What does Mindfulness Bring to the Preschool Classroom? (Part 2)

 

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There are two essential components to prepare yourself to use mindfulness activities in the classroom: posture and breathing. Let’s take a look at them.

Posture: The Mindful Body

In order to practice mindfulness, students need to first prepare their bodies. This means they need to position themselves so they’re comfortable and ready to fully engage in mindfulness.  Now, posture doesn’t have to be a very involved and complicated process.  It’s actually rather simple. I’ve listed below some options for students to position themselves in order to practice mindfulness.

1) Students can in a chair with feet flat on the floor, hands placed gently and comfortably on the lap, sit up straight, with eyes closed or closed slightly and focused on the floor.  (Some people may not feel comfortable completely closing their eyes so focusing on the floor is a good alternative).

2) Students can also sit on the floor in a cross-legged fashion.  Again hands are placed gently and comfortably in the lap. Back is straight and eyes are closed or closed slightly and focused on the floor.

3) Students can also on a bean bag chair.Hands are placed gently and comfortably in the lap.  Eyes are closed or closed slightly and focused on the floor. They will need to sit in a way so that they are comfortable.  

I refer to these positions as “Mindful body”.

Breathing

Now that the students are positioned comfortably, we need to address the next component for mindfulness…breathing.  In our everyday lives, we tend to use shallow breathing. This basically means that we don’t fill up our lungs enough and expel out the air enough for it to be effective to center a person.  So in order to center ourselves, we need to consciously change the way we breathe.

Breathe in deeply and breathe our completely.

Since children are very visual.  I used a Hoberman Sphere to represent a lung in order to explain inhalation and exhalation in a visual way (check out my previous blog post here on my method of using a Hoberman Sphere for breathing).  There are various ways that the Hoberman Sphere can be used to change the rate of inhalation/exhalation, holding the breath etc.  This is such a great tool (and a very simple one at that) to help children regulate their breathing. Be mindful of how many breaths are needed to calm and center children.  Three to five breaths should typically be sufficient.

When I think of mindfulness, I think about how it affects our body, mind, and soul.  It isn’t just a simple thought. It’s holistic. It takes into consideration everything about that person.  So with that in mind, I created and discussed activities that incorporate our five senses.

A Listening Activity

Listening is such a difficult task for most young children (and most adults too!).  

 

Here is a simple exercise that I’ve used with kindergarten to fourth grade students to work on their sense of listening. It uses a resonating (echoing) sound.  I used an app (because there’s an app for practically everything!) for this exercise. This app has a variety of different Tibetan singing bowls and each one has a different sound.  Here is the activity:

  1. Everyone positions themselves into their Mindful Body. Students should close their eyes or look down.
  2. The following instructions are given: Raise your hand when you no longer hear a sound.
  3. I play the singing bowl using an app and wait for everyone to raise their hand.
  4. I ask students to open their eyes once everyone has finished raising their hands..

See quite a simple exercise.  The idea behind this activity is to help children focus on one sound and over time improve their listening sense.

My Next Post

In my next blog post, I will discuss some simple mindfulness activities that utilize the other senses that can be incorporated into the preschool classroom.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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What Does Mindfulness Bring to the Preschool Classroom?

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Last week I was lucky enough to present a mindfulness workshop to a wonderful group of preschool teachers for UMAP (United Methodist Association of Preschools). Although I have presented many workshops to teachers, parents, and other personnel (and I even teach a pediatric OTA course), this was my first time creating and presenting my very own workshop.

Let me say first that I have an infinite degree of appreciation for each and every teacher out there. The “behind-the-scenes” work that is required to get one class created is extensive and can be exhausting! Clearly teachers teach because they love their profession and what they can do to help students learn. They certainly don’t do it for the money. I experienced all this while researching, compiling information, and then putting it all together into a succinct 75 minute presentation and handout for each participant.

Now I’m a “hands-on” type of learner and I really believe that in order for someone to understand (and then teach mindfulness to others) one must experience what mindfulness feels like to them. So, I incorporated several hands-on learning experiences for the participants.

To begin with, I asked them “What is mindfulness?” I expected that I would get many people would be easily able to answer this question since the term ‘mindfulness” is a very hot subject right now. However, what surprised me the most, was that many people had heard of the term “mindfulness” but really didn’t know much about it. I presented the following definition to them.

 

“Mindfulness is awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally. It’s about knowing what is on your mind.”

– Jon Kabat-Zinn

 

This is such a great and simple description of what mindfulness is.

So then we discussed what the potential benefits were of mindfulness. I had each of them write down on a sticky note what they felt was a benefit of mindfulness. Then I had them post the sticky note on the board for us to discuss their thoughts as a group. Here is what they wrote:

 Health

-less stress or de-stress

-to relax/more relaxed

-to live better

-better health

Relationships

-appreciation of friends, family, and surroundings

Cognitive

-helps problem solve

-pay more attention

-self-awareness

Work

-develop observational skills

-makes me slow down

-become a better listener

Self-care

-happiness and enjoyment

-enjoying the moment

-emotional peace

-enjoying right now

-calmness

-to center

-to connect

-attuned to what’s happening now

-clarity

-finding and relating to my center core

-staying in the moment

-relaxation of the mind

Spiritual

-closeness to God

-peace

-intune with who you are

-acknowledge what is

Other

-appreciate what you have

-not worrying about the future

 

So as you can see, there is a multitude of advantages for mindfulness from the perspective of preschool teachers. Believe it or not, this is only a handful of benefits of being mindful.

But not only that….there is an enormous amount of research to support mindfulness and its benefits for both adults and children. I could list it all here, but it would be an extensive list and far too long for a simple blog post.

 

In my next blog post, I will discuss some simple mindfulness activities that can be incorporated into the preschool classroom.

 

 

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The Hoberman Sphere – A different type of fidget tool (Part 2)

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In my last post I discussed using The Hoberman Sphere as a visual tool to promote mindful breathing and simple exercises to incorporate using it in your daily routine.  Well… this awesome little device has yet another function – it can be a fidget!

A fidget is “an object or toy used by children to manage their fidgeting”(1).  Fidgets have been around for years.  One of the most commonly used fidgets are writing tools, (pen or pencil).  People can often be seen manipulating these items between their fingers and in their hands while thinking, listening to their teacher in class, when bored etc.

There are many different reasons why one would fidget and many different items that one could use to fidget with.  One of the more popular ones is the fidget spinner.  Fidget spinners have become a recent fad and began with a very simple design in mind.  However with a recent growth in popularity, fidget spinners have evolved into very colorful and intricate designs.  Children and adults alike have been collecting and using these trendy objects.  One of my friends even shared a video with me of her daughter and son spinning these fidget spinners on various parts of their body – all at the same time!

So, fidgeting and use of fidgets is not a new phenomenon.

The Hoberman Sphere can be used as a fidget.  A smaller one might be a more appropriate choice when used as a fidget – a larger one can be distracting to others around them.

One example of how to use it with a child (or adult) is for them to sit in their chair and covertly use it in their lap (using both their hands to expand and collapse it).  But before one is provided to a child, specific guidelines of how to use it appropriately should be given.  These guidelines can be very simple. Writing them down and referring to them when needed helps ensure that this device can be used as a beneficial tool for focusing and not be used as a distractible object for that child and for others around them.

The Hoberman Sphere – mindful breathing and fidgeting tool.

References:

  1. Fidget.  https://www.macmillandictionary.com/dictionary/british/fidget_2.  Retrieved February 18, 2018.
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The Hoberman Sphere – A mindful breathing tool (Part 1)

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Disclaimer:  For some people, this may not be a beneficial tool or may cause problems due to previous or unknown medical conditions.  Please consult a physician before engaging in this mindful breathing activity.

I’ve been incorporating mindful breathing with several clients I work with over the past year or so.  Most people are easily able to regulate inhalation and exhalation without much difficulty.  But I ‘ve noticed that there are still many people who cannot control either

  1. breathing in through the nose and out through the mouth, or
  2. breathing in and out through the nose in a rhythmical and consistent pattern

When people become agitated or anxious, we often ask them to calm down by breathing in and out.  Sounds simple, right?  Well for some it’s not.  They can’t perform this simple task.  Then what happens?  The person then becomes more agitated or more anxious.

So enter the Hoberman Sphere.

The Hoberman Sphere.  When I had first heard this word, I had no idea what it was.  I imagined it to be this very intricate, shiny, almost elusive mathematical object that was only present in theory.  However, when someone showed it me, I realized I had seen it years ago in a box with other fine motor items.  I thought it looked cool and it seemed like it was a neat idea – it would expand and contract.  And that was that.

Fast forward to last year when it was reintroduced to me.  It was then that I realized that my own roommate had one, neatly tucked away – in sight – but not in use.  I again was intrigued by this special object.

For those of you, who have no idea what it is, it’s simply “an isokinetic structure patented by Chuck Hoberman that resembles a geodesic dome, but is capable of folding down to a fraction of its normal size by the scissor-like action of its joints…with the original design capable of expanding from 15 centimetres (5.9 in) in diameter to 76 centimetres (30 in).”(1)  So basically it’s this cool, plastic, colorful device that expands and contracts by the user’s movement.

So…how do we use this awesome “little” device in a mindful way?

Think of it as a giant lung.  It expands to fill itself up with air.  Then it contracts to blow out the air.  This is a great visual tool to help those who need additional guidance to perform mindful breathing.

Below I have listed some steps to incorporate this device to help with mindful breathing.  Remember this might take some time to become proficient in.  So be patient.

  1. Hold the Hoberman Sphere about an arm’s length in front of you with both hands holding the points on opposite ends of the sphere.
  2. Slowly pull the points out in a horizontal manner to the largest size it can expand to.
  3. Then slowly push the points back in, in a horizontal manner, to the smallest size it collapses to.
  4. Be able to demonstrate the ability to expand and collapse the sphere in a consistent and rhythmical pattern.

Now we incorporate breathing.

  1. Expand and watch the sphere grow.  At the same, expand and fill the lungs with air.
  2. Hold the breath for 3 seconds when the sphere is at its maximum size.
  3. Finally collapse the sphere in a slow manner (as some will want to quickly blow out the air from their nose or mouth) by slowing exhaling the air while the sphere collapses.
  4. Continue this motion for a few times.

***But of course stop this task if any sign of medical problem occurs.***

  1. Continue to practice this motion on your own.

Mindful breathing is a beneficial and powerful activity and the Hoberman Sphere is a great visual tool to help with performing mindful breathing.

 

In the next post, we will be continuing the discussion of The Hoberman Sphere and its beneficial uses.

 

References:

  1.  Hoberman Sphere.  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hoberman_sphere. Retrieved February 10, 2018.
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Is reading a book on a tablet better for you?

 

I was in a meeting recently for the yearly annual review for one of my students. The parent was discussing with the group about how one of her children was reading books on their iPad through Bookshare, and was really enjoying it, while the other was having difficulty. The group discussed all the potential possibilities about why her one child was quite content to use the iPad and the other was not. Suggestions such as…”well she might not like the book” to “perhaps she is more interested in playing games on the iPad” (of course which child isn’t interested in playing games on their iPad?). As we discussed the various reasons, I sat and listened. Eventually I said “maybe she prefers a physical book?” The group looked at me and thought about it a moment. I continued “She’s a teenager and has been exposed to holding and reading a real book in her hand. There’s something different about reading a physical book versus one on a screen.” The group nodded in agreement and the parent agreed to trial a real book with her child.

I will state it now…I love technology! I love the infinite and amazing things that we can now do with technology. Everyday I feel like I learn something new and exciting that I can implement in not only my life, but also my job. This is especially true in my line of work – Occupational Therapy. For example, now people can have a more functional and realistic prosthetic hand (due in part to the advent of 3D printing). Apps are growing in numbers and capabilities. Written communication is diversifying and therefore making it easier for those who struggle with handwriting. There are so many cool things that you can now do with technology. Like I said…I love technology!

However….there are some drawbacks. I want to address the ones that pertain specifically to reading a physical book versus reading an e-book.

As someone who grew up in the pre-explosion of technology, I was accustomed to going to the library to check out a book. Holding it in my hands, it felt almost magical. I wanted to read the story and explore how the story would unfold. I particularly liked the “Choose your own adventure” books. I loved the idea of being able to make a choice to see how my decision would affect the outcome of MY story.  As I grew up and went off to  university, I would open up my textbook and peruse through the different tables, charts, pictures etc that would help explain the different components of what I was learning (I was a Biology Major before I became an OT). I used countless sticky notes to mark the pages so I could refer to them later. It was easy and effective for me.

With the advent of the iPad, I noticed that there appeared to be almost a division of those who liked to read an actual physical book to those who preferred to read an e-book. In some cases, the individuals who had transitioned to using an e-book, could simply not understand why one would continue to read a physical book.

So here we are…a general analysis of the “Physical book” versus the “e-Book

Physical book:

Pros

  • the crispness of opening a new book (although some prefer a worn book)
  • some books have and use manipulatives (especially for younger children) and require a physical book to properly convey the message or information
  • there is a not a glare on the reading page (easier on the eyes)
  • easier to locate marked pages in order to go back and locate the information
  • can physically highlight the pages

Cons

  • some books (especially textbooks are heavy)
  • can be more expensive than virtual books in some cases
  • more difficult for those individuals who have a difficult time sitting still long enough to read a book (I can completely relate)

e-book:

Pros

  • can carry many books at one time (good for traveling)
  • great for the minimalist (no visual or physical clutter)
  • can highlight (depending on the program and textbook that you are using)
  • the size of the font can be adjusted (increase size, change font etc )
  • might be easier for children who have difficulty holding a physical book
  • easier to “read” when driving for long distances

Cons

  • difficult to locate items on a certain page or within the book
  • the glare of the screen (we spend so much time in front of the computer each and every day that our eyes need a chance to rest)
  • we have so many “screens” in our lives that we need to be looking at other options too
  • for younger children, they need manipulatives to learn and there are minimal opportunities for that
  • we do not use all of our senses which is important for learning
  • more difficult to convey the meaning of the information (ex more difficult with certain pictures, diagrams etc)
  • can be distracted by other programs on the device (ex apps, internet etc)

 

So in some cases, there is more of an individual preference versus a pro/con list when choosing a physical or an e-book. However, aside from instances where there is an actual specific need, use of a physical book is better for younger children for their developmental growth. As children grow up, the push or desire towards an e-book would be up to the reader but limiting screen time for a child in general should be accounted for.

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An Alarming Trend That We Need To Be Mindful Of

Technology is wonderful!! I love the fact that I can sit anywhere and use my phone to research or buy something online. Or be able to chat with my husband (and actually see him!) with the push of a button on my phone. Technology is growing at such a rapid pace that it’s honestly hard to keep up with it (unless of course you’re in your teens/twenties and this is like second nature for you!).

However, I feel very fortunate to have grown up before the advent of everyday technology because I have the experience of knowing what it’s like to use typewriters, printing 1 page at a time on a dot matrix printer (which I calculated takes 1-2 minutes depending on the number of words on a page), and the dial-up sound of the internet. I say this simply because today’s society is so fixated on technology, that more commonplace and simpler items and activities are becoming less desirable.

I was in a doctor’s office the other day and on the tv (because it seems like we can’t ever escape the media) there was a program on where they were talking about a disturbing trend. The guest on the show was saying that there is a growing problem with people becoming engaged in too much screentime and that the younger generation in particular was more susceptible to developing an Internet/Screen Time addiction. I can’t recall the actual diagnosis that had been coined. However, it was something that was related to the increasing amount of time that people spend in front of their screens. I was shocked by this news and yet… I wasn’t. I myself am guilty of checking my phone every couple of minutes (for no good reason) and will do so if my phone is within easy reach. But I do realize that there is a time and place for that and have started to become more mindful of how much time I waste on screentime. There are countless issues now surrounding the increasing and alarming numbers of people who are becoming addicted to spending their time in front of their screens. But also the number of problems that arise and how these problems affect people in general.

Some of the issues that were discussed on the show were:

  • an increasing lack in social skills
  • the inability to communicate effectively with others
  • decreased emotional maturity

As an OT, I am very troubled by this growing trend and these issues. I also want to add the following concerns:

  • visual difficulties
  • poorly developed skills (these skills are acquired through exploration of one’s environment)
  • increasing stress
  • decreased problem-solving skills (we learn from our interaction with others)

…to name just a few

Some might think that this is not too much of a concern and that why should we be even discussing this. However if you at these issues and how they impact an individual’s life it’s something we should be discussing and addressing. Here are some ways in which an excessive amount of screentime impacts a person:

  • Poor social skills leads to a smaller social network (or even one at all!). We, as humans are social creatures and have a need to be able to effectively interact with others in our day to day lives. Several recent TedTalks have stated that longevity is associated with good social interaction/relationship with others.
  • Many professions require some ability to interact with others. If one is unable to interact with a boss or coworker, it could lead to disciplinary action or loss of job.
  • Spending all of our time online could affect one’s ability in their job (being late, not completing tasks, not showing up to work etc)
  • This could also affect someone in school (not completing assignments, not going to class, not being able to graduate and get a job to support oneself etc)
  • Not forming or not knowing how to form a close relationship with someone
  • Visual problems leading to eye strain, needing glasses, headaches/migraines etc
  • Not having the necessary skills to be able to function at school, work etc. There is a growing trend of students who do have the necessary skills to be successful at school (ex handwriting due to poor fine motor and other skills)
  • The list goes on…

As I mentioned before, technology is amazing and we are so fortunate to be able to use it for our own success. However, children should be monitored for the amount of time that is spent online or in front of a screen. Adults too, should be aware and mindful of the amount of screentime that they spend on a daily basis. Setting a timer for a designated period of time is a simple and effective way to monitor screentime. There are plenty of apps out there that do something similar.

There is an incredible world out there. Spending an excessive amount of your time in front of a screen not only negatively affects you physically, mentally, and emotionally, but it prevents you from enjoying the world, its beauty, and social interactions with others.

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Running – A Journey

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This post was written by my sister Julie Adshade.

I had always been active. As a kid I played lots of games and sports with my friends outdoors. I was always on some sort of sports team in high school. And then there was …a lull. That was 4 years of studying engineering at university, then working full time and long commutes, going out with friends and well, let’s just call it LIFE. It got in the way and suddenly I wasn’t so active anymore.

Fast forward 8 years and I found myself living abroad in the sunny paradise of Australia. Aside from *trying* over and over and over again to continue the running I had picked up in high school, or playing the odd co-ed house league game just for fun, my movement in life in that span of 8 years was pretty much at a standstill. Aside from moving to a country that was predominantly warm for most of the year and had a great outdoor lifestyle, by sheer luck, I also joined a company that had a very active and young crowd of employees, eager to sign up for the next run, triathlon or bike ride.

After working there for about 8 months, I found myself suddenly blurting out over lunch that we should all sign up for the City2Surf 14km fun run that was happening in a few months. Most of my lunch buddies were relatively new to the company as well, many were transplants from overseas and there was a mix of people who had never run before and those who were fairly active. I hadn’t really realised that this idea had been formulating in my head for a little while until I heard myself trying to sell them all on it. This run in particular was the one my company supported and sponsored any employee to do. Essentially, if you were working there, or were direct family, you were in – free race entry and singlet or t-shirt. The varied responses I received over that lunch spurred me on to create a lunchtime walking group. Once a week after we finished our lunch, we would set off on a little walk in the area before heading back into work. This helped to attract the “non-runners” in the group. Registrations were soon due for the race and with my little walking club going well, people made the decision to join the run because “at least they knew they could walk the entire thing” without killing themselves. As weeks wore on, it was clear that the walking group would need to be stepped up to the next level. We would need to start training for the run by actually running, and so the walking group was moved to after work to accommodate more people and time. Most Wednesdays, we would meet up and walk over to the local park, where we would run the track for about 30 min (approx. 5km). Everyone did their own, went their own pace and completed their own distance. If you weren’t feeling well, you walked. If you were a superstar you did more than 5km. It was fun and inclusive because it was attainable for anyone at any point in their training. I opened the running practice to everyone in the company and we met more colleagues from other departments.

Eventually race day came along. Everyone did well; whether that was just DOING it, a mix of running and walking or smashing a personal time, the point was to get out there and give it a go. At the end of it, we were a group of people who had tried something out, trained together and had had a great time doing it. For me personally it was the longest distance I had ever tried to run. The course was quite hilly in sections, so I walked through those areas and kept going. My goal was to just do it and see how well I could go, knowing that I wouldn’t be running the entire distance.

But I couldn’t end things there. Those months of running had really opened my eyes to something. Running has never come easily to me. As a teenager, I had worked up to running for an hour, around my neighbourhood, with my Walkman on. The challenges and achievement I experienced while running had been left behind in those days and forgotten. I realised again that everything improved when I was running continuously; I slept better, could concentrate better, felt happier and had more energy. I soon signed up for the Sydney Bridge 9km run, the only time they shut down the Sydney Harbour Bridge and you get to puff along with thousands of other people without the worry of cars while enjoying the exquisite view of the harbour.

The end of that race also marked the end of running season in Sydney with no other *big* runs planned for several months. But by then, I was hooked. I ran our little work running group for 4 more seasons after that, with several of the same people, but also adding new ones along the way. In that time, I sought out new runs to try and made teams, eagerly emailing people to join yet another race where we could all run individually (but together) and meet up for breakfast afterwards to talk about our victories or pain. I even earned a new nickname – “The Capt.”. In total this included 5 City2Surf 14km runs, 1 Corporate Triathlon, 3 Sydney Harbour 10km runs, 2 Sydney Bridge 9km/10km runs, 1 Sun Run 10km run and even a Sydney Running Festival Half Marathon. My next run will be my second Sun Run 10km in February 2018 (wish me luck!). Members of my running group often still get together for many of these races even though our little running group is no longer. It’s a great way to continue to connect with people I don’t see on a daily basis.

However, since moving on from the regular training we all used to do together, I’ve included a new little running gem into my hobby – ParkRun. This is a completely free, community 5km event run weekly in parks all across the world. It started in the UK and has extensive coverage all across Australia, but it is very new to North America. ParkRun completely embodies the spirit of “just giving it a go”. Although you get a time and can see your standing and run history online, the main purpose is to get out and do it. It doesn’t matter how fit or unfit you are, how much experience you have, what demographic you may fit into, ParkRun is for everyone. I did my first ParkRun mid 2016 and started slowly, averaging about 1 a month. More recently, I’ve really started to hit my stride in ParkRun and have attended almost every Saturday for the past 2 months. I have just hit 25 ParkRuns and have a goal to complete my 50th in 2019.

Now with 5 years of semi-continuous running under my belt, I can say it is definitely one of my biggest hobbies and I think the habit is here to stay this time. Although it definitely gets easier with practice, running is still hard for me and I think it will always be a challenge. It takes time and effort to build up the stamina and endurance and it’s too easy to get out of practice. My goal now is to always, at any point, be able to run a 5km distance. As long as I can do that, I know I am in reasonably fit shape. Running has allowed me to gain so much in terms of health and happiness, but also in helping me to understand and listen to my body, allowing it to rest and relax when it needs to and knowing when I can push it that much more to improve my time.

If you’re not already a runner, but have an interest, start out just by walking. Decide to just do a short walk around your neighbourhood today. And see where it takes you.

***As always I am open to including guest bloggers on my blog.

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