“The child passes little by little from the unconscious to the conscious, treading always in the paths of joy and love.” — Dr. Maria Montessori
Over the years, I have noticed an increasing number of children showing higher signs of stress, restlessness and even anxiety, often starting at a very early age. Without the proper techniques to reduce these negative influences, children can shut down. As adults, we know meditation is an excellent means to find peace and balance in our hectic lives, and relieve unwanted stress. But how do we get our children to love meditation, too?
As most of us have witnessed, children are inclined to copy the behavior of their parents. Insert wince! So why not be a positive influence by starting them on a meditation journey? It can be as simple as leading by example. When children watch you respectfully enjoying meditation, it sets a tone that they will learn from.
Very young children who have not yet acquired the skills to allow them to keep still for long periods of time will likely struggle with meditation. Modeling a walking meditation, a practice commonly used in Montessori schools, is a mindfulness practice that is perfect for young children.
Maria Montessori came up with the “walking on the line” activity after observing that children liked walking along a line and across logs or beams. She believed that focusing on how one walks helped the children work on their sense of balance. At Creative Minds Montessori School, we teach our children to walk silently along lines drawn, painted or even taped on the floor. The “walking on the line” activity can also be complemented by calming music, which the children can move to rhythmically.
When a child is able to sit in formal meditation, we teach the first step of meditation: deep breathing. We ask the children to spend a short amount of time sitting quietly and observing their breath, feeling the sensation of breath coming into and out of the body. We have them put their hands on their stomach to feel the gentle rise and fall with each breath, as this will help them keep focused.
We do this for about five breath cycles (five inhales and exhales). At the end of the five breaths, we guide their attention to any thoughts and feelings that may be present. We ask them to then let those thoughts and feelings go as they return their focus to their breath, then repeat the breathing cycle as many times as they feel appropriate. We explain that this helps them attain mindfulness or consciousness. This simple practice alone helps the child attain control over their temperament and emotions, and it boosts their concentration and helps them get rid of their negative thoughts.
As our children gain mastery in deep breathing, we add in guided meditations. Guided by a teacher, the children are led through a meditation sequence. They are first guided to relax their body and mind, to reach a deep meditative state before going on a journey in their mind. At Creative Minds, we feel that guided meditation for older children is the best choice because it makes it easier for them to follow and understand. After the meditation sequence, we talk about what the children experienced or felt. Then we let it all go and get rid of everything that’s bothering them! Such an awesome feeling!
Research has shown that guided meditation can go a long way toward supporting positive outcomes in the classroom. Some of the positive traits meditation can instill in children are: emotional regulation, positive behavior, increased attention and concentration, positive self-esteem, increased creativity — all while relieving stress and anxiety. It sure sounds like a win-win to me!