By Leah Allen
BC Staff Writer
The lessons that stay with us the longest often have little to do with information found in a textbook and one local teacher is trying to teach some of these valuable skills to her students.
Nicole Spinks, a kindergarten teacher at Bell Academy, was recently awarded a grant from the Mississippi Professional Educators.
“In their weekly newsletter and on their Facebook page, they posted about classroom grant opportunities they were providing. They had 99 applicants and awarded 42 members grants of up to $1,000 each,” explained Spinks.
Spinks plans to use the grant funds to further mindfulness education and yoga in her classroom.
“I will complete my Mindful Educator Essentials certification through Mindful Schools,” she said.
The certification will give her “access to curriculum for grades K-12, as well as resources to share with other staff, administrators or stakeholders interested in beginning a mindfulness program in their own schools or classrooms.”
“In addition, I will be able to purchase materials for my classroom, such as a set of yoga mats, props, kid friendly yoga DVDs, posters, books and other resources,” she added.
Spinks first became interested in mindfulness and yoga a few years ago.
“After being diagnosed with several Autoimmune diseases, I began to look for ways to improve my health beyond medicine,” she said.
Spinks took a yoga class and was introduced to mindfulness by yoga instructor Claire Adams Moore; she “was hooked.”
“Mindfulness is the practice of focusing on your breath, when you are overwhelmed, anxious or upset and focusing on an anchor word or intention,” explained Spinks.
Young children often experience these emotions and frequently act out as a result.
“I took an online course through Mindful Schools to better understand the purpose of mindfulness before introducing it to my students,” said Spinks.
“This course, Mindfulness Fundamentals, explains the purpose and history of the practice. While it is used for religious purposes by some, these practitioners offer a way for educators and counselors to use the practice with students in a non-religious way,” she added.
“Every morning we focus on our breathing and on our intention for the day, which may be practicing kindness, patience, perseverance or helpfulness. We talk about what that looks like in our classroom and our homes,” she said.
Spinks said that this brief moment of quiet reflection has become a staple in her classroom.
“Mindfulness has helped to create such a calming classroom environment. I watch them actively decide between good and bad choices and breathe to calm down.
“I see them focusing not only on our daily intention, but other character building traits we have begun practicing, as well as putting up a friend’s belongings or playing with a classmate who is alone. In general just in living out our classroom rule of treat others the way you want to be treated,” said Spinks.
There is science to back up this practice as well.
Psychologist Daniel Goleman has spent years studying the impact of emotions on behavior and education.
Goleman found that “social and emotional learning facilitates academic learning. When a child trying to learn is caught up in a distressing emotion, the centers for learning are temporarily hampered.
“Because attention is itself a limited capacity, the child has much less ability to hear, understand or remember what a teacher or a book is saying. In short, there is a direct link between emotions and learning.”
Adams Moore also shared a website called www.cosmickids.com to help Spinks share yoga with her students.
“As my students began to practice yoga, they fell absolutely in love with it and would be so upset if our schedule did not allow for it for that day,” she said.
“I decided to try it as a center rotation in my classroom, which was fantastic. It allows them the opportunity to be up and moving in a constructive, structured and relaxing way.
Spinks said the yoga center also allows students to “improve their gross and fine motor skills, focus more in their learning centers, after having been up moving and getting a ‘brain break’ and build such confidence and intrinsic motivation as they experience success with poses that were challenging to them in the beginning.”
Spinks said that since she began using a mindfulness moment each morning and offering students the chance to visit the yoga center in the course of their day, she has “seen a major decline in discipline issues and referrals” as well as “off task behavior.”
Spinks encourages other educators to try the program in their own classroom.
“This is not a hard program at all to start. Using the Cosmic Kids website and the ‘Think About It’ section of Go Noodle, are excellent ways to test the waters with these programs.
“These are already developed mindfulness moments and yoga workouts for children, where one can gradually ease into something new and become comfortable with these programs. With anything new there is a certain apprehension of ‘what if this doesn’t work’ but what if it does,” she said.
By Leah Allen