May 30, 2017

Space to Breathe

How to get a mindfulness space started in your classroom.

Think about the last time that you lost your cool. Maybe you got cut off on the highway, a coworker took credit for your hard work, or your spouse or children left their sticky dishes in the sink.You may have been tired, or anxious, or stressed, but in the end you snapped. How did you get back to center? Most of us need some space to cool down and get a grip on our emotions before we respond well to criticism or rebuke — even if it’s just a moment to take a breath and get under control.

Just like us, kids and teens feel the wearing effects of anxiety, stress, and exhaustion, but unlike adults, they lack the years of experience and insight, as well as the fundamental brain development, to help them navigate and regulate their emotions in face of those obstacles.In the end, this makes kids more likely to lash out, or act out, when faced with conflict, disagreement, stress, or discomfort, which helps to explain everything from temper tantrums to “hanger.” And like us, kids need space to cool down and reflect in order to learn and grow when they flip their lids.

If we accept this as a completely normal facet of development, and frankly, as a normal part of human experience, we can look at each outburst as an opportunity for learning and growth. But unfortunately, this opportunity is frequently lost for students. When kids misbehave or act out at school, the standard practice is to send students to time-out, detention, or the principal’s office, where kids are punished without being presented with the opportunity or tools to really reflect, and to practice essential skills for self-awareness and self-control.

What if we did something different? What if we created students to learn, reflect, and introspect? Where they can unplug from the stress of school, from their home lives, and from their friends (and phones), to focus inward on themselves? Across the country, innovative administrators, teachers, and counselors have been working toward a better solution through mindfulness rooms. Mindfulness rooms provide safe, constructive places for students to grow and thrive, by carving out a special space at school for students to unwind, practice mindfulness techniques, and at times when they’ve lost their cool, to identify their emotions and sensations, and make connections between triggers and actions.

While each school may create mindfulness rooms according to their unique needs and resources, getting started at your own school is easy.

Designate a place

In order for students to get the most out of a mindfulness room, it’s important to designate a separate, special space that feels safe, quiet, and calm. School teachers may choose a special corner of their classroom, or schools can designate an entire room that serves as a refuge for students from all grades. You can even make do with a smaller space, but you’ll want to make sure that the room is clean, comfortable, well-ventilated, and well-lit.

Set the tone

Once you’ve found your room, it’s time to make it a retreat for students. Paint the walls with tranquil, soft colors, and ensure that the lightning contributes to a more peaceful environment. Blinds can be placed over windows to help diffuse bright light, and lamps can be used to brighten up a dark space, especially as an alternative to fluorescent lighting! If you can manage a dimmer switch, even better.

Support your students

Want a student-centered space? Give the students a voice! Ask for input from students on what would make the space feel safe for them, and provide opportunities for them to share and contribute to the room in their own unique way. Chalkboards and bulletin boards can be used to share helpful quotes, information, and resources with kids, and depending on the age of your students, can allow them to share their own thoughts and resources as well. You can also get creative by adding inspirational quotes directly to the walls, either with paint or removable decals.

Dial up the comfort

Your mindfulness room should make students feel at home, or at the very least, not in a classroom. Depending on how you use your mindfulness room, whether for quiet reflection, coloring, or even yoga, you might consider purchasing soft pillows, blankets, or rugs to add texture and comfort. Provide coloring books and pencils, or even stuffed animals, to give students opportunities to slow down and relax, and depending on your school’s policy, you may use an oil diffuser for added aromatherapy. Music serves as a powerful tool for decompression for students (and adults) of all ages, so bringing in a computer or portable speakers can be a huge hit.

Planning on practicing yoga in your space? Be sure that you not only have enough room to unroll mats and move, but also the storage space for blocks, mats, blankets, bolsters, and straps. Using a shelving unit and baskets can help keep your space organized and clean, so students can focus on themselves.

Did you know?

Research suggests as little as 5 minutes of Yoga Ed. daily can improve mental health.

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