Mindfulness Practices Change Brains for the BETTER

Mindfulness practice creates positive brain changes that influence the quality of behavior and emotions.
Mindfulness meditation re-routs counter-productive reactivity.

Source: How Mindfulness Meditation Permanently Changes Your Brain | Big Think

Mindfulness practice creates positive brain changes that influence the quality of behavior and emotions.
The amygdala, without the benefit of consistent mindfulness practice, dominates the pre-frontal cortex.

Mindfulness meditation nurtures the brain by decoupling regions that have tended to function together… and generally not very helpfully, except when being chased by tigers and bears, oh my!

Mindfulness meditation, regularly practiced for a just a few minutes a day, creates new neural connections and changes how different regions of the physical brain relate to one another… most specifically the amygdala (the center for fear, anger, and ‘knee jerk’ emotional reactions) and the pre-frontal cortex (the center for logic, reason, executive function responses).

Teachers don’t have to figure it out on their own

There are so many quality resources for bringing mindfulness into the classroom – even for very young students. Consider Thich Nhat Hanh’s many clean and concise offerings.

Mindfulness meditation decouples amygdala (fear+anger) from pre-frontal cortex (exec. function). Everyone benefits.
Mindfulness, regularly brought into young children’s classrooms improves brain function and emotional well being.
quality resources for bringing mindfulness into the classroom
Gentle resources are abundantly available for everyone’s benefit in and out of the classroom.

Although the KIDS’ OWN WISDOM approach does not, specifically, teach mindfulness, there are many parallels in approach and benefits:

  • Providing opportunities to increase students’ awareness of their own (and others’) inner and outer experiences.
  • Recognizing that thoughts are not set in stone – that other options are available, based on free will and best judgment.
  • Engaging in peer group discussions for collaboratively re-evaluating situations and responses, which often, spontaneously, results in impulse control.
  • Increased internal freedom to consciously choose actions and responses over unconscious reactivity.

Regular practice, with either or both approaches, provides measurable short and long term benefits. In other words, Mindfulness practices and Kids’ Own Wisdom shared-thinking experiences are highly compatible and complementary practices for supporting young children’s well-rounded social, emotional and cognitive development.

4-Year Olds Are Ready for SOCIAL – EMOTIONAL LEARNING

Social-Emotional Learning for 4 Year Olds Does Not Have to be Hard!
Shared-Thinking Circle Times for 4-year old’s Social-Emotional Learning
By the age of 4, kids are ready to share with peers, in circle time, how much they know and how self-sufficiently they can choose behaviors that work best for everyone!  They just need (and want) to be respectfully and appropriately challenged!
Kids also want and need to be acknowledged for what they understand, what they perceive as real, true and valid … and they need to express what they understand with their own words … with a group of peers … in neutral shared-thinking class time opportunities – facilitated by adults who, just during these times, do not have the intention to be teaching, but instead have the intention to give all of their attention.
Young Children Have a Natural Need for Quality Attention
How many times have you read or heard about children ‘just behaving this way or that for attention?’ As if their efforts to gain your attention were a negative. Turns out that the more we learn about all the elements of healthy early childhood development, the more we come to appreciate the value of honoring children’s basic instincts, such as their natural need for quality attention.
Validating Proof from History and Human Biology
After World War II, orphans living in a clean, hygienic and basically attentive facility did not thrive. In fact, almost half of infants died, despite apparently having all basic needs met. It turned out that the infants needed at least one meaningful relationship with a caring, and involved adult in order to survive, grow and thrive. Since then, we have learned that Human Growth Hormone (HGH) is released in a manner directly proportional to the amount of caring attention children receive.
Quality of Teacher’s Attention Matters
It is now clearly understood that the quality of the attention children receive from their educators more often than not gives rise to repeated behaviors, as compared to ignored or unnoticed behaviors.  Sooooo … if we are giving our attention – yes, just simply our undivided attention – when kids are thinking together about positive and constructive solutions and outcomes to which they can all relate, surely it should come as no surprise that those solutions rapidly translate into behaviors by the children who – in constructive collaboration – gave voice to those solutions.
Constructive collaboration opportunities prepare children for future successes.
Young children welcome constructive collaboration opportunities.

Problem Solving is a Requirement for Children’s Real Learning!

Problem solving = real learning.
Problem solving. Discovery. Expressing ideas. Exploring. Constructing knowledge.

Young children, even very young children, need consistent opportunities to wrestle with age-appropriate challenges, conundrums, complications, obstacles, issues and “big fat botherations.”

Why?

BEWARE: Obvious answer ahead… because life is full of problems (always has been ~ always will be) and resisting them, complaining about them, or running away from them is just no way to live.

What kinds of problems do children need to solve?
Empathy cannot be forced or taught, but it can be evoked.
Does making kids share make them generous?

SHARING & INCLUDING, for starters:  Kids don’t always want to share. They don’t always want to include others, either… BUT kids do always want others to share with them, and they do always want to be included. How do we, their teachers, put those two seemingly irreconcilable opposites together?

ANSWER: We enable children to discover their own solutions by asking them the kinds of questions that get them thinking, together, in fresh ways (with fresh perspectives) about old familiar problems.

If we’re going to really succeed at supporting our students in resolving their own challenges, then we must view our role from a big-picture point of view, rather than attempting to implement immediate ‘fixes’ or behavior modifications. Kids need help with honestly exploring their own and others’ feelings about challenging situations that are oh-so-familiar.  Children need gentle *guidance (where to look, but not what to see) in order to understand that all kids in their group feel pretty much the same when it comes to sharing.   (*Guidance is best achieved with the right kinds of questions that invite kids, within peer group discussions, to safely express themselves and listen to each other, in a non-judgmental setting.)

The more kids learn and experience how much they genuinely share feelings and understanding, related to a variety of situations, the less alone/shy/isolated they’ll feel, and the stronger will be their sense of belonging to, and being part of, the group. Sharing is easier in that kind of environment. And if not sharing, then shared understanding about why “it’s just too hard to share that last cookie with someone else.” 

Sharing isn't always possible
Sharing isn’t always possible, but understanding each other is a big help.
Communication is key for real problem solving to occur.
Communication is key to problem solving for children.
Collaboration is an essential problem solving tool.

 

Teachers’ #1 Key to Success – Classroom Climate – Build Belonging

 

Thinking back on your own education, do you remember teachers, or do you remember methods and techniques? If you answered ‘teachers,’ then you’re with just about everyone else, because …

… teachers are the heart of the educational system. When they build belonging in their classroom, they’re building success for every student in their classroom.

Attend to Classroom Climate

As educators, we tend to believe our classroom is a neutral environment, but some settings are more inclusive and welcoming to certain types of students than we realize. It’s important to be mindful of how environments can feel “chilly” to some students and how other classrooms foster connections between the teacher and students, as well as between all of the students to each other.

One way to foster connections is for teachers to actively work to find common ground between students and provide opportunities for students to recognize similarities among their peers.

When provided with consistent opportunities to discover shared values with peers, students directly experience the sense of belonging they (and all humans – for that matter) require in order to manifest more of their full potential as learners and collaborative problem-solvers.

 

Brain Science Prioritizes Feelings Before Students Can Learn

Feelings dominate students' attention. Build belonging for everyone's success.

When students feel successful, educators feel successful.  To arrive at success, we educators must acknowledge the neurobiological fact that all brains are wired to process experiences through feelings before they’re ever able to think, reason and actually learn.

Brain science of FEELINGS BEFORE LEARNING

Amygdalae, small almond-shaped areas of the brain located deep within the limbic system, receive all incoming signals from the environment in about 20 milliseconds. The pre-frontal cortex, where logic and self-regulation reside, receive those same signals about 280 milliseconds after the amygdalae… The pre-frontal cortex of our young students’ brains will not be fully formed until their early 20’s. Meantime, their amygdalae, formed at birth, are continually engaged – scanning for feelings of safety and security. 

Feeling undervalued = Emotional HIJACK

When children don’t feel safe, which can include feelings of not being ‘seen’ or respected or acknowledged, they’re highly susceptible to amygdala hijacking, which most commonly presents as lack of engagement / cooperation, resistance, defiance, hot tempers, insecurities, and isolation.

All attempts at reasoning are futile! We all know it… yet how many times have we tried to force our way past that hard and immutable fact?  When young children’s prefrontal cortex has been overwhelmed by their amygdala’s reaction to whatever it is in their environment that makes them feel undervalued, no progress can be achieved until that underlying trigger has been genuinely, collaboratively and constructively addressed. 

Fear and stress look like anger when …

… negative experiences cause emotional responses that prioritize – though granted, not very efficiently: self-preservation, however that is personally defined (and protected) by each child. Along with the amygdalae going into overdrive, blood pressure, heart rate, respiration, cortisol and adrenaline contribute to the mix.  

Making best use of this physiology lesson

Hopefully, this information can help us separate outward behavior from negative judgements about, and reactions toward, our students. Hopefully, this information can motivate us to identify and implement real, and truly nurturing solutions that, with consistency, provide positive experiences that help to make our students feel genuinely safe and valued… if for no other reason than the fact that we all need, want and deserve to feel safe and valued… and, oh yes: a whole lot more learning will happen during the school year. 

Build belonging for learning to happen

One very powerful way to build an authentic sense of belonging for our students is to provide them with consistent opportunities to preemptively experience shared values with their peers. This is not achieved, in any deep and life-altering way, with lectures, songs, posters, or puppets – SORRY.

It is, though, achieved with facilitated shared-thinking opportunities based on an approach that honors a Socratic method of engaging students’ creative and collaborative problem-solving abilities around challenges that are relevant to all of them.  Discovering shared values, insights, concerns, feelings and solutions goes a long, long way towards building belonging – a need that, when satisfied, to whatever degree – counter-balances the fear, anger and stress that short circuit students’ ability and willingness to engage in learning.