Where is your attention now? Are you away from your thoughts or actions right at this moment?
Photo: Chiltern House Preschool
To be present and aware of it as it unfolds – is mindfulness in a nutshell.
Mindfulness is mind-body-based training where your attention is directed to an experience. Not just about focusing on your breath, mindfulness can also be drawing your attention to your thoughts, feelings and body sensations, to be aware of them and to better handle them.
The result? Calmness and fulfillment.
Early research suggests that mindfulness helps to support youths in various aspects of their lives. There is increased calmness, they get along better with others, are more focused and able to manage stress and anxiety better. A study done to examine the effectiveness of mindfulness in several Britain secondary schools revealed that the more often students applied mindfulness practices, the higher their levels of well-being.
In Singapore, more than 10 primary and secondary schools have introduced mindfulness practices.
What about preschools? TNAP spoke to two centres that adopt mindfulness practice in their curriculum.
Chiltern House Preschool
Ms Julia Gabriel, Group Managing Director and Founder of Julia Gabriel Education, began practising mindfulness nine years ago when she was diagnosed with cancer. She was looking for ways to be more positive and optimistic at that time and she went on to study the benefits of a positive mindset. She became aware of how beneficial it was, not only for today’s children, who are bombarded with distractions but also for teachers.
“Preschool teaching can be a stressful job and in order to create a positive environment having teachers be self-aware is so valuable,” Ms Gabriel adds. “The essence of mindfulness cannot be bought as a package. Our aim is to accomplish a culture of mindful teaching, language and communication. The skills the children gain will benefit them for many years to come.”
What a mindfulness session looks at Chiltern House Preschool
Photos: Chiltern House Preschool
There are many variations to how mindfulness can be taught. At Chiltern House Preschool, a variety of activities are adopted to make it fun and engaging for the young. It could be children lying on the floor watching their breathing buddy (a small puppet or bean bag) moving up and down on their tummy as they take big, deep breaths.
It could be sitting up straight on the floor with their eyes closed and trying to clear their monkey mind. It could be during snack when they close their eyes and allow their mind to focus on the taste, smell and texture of the food in their mouths. It could even be a discussion about how the actions of others can make them feel and how they themselves feel when they are generous or kind to others.
Ms Gabriel believes many children in classes struggle not because of their lack of academic ability, but because they cannot focus. The school has not only seen improvement in the classroom, but even parents have commented their children applying it at home.
The mindfulness activities were first piloted in their full-day programme at Chiltern House Mountbatten in 2015. Today, the school holds five-minute daily mindfulness sessions to all its students from Nursery One and above.
My Little Gems Preschool
When he was young, Mr Ben Lim, Founder of My Little Gems Preschool, did poorly in his studies and often ranked at the bottom of his class. It was until he was introduced to a Buddhist mindfulness meditation that transformed his life. Through consistent practice, he overcame his anxiety disorder and was able to focus and sleep better. His academic performance began to improve and he graduated with First Class Honours from NUS.
Inspired by his own experience and practice, Mr Lim founded My Little Gems Preschool in 2011 to share the benefits of mindfulness with children. The school adopts a mindfulness programme integrated with character education, where children learn to be more attentive, develop greater self-awareness and acquire positive values such as gratitude and loving-kindness to support them in their psychological, social and emotional development.
What a mindfulness session looks at My Little Gems Preschool
Children from as young as two years old engage in daily mindfulness training with simple instructions. Each day starts with Mindful Morning sessions, where the children practice paying attention to one object of focus. It could be their breath, their body or any of the senses. The goal is to be fully attentive to the object of focus without any judgement.
As a father of five children aged one and half years old to 12 years old, Mr Lim understands how easy it is for children to be distracted. When this happens, the teachers or trainers guide them back to their object of focus. Mr Lim explains, “Over time their attention span will increase and they will develop stronger self-control. When they become more attentive, they will also become more sensitive to their own and others emotions, allowing them to develop empathy for others.”
“For children to adopt mindfulness as a way of life, it has to be fun and interactive too,” shares Mr Lim. There are other mindfulness programme in the school that incorporates activities, songs, stories, discussions, role-play and games, each designed to encourage children’s engagement.
Photos: My Little Gems Preschool
As an integrated mindfulness and character education programme, students also practice loving kindness by ‘sending’ well-wishes to themselves and to others. This practice not only cultivates generosity, it also allows children to get in touch with their feelings and connect with others. During the Nepal earthquake in 2015, children worked with their parents to create craftwork for sale and raised more than $2,000 for the victims.
Over the years, My Little Gems Preschool graduates have gone on to do well academically and received good character and academic achievement awards in their respective primary schools.
This article was first published in The New Age Parents e-magazine.
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