Do you practice mindfulness with your children? A big part of Montessori education is teaching children to be mindful, respectful and ☮️peaceful with oneself and others. However, in this hectic busy world, when we have no time to stop and "check-in" with ourselves, even less with others: both physically and mentally - When is the right time to introduce the Practice of Mindfulness to our children? When is the right time to teach them meditation?
Mindfulness means maintaining present awareness of our feelings, thoughts, bodily sensations, and the surrounding environment. It also implies acceptance, being able to think and feel without judging — without believing that there is a “right” or “wrong” way to think or feel at a given moment. My own mantra has always been that "whatever happens, happens for the better, even if, at first, it seems like things are turning for the worse." So, when we practice mindfulness, we are present in the "now" with every fiber of our being, without reminiscing about the past (whether it is of happy moments or grievance) or imagining the future.
Mindfulness has its roots in Buddhist meditation and is the English translation of the Pali word "Sati" which means "activity." However, a secular practice of mindfulness has entered the American mainstream in recent years in part through the work of Jon Kabat-Zin and Eckert Tolle. Research studies have supported the conclusion that the practice of mindfulness is strongly correlated with well-being and perceived health and that worry contributes to mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety. We usually worry about the future: however, those imagined events might never even materialize, and at a present, there is little we can do about them since they are in the future ... out of reach. So, by bringing our attention to the internal and external experiences occurring in the present moment, by bringing mindfulness into our daily lives through the practice of meditation, we can experience true bliss and happiness of "now" and reduce both rumination and worry. So, let's stop worrying and start living!
While with Julia (6 years old), I have been discussing the concepts of being in the now and enjoying the present moment for a while now, with Adrian (2 years old), we are just starting ... And, to bring mindfulness to toddlers, a lot has to happen: they have to be well rested, fed, not overly stimulated, calm and able to sustain their attention for longer than few seconds.
Read here "Mastering the Art of Letting Go!" in a post "Practicing Mindfulness at 1 year old with a 🖌️💧Buddha Board."
Also, what type of meditation should be introduced? Meditation is classified into two categories based on the way we focus attention: Focused Attention and Open Monitoring.
(1) Focused Attention Meditation (object of focus): entails focusing the attention on a single object like a breath, a mantra, visualization, part of the body, external object, etc. Examples are Samatha (Buddhist meditation), some forms of Zazen, Loving Kindness Meditation, Chakra Meditation, Kundalini Meditation, Sound Meditation, Mantra Meditation, Pranayama, some forms of Qigong, and many others.
(2) Open Monitoring Meditation ( a process of monitoring): entails monitoring all perceptions: either internal (thoughts, feelings, memory, etc.) or external (sound, smell, etc.) without judgment or attachment. It is the process of non-reactive monitoring of the content of experience from moment to moment, without dwelling on them. Examples are Mindfulness Meditation, Vipassana, as well as some types of Taoist Meditation. Zen🕉 Garden Meditation SandBox (below/buy here) is a type of Mindfulness Meditation: a miniature version of the traditional Japanese meditative garden. Assorted stones and other objects provide visual interest and a counterpoint to the garden's serene patterns.
Children are born mindful, and with wisdom we can keep this skill alive: 'Montessori is wonderful in this way'. - The Dalai Lama
All you need to participate in the art of Zen gardening:
- purified sand (you can also use salt, sugar, polenta or any other tiny grain),
- small objects: e.g. marbles, polished rocks (we also added a starfish, shark tooth etc.),
- a small rake,
- and a tray to contain everything.
A Zen Garden is a mindful tool to bring a child to the "now" - to the precious eternal moment of the Present, offering a child an opportunity to sensorially explore the sand, gracefully raking around objects, thinking only about the precise movement of the hand, focusing only on the sparkling white sand and the design a child chooses to create. These moments are truly meditational, quieting the mind and enriching the soul.
Whether you practice Focused Attention and Open Monitoring, the true purpose behind all meditational “means” (either object of focus or process of monitoring) is effortless inner silence - quiet, “empty” and introverted awareness or “Pure Being.” It is in this state of “pure effortless presence” – being in the now - where the attention is not focused on anything in particular but is reposed on itself - the deeper states of consciousness can be discovered.
With children, in an effort to introduce this state of pure presence, practicing (1) Focused Attention Meditation might be a good starting point for children to develop stamina and ability to sustain their attention. Also, holding something tangible (like a pebble or a marble), while focusing on a familiar object, might be less abstract and more inviting for a child. So, to put this to practice, we read a book A Handful of Quiet: Happiness in Four Pebbles (buy here) where four pebbles are selected to represent an image of nature and its corresponding qualities: 🌸FLOWER (FRESH), ⛰MOUNTAIN (SOLID), 🏞STILL WATER (REFLECT), and 🌌SPACE (FREE).
In this book, each pebble is presented as a tangible way for children to return to their breathing and their bodies; and to connect to the world around them since each pebble also represents the quality the child can associate with. A 🌸 FLOWER represents beauty and freshness, while a ⛰MOUNTAIN stands for solidity and focus. Still calm 🏞WATER, like a clear lake, reflects the surrounding, so the child is encouraged to reflect things inside and around. Finally,🌌 SPACE, like the big blue sky with lots of space in and around, inspires the child to feel free and at ease.
A child is gently encouraged to meditate - that is "to think quietly about something" while sustaining attention on just one pebble at a time, so we decided to practice "Drawing Meditation" by focusing on STILL WATER while painting a picture of a lake.
Julia and I breathed in and out and smiled at each other as we painted the water. We had not uttered a word during the entire drawing session. Our whole focus was the lake: its stillness, the calmness and clarity of the water and the extent of how much of the undistorted and beautiful surrounding is being reflected in it. Just like with a person: when the inner self is tranquil, still and calm, one can see things for what they really are - undistorted, clear, true.
During this Drawing Meditation, we used watercolors, and it was a very special experience: we were doing it together (my painting is on the left), sharing the process, meditating, slowing down, reconnecting with our inner-selves and focusing on the qualities of water, while trying to reflect things just as they are, inside and around.
Our ☮️Peace Inspired📚Books:
- Silence Book (buy here) gently encourages children to stop, listen, and reflect on their experiences and the world around them.
- If the World Were a Village: A Book about the World's People (buy here) explores the lives of the hundred villagers. Children will discover that life in other nations is often very different from their own. If the World Were a Village is part of CitizenKid: a collection of books that inform children about the world and inspire them to be better global citizens.
- The Listening Walk book (buy here) is one of the children's favorite! Discover your world filled with wonderful and surprising sounds which otherwise get drowned-out in our noisy environment.
- A Handful of Quiet: Happiness in Four Pebbles book (see above/buy here) shows a child a concrete way to be mindful by connecting to a pebble representing an image of nature.
- Meditation Is an Open Sky book (buy here) offers a terrific introduction to simple child-friendly mindfulness/meditation exercises.
- What is God? book (buy here) is an eloquent introduction to the ideas behind God and various religion, which brings forward complex ideas in a way children will understand. It is written with a simple clarity and beautifully illustrated with just the right blend of seriousness and humor.
- Maria Montessori: A Biography For And By Children book (buy here) is written in a simple child-accessible way and is full of children's drawings depicting the life of Maria Montessori.
- Mindful Movements: Ten Exercises for Well-Being book (buy here) offers children gentle series of physical movements based on Yoga and Tai Chi movements, as an approach to Buddhist teachings. Mindful Movements book is a great meditational "yoga" manual: simple enough for a child to follow and substantial enough to provide a simple base for meditational movements.
For more book ideas, see here "☮️PEACE Education•Have you Filled a Bucket Today? 📚Book."
In Montessori ☮️PEACE education, when two children are experiencing conflict, it can be difficult for each child to truly👂🏻 listen to what the other child is saying. To assist with this, one child can hold a symbol of ☮️PEACE, which generally, in a Montessori classroom, is a🌹 rose (we are using a handmade ❤️heart; a 🕊dove can also be used). A child holding it would state why s/he is upset and then pass the ☮️symbol to the other child who then has a chance to respond, passing back and forth until each child had expressed their feelings and felt adequately acknowledged. Finally, reconciliation would end with a 👋🏻handshake signaling ☮️ PEACE. So, when 👧🏻Julia and👦🏼 Adrian would have a disagreement, I would gently remind them to go to their ☮️PEACE corner and retrieve the ❤️and speak their hearts💖. They would then sit across from each other on the rug and express their frustrations. Let me tell you, it always works and the PEACE is signaled with a 🤗 hug. Read more here.
For more on mindful practices, read here "🕉Zentangle Mindful 🖋️Art for Children."
For more on meditation, read here "Guided 📿 Meditation with 🎶Neoclassical Music."
Mindfulness is closely connected to Montessori education. Here is a short exert from Michael Olaf: Mindfulness Practices in Education
Mindfulness is a quality of focused attention on the present moment accompanied by a non‐judgmental stance; its “systematic cultivation has been called the heart of Buddhist meditation”. Mindfulness practice is fundamentally simple: focus on the breath; pay attention; be aware. “Mindfulness is cultivated by assuring the stance of an impartial witness to your own experience. To do this requires that you become aware of the constant stream of judging ... and learn to step back from it.” One needs to learn to trust in own intuition and authority. Yet, conventionally, we train children that teachers are the judges and will reinforce their judgments with grades, gold stars, and demerits. Thus, child’s own sense of authority is rarely paramount in this setting, rather they are subjected again and again to adult judgment. Thus, it can be concluded that Montessori education as a form of mindfulness education.
So, what can we do to help our children become more peaceful, mindful persons? As a parent, you can lead by example by developing your own meditation practice and then showing your children the way. Also, establish a quiet "Mommy and Me" time when you can speak to each child and discuss what had transpired during the day and how they felt about it: did something happen in the school, or you might want to take this time to express that when you raised your voice, for example, you did not mean to upset anyone and you apologise for that and so forth. Moreover, set realistic expectations and make it relatable - on a child's level. Lastly, make it special, make it personal - let it be!
Read here about Montessori Peace Education and our Peace Corner in a post "Montessori ☮️PEACE Shelfie (Grace & Courtesy, Gratitude, Pillars of a Peaceful Character)."