By Jenny Mills, Roots & Wings

Maybe you are among those of us who have tried meditation as part of your healthy living routine. Maybe you have found some benefit from meditating, even if you can’t sit down for an entire twenty minutes without a phone, a baby, or a pot on the stove needing your attention. But don’t you wish your child could slow down, sit down, and breathe? Believe it or not, children as young as Pre-K can learn how to use mindfulness to focus their attention, calm their anxieties, and relax their bodies when given age-appropriate tools. The mission of Roots & Wings is to make mindfulness accessible to children, schools, and families and we are doing just that one child at a time.

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In the ten years I spent as an educator before becoming founder of Roots & Wings, I taught children of all ages and socioeconomic backgrounds. I worked with foster children and teens in and out of the juvenile justice system in Philadelphia, as well as children from financially advantaged backgrounds in suburban private schools across Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Rich or poor, black or white, age 7 or 17, the one thing my students all had in common was this: they had no idea how to regulate their attention. It was sad to watch student after student tune out and drift off into distraction as I tried to teach more and more content with less and less time. Many of my students were not mentally available for learning. Their bodies were in their seats but their minds were elsewhere. They were preoccupied with worries about issues at home, fears about taking the SAT’s, thoughts about a boyfriend, etc. Not only were many of my students distracted, they also had no idea that they were “lost in thought” and missing out on parts of the lesson. How is it that we aren’t teaching students HOW to pay attention, yet we tell them to do so all the time?

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When we teach youth how their brains work and train them in mindfulness, they are better able to self-regulate their emotions, manage their impulses, and pay attention in school. We must start sending our children off to school with these essential skills, just as we send them off with a backpack full of pencils, paper, and books.
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I use simple tools that you could find around your home (like strings, quarters, and rocks) as mindfulness tools. I have used my background as an educator coupled with my mindfulness practice to create simple concentration and awareness practices that kids can understand and use to help them meet their goals in and out of school.

Watch this clip to hear how a second grader discusses how he uses mindfulness when he feels angry with his sister in order to inhibit aggressive behaviors. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4GgeMXeW9n4

Interested in hearing more? Stop by the Roots & Wings table at the Inspired Family conference to see a demonstration of our String Breathing exercise and see if mindfulness training might be a good fit for your children, your students, or yourself! Visit us at http://www.rootsandwingsonline.org, twitter: @_rootsandwings, or Like us on Facebook!