Children’s Writing And Mindfulness

Writing reflects our way of tying to observe our thoughts and mind.

This article has been a long time coming. To try and approach the complex issues of the relationship between mindfulness and writing has been interesting but difficult. Any attempt to understand writing and mindfulness must begin with the relationship between writing and thought.

Thinking is the business of the brain. Mindfulness is a way of potentially observing our own minds from the ‘inside’, to see how we know what we know or how we do what we do, and so it is with writing. Writing, therefore, is naturally a mindful experience. To practice writing is to practice mindfulness.

We have an enormously complex and efficient theory of the world in our head, so coherent and comprehensive that it enables us to write and understand sentences we have never heard or read before in our lives. Writing, like mindfulness, is  a way to directly gaze into our own mind to explore what this theory is; to examine how it works. Children, (as with most adults) traditionally, find it very hard to observe their own thinking ‘as it comes’ but they can observe the products of their thoughts through what they write very easily. This is what makes writing one of the most powerful tools a child can have.

It’s important to look at the relationship between mindfulness and writing.

The uses of writing for children (and indeed adults) is often;

  • To establish or reflect personal relationships with others. – Interactional ‘me and you’
  • To express our perception of ourselves. – Personal ‘awareness of self’
  • As a record of our present moment. Perpetuating ‘how it is’

The uses of mindfulness for children (and indeed adults) is often;

  • To establish or reflect personal relationships with others. (Compassion)
  • To examine our perception of ourselves. (Self-examination)
  • To be in the present moment.

Just as mindfulness is a way of separating our ideas from ourselves in a way that is easy for us to examine, so it is with writing.

Stimulus ->           //         -> Reaction

Stimulus -> Space/Time -> Response

As the above diagram shows mindfulness can provide space between stimulus and response. The same can be said of writing for children. Children can be rehearsed or otherwise performed in their mind. It not only provides opportunity to try out and even refine things they want to say on paper, but can also give rise to new ideas they did not think they were capable of – or know were there.

Writing, like mindfulness, is a tool that helps organise and develop the possibilities of our own minds. Writing can be an extension of a meditative practice. To make sense of and reflect on the world.

Writing is the slowest of all the uses of language. It is at times painfully slow! The average rate of writing being around 10-12 words a minute for children. The remarkable thing is that thought can slow down enough to produce itself in words. Not only is this is mindfulness in practice but also a way mindfulness can benefit children’s writing.

Observing the products of thought is in many respects the same way that meditators  attempt to observe thought itself. Writing for children is an extremely efficient way of gaining access to knowledge that they can’t observe directly.

I would argue that is is more efficient than speaking in many respects because of its relative permanence to the present moment and because its easy to stand back and observe it as an independent entity. Exactly what is required from meditation on our thoughts.

The beautiful and magical thing that writing can do for children is more than just reflect on underlying thought. Writing liberates it and develops it.

By observing the action of writing, children can learn things about themselves they may not have known for themselves and share this with themselves & others. This allows them to explore their brain’s potential. It may be better to regard this as potential, rather than a settled state or finished structure, a potential that may constantly expand…

Mindfulness Is Vital For Girls In School – And Here’s Why

When people come around to look at the school I work in, they are often interested in how mindfulness ‘helps the boys’. I always find this a curious question.

Whilst some might go down the stereotyped view that mindfulness is good for calming children down and indeed it does – (see here). This is not its most profound or exciting feature, nor is it by the way the increase in academic achievement!

I find the most exciting development is in communication. What mindfulness allows is a level playing field and a culture of communication, compassion, sharing, deep listening & development of individual and collective well-being. It is through this creation of a nurturing environment in the classroom or school, through the use of mindfulness practices and a mindful pedagogy – (see here), that girls feel able to have a voice – even if it isn’t always audibly the loudest in the class (examples here).

Mindfulness in schools, when used intelligently, can help children deal with their strong emotions and emotional difficulties and as this article on BBC news states today, it’s an important contemporary issue.

Many have the misconception that girls generally enjoy and accept school better than boys. I have always disagreed. It often actually that they are dealing with a great deal of emotional issues but aren’t always given the time, commitment or strategies to observe it, reflect on it and share it with a loving community who will look to help them and for which they are seen as an equal part.

If you are interested and have the time why not take a look at the three aims of mindfulness in schools and think how these aims could help girls and young women in your class. Of course we have to remember if it is good for one group it is often just as useful to another.

Here are some extracts below:

Well-being

Through the promotion of the school as a community for children, we should aim to attend to children’s capabilities, needs, hopes and anxieties in the here and now and promote their mental, emotional and physical well-being and welfare. We should believe in a strong sense of self and a positive outlook on life are not only desirable in themselves; they are also conducive to learning and to engage wholeheartedly in all kinds of worthwhile activities and relationships. Well-being also means attending to future fulfilment and not just present needs and capabilities. This means “holding everyone to their highest possible potentials” (Stephen Batchelor – Co-author of the Elephant’s footprint).

Empowerment & Autonomy

We should also aim to empower children through the acquisition of knowledge, skills, personal qualities and an understanding of compassionate living to discover and lead rewarding lives and right livelihoods and find meaning for themselves in a continuously changing world. We should have confidence that children will be able to discriminate in their choice of activities and relationships and to see beyond the surface appeal of appearance, fashion & celebrity to what is of abiding value, and retain their own centre when faced with shifting values & relationships.

Developing communal responsibility

To help children to become active citizens by encouraging their participation in decision-making within the class and school community and to advance their understanding of kindness, compassion, human rights, diversity, conflict resolution and social justice. To develop a sense that human interdependence and the fragility of the world require a concept of citizenship and a ‘one world’ attitude.

Celebrating culture and the community

To establish the school as a cultural site, a focal point of community life and thought. To enact within the school the behaviours and relationships on which community most directly depends, and in so doing encourage this ‘community’ to be lived outside the school. To appreciate that education is a major embodiment of a culture’s way of life, not just a preparation for it, and that school is a place of culture – that is, a place where a personal and collective culture is developed.

Enacting right-speech & deep listening

Right speech & deep listening can help children grasp that learning and reflecting on mindfulness practices is communal and that understanding builds through joint activity. To help children recognise that knowledge is not only transmitted but also negotiated and re-created. To continue to advance our pedagogy in which dialogue is central: between self and others, between present and past, between different ways of making sense.

By listening to our pupils we will become better schools. All schools should advocate children’s voices. We should recognise the importance of listening to our learners and their opinions about their school and their education.

Can The Testing Of Children Ever Be Compassionate?

They knew me. They encouraged me. They helped me through tough times. They cared for me & I learned. 

I can’t claim that every child looks forward to our mental maths test or spelling tests. Many will run up the stairs into class and it will be the first thing they ask about. When I tell them there will be one today and will give a little ‘yes!’ and clench their fist.

The UK education system and particularly the changes to the primary curriculum have given the ill-informed impression of order and uniformity in how children learn. There is an unhealthy assumption that children perform in neat, straight lines of progress, roughly in line with some bizarre ‘master child’ who is deemed to be the archetypal ‘average’ learner. – What a thought and what a poor child!

There seems to be no room for sickness, bereavements, neglect, abuse or parental involvement. Nor is there appreciation for difference, diversity of talent or aptitude.

For tests to be effective, they should focus on being ‘checkpoints’ for the understanding of key foundation concepts only. Used exclusively as low-stakes internal processes, not external end points. They certainly are not an adequate or reliable way of assessing depth, criticality or enjoyment of a subject.

Our school is clear that there should never be the assumption that everything that is worth learning can be tested in an examination. There is compelling evidence in the field of cognitive psychology that regular low stakes testing can help build secure knowledge of concepts in the memory, and certainly for those elements of knowledge schema to aid the more interesting and complex ideas involved in learning. It’s just a question of how this is done in a compassionate way.

I would suggest:

  • We only mention examinations in terms of an aside – something that will happen but isn’t central to the importance of what is being learned.
  • We always go beyond the syllabus if that’s where the children’s learning is heading.
  • We focus on what makes learning really memorable in the long term.

The first point is actually hugely important. If we can have this attitude towards testing, not only will it benefit the child and their understanding of what real learning is, but it also gives the teacher for the first time organic and reliable evidence of what the children really know. Not what they have learnt simply for a test & to soon be disregarded.

The third point is particularly profound. The principle should always be that learning is something to be loved for its own sake, and that when a child has a passion it is the duty of a school to allow it to thrive.

Luckily my school is very clear on this and our use of assessing children’s progress. First and foremost we ensure we know the children incredibly well as individuals. This is the most effective way of assessing what learning a child has undertaken in a school year. We also acknowledge that learning can be represented in many forms and that written work is not the only valid means of checking a child’s understanding. Other interactions with their learning are held in just high regard. Interactions such as verbal discussion or other creative means. There is also the understanding that it may take more than one attempt to get through a ‘checkpoint’ and the border remains open to further attempts throughout their time at school and is fine to carry on from one class into the next. To give children only one shot at success is an act of gross irresponsibility and is certainly not compassionate towards the child.

They knew me. They encouraged me. They helped me through tough times. They cared for me & I learned. 

Written in response to Dr Debra Kidd Teaching Notes From The Front Line.

Links between children learning programming & mindfulness.

Mindfulness & Computing

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Computational thinking skills are at the heart of the new computing curriculum in UK. It’s a powerful way of solving problems. It will now be a tool in the problem solving toolset that pupils leave school with. It will equip them to not only understand the digital world, but will also compliment their understanding of mindfulness and the human world.

Computational thinking or ‘computer-like’ thinking is to use computational or computational like models where pupils act out computation in different situations. When computers ‘think’, it is similar to being in a state of mindfulness because

  1. They have to ensure they’re in the present moment or else the model breaks.
  2. They have to be aware of every step they take in the series or else the same problems arise.

Example:

A programming lesson where children are asked to write the complete instructions for making a jam sandwich for a robot to carry out. They will naturally carry out the task themselves trying to note down everything they do as part of the process. This is a mindful activity and is a metaphor for children to understand how computers think.

Computational thinking makes for a much more interesting subject than if computing were just about programming – it is much more than that! These skills are not in themselves unique and as explained above are transferable to mindfulness teaching.

Computational thinking skills can most definitively be brought into life problems just as mindful skills can – indeed both are incredibly comparable. Computation is something you could argue monks and nuns have been attempting to achieve for thousands of years.

‘Algorithmic thinking’ is at the heart of this. The core idea is that the solution to a problem isn’t just getting an answer; it is the algorithm – the process. Just because you have completed a Rubik’s cube, doesn’t mean you have solved it. Just because you have got angry at someone doesn’t mean you have solved your friendship issue and nor is the solution to life the number 42. – It’s about viewing, editing ‘debugging’ and improving the processes.

The teaching of algorithms has already been happening in primary schools for years. When we learn how to do addition or multiplication we are just learning an algorithm. Once you have an algorithm for doing multiplication you can multiply any numbers together as long as we carefully follow the steps. We aren’t always good at doing that which is why many of us find maths hard. Of course following instructions precisely is exactly what computers are good at, and that is why computational thinking is linked to computing, but it can transform the way we think about human work too.

Computational thinkers gain an understanding of the world about them that makes them able to model things from a variety of perspectives and this compliments mindful activity. Mindful activity should also help produce better computational thinkers. There are all sorts of activities that may be viewed as computational processes, eating a tangerine, cleaning your teeth, washing up, drinking a cup of tea and dare I say even meditation. Instructive in different ways, computational thinking will be usable for children throughout their lives.

Mindfulness & ICT teaching can work together.

There is no question that ICT hardware such as interactive whiteboards, mobile technology or software such as educational games can help improve pupils’ learning if used creatively and intelligently.

The aim of any 2015 ICT teaching is surely to produce pupils who are confident, safe, healthy & ethical learners who can access and use ICT as an essential life skill which enhances their ability to communicate, create and collaborate.

There also needs to be an understanding that technology is everywhere and has the potential to positively change children’s lives. However, we should also recognise the amount of time children spend in front of screens and the potential harm this could cause them. We have a commitment to ensure children leave school with the skills to adapt and use technology successfully & should ensure this through both traditional ICT lessons and the promotion of ‘unplugged computing’.

Unplugged computing allows children to learn all about the ICT curriculum through offline games & problem solving activities which behave as computers would traditionally. Children will carry out true ICT learning without needing to use computers.

In terms of mindfulness & Buddhist principles, ICT lessons provide children with opportunities to understand globalisation and the interconnected nature of our modern world through positive & contextualised use of the internet.

meditation and mindfulness for children

Through learning about e-safety and through our topics on social networking for children children are provided a real context in which to practice our child friendly 5 precepts and see how they should still apply to the online world.

The Five Precepts

  1. I will try not to harm anyone or anything in our school.
  2. I will try to be caring towards the people I share the school with.
  3. I will try to keep healthy and keep my mind calm.
  4. I will ask when I want to borrow something and share.
  5. I will try to be truthful and use mindful speech.

This includes looking after our equipment and sharing it, caring for the online community and being mindful in the way we speak online, thinking about copyright issues and plagiarism and thinking about how we can healthily and constructively use technology for good. Through programming, algorithms and instructional writing children can see the relationships between computational thinking and the act of Right Mindfulness – Concentrating on what is at the forefront of your mind, the present moment, and acknowledging its relationship to loving kindness & compassion.