an awesome group of people from many corners of the globe. Without going on about it, I left the course feeling excited and fully prepared to take what I had learned back to share with my class.
I decided to dive straight in and sent out the letter that accompanies the teaching of the course to the parents of my class. A few days later, I started the lessons. The subject knowledge section of the lesson – introducing some basic neuroscience to help children understand how their brains and minds work – went pretty much as expected and the children seemed genuinely engaged and interested. ‘Amazing!’ I thought, ‘I will have a class of mini Mother Theresas and Dalai Lamas before I know it.’
Then, to interrupt my Nirvana like fantasy – came the part of the lesson when the children were supposed to supposed to ‘go into their bubble’ and focus on counting their breaths. This is a relaxed sitting posture that we had been taught on the training course that could help children to maintain their attention on themselves, rather than whatever is going on around them. The instruction involved the children sitting in a relaxed upright position, with feet flat on the floor, hands on thighs and eyes closed or lowered to look at the table. The idea was that if they were sat like so, they would not burst their own imaginary bubble or anyone else’s. Put it like this, if the children did in fact have bubbles around them, that could be burst by movement, sound or distraction, not one child would have had a bubble left within 5 seconds of starting the practise.
Undeterred, my training and practise kicked in, and I reminded the children that it is natural for their minds to wander. I told them that as soon as they noticed their attention wandering, they could return it to their breath, which acts like an anchor and start counting again. At this point, I wondered if there was magnificent fireworks display going off above their heads that was visible to all of the children, but invisible to me. The staring at the ceiling and all around, continuous fidgeting and wriggling was not what I had anticipated, at all. When the trainers on the Liverpool training course had told us that it was time to go into our bubble, like obedient pupils, we had obliged; sitting quietly and motionless. I mean, I knew that sitting still wasn’t a speciality of my class, but I thought with my embodied calmness and stillness they would be all drop into a zen like peace at a words command.
As you can probably guess, they continued to not sit still. They barely even sat. With their feet writhing up and down the chair legs as usual and heads spinning around so they could see what their friends were up to during this few minutes of down time. I persisted in giving the instructions I’d practised and took heart from the one or two children who did manage to settle down, even for just a short time.
As the lessons have progressed, I have learned a lot. For example, that they are much more able to settle down in the morning than the afternoon, they are far more self-conscious about trying something new than I had previously noticed and leaving my expectations at the door on the way into the lesson, has served us all better in the subsequent lessons. Slowly and almost imperceptibly, they have begun to change. The smallest differences, from the odd pair of feet staying rooted to the ground for an extra few seconds to the sudden wondrous engagement of a child, who up until now hadn’t paid a blind bit of notice, have started to happen and the other day, both myself and my teaching assistant both commented tentatively on the way the children were much more ready to stay in their illusive bubbles.
So, as Kate and Emma – my wonderful trainers told us – I am trying to have faith in the course and the potential that it has to provide young people with an important life-skill. I will continue to try and teach with my eyes and heart firmly open as I go forwards, in the hope that what I have glimpsed so far, is the beginnings of being able to share an amazing practise with children.