Mindfulness on the Playground

The word “mindfulness” has been thrown about quite a bit in the education field lately. Usually people use it to talk about meditation in the classroom and giving children a chance to experience the stillness of that but to me, mindfulness means something much greater to me. Being mindful means being aware of yourself in relation to others and being aware of others – aware of their feelings and their physical presence. It means being aware of your own emotions and how they affect you throughout your day. That is a lot for a young child to handle, and every day is a new lesson in what it means to be mindful.

Yesterday I was watching several boys playing on the playground. They had tipped a wheelbarrow over onto its side and they were throwing rocks at it. Each time a rock hit the wheelbarrow it made a loud, satisfying sound. I enjoyed watching the boys as they threw their rocks at that wheelbarrow because they seemed to really be enjoying their sound effects.

wheelbarrow

wheelbarrow strategically on its side

And then it happened. Since the boys were throwing rocks at the wheelbarrow, they eventually had to retrieve their rocks so that they could throw them again. One boy went to retrieve his rock just as another boy was throwing his, and it hit him in the head. Luckily, it wasn’t a big rock; otherwise this story would have a much different ending. But it was big enough that the boy started crying, prompting me to go over to him and ask him what was wrong (as if I hadn’t been watching their play). As if sensing the gravity of the situation and anticipating getting into really big trouble, the other boys scattered as soon as I came near them. I comforted the boy with the hurting head and called the others back over to me, explaining that no one was in trouble, but that I really needed them to watch out for their friends’ bodies when they get ready to throw a rock. No one wants to be hit by a rock, and getting hit by a rock hurts! I prompted them to make sure that their friend was okay, and then I coached them on how to look and make sure that no one was standing in between their rock and the wheelbarrow before they threw the rock.

Rocks ripe for throwing

Rocks ripe for throwing

This seems like a very counter-intuitive way to handle a situation where boys are throwing objects that could very well be deemed extremely dangerous. After all, someone could seriously get hurt by a thrown rock. Someone did get hurt. But the boys had been throwing rocks for five minutes before someone got hurt. Five minutes is a long time when you are talking about boys throwing and retrieving rocks. The rock that hit the boy was not thrown with malice; it hit the boy by mistake which created a learning experience for all of us.

That is what we need to be aware of when we look at different situations around the classroom and outside: what is the intent of the child. If the intent had been to hurt someone by throwing a rock at them, then I would have stopped the game and directed the children to something else. This was not the case, so there was no reason why the boys could not continue their game. They just had to be aware that they needed to look out for the other boys when they threw a rock at the wheelbarrow. Throwing rocks isn’t an activity that I endorse simply for the pleasure of throwing a rock, but these boys had another end entirely in mind: they wanted to hear the sound that the rock made when it hit the wheelbarrow. Because of that, I felt that there was no need to stop an activity that had such an innocuous goal. A little while later another teacher on the playground commented that the boys should not be throwing rocks and the game was ended. But valuable lessons were learned with the freedom to throw those rocks: the sound they make against metal, and the fact that they can hurt people so we need to be careful with them. Wise mindfulness lessons, indeed.

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My New Mindful Year

‘Mindfulness’ is a term that has been bandied about quite a bit recently on the internet; I didn’t even know this until just a few weeks ago when I discovered just what mindfulness means to me. I was looking up information about mindfulness in teaching when I realized that there is a trend going on. I’ve managed to stay out of the general trend of mindfulness as it deals with the masses. I don’t like getting caught up in the trend stuff because it cheapens it for me. It makes it almost faddish, and that isn’t a good thing for an idea that has meant so much to me lately.

So what does mindfulness mean to me? It means being aware of what is going on right now, and being less concerned with what is going to happen in the future or what happened in the past. My mind practically lives in the future. It lives in the “what would happen if I do this” or “wouldn’t it be nice to do this in six months” place where nothing is really happening yet because I am fantasizing about something that can’t possibly happen yet because there are many steps to get there. Yes, I know – that was the worst run-on sentence in the world, but that is just how my mind works sometimes. On and On and On and On. Constantly.

As you may know from a previous post, I just finished reading Free to Learn: Why Unleashing the Instinct to Play Will Make Our Children Happier, More Self-Reliant, and Better Students for Life by Peter Gray. In it, he talks about how pressure takes away creativity and the power of play. He quotes several authors who say that in order to write a book, you can’t think about your audience or the critics or anything else; you simply have to write the book. I haven’t necessarily been struggling with this, but it did make me think about the whole writing process, especially since I have been stuck (with no good reason to be). Actually, I’m stuck because I was thinking too much about the audience or what other people would think about what I was writing. I attempted to revise an entire chapter because of a conversation that I had with someone. There was nothing wrong with the material that I had at first, but I chose to try to re-work that chapter, and it failed. Miserably. I really tried to make it work, but I know that it doesn’t. So I have to go back and re-write the whole thing because I didn’t trust my own judgment. And the kicker is that this material that I am writing on has already been tested – I’ve done several workshops on the material, and they’ve all been very well received. So there was no good reason for me to change the material.

Because of this, and the fact that it just happened a month ago or so, that part of the book really resonated with me and made me think about my intent to be more mindful. Of course, I want to inject mindfulness into every aspect of my life, not just my writing, but this example shows just how much can be impacted if I stop thinking about the future or everyone else and simply worry about the next step that I need to take in order to do what I want to do.

I recently saw a video of an interview with Oprah in which she talked about the concept of mindfulness and how everyone has a path. You know when you are on the wrong path because your body and mind tell you that you are on the wrong path. Be mindful of the signs and do what you can to get on the right path. Everyone has one. That is mindfulness.

Meditation

I’ve been practicing meditation on and off (mostly off) for the last year. In the past few weeks I have tried to make it a more permanent part of my routine. I am attracted by its claims to help increase focus and bring some stability of emotion to the day. And it does. On the days when I do my yoga and meditation I feel less impulsive when it comes to acting on emotion – something that is important when working with children. I have to have patience and the ability to think through my reactions before reacting. Meditation has helped me with that.

Meditation is not easy. Sitting by yourself in a room with your eyes closed for even five minutes is difficult, especially when you have no idea what in the world you are supposed to be doing for that five minutes, because we always have to be doing something, right? We always have to be showing in some way that we are being productive. At least, that is how I have felt. But what is the quality of our productivity?

I have been in the process of writing a book. I would call it a grueling process, but so far the only grueling part about it is my inability to truly focus on what I am doing. I’ll write a little, then pick up my phone and check Facebook. Write a little more and pick up my phone and play some silly game. Write a little more… The process goes on and on. Sometimes I have wonderful productive moments when I am in flow and nothing else matters, but these sessions aren’t as common as I would like them to be. Meditation has helped me be more focused on the process of writing the book and less focused on checking to see if anything new is happening on Facebook since I checked five minutes ago. It helps me develop the ability to let go of my wonder about what is going on in the Internet realm and focus on what is truly important to me – this book.

It is amazing to me just how scattered our attention spans truly are, and how easily we get sidetracked by the most mundane things, but every story that I’ve heard from people who meditate says that meditation helps them cut back on all the noise. Just today when I was meditating, I was able to let go of my wonder about how much time I had left in the meditation! This is a huge stumbling block for me because every time I open my eyes to see how much time there is, it breaks the concentration and that inner “looking”, all because of a clock. The trick is to learn how to push that worry away and focus on something else – breathing or a mantra or whatever. And that is a hard thing to do, but meditation is a practice of learning how to do it.