The Oysterponds School District is expanding its social and emotional learning curriculum by adding mindfulness meditation.
Debbie Debetta, the creator and founder of mindfulness-based physical education, described it as a “practice we can utilize to optimize our brain in ways that increases focus, clarity, relaxation, productivity and joy.”
During a three-hour workshop held with Oysterponds faculty on Tuesday, Ms. Debetta, who also teaches physical education and a mindfulness elective at Lynbrook High School, gave the teachers tips on how to incorporate these practices into their classrooms and expressed the importance of giving students the chance to de-stress throughout the day.
“We’re seeing mindfulness more now because the rise in technology can measure what happens in the brain when we meditate,” she said.
She explained that the first step of mindfulness — or paying attention on purpose non-judgmentally — is to be present.
She said mindfulness allows students to rid themselves of anxieties they may be entering school with, such as issues at home or an argument with a friend during recess.
She said stressors and anxieties stem from open-ended possibilities, allowing our minds to run wild with stories that most likely will never happen. By focusing on the present moment, it allows people to clear their minds and relieve some of their worries.
“If we have kids who are anxious or kids who are distressed, they’re not hearing what’s going on in the classroom,” Oysterponds superintendent Richard Malone said. “They’re not getting an understanding of what the text is saying because the stress or anxiety is interfering in the cognitive ability. So I think we should be very conscious of that looking at our kids.”
Some of the ways mindfulness can be achieved include having the students sit in their chairs with their feet planted on the floor, and allowing them to focus on their feet touching the floor, their breathing, the feel of their skin, and more.
Other suggestions include:
Having “breathing buddies”
“Breathing buddies” are stuffed animals that sit on the students’ stomachs as they lay on the ground and focus on their breathing. Students can then watch their “breathing buddies” rise and fall as their breaths do.
Similar to mindful learning, instead of focusing on their body movements, students focus on sounds. Examples of this include raising their hands when they can no longer hear a bell ringing, or focusing on a specific instrument in a song.
Ms. Debetta suggests telling younger children to display what non-active listening looks like, allowing them to flail around and chat with friends, and then when a bell is rung asking the students to show what active listening looks like. During this time students sit still and quietly, focusing on their surroundings.
Writing homework on the board at the end of each lesson for students who are anxious about completing it. This gives the students a chance to focus on the lesson rather than worry about future assignments.
Turning to gratitude
Every day in her own class, Ms. Debetta asks the students to list something they’re thankful for. It can be something simple, like wearing their favorite sweatshirt, or something more personal.
Photo caption: Debbie Debetta leads the instruction Tuesday morning. (Credit: Nicole Smith)