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Discovering Mindfulness in the Midst of a Pandemic: From a begin to ECSEL® Teacher

April 16, 2020

During the COVID-19 pandemic, we’re reading a lot about the importance of practicing mindfulness to manage stress. Is it a practice that young children can use? As a former preschool teacher who implemented the begin to ECSEL® program in my classroom, I encouraged children to practice mindfulness every day. It is a practice whose principles are integrated seamlessly into the begin to ECSEL program and which also work to foster the growth of emotional awareness, empathy and self-regulation—all of which begin to ECSEL has been shown to significantly improve in young children.

If you are unfamiliar with the term, mindfulness involves focusing one’s awareness on the present moment – on one’s thoughts, emotions, and bodily sensations. This practice allows us to be more aware of not only our self but also of the people and environment around us. Dr. Donna Housman, founder of Housman Institute and developer of the begin to ECSEL program reminds us that “Mindfulness involves focusing one’s awareness on the present moment – on one’s thoughts, emotions, and bodily sensations, allowing us to be more aware of not only our self but also of the people around us. In so doing, we are better able to respond in more effective and constructive ways, better managing not only our emotions but also our thinking and actions as well”

Like mindfulness, begin to ECSEL is an emotional, cognitive and social early learning program that is steeped, at its core, in emotional awareness. Begin to ECSEL promotes in children the ability to be aware of, identify, understand and regulate not only our own emotions but those of the people around us, facilitating the growth of empathy, prosocial behaviors, and even self-regulation, all of which are critical to lifelong learning, mental health, well-being and success. By integrating mindfulness principles at home, principles that are embodied by begin to ECSEL, you too can foster the growth of these core competencies in your child.

How? As begin to ECSEL acknowledges, you are your child’s first and most important teacher and you too can model to your children how to react mindfully, just as we do in the classroom. Some techniques we teachers use are deep breathing to help children regulate when they are experiencing heightened emotions and causal talk, which is talk about the emotion a child is feeling and the result of that emotion in them and those around them. In addition, like us teachers, you too can practice mindfulness yourself. As David Gelles of the New York Times says, “Mindfulness isn’t something that can be outsourced. For parents and caregivers, the best way to teach a child to be mindful is to embody the practice oneself.”

For more specific examples of how you might integrate the principles of mindfulness at home, below are a few more suggestions based on a few activities we, as begin to ECSEL teachers, do in the classroom.

  1. Go for a Nature Walk – Going for a nature walk by itself may not be a mindfulness exercise but supporting children’s awareness of their surroundings and their self is. Guided by the principles of begin to ECSEL, we encourage our students to recognize different sounds, colors, sensations as they explore the outdoors. For example, we ask them to explore the texture of tree bark or the sound of birds call. Bringing their attention to the present moment is the principal tenant of mindfulness. On returning, having children create a painting, drawing, poem or list of things they noticed, felt, and experienced reinforces that awareness.

  2. Do Yoga - Yoga was a favorite activity our begin to ECSEL school. A favorite program that integrated mindfulness practices in our classroom of two and three year old children was Cosmic Kids Yoga on YouTube. Many yoga poses are referred to by animal or object names. We try to have our children invent new poses as we engaged in sustained stretches and deep breathing. Deep breathing, specifically, is a practice we embrace and encourage through begin to ECSEL as a means to calm children’s bodies when their emotions bubble over.

  3. Meditate – While meditation can be difficult for young children, our experience in the classroom suggests that meditation in small doses for your child can have calming effects and greater effects for you. If your child is able, find some quiet during the day and lead them through a meditative sequence or use one from a popular platform like Headspace for yourself or them.

  4. Paint What You Hear – In our begin to ECSEL classroom, we play a variety of songs from various genres and have our children paint something that matches what they hear. You can do the same at home. Bringing your child’s attention to the sound of music and how it affects their mood or heart rate is a great mindfulness practice as it brings attention to the inner self. For example, when playing classical music, you could encourage them to paint slowly as to match the tempo and for jazz, it could be quite fast and splatter-style! Activities like this not only support emotion recognition and regulation through music, but also the development of important cognitive skills.

  5. Sensory Bins - If your child is toddler age or younger, we find creating sensory bins is a wonderful way to engage in mindfulness! Fill bins with water and cups for water play or various textured materials for texture exploration. Bringing your child’s focus to the various textures through exploration encourages them to embrace the present moment and the objects that are right in front of them. A major benefit to this activity is that these bins are endlessly customizable!

  6. Story Time - When reading any book with your child, you can make small adjustments to encourage mindfulness. For example, when reading a story, you can pause every few pages to ask your child how they think one or more of the characters are feeling at any given point in the story. Identifying and understanding emotion is a major component of our begin to ECSEL, serving not only to promote self awareness but also empathy as well. These discussions also can help your child better understand cause and effect or how emotions are translated into action. This knowledge helps to support the growth of self-regulation as well.

The world has a funny way of telling you to s l o w down. As we adjust to this new normal, embrace this moment of uncertainty as an opportunity to check in with your family and become more present in your daily routines. By integrating the mindfulness principles that we use in our begin to ECSEL program, you too can help your child develop emotional awareness, self-regulation, and empathy, all competencies that begin to ECSEL has been proven to significantly improve in young children from birth.

 

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