ONTARIO — “Where is your attention? Did it wander? That’s OK. That’s what minds do. Let’s practice more.”
Students in Patty Eidson’s fifth-grade classroom sit quietly, some with their heads down, some upright, as a video plays and emits calming music. A dot appears on the screen and the students follow it with their eyes. The whole time, the students are focusing on their breathing.
Every morning, students at Aiken Elementary School go through a 10-minute exercise like this, with an emphasis on mindfulness.
“It’s about stopping for a moment and being in the moment,” Aiken Elementary School Principal Tobey Huddleston said. “Breathing activities. Listening and being aware of your surroundings. Just focus your mind in the moment. Close your eyes and do a body scan. Listen to your breathing. Be in the present.”
The mindfulness activities are different for each teacher. Some teachers have the students sit in class and focus on their breathing while listening to music. Some teachers have the students sit with the lights off and follow basic instructions such as lifting their arms together. Some teachers have the students repeat their class goals for the day.
Huddleston said the mindfulness activities, which started this fall, are a way for the staff to start the students off fresh every day.
“We are always looking for new ways to help our students succeed,” Huddleston said. “And we see a lot of students who are in high-stress situations and students who come from trauma. We just want to take ten minutes a day to focus. … We want to be able to give students the tools to help with the self-regulation of their emotions. We want them to be able to leave all of that stuff at home and get through the day.”
Eidson said she has noticed that the students start the day more focused and calm than they had in years past.
“It’s a good routine,” Eidson said. “We all get to start the day with a clean slate. We start it with a good note. We all just slow down for a moment and just do what we need to be doing right now.”
At first, Eidson said the students were a little hesitant with the exercises. She said some students had trouble sitting still with their eyes closed first thing in the morning.
“They were fidgety early in the year,” Eidson said. “There are kids that don’t want to do it or they’re embarrassed. But now they’re all used to it. It’s just normal.”
Most of the teachers at Aiken Elementary use videos or audio recordings to go along with the activities, which give the students something to focus on.
“The videos are a nice enhancement,” Eidson said. “Having that visual, it helps for some of the kids.”
Eidson said she loves the addition of the mindfulness exercises every day and she’s even got some positive feedback from parents.
“It’s a good thing for adults, and everybody really,” she said. “They can use it at home, too. I’ve had parents message me about their kids talking about it at home.”
Where did this come from?
The idea for mindfulness at Aiken Elementary school came last year, as Megan Cook from Balance Studio came to work with the teachers and students.
Huddleston said there were yoga classes available to teachers at Aiken Elementary School last year, and the idea of mindfulness and being able to focus really stuck with her. Huddleston said she started doing mindfulness activities with the teaching staff during training before the school year started.
“They were all really open to it,” Huddleston said. “They liked the idea, and we showed them resources that they could go to to find more mindfulness activities they can do. It’s fun.”