If you have been, or are currently scrolling through the internet, or a social media platform you probably have come across articles explaining the benefits of an active and mindful life. These articles go in-depth on why being mindful and staying active has obvious physical benefits, but can also promote good mental health. We at PA Parent and Family Alliance recognize and appreciate the benefits of mindfulness and an active lifestyle but want to extend that not only to adults but to children of all ages. We sat down with Allegheny County preschool teacher; Becky Jones** to get an inside view on why she thinks it is important for her students to practice mindfulness, and do something active at least once a day. Jones will also explain how her students have been impacted by this and different ways that you can ensure your own children are practicing mindfulness and living an active life.
"When we have a job we don't expect to sit there for 9 hours straight. It is expected that our bosses give lunch breaks and reasons to get up and get away from our desk. It is the same thing with children, they need to get up and move in order to be a productive student.", said Jones. Temperature permitting Jones loves to get her students outside in the fresh air and moving before an activity where they have to be still. "If you are a teacher or a parent who has an issue getting your children to settle down and stop being wiggly for an activity allow them to get their energy out."
While it is essential to keep kids moving, sometimes it can be hard to get them interested in the activity. "What you really need is a hook. An activity we often do is get the children in the gym and put on songs they can dance to. When there isn't a specific dance move we will add in something like a jumping jack or a lunge to increase the benefit it has on their physical health while they are all having a great time. This is a lot of fun for them and a lot of the kids get really into it. For the kids who aren't usually into it, I like to let them pick the first song, one that makes them want to dance. Once they get their momentum going they are generally more into the activity as a whole." Jones went on to say that this is really helpful for shy students to get them out of their comfort zone. Jone's best advice for any teacher trying to get their students active is to "get down there and do it with them. If they are doing jumping jacks show them that you enjoy being active too and want to be active with them.".
When asked why it's important for parents to reinforce physical activity at home, Jones said there are a number of reasons. "First and foremost it helps with their sleep schedule which ultimately helps with their productivity levels at school. If they go home and sit in front of screens all night their bodies need to decompress before they can sleep because it stimulates brain activity. Also, their bodies are not as tired so they don't sleep as well." Other than sleep schedule enhancements being active lays the foundation of an active life.
Beyond the physical benefits of making sure your children remain active after school, it also can help strengthen your relationship with them. "If your kids are driving you a little nuts and they won't settle down; go on a walk with them, go outside and play catch, or do something that excites them and allows you to spend time together. These memories without technology or distractions will be some you both look back on fondly". Jones went on to say that not only are you bonding but they are also doing an activity you have set up and approve, and not doing something like jumping on beds or being chaotic.
The benefits of physical activity have been obvious for decades and there are many parenting tips available for all ages. Mindfulness is a relatively newer concept that involves bringing your attention to the current moment and being fully aware of how you are feeling. This is a therapeutic activity that can help a person relax and relieve anxiety. When most people think about being mindful they think of adults doing yoga or meditating, but few realize how impactful it can be for children of all ages. Jones has made it a point to promote daily mindfulness in her classroom.
"It actually was not my initial intention at all to make mindfulness such a priority. It came out of necessity based on some of my students behaviors. We had a lot fo physical aggression and students that needed an effective way to calm themselves down. This has been an instrumental teaching technique for me as a teacher to ensure the safety, and productivity of my classroom.", said Jones. Breathing exercises have been the most effective way to promote mindfulness for her students. The techniques are simple ways to have them focus on the breathe flowing in and out of their body in an attempt to get them to calm down. Giving them this time to focus on themselves takes away the anger and anxiety they have associated with what is going on in that moment. Jones likes to try and get her students to do one of these breathing techniques before they explain to her the situation that is going on so they have had a second to relax.
Mindfulness doesn't just help with aggression and inappropriate behaviors but also can help them focus. "If I am about to transition into an activity that requires them to sit still and be calm and I notice that a lot of them are being really silly I will conduct a breathing exercise to calm the energy in the class.
Now Jone's students have a tool belt of breathing techniques that they have learned to use when they are feeling stressed or anxious. When asked what the biggest difference she has seen since promoting mindfulness Jones said; "the fact that they have picked it up and adopted it for themselves. I have a student who has a really hard time sharing and will start to cry when she has to share. Just the other day she started doing a breathing technique I had taught her, without being prompted, and did it until she felt like she was ready." This is a skill that Jones' students can take with them on their educational career, and through life in general that will help them cope with problems that only get bigger and more stressful.
Laying a strong foundation is essential for making sure your children make both their physical and mental health a priority for the rest of their lives. By starting when they are wearing light-up shoes and scraping their knees in the front yard you will help to ensure that they are better equipped at the ages of college applications and peer pressure.
**name of teacher has been changed**