By Jess Leach, Community Coordination Associate at Agenda for Children, with Robyn Ginsberg, inclusion facilitator at Peabody 2-5
What is mindfulness? If you’re unfamiliar with the practice, that word might conjure an image of meditation - someone humming in total solitude, their mind empty, void of any complicated thought. When you see mindfulness in this way, it can feel impossible to involve young people. Robyn Ginsberg, inclusion facilitator at the Peabody 2-5 after school program, was experiencing that exact frustration when she first registered for Zach Soloman’s “Mindfulness for Kids” training in March.
“When I began working in the Peabody 2-5 program last fall, I was interested in exposing the children to mindful movement practices, but in somes ways this felt daunting,” she wrote to me in an email. “I struggled to put my ideas into actions.”
Zach’s approach to mindfulness for youth is that it should meet them at their level; oftentimes they need to experience it as a game to engage. This opened her to new ways to bring the practice back to her program.
Before, Robyn was struggling to find the “buy-in” for mindfulness. She didn’t want the children at her program to see it as a punishment, but rather an opportunity to build a relationship with mindfulness that would have a “healthy and positive beginning.” To accomplish that, she's had to adjust to be more open in her strategy.
"I felt inspired to play around with my approach to mindfulness."
She noted a story that Zach told about using mindfulness in difficult moments with a young person he used to work with that also had an impact on her ideas about mindfulness. In one instance, Zach had used mindful breathing to bring the child out of his anger and back into the present.
“This was a great example of how breath can be a tool that youth workers and teachers use to help children become more aware of bodily sensations as a bridge to identifying uncomfortable emotions and exploring their roots,” she wrote. “That story will stay with me.”
In the few weeks since the training has ended, Robyn has tried some new approaches to the mindfulness practice at Peabody 2-5. Here are four mindfulness games she’s used at her program (some inspired by examples played at the training):
Observe & Report: Have your group look around the room and find things that are green, red, yellow, squares, circles, triangles, etc. and ask them to write down what they find.
Guess The Object: The whole group sits in a circle, two at a time taking turns to sit in the middle back-to-back with their eyes closed. One person gets an object to describe, while other person guesses what it is. The rest of the group observes.
Imagine If: The groups walks around the room at different paces, while a teacher prompts movement such as: “Imagine you are on you way into a movie that you are so excited to see and you are running late. Now imagine you are on your way into a dentist appointment. How does our walk change? What does it feel like?” Thoughts & Feelings: Ask the group to focus on breath, and notice each time they become distracted by a thought or a feeling. Ask them to count feelings on one hand and thoughts on another. Teachers can also add another layer to this where they note whether the thought and/or feeling was pleasant or unpleasant.
Jess Leach began her journey in Cambridge OST at Agassiz Baldwin Community, where she teaches in the 1st-5th grade program. She joined the Agenda for Children OST team in early 2018 as the Community Coordination Associate, where she helps oversee professional development and improve communications with youth workers.