Mindfulness begins on the first day of class. When the new students are all in the right room and settled into their seats I begin right away with a whole-class check in. (Where I teach, 6th grade is the first year of middle school, so there is a lot to be nervous about.)
Give me a thumbs up for, "so nervous I might throw up and die."
Give me a thumbs in the middle for, "of course I'm a little nervous, I just started middle school!"
Give me a thumbs down for, "I am the chillest person in the whole world, nothing scares me."
This usually gets a few chuckles, and a lot of thumbs up. So I say:
"I am really nervous too. I am always nervous on the first day of school, and when we are nervous we tend to breathe like we are being chased by something, short fast breaths. But when we are relaxed, we breathe like we are sleeping, long deep breaths. Taking those slow deeps breaths is a signal to the body that it can relax, that it's not being chased by some big scary Saber-Toothed Tiger. So to help with the nerves we are going to take three deep breaths together."
Then I instruct the students through each breath:
There is usually some giggling and looking around to see if everyone else is cool with it, but after we are done with the third exhale and I check in with the students again, everyone agrees that the breathing helps. I also try to return to the this idea at the end of class:
"Remember, if you are feeling really nervous at some point today, take a couple of slow, deep breaths, ok?"
The next day is the same, check in, three deep breaths together as a class.
By the third day I am starting to teaching the class their daily routine which will always start with a "Do Now" or "Bell Ringer" activity that they should be started on independently as soon as the bell has rung (this will come back into play later).
Everyday, directly after the "Do Now" we will have a "Mindful Moment" which will go like this:
"Everyone, finish up you Do Now..."
Take three, deep, silent breaths
Then we will be ready to start class officially by reviewing or jumping straight into a lesson, activity, or project.
At first, there won't be a lot of instruction for the "Mindful Moments," just a reminder that taking deep breaths helps you to relax, and focus.
As the year goes on, each Monday, the students will learn a little more about what mindfulness and meditation are, which will bring more and more meaning to these daily moments.