Mindful or Mind Full? 
Breathing and Being at High Meadows

A team of High Meadows teachers recently contemplated what it means for us to attend to the "whole child." High Meadows is accomplished at promoting our children's academic and social-emotional growth, but how could we go even further to support their well-being in authentic, experiential, and fully integrative ways? Thus our Wellness Program was born. 
One of the most powerful aspects of the program has been the institution of daily mindfulness practices in (and out) of the classroom. Mindfulness teaches us to breathe deeply, quiet our minds, and just "be."  Where such practices might be met with skepticism years ago, scientific research has come to support the benefits of mindfulness, which come to life in the articles below.

High Meadows has always been good at employing the present moment for the purpose of learning. Spontaneity in education is often under-valued in favor of a rigid, just-stick-to-the-plans approach.  A recent experience reminded me of the importance of spontaneity in learning, so I blogged about it . Read on and learn how mindfulness and the celebration of the present have already benefited both our students and ourselves.

Jay Underwood
Head of School
The Many Gifts of Mindfulness
By Sue Amacker, Director of Support Services

"Mindfulness is the aware, balanced acceptance of the present experience. It isn't more complicated than that. It is opening to or receiving the present moment, pleasant or unpleasant, just as it is, without either clinging to it or rejecting it.  --  Sylvia Boorstein, teacher and author
Growing up, I had a friend whose mother used the word "mind" to refer to any number of current or upcoming situations: "Mind your manners." "Mind you don't bump your head." "Mind you're home by supper." For her, the word "mind" was a way of saying "pay attention" or "be aware." It was good advice then, and perhaps even more so today, as we are constantly bombarded from every direction. Children and adolescents are especially blitzed on every front with new data, emotions, and desires. 

As teachers, our job has morphed from imparting information to the taking on the greater mission of giving students the tools to make their way in the world. The practice of mindfulness has become a widely accepted tool for improving physical, mental, and social health. When mindful, we pay attention to what we are thinking and feeling in the moment, without judgment. We are aware. We are in the present.

Scientific research provides evidence that practicing mindfulness at school has measurable benefits for students and teachers alike, including:
  • A decrease in behavior problems, negativity and aggression;
  • A reduction of unwanted distractions;
  • An increase in one's ability to focus;
  • An amplified awareness and compassion for others, as well as oneself;
  • The relief of stress, anxiety and depression;
  • The enhancement of healthy relationships.
Evidence even suggests that the practice of mindfulness can enhance vital parts of our "gray matter," the regions of the brain that control muscle movement and sensory perception.

Introducing our students to the simple yet powerful practice of mindfulness as a routine piece of their day is a priceless gift--not only for themselves, but for those around them and, in the end, all of us. 

Want to learn more about mindfulness? Check out mindfulness.org .
High Meadows Mindfulness Featured in the News

Recently, Atlanta Journal-Constitution columnist Gracie Bonds Staples visited High Meadows to learn more about mindfulness and how its practice has impacted classrooms across campus. Staples describes how even our youngest students have benefited from High Meadows' emphasis on mindfulness. Read Staples' full article here.

Pre-K Teacher Gail Albert practices "belly breaths" with her class.

K-1 Students Downshift from Activity to Awareness
By Andrea Ianzito, K-1 Teacher

K-1 Mindfulness
Click the image above to watch a video of K-1 Teacher Andrea Ianzito enjoying a student-led moment of mindfulness.

Our day in the K-1 classroom always begins with students filling the room with happy chatter. Children greet teachers and friends, decide which activities to pursue, and then get down to the serious business of being active, curious students.  The room is filled with bustling energy during our morning "learning studio," a time when students choose their own learning experiences. The clean up time that follows can also be spirited and noisy. 

After putting materials away, the class gathers on the rug for morning circle. Shifting gears from high-energy mode to settling into a quieter space can take some time for our students. To help set our purpose for coming to the rug, our class has begun practicing deep breathing as a way of "downshifting" or calming ourselves in order to be ready for our morning circle. 

At first, we heard giggles when children were asked to take deep breaths but, after only a few days, we have seen increasing mindful participation. When asked if they felt differently after deep breathing, students shared how they felt "calm and relaxed." 

As we continue our practice, we hope that children will learn to use deep breathing as a strategy to help them in various situations--from taking a moment to just breathe and be present in the moment to dealing with every day stress and high emotion.
An Invitation to Self-Awareness in Theatre Arts
By Shannon Lindsay and Danielle Wright, Theatre Arts Teachers

Middle Years students "invite the bell" in Theatre Arts Class.

As students enter our Theatre Arts classroom each day, we begin our time togeth er by "inviting the bell." 

We ring a chime as an invitation to students to "check in" with their bodies, their breathing, and their minds. We ask them to consider what they need to be successful in class. We ask them to let go of the thoughts and feelings from the earlier part of their day and to start over with this class. The invitation to the bell gives them an opportunity to hit the reset button. 

F or those students who choose not to accept the invitation, we guide them to exhibit our Theatre Arts Core Value of Respect and allow others around them to accept the invitation uninterrupted. As a group, we acknowledge that we all hear the bell differently, and some of us may hear it end sooner than others. We ask the students to continue sitting still and quietly until the entire class is complete with the bell. Only then do we move on to our next activity. 

So how has our invitation been received? Each class begins peacefully and calmly; the chime gives students a chanc e to transition; and our students are more self-aware and focused.
Calm Minds, Relaxed Bodies Make Beautiful Music 
By Patrick Wright, Music Teacher
Mr. Wright leads the 5th-grade band in breathing exercises.

Playing an instrument and working together as a band requires musicians to have calm minds and relaxed bodies. So it's no surprise that our Beginning and Advanced Band classes always begin with breathing exercises. These exercises help strengthen the muscles needed to play an instrument. But our breath work also focuses the mind and body, preparing individuals to make music together. As students become aware of their breathing pattern, they let go of other thoughts and distractions; they become more relaxed, more attentive, and more focused. 

We begin with "tension/release," where we tense every muscle in our bodies for four counts and then release everything for four counts. Students learn how they feel when they are tensed (or stressed) and how they feel when they are relaxed (or calm). Our goal is for students to train their bodies how to relax on command.   

We end our breathing time with a slow inhale/exhale exercise. As the students slow down their air, you can visibly see their bodies relaxing. Their minds become focused and "in the moment," ready to take in new information.  In the Band Room, I have seen first-hand how these exercises help students become aware of their bodies, their surroundings, and their breathing.  Being still and focusing on their breathing helps keep them in the present.

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