In children’s crowded worlds, mindfulness matters now more than ever
Children are growing up in an increasingly connected world, with multiple demands for their attention. From smartwatches to tablets, phones to AI, society as a whole is “always on” with various channels and methodologies for communicating, sharing and responding to one another.
Children’s lives are documented, photographed and “captured” to be shared from the moment they enter the world. Against this backdrop, Jenny Wilkinson from hey dee ho believes explicitly teaching children mindfulness techniques is more than just an optional extra, it’s absolutely vital.
Mindfulness can be defined as “the state of being deliberately aware,” and is achieved through focussing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations.
Practicing mindfulness involves breathing methods, guided imagery, and other practices to relax the body and mind and help reduce stress, and these are tools that can be taught to children from a very young age.
“Each of our four programs include a mindfulness activity,” Jenny Wilkinson, co-Director of hey dee ho explained.
“Hey dee ho has written songs specifically for the music and storytelling programs for this purpose and these are included just prior to the final song of each session. Tai chi is included in the active 8 fitness program and after the Acknowledgement of Country and Namaste greeting in Yoga, children participate in mindfulness exercises using a variety of sensory props to help still their busy minds.”
While much of the research into mindfulness has focused on adults, recent studies have proven the value of such practices for children and teens. Developmental neuroscientist Hilary Marusak has done extensive research into how mindfulness affects the brain in children and teens.
More mindful children, she found, are better able to act with awareness and to observe and accept their internal experiences without judging them. As mindful children grow into their teen years, the researchers found that they reported lower anxiety levels, and that their brains more frequently transitioned between different connectivity states.
In addition, more mindful children were able to flexibly shift in and out of different brain states. The more flexible their brains were, the less anxiety they reported. These brain states were associated with different patterns of connectivity between brain networks involved in mind wandering, attention and emotion processing.
For hey dee ho presenters the benefits of mindfulness are obvious.
Sonja Olsen, who presents all programs at hey dee ho, can’t recommend the mindfulness activities highly enough.
“After thirty minutes of exciting physical activities, the mindfulness songs and activities leave the children calm, yet energised,” she explained.
“It’s like a magic wand – as soon as they hear the music they sit down, close their eyes and take deep breaths. It’s a lovely way to finish a session and ensure they are ready to transition to the next activity educators have planned.”
Mindfulness elements are incorporated into each of the programs hey dee ho offers, and are used just prior to the session concluding.
This, Ms Wilkinson says, helps to calm the children down before returning to their learning day, as well as giving them tools they can use in the service and beyond.
“It really is about setting children up for success,” she added. “We are giving them tools and techniques they can use throughout their lives to help them to self regulate, and to manage the stressors which come to us all.”
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