by Blake R. Bowman, Principal at Meadow Ridge Elementary
Reading, ‘Riting, ‘Rithmetic … and Relaxing???
The days are gone that teaching Language Arts and Math skills could guarantee that a child would be prepared for their future and all its challenges. The stresses that accompany growing up are arguably greater today than at any other time in human history. In a time where popularity can be statistically quantified by Facebook followers, and college entrance and the job market are more competitive than ever before, Generation X may have given way to Generation Angst. If we aren’t teaching kids how to deal with stress and anxiety, then we aren’t preparing them for their reality.
And that’s where Meadow Ridge Elementary is extremely grateful to the Rockford Education Foundation, whose substantial grant this past winter paved the way for a new Mindfulness Through Motion program that has been wildly impactful for our entire student body. Meadow Ridge students have been participating in Mindfulness lessons since the beginning of March. It’s a curriculum that shares some core principles with yoga, but its truest benefit comes through giving kids a life skill that they can use … every day … which is a lot more than can be said for the Pythagorean Theorem. Mindfulness is not a behavior modification system. It doesn’t focus on kids who are making negative choices. It’s also highly successful for overachievers. It helps all practitioners stay present, in control, and able to enjoy the good things in life.
And let’s face it … that’s where we all are most vulnerable to stress. Our anxieties can imprison us, and blind us to so many joyous things happening around us. Physiologically, adrenaline starts flowing when we are anxious, and that makes it very difficult to focus. That’s why so many of us equate anxiety as a mental (or sometimes physical) state of paralysis. We lose control of our actions and thoughts when stress is occurring in our body.
But the moment you take a deep breath …
It calms the nervous system. By breathing with intentionality, and focusing on that breath, we can slow down our active mind. It clears passageways for control and decision-making. Scientifically, deep breathing is the only thing that a human can do to intentionally slow our heart rate. Want more proof? All RPS employees had professional training related to school security last year, and the presenter was a man who has served as a Secret Service agent to protect every living president. He cited that same fact about deep breathing … and even said that elite military sharpshooters practice this exercise because a reduced heart rate maximizes their performance. Maximize their performance … That’s what schools try to do for kids every day.
Scholarly research finds that mindfulness decreases stress and anxiety, increases attention, strengthens compassion, and improves interpersonal relationships for students and teachers. Mindfulness provides kids with an excellent tool to help them with their studies, test anxiety, peer interaction, and all the other stresses of childhood and adolescence. It gives them a grounding spot … a place to return when they need to self-regulate. Providing Mindfulness lessons to the entire school also helps us all speak the same language. We can openly talk about being in control of our minds, our decisions, and our actions. We can talk about how to stay present and in the moment. Obsessing over what has already happened can be a waste of time. Anxiety about the future is a futile attempt to control what we cannot.
Right now. That’s what we can control. What is happening right now? What can I do … right now? We can have control over that. That’s what Mindfulness is all about.
At Meadow Ridge we are blessed to have an educator, Tamara Reaume, who is passionate about Mindfulness and she has been the key instructor for this program for the entire school. The Meadow Ridge PTO has also been extremely supportive, and has pledged their continued support to make sure Mindfulness instruction continues to thrive at Meadow Ridge long into our future.
But that future … that feels a long way off. The future is tomorrow’s problem. We have Mindfulness lessons right now. And maybe that’s why I’m heading into summer feeling so good about things at our school …