Mindfulness. It is not a new idea but one that has moved into the mainstream consciousness. There are mindfulness books, retreats, teachers, and classes. Mindfulness was brought to our attention in the United States through different teachers and Buddhist traditions. At the end of the last century mindfulness became a part of clinical psychology. Early in this century, mindfulness is being studied and written about in scientific and medical journals
In Webster’s mindfulness is defined as, “the practice of maintaining a non-judgmental state of heightened or complete awareness of one’s thoughts, emotions, or experiences on a moment to moment basis.” In Buddhist tradition mindfulness is called, “the memory of the present” and founder of mindfulness based stress reduction John Kabat-Zinn said mindfulness is, “the awareness that arises through paying attention on purpose in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.”
What started my thinking about mindfulness was a discussion at a recent training. The training was on documentation and one of the presenters said that in our work with children the act of observation involves, “learning to pay close attention to life’s moments and details.” My first thought was this is mindfulness and how does the practice of mindfulness apply to our work with children?
To find some ideas of what mindfulness would look like in the early childhood education environment I read different books and online articles. The passages I connected with the most came from the book, “In Dialogue With Reggio Emilia.” With thoughtful expression, the educators shared a real sense of connection to the moment when working with the children. They did not call it mindfulness, but as the educators told stories of their co-learning journey, you could see through their words the connection to the moment. What can we learn from their practice?
Observation is an act of relationship – To be in relationship is to be connected to another person or the moment. The more we are connected to the moment (mindfulness) creates a better exchange in the relationship. The process of observation therefore is more enjoyable and valuable if we are able to be present in the moment. Our active presence provides information and insights that are of higher depth and value.
Listening with intention is being open to the process – Being mindful of the moment at hand offers us the opportunity to participate in the experience by not only listening but also being listened to. This is important when engaged in a co-learning relationship. When all protagonists of the inquiry are present, the ideas being explored reach a greater depth and breadth and enhance the learning journey.
Listening is a difficult practice that requires a desire to change – To be in a community of learners and engage effectively requires practice in mindfulness. Listening can be difficult at times when working with children. We all have prior knowledge and with this knowledge can sprout a tendency to align ourselves with what is comfortable. The search for answers requires us to suspend judgment and be open to the ideas and wonderings of the children no matter how far they push us past our comfort zone.
Mindfulness is letting go of self to be in the moment – To be in a community of learners is to be open to the possibilities of knowledge. The investigation of a wondering opens us up to what may take place in us during the inquiry. By letting go of self in the moment, we invite different values and points of view to become present. Our willingness to seek answers and learn this way invites the children to see challenges and questions as a gift and not a burden.
The early childhood environment is busy. There are many demands on us as educators (emotional labor) resulting in pressure and a high turnover rate in our field. Mindfulness offers practices that can help us reduce stress, enhance performance, and gain new insight into our work with children. Mindfulness releases our curiosity and opens our mind to see the moment with clarity, kindness, and interest.
Are there any mindfulness practices you participate in?
What changes have taken place in your teaching as a result?