This is our third feature article from one of our ECE team members, Steven Bonnay. Steven completed his ECE diploma and postgrad certificate in autism and behaviour studies at Seneca College. He worked both at the Seneca Lab School and as a part-time field placement professor before joining our team. Today he is discussing the benefits of mindfulness in the classroom.
Have you been feeling stressed out lately? Feeling like the proverbial camel before having that one last strand of straw placed on your back? What about your emotions? Feel like you got them under control or are you one more incident away from having a full body tantrum on the floor, in the grocery store, or in the checkout aisle? There are some days where the emotions are not held in check so well. Adults and children alike are susceptible to these emotions and the lack of control over them. Brought on by stress, inability to focus on the task at hand and reacting from an emotional place to external stimuli. We want to be happy, healthy and successful, this is where mindfulness can help our overall mental health.
What is mindfulness?
It can “include structured activities that require individuals to exercise volitional control over their physical and mental activity. In meditative practices, a common goal is to sustain the focus of attention on mental contents or particular objects, such as the breath, a sound, or a visual percept. This focused attention could occur through sitting meditation, walking meditation, certain forms of yoga and martial arts. A central goal of these practices is to fully become aware of the moment-to-moment fluctuations in the ‘stream of consciousness’ and to adopt an open and accepting stance toward these experiences. Although different techniques have different goals, they share a focus on sharpening concentration or attention, building emotion regulation skills to effectively manage stress, and gaining self-knowledge. Some practices consciously focus on building empathy and compassion. With sustained practice, these skills are hypothesized to become routinized at neural or mental levels and subsequently to regulate behavior in relatively automatic ways.” 
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We are very happy to announce that there will be a kids and a teens yoga class on Saturday and Sunday @yoga_festival_bern this year – free for kids who’s parents are participating. 🙏🕉 #spreadwings #learntofly #yoga #kidsyoga #teensyoga #rocktheboat #navasana #yogaforchildren #mindfulness #mindfulnessforkids #storytelling
What is the research to prove this?
The case study that I am going to refer to was conducted in Baltimore. 97 youths were selected from the fourth and fifth grade to participate in the study. The intervention ran for 12 weeks, where they had a 45 minute class on mindfulness during school hours, four days per week. The results generated through focus groups and questionnaires determined that the mindfulness intervention helped the children focus and manage their emotions. “Our focus on enhancing youth capacities for cognitive and emotion regulation is consistent with recent reviews calling for interventions to focus less on specific symptoms or disorders and more on positive youth development.” 
How do I apply this to Early Childhood?
In The potential benefits of mindfulness training in early childhood: A developmental social cognitive neuroscience perspective , the authors mention the following that should be noted to successfully begin to facilitate mindfulness in a childcare setting:
- Breathing exercises should be decreased in time, 5 minutes minimum.
- Activities will involve more yoga-esque movement. So you need space!
- Keep directions simple and use props to demonstrate:
- The concept of body scanning by using a hula hoop that you are standing inside.
- Breathing techniques using a small stuffed animal on the child’s chest while they are lying down. The aim is to rock the stuffed animal to sleep.
- Holding a mystery object behind their back and noting the qualities of the object (is it rough, smooth, hard, and/or soft).
If you’d like to learn more, here are some additional resources for you to check out:
- Greenberg, M. T., & Harris, A. R. (2012). Nurturing mindfulness in children and youth: Current state of research. Child Development Perspectives, 6(2), 161-166.
- Mendelson, T., Greenberg, M. T., Dariotis, J. K., Gould, L. F., Rhoades, B. L., & Leaf, P. J. (2010). Feasibility and preliminary outcomes of a school-based mindfulness intervention for urban youth. Journal of abnormal child psychology, 38(7), 985-994.
- Zelazo, P. D., & Lyons, K. E. (2012). The potential benefits of mindfulness training in early childhood: A developmental social cognitive neuroscience perspective. Child Development Perspectives, 6(2), 154-160.