Elementary Students Practicing Mindfulness: A Meeting of the Minds
Much of the literature about stress and its effects on children is focused on how these various groups can learn how to cope, adapt, and/or manage stress. Practicing mindfulness, on the other hand, is about becoming familiar with how one responds to stress and, as important, how one can differentiate between stressors that generate beneficial actions and ones that escalate distress and discomfort. It was the latter approach that characterized the year-long mindfulness project that a group of racial, ethnic, and culturally diverse fifth graders in a local Boston public school participated in during the AY2016-2017. The facilitator of the project met with participating students for an average of 75 minutes, once per week. In large and small group discussions and numerous creative techniques and processes (e.g., photography, symbolic art) the participants explored, documented, and assessed how they experienced various forms of mindfulness and how those processes informed their thinking, emotions, and actions. As important, participating in the project provided the young people with opportunities to become `mindfulness ambassadors' who brought mindfulness into their families, school, and respective communities. Engaging in mindfulness practices provided the young people with opportunities to develop life-long, skillful ways to become familiar with their minds, increase their self-awareness, more effectively respond to difficult thoughts and emotions, and provide strategies to foster positive connections with others. In addition, sharing and exploring strategies for developing a mindful perspective contributed to creating an environment for learning that intersected with young people's capacity to be critical thinkers and thoughtful decision-makers. The greatest contribution of the book is that it is threaded with the voices of young girls and boys who speak about themselves, their thoughts and emotions, their experiences with fear, anxiety, success, and failure with directness, honesty, and a confidence in their skills and abilities. Their participation in the project demonstrates the possibilities classroom teachers have to integrate mindfulness practices into the school day. As important, teachers are invited to hone their own mindfulness practices to ensure that they are intentionally working with their own thoughts, emotions, and assumptions as they relate to the students they teach.