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Mindfulness for pre-K students

New York Teacher
Jonathan Fickies
Pre-K teacher Kiera Whalen at K280 in Brooklyn instructs her students to get ready for “deep breathing time.”

I am a firm believer in the idea that “everything you need to learn in life, you learn in pre-K.” Life in a classroom can be chaotic, stressful and unpredictable. I try to set up clear expectations for my pre-K students about how to handle stressful moments.

To instill confidence and calmness in my students, I have introduced mindfulness techniques, which I use to help them confront challenging moments.

Transitions are difficult for young children, so one of the first techniques I present to my class is a deep breathing exercise that helps the students make the transition from lunch to rest time. I was first introduced to this technique during a yoga presentation at the New York State Association for the Education of Young Children Conference.

Once the children have found spots on the carpet, I instruct them to get ready for “deep breathing time.” I ask them to take both index fingers and place them side by side in front of them, one arm’s length from their faces. Modeling the movement as I speak, I explain how we are going to bring our index fingers towards our faces using only our breath.

As each child inhales slowly and deeply, their fingers move toward their mouths. Once their fingers have reached their mouths, the children then exhale slowly and their fingers move back to the starting position. We agree on the number of deep breaths we’ll take and then practice our deep breaths to center our minds and calm our bodies. Simply telling children to take a deep breath when they are upset can be a difficult concept to grasp. Before introducing this breathing technique, I reflected on the many thoughts a child might have when an adult asks them to take a deep breath: What does taking a deep breath look like? Why will taking a deep breath help me?

The visual component of moving one’s fingers as one takes a deep breath helps young children recognize the power their own breathing can have in connection with regulating their emotions.
This deep breathing technique started as a transition tool, but it has grown into a coping strategy for my students that can instill mindfulness during moments of uncertainty and high energy. For example, when a student becomes disruptive during choice time, I may ask her to take a break and practice the deep breathing technique to get centered again and reflect on what she needs to continue to play in a safe manner.

Thanks to this deep breathing technique, the children in my class have become more present in their surroundings. They recognize the shift from meal and playtime to rest time, and they begin to check in with themselves and how they are feeling during both calm and challenging moments.