by Meredith Montgomery
In recent years, mindfulness has had a growing presence on the campus of Bayside Academy in Daphne. Before the school year starts, teacher in-service begins each day with mindfulness activities. “The hope is that if we can provide opportunities for teachers to practice, maybe they will become comfortable introducing the practices in their classrooms,” says Intermediate School Counselor Andi Millsap, who has studied mindfulness at the Greater Good Science Center at University of California, Berkley and with Soul Shine Yoga in Fairhope.
Mindfulness and the research backing it is a regular topic in the school’s professional development year-round. Plus, mindful walks, prayer groups and morning meditation for quiet reflection are offered weekly for faculty before school.
During the school day, Millsap visits each of the third through sixth grade classrooms once a month to introduce new mindfulness practices. Activities have included mindful listening with the use of a singing bowl, guided meditations, breathing exercises and yoga. “The kids’ favorite was a mindful play-dough exercise. I scented the play-dough with peppermint essential oils and led them on a guided meditation that involved touch, smell and sight,” she says.
“With the advent of a new academic schedule this year, many faculty members are using mindfulness activities to help students transition from one part of class to the next or to provide brain breaks during longer class periods,” says Head of Upper School Josh Montgomery. Each week, meditation, mindfulness walks and affirmation exercises are available to seventh through twelfth graders during break time. “We also are offering a yoga class this year and students have been responsive,” says Montgomery.
Upper School Counselor Cindy Frederick arms students with mindfulness tools when she works with them one-on-one. “Many of the students with whom I work grapple with anxiety, particularly test anxiety. Mindfulness techniques are quick, discreet ways for students to cope,” she says. “They can be done quietly at a desk, before a speech, on the athletic field or anywhere a student may feel anxious.” Frederick observes that mindfulness is easy to implement and that students with a calm mind are more engaged in the learning process.
Students in all age groups are often reluctant at first, but the more they experience it, the more open-minded they become. “Some remain indifferent, but vulnerability is hard,” says Montgomery, who notes that many students wish they could do it more. When mindfulness was a part of a classroom unit of study, he says, “We got to a point where students were meditating with us for 15 minutes or more.”
In search of self-care as a new mom, parenthood drew Millsap to this practice. She encourages all parents to initiate their own mindfulness practice at home and to begin interjecting it into normal family activities: have a mindful meal, take a mindful walk around the neighborhood or listen to a story together before bed. After experiencing the benefits firsthand and diving into the research, Millsap says, “I felt like I would be doing the kids a disservice if I didn’t start introducing them to these concepts. It’s a no-brainer!”
For more information, call 251-338-6374 or email AMillsap@BaysideAcademy.org.
Mindful help for parents: Tinyurl.com/KindergartenersAndMindfulness.
Calm, a meditation app, offers guided mindfulness exercises and is offered free to any K-12 teacher. Calm.com/schools.
Headspace, another popular mindfulness app, is also offered free to teachers, and sometimes works directly with school districts. Headspace.com/educators.