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In late November, Katonah Elementary School dedicated a day to mindfulness.
Jessica Knopke, a yoga teacher and KLSD parent, spent one class period with each grade level and individual fifth grade classes, teaching students four approaches to mindfulness: breathing, postures, body scan, and positive affirmations.
“These tools improve students’ ability to focus and help them when they feel nervous, upset, or angry,” said Ms. Knopke.
Ms. Wolken’s fifth grade students sat at their desks, many with their eyes closed, holding one hand on their belly and the other on their heart. Their task was to focus their attention on their breath for a full sixty seconds. Jessica Knopke stood at the front of the room and did the breathing exercise along with them.
“How does this make you feel?” Ms. Knopke asked the children after a minute was up.
“Deep breaths that we send all the way down to our belly send a signal to our brain that everything is okay,” said Ms. Knopke. “This can help us feel calm and peaceful at times when we are experiencing big emotions.”
“Do you want to see how breath can also wake you up?” she asked.
Ms. Knopke led them in three other breathing techniques that involved quick movements, and sharp inhales and exhales: Bunny Breath, Lion's Breath, and Windmill.
The energy level in the room lifted. Each student seemed more alert and ready for learning.
Flash-forward three weeks. "Students are using the techniques they learned with Ms. Knopke," reports Ms. Wolken. "We have also used the breathing methods after lunch in order to center ourselves before moving on with the day."
One of KLSD’ school psychologists, Dr. Schwartz, along with the district behaviorist, Dr. Spoto, met with Increase Miler Elementary School teachers in early December and discussed various strategies for incorporating mindfulness into classrooms.
They showed teachers how to use a sensory approach to refocus students’ attention such as listening to chimes, squeezing a stress ball, or envisioning a specific calm place.
Linda Picket, a Meadow Pond fifth grade teacher, began the year with instruction in basic mindful breathing with all of her students. Over the course of the first two weeks of school, they worked up to two minutes of mindful breathing. They begin each day with two minutes of mindful breathing from then on, with students taking on the role of starting and ending the sessions with a Tibetan singing bowl.
"I have found that beginning the day in this way settles and calms students so they are ready to begin the day in a focused and positive way," said Ms. Pickett.
The three-part Parent / Teacher Discussion Series at John Jay Middle School focuses on mindfulness this year. During the first meeting, in November, attendees discussed the brain science of mindfulness and created simple goals to help develop mindful practices during busy days.
“The biggest take away for me was that being mindful does not mean we have to meditate in a specific way or attend a yoga class,” said teacher Mark Grossman, the school liaison for the parent-teacher discussion group. “It means finding ways to practice quieting our minds so that we are more present.”
The next meeting, on February 8 at 7 PM, will be on how to create mindful classrooms and mindful homes. All are welcome to attend.