observations and thoughts on the wonder of children as they explore their world

The Secret, Part 2 – Permission for an Inner Life

Last week I let you in on The Secret.  The thing is, the real secret is much bigger than downtime.  The real secret lies in cultivating our inner world when we are “on” so much of the time with our outer world.  I am convinced that we need to share with children the importance of mindfulness, meditation or other contemplative practices.  It’s not that we need to add another class to our kids’ schedules, but rather we need to give them the permission, tools, and time to pause once in a while so that they can remember how to just be instead of always doing.

In my classroom and many others, teachers have a” meditation station” or “peace corner“ like this one from a second grade classroom at the Harley School.     We know from both practical experience and neuropsychology that when a brain becomes overly stimulated or anxious, the ability of the “upstairs  brain” to function is limited.  Finding ways to calm down, like a few minute in the peace corner, allows a child to develop the self-control to resume learning. Other teachers simply pause during teaching and practice deep breathing, careful listening, or a few minutes of silence. These carefully crafted “mindful interruptions” allow children to stop briefly during work periods and begin to use these strategies when they sense they need a break or a way to re-focus. More later in this post.

 

We need to begin this process of teaching children self-control and compassion with a focus on the adults who care for, teach, and serve as role models for our children.  Whether this starts as a formal program like the Inner-Resilience Program developed by Linda Lantieri and used by many schools across the country, or a more grass-roots approach that includes moments of silence or meditation in schools, teachers and adults who work with children need to take the bold step to advocate for their own-well being and to be given the resources and permission to do so.  Such mindfulness practices such as these give adults the permission and resources to take care of their inner world, so that they can give of themselves to others.  It’s hard to convince teachers that they deserve balance in their lives. As Linda Lantieri says,

“…That’s the part that I forget and many others forget, that we need to spend time nurturing our inner lives if we’re going to feel good about the job we do in the outer world.” – See more at the Tides Blog.

Our teachers need permission, resources and encouragement to take care of themselves in whatever ways are meaningful to them.  So do our kids. Giving ourselves permission to just pause for one evening only begins to scratch the surface.  Each day, our kids need time to slow down, to breathe and to just be.

As Dr. Ronald Epstein, Professor of Family Medicine and Psychiatry at the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry, tell his med students, even just two minutes, twice a day, of quiet will begin to slow down the mind.  The research is abundant that slowing down the mind on a regular basis allows our body’s parasympathetic nervous system to over-ride the fight-or-flight response that can often inhibit action.  Regular contemplative practice can build the brain circuitry that allows the downstairs brain, or reptilian brain, to stop high jacking higher order thinking, and allow focus and learning to resume even after we react to a stressful event. Want a clearer, more scientific explanation? Cue Dan Goleman  in The Emotional Atmosphere of the Classroom Matters.

 

Here’s to finding a few quiet moments in your day,

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Lisa Dewey Wells

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