How to incorporate mindfulness into a time-squeezed school day

How to incorporate mindfulness into a time-squeezed school day

With the school day feeling so full, teachers and schools are wondering how they can facilitate a meaningful wellness experience for their students.

When implementing wellness, it’s important to remember that wellness does not have to be a standalone entity, but an aspect of life which can be nicely woven into your teaching. If you see wellness as simply the act of practicing daily healthy habits for better health outcomes, you’ll begin to see that there are multiple opportunities to integrate aspects into your school day. Wellness practices such as meditation, movement activities, breathwork and mental goal planning can be offered throughout different parts of the school day. Understanding these practices and how they can be matched with specific parts of the school day, can really ensure you offer valuable wellness experiences when your students need it the most. Below are three parts of your typical school day, paired with a different type of wellness experience. These experiences are short and easy to implement while providing support for your students mental, emotional and intellectual wellness.

Morning – Goal setting

The morning time is the perfect opportunity to offer your students an intention setting experience, or, a daily goal meditation. Doing this first thing in the morning allows your students to choose what they want to achieve; visualize it and then mentally prepare themselves to reach those goals. This method is used with many athletes, professionals, and performers. It is often referred to as visualization.

Allow your students to stay seated upright and ask them to gently close their eyes. Move into a body scan, where students scan their body from head to toe, checking in with any sensations that may be with them this morning. Encourage students to remain calm, relaxed and to follow a slow and gentle breath.

Following on, ask your students to picture in their mind what they want to achieve today. Provide examples, such as what do they hope to learn today, how do they want to behave today or how do they choose to interact with others. Gradually, give your students some space (quiet time) to think of their own intentions and goals for the day. Once they have chosen their intentions and goals simply ask them “what feeling will you feel when you have achieved this”. Taking in and noticing their surroundings while visualizing their goal. Other suggestions to share with your students are “What room or space are you in, what actions are you doing, and who is around you when you are doing that?” Again, offer quiet time for students to connect deeper with their mind. Finally ask your students to connect with their feelings as they imagine themselves achieving their goals. What emotions or feelings do they feel? Feel free to offer suggestions to prompt your students, such as “Are you feeling happy, excited, thrilled”. As the meditation ends, gently bring the students back into the present, ask them to carefully check in with their bodies and when they are ready, they can open their eyes.

Encourage your students to check in with their intention and goal throughout the day and remind them that they have the ability and strength to achieve what they set their mind to. This experience can run for as little as three minutes and can have a profoundly positive impact on the start of everyone’s day. I recommend playing some soft and upbeat music that will inspire students during this practice.

This practice is very supportive for students' mental and emotional health. It helps students to connect with their purpose, and it can help students become more mindful of how they want to behave. Students can set their own goals and feel a sense of achievement which is vital for self-esteem and confidence.

Midday – Focus Breath

If you notice your student’s attention beginning to dip in the afternoon, or you are taking on a new, perhaps challenging topic, take three minutes out to practice a focus exercise.

For this practice, students simply sit on their chair, or cross-legged on the floor. Begin by asking the students to notice where they feel their breath the most. Guide the students to locate the spot where they feel their breath the most. Common places can include tummy, chest, throat or under the nose. If they mention other parts of the body that is also okay. Encourage the students to keep their attention on this body part as they breathe in and out. Throughout this time, remind students to regain their focus and to continue to keep their focus on this spot. Inform the students that every time their mind wonders, to simply bring it back to the place where they feel the breath the most. Let them know that every time they do this, they are strengthening their focus. This practice can be short and last no longer than 3 minutes.

This focus practice can be very beneficial for the student's intellectual wellness. From this practice, students become aware of distractions and can recognize when these moments creep in. Strengthening their focus can directly translate into their learning and classwork, helping them to manage the distractions, and regain their own focus all by themselves. It is recommended to play soft music without lyrics to create a calm setting.

Afternoon – Body Scan

The afternoon can be a great time to really connect with your students and offer them a space to rest after a long day of learning & playing. Although our day can seem quick, it’s important to remember just how long it is for our young learners. Teaching students the valuable life skills of taking time out to rest and repair is so important and nurturing for our learning environment. Not only do your students need it, but so do you! Give you and your students just five minutes at the end of the day to feel calm and leave your school feeling Zen.

To start the practice of body scanning, ask your students to lie down, or sit comfortably with their hands on their lap and eyes closed. Ask your students to take a couple of slow and deep breaths, making each breath last a little longer. Slow and gentle is key here. Once students seem settled, ask them to focus their awareness on their forehead. Here they can release any tension and feel their forehead smoothing out. Guide your students through all major facial features, and then, all the way down the body, right down to their baby toes. Guide students to release, breath and relax at each body part. It’s highly recommended to play soft calming music in the background, or some gentle water sounds to create that perfect tranquil ambiance.

Your students have had a long day of learning, playing, and interacting with other students. Not only has their mind been super active, but so has their body. Practicing body scans after an active day can help students connect with their body, but also release any unwanted stress or tension. This practice will have your students feeling calm at the end of the day and will help support both their physical and emotional wellbeing.

Implementing wellness can seem daunting when we view it as one big piece, however, once we break it down into simple 3 minute exercises throughout the day, it becomes far more manageable and we can really understand how easily this practice could be woven into the school day. Explore other areas of wellness and link it within your teachings. Soon you’ll see just how easy it is to create that wellness culture within your classroom.

AuthorOisin McWeeney is a curriculum specialist at the UAE Ministry of Education with a deep interest in student’s health and wellbeing. His qualifications include a professional diploma in education, a bachelor’s degree in physical education and health studies, and a diploma in counselling. Oisin is a big advocate for mental health awareness in schools, especially amongst the primary years. He is passionate about educating school communities on the importance of early prevention and methodologies to support student wellbeing. Oisin aspires to support schools in becoming nurturing grounds for both health and learning, in which they coincide with one another. He is also a qualified yoga teacher and meditation coach, and facilitates classes, workshops and wellness retreats throughout the UAE.