Can Mathematical Problems Help Promote Mindfulness In Children?

Can Mathematical Problems Help Promote Mindfulness In Children?

I have recently found myself incredibly interested in whether it is possible to find ‘mathematical’ or ‘puzzle’ activity which is rich in the promotion of mindfulness skills.

The National Curriculum in the UK states that;

Pupils should be taught to make connections and approach problems in a variety of forms, in order to identify what they need to do. Develop flexible approaches to problem solving and look for ways to overcome difficulties. Present and interpret potential solutions in the context of the problem. To explain their methods and reasoning, develop logical thinking and search for patterns when solving problems.’

My initial thought is if you set mathematical challenges which relate to working systemically could this be relevant to the practices of meditative activity? Meditative activity can be defined simply as ‘being involved and absorbed in considered thought’. I wonder then, if children are engaged in regular ‘meditative’ mathematical problem solving activities would they find this benefits them when they engage in meditation or in their day-to-day lives?

Whilst you can and indeed I do look at this from a completely secular position, it is interesting to place some Buddhist context on the question. It is claimed that when Buddha sat under the Bodhi tree and gained enlightenment, he was initially troubled by Mara (a serpent) who tested Buddha’s commitment and perseverance (an emotional often felt with a difficult challenge) which he eventually overcame.

His last awareness under the Bodhi tree was said to be the realisation of dukkha or suffering. We do indeed ‘suffer’ in everyday life and things can be difficult. Could exposure by children to problems and puzzles which need (as Buddha laid out in the noble eight-fold-path; right effort, right action, right mindfulness, right concentration) skills to be solved, be of benefit beyond just the puzzle solving at the time and potentially give children tools to cope with other difficulties they will encounter?

Such activities I can think of are playing chess, sudoku puzzles, riddles and the challenges set out on the incredible nrich.maths.org site.

Do you know of activities which could promote managing distractions, noticing, perseverance, staying in the present moment, reflecting, revising, making connections, reasoning and questioning? If so please leave your examples in the comments box.

Mindfulness, The Teaching Of PE & Competition. Can it work?

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Let us begin by establishing that PE should be renamed ‘physical & emotional health education‘. Teachers care deeply about the emotional health of their pupils but until the policy makers make it a priority schools can only do so much.

Physical & emotional health education would deal with the handling of human emotions and relationships and with the human body – its development and health, together with the skills of co-ordination and team-work acquired through a combination of sport, exercise and mindfulness practices.

It is vital that the significance of this configuration be properly understood. I believe that it makes pastoral as well as educational sense to group together physical and emotional health and indeed for it to be named a mandatory component of a school’s curriculum.

I’m convinced that through emotional health we promote conflict resolution, change from within, loving kindness, compassion, community building and the concept of interdependence.

Schools should continue to provide inter-class & inter-school tournaments which provide every child with the opportunity to compete. PE, like any other curriculum area is differentiated to cater for all abilities ensuring that all children gain a positive experience from their learning.

Complementing this physical learning will be the theory, knowledge and understanding of our body and what makes us healthy. A close link to ‘Citizenship and Ethics’ would help develop children’s emotional literacy… I’ll explain;

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Sport is one of the most mindful activities anyone can undertake. When a person is playing sport they are in the moment. Being competitive is part of our nature and can be seen as positive if viewed through the eyes of interconnectedness. Children want to work hard and play well for each other. Working hard shows how using right effort, loving-speech and right action can help us reach our full potential. Playing for a team and showing effort is what should bring us pleasure as much as winning.

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Losing provides us with valuable lessons in accepting the suffering which can come with this. How best to deal with those feelings is an important part of why we continue to take part in competitive sport with children. We should give children the skills on how to deal with this using mindfulness practices. 

Many sportspeople discuss the fact that their favourite part of playing is providing the platform for others to express themselves on the field. Defending well so other players have a chance to express themselves and create opportunities for their peers requires right effort, speech, action and mindfulness. The key thing we want children to take away from playing competitive sport at school is that of the community and teams working hard for each-other. We want to encourage loving-speech to be used when children see their peers, regardless of ability, putting in right-effort. In turn this will encourage children to see their peers as a place of refuge for when they are playing poorly, making mistakes or are disappointed by the result.