An Elementary School Fundraiser for the Thich Nhat Hanh Foundation:
How One Teacher in Oakland Incorporates Mindfulness in Her Classroom
Carrie, a teacher at Mill’s College Children’s School in Oakland, CA, integrates mindfulness into her elementary students’ curriculum and daily activities. This spring, her students were so inspired by the powerful effects of mindfulness that they conducted a fundraiser for the Thich Nhat Hanh Foundation. They sold “mindfulness jars” and peace signs made out of recycled bicycle tires and yarn.
Below is an interview with Carrie about how she integrated mindfulness into her elementary school classroom.
What inspired you to bring mindfulness into your classroom?
I’ve been a meditator for many years. I have always loved Thay’s teaching, how it brings everything back to the present and how we can be wholehearted. That’s so important as a teacher of elementary schoolers, to tune into our whole heartedness.
How did you teach mindfulness to your elementary school students?
We bridged mindfulness with human anatomy. This was such a great connection, to learn about our human body, and how our mind is part of our body. We did mindfulness from a “science-y” angle, diving into the body, our nervous system, our natural fight, flight and freeze responses.
Integrating mindfulness into the curriculum whenever possible is a wonderful way for them to learn. I was inspired by the Planting Seeds Book by Thich Nhat Hanh. My students really like the “Counting Pebbles” meditation. Today, I took my students out for walking meditation. They loved it and found it so helpful.
What effects do you think mindfulness has on your students and in your classroom dynamic?
In general, I think that mindfulness is so needed and important in our culture: to be able to slow down, to breathe, to be present, so that we can be skillful toward one another in relationships.
I’ve seen kids back away from getting into arguments using our mindfulness tools, and I’ve seen them integrate mindfulness on the basketball court. When they’re doing school work and they’re frustrated, they take a breath. If they get this at the young age, just imagine how much better off they will be as adults!
Do you have any tips for teachers and caretakers who would like to teach mindfulness to children?
I would highly recommend introducing it at the very beginning of the school year, so that it becomes part of the classroom culture and an ongoing practice within the classroom culture. Then it can also become a useful classroom management tool. For example, when we have a circle time, the students are the ones who set up the circle and place the center pieces and ring the bell for everyone. Children love ritual! So for us, introducing mindfulness as a ritual component has added a colorful quality to our classroom environment.
What’s paramount in the classroom setting is building a relationship with your students, built on trust and care and respect. The mindfulness piece gives a deep forum for that, a more resonating platform to really understand someone.
Also, I think it can be as simple as: if we as teachers model presence, there can be a sense of safety that the child can feel. Then that increases the connection between us, on an everyday basis, and really supports the trust-building.
Thank you so much to Carrie and her wonderful students from the Thich Nhat Hanh Foundation Family!