In Lower Elementary, students value the weekly Community Meeting as a predictable and safe way to practice respectful communication with their peers. The process of voicing a concern begins when a student articulates a problem by documenting the issue in a composition notebook we refer to as “the agenda.” The students know that items added to “the agenda” will be read at the next Community Meeting. Part of the rationale behind having the students write down their concerns for community discussion at a later time is that it allows for a “cooling off” period and time for the students to resolve their issues on their own.
We begin our Community Meetings with compliments and acknowledgements, with each student having the opportunity to contribute. After that, items on the agenda are read aloud and discussed. The person who originally voiced a concern in “the agenda” chooses how to approach the problem. The student may ask the class to share their feelings, to discuss the problem without providing solutions, to provide problem-solving suggestions, or they may indicate that the problem has already been resolved.
Community Meetings are designed to help the students learn to solve problems peacefully and with contributions from peers. Learning to use their voices and knowing that they are influential in their community helps them see their strengths, empowering them to communicate their viewpoint in social situations.
Mindfulness, although it has ancient origins, is something that we are hearing more and more about. Mindfulness means being focused in present time and space. You are aware of what is happening in your environment, what you are doing now with your hands, your voice, your body. You are aware of things happening inside your body. When you are driving, are you lost in an endless stream of thought about what has happened in the past or what you are going to do in the future? That’s an example of how we often move through our days on autopilot, not mindfully.
Maria Montessori discovered her own route to the practice of mindfulness, and its essence is embedded in the early childhood curriculum. As a scientist and observer, Dr. Montessori realized that children are naturally present in the moment. She also saw how important this acute attention is to learning. Many of the Montessori early childhood works are designed to sharpen the children’s skills of observation and help them focus on the physical sensations of each experience, in other words to be present in the moment. In sensorial activities, like the sound cylinders, the touch tablets, and the smelling bottles, students practice the skills of focusing and being completely present in the work. They tune into each individual tone, texture, and scent. These are the very same skills that traditional and modern mindfulness practices develop.
Montessori guides know that even chaotic, disruptive children have interests and will concentrate when they become calm, present, busy, and interested. Soon the ability to work with others and express kindness and compassion follows.
As the students move into elementary and middle school, we continue the work of mindfulness in a variety of ways. But the core of the practice is rooted in the early Montessori lessons that students receive in the early childhood classrooms.
Mindfulness is an ancient practice that exists, in one form or another, in most cultures. It has gained renewed prominence in the world today and is a growing field of medical and psychological research. There is a growing abundance of proof of the positive effects of the practice of mindfulness, from pain management to academic success. Many insightful new curriculums are being developed to bring the work of mindfulness into classrooms around the country with beneficial results.
Practice: Lower Elementary students have been focusing on time management. Using the time-timer as a visual aide helps students understand the length of time it takes to complete a task. The students have been reflecting on the work they complete during these blocks of time, and commenting that it assists them in making choices during the work cycle.
Reinforcement through discussion: During our community meetings, we discuss the practice of time management. Many children have observed that they complete more work when they are quietly working and are also becoming aware of the amount of time spent on each task.
Skill building: In addition, the students are learning to tell time. It has been exciting to hear the discussions in comparing the analog clock to the time-timer; many of the children are sharing their strategies in using their blocks of time. We remind the students that their social time is scheduled into each day during morning exercise, lunch, and recess. Working quietly is a task the students are practicing in order to enable them to complete more work successfully. Balancing their work time between working quietly without the distraction of conversation with working together on a project is essential to their toolbox of work habits.
No Name-Calling Week took place last week, January 21st – 25th. GLSEN (the Gay, Lesbian, Straight, Education Network) created No Name-Calling Week as a way to launch on-going dialogues in schools about name-calling of all kinds and provide schools with the tools and inspiration to do so.
A national survey conducted by GLSEN in January, 2012 showed that “School climate and victimization can affect student educational outcomes and personal development at every grade level.”
Some results from the survey are as follows. The percentages refer to the amount of students and teachers who heard this language regularly*:
· Most common forms of biased language in elementary schools, heard regularly by both students and teachers, are:
· 75% of students report that students at their school are called names, made fun of, or bullied with at least some regularity. The most common reasons are:
The Upper Elementary students had a discussion about No Name-Calling Week in their classroom, and when presented with these statistics, felt that they were not true at Abintra. They felt that name-calling was much less common due to the closeness of the community, small class sizes, and supportive guides.
As a follow-up to their discussion on name-calling, the UE students created “shirts of empowerment” during art. These shirts displayed their chosen empowerment words and symbols that would give them strength and confidence when others challenged their characters. These shirts represented the aspects of their identities that they were proud of and that made them feel unique. The students created shirts that not only empowered themselves, but also empowered and inspired those that viewed them.
*Taken from the article “GLSEN Releases Groundbreaking Study of Bias, Bullying and Homophobia in Grades K-6,” Jan 18, 2012. http://www.glsen.org/playgroundsandprejudice.html?
The quality of life is in proportion, always, to the capacity for delight. The capacity for delight is the gift of paying attention. Mary Sarton
I believe it true that yoga is meditation in motion. As of late, our young yogis have been taking that motion into the woods of Abintra. Our walks through the woods exercise the body, and also provide opportunities for mindfulness activities. Walking slowly and quietly, we pay close attention to the muscles of the legs and feet, how we place our feet upon the ground, and how we keep our balance. We try to be aware of the things we might otherwise miss: the sound of the wind in the trees, the sight of woodpeckers and robins flitting from branch to branch, the textures and colors upon the rocks along the path. Occasionally, when available, we sit in a sunny spot just to pay attention to the sensation of warmth upon our faces. Our mindfulness hikes are certainly an enjoyable way to promote greater health and well being.