[SPOTLIGHT] How to Create a Mindfulness + SEL Elective for Elementary Students
Wellness Warrior Spotlight
Name: Anne Malver
Occupation: Elementary School Counselor
How were you able to create a Wednesday Elective Period at the Elementary level?
This was started in one of our elementary schools in the districts and our principal decided to adopt it as well. Our teaching staff LOVE it. Teachers are able to bring their passions to students each week for 40 minutes during this elective period. We have two 40-minute elective periods every Wednesday - one for K-2, the other for 3-5. Some teachers and students grow plants in our greenhouse while others teach drawing and painting. We have one staff member teaching coding and another taking students outside, and teaching wilderness survival skills. Our music instructor teaches students bucket drumming while another staff member teaches drama. The list goes on... Anything goes during this elective time!
What activities/curriculum are your students working through during this elective?
I chose to teach yoga and other mindfulness strategies to our students. 12 third through fifth graders chose “Mindfulness” as their first choice; during our 40 minutes together, I use the Generation Wellness Framework of “Regulate, Connect and Reflect” to structure my time together with students. Here is an sample class:
- I prepare the library by laying out yoga mats, dimming lights and playing soothing music with nature images on the projector screen.
- I greet students outside the library and give them each a different mindful movement card. When they enter the room silently and calmly, they find their same pose card on one of the mats.
- They sit on their mat, take 3 deep belly breaths, then practice their pose for a couple minutes. Sometimes we exchange cards for a second pose practice.
- Students then follow 20-30 minutes of mindful movement and activities.
- Depending on time, at the end of our mindful movement practice, we might end with an audio relaxation (get your audio download at the bottom of this page). We might gather in a circle to listen to the sound of the chime, or use the breathing ball, or name 3 things we’re grateful for. We might even do the old science experiment with a saltine cracker, chewing for a long time until students become aware of the sugar flavor.
What’s the result (data, success story, observation)?
- One boy came to the elective reluctantly saying that he didn’t choose it; the electives that he wanted were filled by the time he handed in his preference sheet. He didn’t participate during the first class. The second class was different. He practiced some of the movement. After the third time we met, he not only engaged in the entire 40 minute practice, but now, whenever he sees me, he greets me with enthusiasm saying something like, “Hey Ms. Anne, I’ll see you Wednesday!”
- I notice that our students with trauma histories really struggle with this class. Their bodies are so dysregulated, it’s hard to know if they’re getting anything out of it. I have to trust that, in time, these mindfulness skills will serve them.
- Another thing I notice is this: our library connects one side of our building to the other and is used by students and staff as a passageway from one to the other. During our elective time, if people use the space to move from one hallway to the other, I can practically SEE their shoulders drop and their pace soften and slow. Inevitably, a smile forms on their face.
- As a result of this observation, I’d like to create a Calm Down Area for staff, perhaps in an empty classroom or portable where yoga mats lay, soft music plays and dim lighting encourages silence and mindfulness practices. I think teachers would benefit from even 5 minutes of mindfulness during recess, lunch, planning, specialist time etc.
What advice do you have for teachers, counselors or principals who wish to incorporate an elective period?
- DO IT! This is such a wonderful opportunity for teachers to bring their individual passions to students without a concern in the world about test scores or Common Core.
- Staff also get to work with a wide range of students as well as reconnect with students they’ve taught previously.
- The first steps are to get buy-in both from the building administrator and from the superintendent (in our case, anyway).
- Find out from staff if this is something they’d like to do.
- Create a list of staff interests and possible elective choices.
- Teachers create a sign-up sheet for students with their top 3 choices
What Generation Wellness tools are you finding success with during electives?
- If I wasn’t engaged in a full self-care routine, I wouldn’t be able to do this work! In addition, I use the chime, glitter tube, the breathing ball and the Generation Wellness App.
How was the process from you being passionate about this yourself to bringing this district-wide in less than a year?
- For the past 3 years, I have been slowly introducing Mindfulness to our district by teaching it in my elementary school, discussing it during our Mental Health Team PLCs, sending links districtwide to articles on anxiety and the benefits of mindfulness practices. Anything that I find might help support students and staff, I send out districtwide. Slowly, but surely the language of Mindfulness has become increasingly commonplace in our buildings. As students come to school more and more dysregulated and difficult to manage, I have found an ever-growing number of staff emailing me for direction. It feels like a natural inertia from district-wide trainings on ACES, Trauma and Brain Development to now a focus on Mindfulness.
- Our Superintendent supported me with a small stipend to write articles on the topic for
- What tipped the scale and REALLY changed the culture of our district was first the absolute buy-in and support of our superintendent, Krestin Bahr, then bringing Lyndsay in during our August Welcome Back Day for a district-wide training.
- We now have Calm Down Areas as a mandatory part of our PBIS program in all buildings from preschool through high school.
- I also created a Team Drive called “Mindfulness Resources” and all staff have access. In this drive is Lyndsay’s powerpoint, links to guided meditations, scripts, coloring pages, TED Talks, articles etc. Anyone can add to this drive!
- We now have Mindfulness practices during Advisory in the middle and high schools (although teachers are asking for more support, needing more videos and materials to help them develop their interventions).
- We now have the Wednesday Mindfulness elective at WES.
- Also at WES is the Morning Meeting for all students and staff in the gym where a daily, student-led, Mindful Moment is part of the meeting.
Rapid Fire Questions:
(short response, first thing that comes to mind)
- Whole child education is: taking into consideration the whole child: body, spirit, and mind
- The number one skill that high school students need in 2018 is: Self-love.
- Favorite book (for children or adults) is: “The Glass Castle”
- Happiness practices are important to teach because: it’s a skill that can be learned
- Favorite uplifting song that inspires you is: “If Everyone Cared” by Nickleback
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