Morning get-together activities: mindfulness in the classroom
Have you noticed what it feels like when you wake up in the morning and get a good stretch before doing anything else. You basically wake up your muscles and brain at the same time. You feel energized and ready for a good breakfast. I try to include that everyday in my routine. It doesn’t have to be a full yoga stretch but just a couple of minutes in your bed before actually getting up can do the trick. How about our students? Could we incorporate some mindfulness in our daily teaching to make their body and brain ready for learning?
1. Why mindfulness activities
What is mindfulness? It is the moment when your mind is totally aware of what is going around you. It is the state you reached when you are fully aware of your immediate environment and of what you are doing. Many discipline such as yoga or Tai-chi are based on this idea of mindfulness. There is no need to prove anymore that mindfulness is a good way to lower stress, improve memory and facilitate learning.
2. Some activities to try
I am a morning person. I love waking up at 5:30 during the week and I am full of energy for my first lesson. The thing is my students are far from being morning people. Exams, revisions, parties…all of these make their mornings pretty difficult –especially when they have to cope with their superhype teacher. I decided one day that it would be good to be on the same page with my students, so I started incorporating in their daily learning routine some breathing activities, silent moments, and stretching activities. It seemed a little bit awkward to them at first but then they enjoyed it so much that we couldn’t start any class without these little mindful moments.
There is nothing I find more useful than a quick breathing activity. Your students can stand up or sit down. Tell them to close their eyes and to start by breathing in out slowly. Tell them to listen to their own breathing cycle to be aware of all the changes that happen in their body –like their chest coming up and down. Tell them to listen to the noises around them. They should let go of their thoughts. Let’s forget about any concerns and focus on breathing. You can also add to that some slight movements of head from the left to the right and again from the right to the left. Keep the activity for a couple of more minutes then bring back your students slowly to normal breathing. If your students feel like yawning after that, no worries! It is all part of the plan to bring more oxygen to their body.
B. Listening to silence
I am very sensitive to noise -like most teachers, my brain freezes when the level of noise is too high, so keeping the volume to a reasonable level in class is absolutely vital for me. In our busy lives we don’t pay attention to noise that much. Traffic, listening to music to cover unpleasant noises, barking dogs, constant chats, noisy cafeteria…all this can have a big impact on our concentration, so from times to times we need to be aware of the noise and silence surrounding us. For that purpose, have your students to stand up and close their eyes. Have them to focus on the different noises they hear in class and outside the class. They should be able to hear their classmates breathing but also their peers in the corridors. Keep the activity going for a couple of minutes. Have them to open their eyes and feedback to their partners. What could they hear? How was it relaxing or stressful? Which noise was the most pleasurable?
C. Circle sharing and the positive moment
Instead of starting straight away with the lesson objectives and the rest of the lesson, take a couple of minutes -7 to 10 minutes- to share positive feelings and emotions in class. When we come to class we may not be quite ready to teach emotionally speaking. Teachers have their concerns. Keep in mind that students have their concerns too. Gather your students in a circle –ideally on the floor- everyone should keep some eye contact with the rest of the class. Start by asking our students how they feel and if they have done something great that they would like to share. As it can be difficult with some groups to get them started, be the role model and share with them a great deed you did. It doesn’t have to be a big thing but just something that you are happy to share with them. You can clap after their intervention to motivate them a bit.
With these activities, I am sure you will set a wonderful tone and beautifully relaxing atmosphere to get your students started for their learning day. Remember that no matter how busy you are and how limited you are in terms of time, these little minutes are necessary to connect with your students, relieve their stress and set up the right learning mood.