According to the Association of Mindfulness in Education, mindfulness can be simply defined as, “Paying attention here and now with kindness and curiosity” (http://www.mindfuleducation.org/what-is-mindfulness/). Mindfulness can be integrated in a variety of settings, not limited to education, for maximum benefit to the participant and community around them. Aspects of the self that mindfulness impacts are: awareness of breath, feeling and altering physical sensations of emotion, training the self to respond, rather than to react, to difficult situations, and, finally, to have an increased awareness as to how the five senses influence the whole being. Mindfulness is a practice that is being implemented more and more in educational settings across the country. One setting where mindfulness has the capacity to create ample change is in the library media center.
There is a multitude of ways that the library media specialist can implement mindfulness in her or his library setting. For the purpose of this blog post, I will include some simple mindfulness exercises that can be used to increase the facility of attention for students in both elementary and secondary school settings.
The Spiderman Breath
“The Spiderman Breath” is a mindfulness exercise that can be used with even the youngest of students to create a sense of calm and self-awareness in the library environment. Students start by brainstorming ways that the Spiderman character does his job. They answer the question, “How does Spiderman save the day? What powers does he need to have?” Students often answer with such responses as, “He needs to be able to swing from building to building on his thread,” or, “He has super-strength to save others.” Next, the library media specialist needs to note that in order to save others, he has to have super senses, just like a spider. The students will practice quietly listening to a bell ring for ten seconds without talking. First, ask them just to listen to the ringing sounds. Next, ask them to silently count the number of times the bell rings. After this is complete, they’ll then demonstrate how to observe their breathing patterns. Students will place either hand on their bellies and notice how they breathe for two minutes. Ask students to take calm, deep breaths. This serves as a centering tool in mindfulness that brings the student’s awareness to the breath. It calms students and creates a sense of quiet by making them aware of their selves in the present moment.
The next mindfulness exercise can be used with either elementary or secondary students. It is called “Three Senses.” You will put the follow questions on the board or handout for the student:
- What are three things I can feel right now?
- What are three things I can hear right now?
- What are three things I can see right now?
This serves as a centering and grounding exercise, bringing students into the present moment and making them aware of their surroundings. This is important because the library media center or learning commons is a different place with a different feeling than the other places in a school building.
The exercise “Body Find,” sometimes referred to as “Body Scan,” is frequently used with secondary students during moments of increased stress. Increased stress in the library media or learning commons environment could include researching for a big paper to something as simple as studying for an upcoming exam. Stress is defined as, “a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or very demanding circumstances.” To combat stress, we can help students become more aware of their bodies and how stress impacts it. The first step is having students close their eyes. Give them about two minutes in a quiet environment to notice their breath and any sounds or sensations. Next, ask them to find, or scan, their body for any tension or pain. Ask them to focus on this tension or pain and give it breath and calm. Calmly ask them to, “Breath in calm, and breath out pain, soreness, or tension.” This technique is also frequently used in yoga to center and calm the body.
Ultimately, the practice of mindfulness has the ability to change our practice as educators. By attending to the whole needs of the child we can make the connection between body, mind, and wellness. We are able to facilitate the learning of self in the here and now.
Author: Megan Shulman
Megan is both the middle and high school librarian at Humboldt Junior Senior High School which serves grades 7-12. She has her Masters of Library and Information Science from the University of Pittsburgh. Mrs. Shulman has been both a classroom teacher and a school librarian. This upcoming school year, she will be entering her 8th year in public education serving Title 1 schools. Her areas of expertise are school library leadership, brain-based learning strategies, and creating maker-spaces in the current library atmosphere.