Mindfulness for Kids

Mindfulness is defined as “a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique.” Think of it as a state of being aware and awake in the mind, which you can achieve by purposefully focusing your attention on the present moment with acceptance and without judging.

I grew up in Thailand, so mindfulness is a part of my traditional culture and upbringing. The word Mindfulness comes from Pali word “Sati” which is called “สติ” in the Thai language, and means awareness, attention and remembering. It can’t be understood by simply looking at image of the Buddha practicing meditation – to cultivate mindfulness, each individual needs to practice it themselves with the knowledge that the more we practice, the deeper and stronger of our ability for mindfulness becomes.

Why Practice Mindfulness

Jon Kabat-Zinn, founder of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center, has described how he brought Buddhist meditation to his stress reduction clinic, and how we went about introducing this tool to people from a wide variety of cultures to help them practice mindfulness in their own lives. The people who came to his clinic grew to realize that it wasn’t about stress reduction, but actually a tool for living, and that by achieving awareness and acceptance in their mindfulness practice, the reduction in stress would follow.

Mindfulness is such a powerful tool to have. It is so fascinating to know that the evidence from scientific studies is validating what people who meditate have long suspected, that training the mind changes the brain. The changes that occur in the brain when we are emotionally attuned to our own internal states in meditation seem to correlate with those brain areas that are active when we are feeling connected to others. When we practice mindfulness we also increase the compassion, and lovingkindness toward ourselves.

The benefits of mindfulness originate with the story of the Buddha himself. In our world, we are surrounded by many attachments to impermanence, which can cause possessive habits and can be difficult to detach ourselves from. Buddha made a conscious decision to detach from these things and seek a more meaningful life. It took him many years of practice, meditation and introspection to achieve this, but when he learned how to detach, his pain was gone. He had found a valuable tool within the mind for mental & emotional wellbeing, and shared this valuable gift of wisdom with others.

Thousands of years have passed since the Buddha achieved enlightenment, but the lessons he shared continue to change the world – and in the modern era, filled with stress, distractions & external demands, I believe his words are more valuable than ever. In Sanskrit writings about the nature of universal truth, it is written that Buddha said ผู้ใดเห็นธรรมผู้นั้นเห็นเรา, which means, “One who sees the Dhamma sees me; one who sees me sees the Dhamma.” In other words, enlightenment is not simply a practice you do; it is a state of being which you achieve – and it can begin with the practice of mindfulness.

Mindfulness for Kids

Mindfulness for kids is achieved by focusing awareness on the present moment, and works well in a Montessori preschool learning environment. After I got certified in mindfulness for kids, I started working on it with my own daughter, Sara. She was born in America, and mindfulness is not a traditional part of this culture – so the initial challenge that I faced was that she didn’t understand the importance of meditation, for her it is only something that “Mommy does”. My goal was not to make her a Buddhist, but simply to share the power of mindfulness with her, so I tried to be patient & open with her about the practice, and introduce her to it without having expectations.

I explained to her about the experience that she had from the past and I used to have from the past when we deal with negative emotions; angers, sadness, frustration, discomfort and the positive emotions; happiness, joy, compassion, empathy, peace, calmness. I let her shar her thoughts and experiences from her past. She then started to get involved in it. She expressed herself openly and was curious to learn more about the mindfulness.

Then I chose to do mindful breathing and mindful listening with her. The challenging thing was she could not be still at first. It was her body that wanted to resist what we were trying to do. The first and the second practices didn’t give her much. She could not focus.The third times, we tried she finally settled. The result was that she felt relaxed and sleepy. She observed noises around her. She said that she could hear the birds sing, people talking on the street, the cars and the wind.

Sara had a good mindful experience, and when I described to to the parents of children at my preschool, they got excited. They urged me to practice mindful breathing and listening with their children as well. I used what I had learned working with Sara, and let the preschool children take turns sharing what they heard while listening to sounds with their eyes closed or gazing down. Some said they heard the sound of the birds, people talking, a lawn mower, a clock ticking, and a car driving by. We put hands to our stomachs, our hearts and our noses, and practiced being mindful of our bodies.

Preschool age children are very young, and their energy & enthusiasm for life makes it challenging to simply be still. Some children did well, and a few struggled to stay still, so I let them be natural and didn’t expect that it would be perfect. We practiced mindful movement such as blowing flowers and pretending blowing balloons while moving our arms up and down. Overall, it was a good experience – they did great, and our exercise went very well.

Mindfulness for Kids and the Montessori Method

Dr. Maria Montessori never used the word mindfulness in her writing, but she often spoke of a deep connection between the body and mind. She wrote, “The essential thing is to arouse such an interest that it engages the child’s whole personality”, and she spoke about the intense focus present during Montessori learning, where children turn their attention to a single learning task with the exclusion of everything else.

The long, uninterrupted periods of Montessori work time are wonderful opportunities for children to naturally be mindful of themselves and the task they are focused on. As children are learning is perhaps the most important. It is within this timeframe that the mindful, deep concentration can occur. During the work time, the child is able to experience many freedoms, such as freedom of movement and freedom of choice, which help foster confidence and happiness. Renowned Hungarian psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi studies what brings people happiness and the study of “flow” as a form of mindfulness. He has concluded, “Montessori schools are ahead in the area of figuring out what makes life meaningful, in creating the conditions for ‘flow’, because children can choose their own work, can concentrate without being interrupted, and they can work on their own at their own speed, and thus progress naturally improving their skills”.

The prepared environment in a Montessori preschool is specifically designed to foster inner calm and focus. The environment is simple, orderly, and invites kids to learn and grow. The sensorial materials are designed to enhance a child’s awareness of their senses, and the grace and courtesy lessons promote the importance of mindful for kids in a group setting by using soft voices and treating others and the environment with care and respect. Walking on the line, walking around mats, cleaning, and placing materials with care and order all require a thoughtful, mindful approach to learning, and careful concentration. Montessori even incorporate exercises like the silence game, which give children the opportunity to focus on their breathing and practice aware self-reflection. The Montessori method, in other words, promotes mindfulness for kids.

The Benefits of Mindfulness for Kids

There are many reasons why mindfulness is beneficial for kids, and the benefits are diverse – including physical, emotional, psychological and relationships. Some of the many benefits of mindfulness for kids include:

  • better concentration, focus, and attention-spans
  • more self-control, including better impulse-control
  • increased self-esteem and self-confidence
  • more empathy, kindness, patience and compassion for others
  • an increase in self-directed motivation
  • increased feelings of inner calm & peace
  • less emotional anxiety & physical stress
  • better & more restful sleep
  • relief from stiffness & muscle tension
  • lower blood pressure and heart rate
  • reduced agitation and irritability

As you learn more about mindfulness for kids, you’ll notice the the similarities between the practice of mindfulness and the teachings of Dr. Maria Montessori. This is yet another example of the forward-thinking nature of Maria Montessori’s work, that her teaching method would not only be relevant a century after she created it, but would in fact be incorporating methods of instruction similar to far-Eastern philosophy that are only now being accepted in Western education.

Dr. Montessori’s innovative approach still benefits today’s children, and it’s likely that the principles embodied in the Montessori Method will continue to help children achieve success for generations to come. New theories in child development and early childhood education will continue to arrive, but the time-tested principles and built-in philosophy of mindfulness for kids in the Montessori method have proven to be timeless. In is startling how accurate & prescient Dr. Montessori was, especially in her descriptions of the mind/body connection in young children.

The philosophy of the Montessori method is holistic in nature, and includes physical, mental, and emotional components. In Montessori preschools, children work in a self-directed manner to choose activities that are relevant to them, and are allowed to move about the school freely as they interact with their environment. Kids can spend as much time on each activity as they want, and often work with older and younger children in pairs and group activities. Montessori preschools mimic the mixed-age nature of the family, which provides children with familiarity, bolsters self-confidence, and helps them follow their inner sense of motivation. The Montessori learning environment bolsters kids’ self-esteem and produces well-rounded individuals.

Young children usually are known for very short term concentration. On the contrary, these kids are usually expected to leap from one activity to another within short time span. That’s why, parents and teachers are surprised when they see their kids learning happy engaged, focused and working independently in tandem with the Discount Montessori material.

How Kids Practice Mindfulness

Over the last few years, mindfulness has become more popular in Western culture, and as adults recognize the many benefits of it, they naturally hope to share those benefits with their children. Many organization teaching mindfulness for kids now exist, and all of them share the goal of helping kids become become motivated, focused and intentional students in the classroom.

While all of these organizations deserve recognition for helping educate kids on the benefits of mindfulness, we shouldn’t forget that Dr. Maria Montessori was an advocate for the same principles of mindfulness over a century ago, and the Montessori method has been helping kids practice mindfulness for a much longer period of time. Her methods were designed to intensify concentration, heighten internal motivation, and sustaining focus in the early learning environment.

Some of the most common needs for children are paying attention, planning & time-management, concentration and organizational skills. These abilities are associated with being mindful, and Montessori education puts an emphasis on developing these  traits to make learning an easier, healthier and more enjoyable experience for kids. In a world that is full of chaotic distractions, teachers can rely on the Montessori method to help children avoid distractions and channel their inner creative and psychic energy to become better learners.

The Montessori method has been proven to stimulate deep concentration and cognitive development, as well as helping develop coordination and motor control. When children begin Montessori preschool education at around age 3 or 4, they worked on developing motor skills such as polishing, pouring, organizing, and sweeping. These are Practical Life skills, and they help children learn exactly that – how to function & complete basic life tasks in day to day life.

Montessori preschool activities such as washing dishes and wiping tables help to further develop manners and motor skills – but like the Practical Life skills, these tasks all facilitate mindfulness for kids, along with helping to develop cognitive and reasoning abilities in early learners. These skills help prepare kids for mindful lives by improving focus and concentration, in addition to the feelings of achievement from mastering new skills, social development from working in groups and sharing material, and learning in a participatory manner that fosters mindful living.

Children in Montessori preschools already practice a form of mindfulness, so when mindfulness for kids is introduced by parents, teachers & mentors it is absorbed and internalized more easily, and meshes well with an established learning style that children already practice. This synergy between mindfulness and the Montessori method reinforces the benefits of both practices, and helps further prepare kids for success in school and beyond.