February 6, 2023
By Aleta Margolis, Founder and President of Center for Inspired Teaching
Hooray for Monday is a weekly blog filled with questions, ideas, reflections, and actions we can all take to remodel the school experience for students.
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There’s a growing body of research that points to the benefits to our mental and physical health of mindfulness: eliminating distractions, focusing on the here and now, and being fully present. And there must be thousands of apps, books, and podcasts designed to help us achieve this elusive goal.
Many of these tools are designed by experts – psychologists, neuroscientists, and yogis.
But there’s another, often overlooked, group of experts from whom we should be learning, individuals who are masterful at being fully present and in the moment: young children.
Anyone who has spent time with a toddler or a baby has witnessed these experts in action.
- A toddler building a tower of blocks is focused fully on her project, and is not distracted by worries about what is going on around her. She isn’t multitasking, making her grocery list, or planning her weekend.
- A toddler in his high chair, eating spaghetti for the first time, is fully immersed in the experience of tasting, smelling, touching, and perhaps experiencing his meal not only with his teeth and tongue, but also with his fingers and face, and perhaps even toes.
- A baby, gazing into the eyes of a loving parent, is not looking over the parent’s shoulder to see if there’s someone more interesting in the other room. That baby is 100% in the moment, committed to the experience of gazing into the eyes of another person.
Of course, as adults, our lives are much more crowded with responsibilities than those of young children. This reality makes it exponentially more challenging for us to be as “in the moment” as they are. And yet, we were once young children ourselves. So the capacity to be that centered, that focused – and curious – is still somewhere within us. Perhaps it is worth turning to our youngest teachers to learn how to access it.
This week, try to find an opportunity to spend time with a young child. While you are spending time observing – and ideally playing – with them, consider these questions:
- How are they using their breath? Is their breathing shallow or slow and steady? What kinds of things make their breathing speed up or slow down?
- How are they using their voice? Are they vocalizing, singing, babbling, perhaps enjoying and experiencing the sound of their own voice?
- What are they curious about? What kinds of things do they explore?
- What captures their attention? Perhaps it’s a toy or a family pet or your earrings or the pattern the sunlight makes on the carpet.
- How do you see them engaging their senses – what are they looking at, touching, tasting, and listening to?
What happens if you try to emulate some of the things the baby or toddler does? How does it feel to breathe in tandem (maybe one breath for every 2 or 3 toddler breaths), or sing along, or let your eyes rest for a while on the carpet speckled with sunlight? What is it like to notice what they notice?
Young children have a lot to teach us about concentration, about focus, about how to be fully present. Yes, we can turn to apps and books and other more “sophisticated” tools. Those certainly have their place in teaching us how to be present. And, we can sharpen our curiosity muscle and wonder about what it’s like to be a young child, a true master of being in the moment.
Wishing you a week of reconnecting with your inner child, and experiencing the joy of being fully present.
Inspired Teacher Kaneia Crumlin created this activity while learning with her own toddlers. Engaging in playful, structured storytelling teaches children to listen carefully, focus on details, sequence elements, and use imagination. Read more.
Inspired Teacher Judy White created this activity while playing with her young grandchild. This game is quite simple – all that’s required is that Player A places an object in the bag and Player B asks questions in a quest to discover what it is. Read more.
Inspired Teacher Pax Linson wrote up this activity based on her experience in early childhood classrooms. In her writeup, she offers observations of some of the behaviors of young children that we might learn from as we attempt to be more present in our own lives! Read more.