"I drew my heart as I felt it beating, the squiggles show the tingly feeling I had and the orange was the warmth in my hands" – this was one of the many responses I got after asking children what the colours, lines and shapes on their drawings meant. We had just done a lying down body awareness meditation exercise, and the Year 4 class were expressing what they had noticed by drawing onto an outline of a body. This meditation is a practice that the children at Soho Parish Primary school have become very familiar with over the last few years, along with a range of other mindfulness exercises.
After discovering the life-changing benefits of practicing mindfulness meditation myself seven years ago, I was inspired to share this with my students. This journey led me to train with two companies - Mindfulness in Schools Project and Breathing Space in Schools - both of which offer fantastic training opportunities for practitioners who want to learn to teach mindfulness to children. Over the last three to four years I have embedded mindfulness into our curriculum at Soho Parish. After initially just teaching KS2, I have now expanded to also teaching KS1 this academic year after seeing the benefits it had for some children and the positive feedback from parents. Now every class receives 30 minutes of mindfulness teaching and practice each week.
For a one form entry ‘village-like’ small school in the heart of Soho, we are incredibly lucky that we have been able to develop our own sensory room which we have called ‘The Breathing Space’ - complete with a whole class set of meditation mats and cushions. This space has become a haven for the children to take time out of the business of the school day, and have time to just be with themselves. We also have a drop-in lunchtime club for pupils and after-school drop-in meditation sessions for school staff (it’s not just the children who can benefit from mindfulness!)
‘It has helped me because when I do it in the morning it helps me to have a positive day ahead- I have noticed that I am a lot more positive and I think about my body more’
- KS2 pupil
As the 19th Century American psychologist William James famously said, "the faculty of voluntarily bringing back a wandering attention, over and over again, is the very root of judgment, character, and will... An education which should improve this faculty would be the education par excellence.” We are so often telling children to ‘pay attention’ but we don’t necessarily know how to teach them how to actually do this. Mindfulness is a practice which directly works with the mind; training the 'muscle of attention', as it were, and cultivating our awareness and acceptance of our present moment experience. With more awareness and presence comes choice; choice to work with habits, to strengthen those we want to grow and let go of the ones that don’t serve us. This act of choosing is an act of creativity (creativity being the opposite of habit).
The left side of our brain is associated with analytical and logical processing, planning and structure. The right side of the brain is connected with creativity, visual and spatial perception, and emotional expression. Most of the day when children are learning and moving from task to task, they are most probably in the ‘doing mode’ associated with the left side of the brain. Practicing mindfulness meditation can shift us towards activating more of the right brain - developing emotional awareness and self-regulation.
‘When I was not doing mindfulness I would deal with difficulty with anger but when I do mindfulness I’ve dealt with difficulty calmly’
- KS2 pupil
Classroom activity: Drawing Attention to Life
Both wellbeing and creativity are integral to our vision of learning at Soho Parish, and we try to apply creativity across the curriculum as far as possible, and this doesn’t stop at mindfulness. As the Art Co-ordinator and as an artist myself, over the years I have used different creative techniques to explore mindfulness with the children. I like to refer to these activities as ‘Drawing Attention to Life’. You may not have a practice of mindfulness in your school, but these activities can be used with any age group as part of an art or PSHE lesson as a fun and engaging way for children to connect with their senses and their direct experience with no fear of ‘right or wrong’.
The current summer weather is a perfect opportunity to take the children outside to listen to the plethora of sounds around them. In the past, I have asked the children to record what they hear in different ways such as drawing sound maps - placing themselves in the centre and mapping what they hear around them through drawing or words. For older children, I have encouraged freedom of mark making and drawing by getting them to tape coloured pens or paintbrushes to the end of long sticks so they can draw on a large sheet on the floor while standing up. You can also ask students to respond to each sound through movement and mark making on the paper, thinking about the quality of the sound. Was it long or short? Hard or soft?
Another activity which I’ve loved doing with students is getting them to paint with their eyes closed to music - a paintbrush in each hand - moving to the music, taking part in a process rather than focusing on an outcome. How does the music make them feel? How do they want to move the brushes in response to it?
And, lastly, responding to touch through drawing and mark making. A fun way of doing this is to put different textured objects in feely bags, such as a pine cone, and then getting the children to draw what they actually feel rather than what they think the object is or looks like. As well as providing an opportunity for the children to stop and pay attention to their direct sensations, these activities are great ways to shake up any habits of expectation of what art should or shouldn’t be, and just enjoy the creative process of play and exploration!