When the Student is the Teacher
By Patricia Pontarelli | January 27, 2021
For several years now we have devoted a great deal of effort and resources to teaching and cultivating mindfulness within our school community. It is a vital part of Rocky Hill Country Day’s mission to develop the whole child…and person. The benefits are clear, both in the classroom and, we also hear, at home.
Throughout my many years as an educator, I’ve become increasingly aware of the significant need for strategies and tools that foster self-awareness, self-regulation, and self-care for children and adults. This awareness, combined with a recent mindfulness training experience, initiated our partnership with Center for Resilience and the research-based mindfulness framework it offers our students, faculty, staff, and families. Our commitment to mindfulness intentionally starts with our youngest students (Nursery-Grade 5) and forms the building blocks that create a strong foundation of emotional well-being that will carry over to Middle School and Upper School. How inspiring it is to see children and adults embracing the language and practice of mindfulness to foster a peaceful balance in their daily lives!
Within our Lower School, you will find access to cozy areas for quiet reflection, mindfulness “tools” like glitter jars to shake and watch settle, mandalas to mindfully color, aromatherapy diffusers to breathe in the calming scent of essential oils, meditative music to create a soothing atmosphere, the ringing of a Tibetan singing bowl as we set daily intentions at our Lower School Gatherings, and more. Mindfulness practices support the undeniably healthy connection between mind and body. According to RHCD Director of Counseling & Wellness, Traci Fairchild, “The mind/body connection is everything, and it is our intention and chance to create space for slowing things down and embracing each precious moment.”
The truth is, when it comes to mindfulness, we adults have a lot to learn from our children.
“There are always flowers, for those that want to see them.”   –   Henri Matisse
Long before the practice of mindfulness as we know it today became popular, Harvard psychologist Ellen Langer began to study the neuroscience of attention. In her groundbreaking 1989 book, appropriately titled Mindfulness, Dr. Langer describes mindfulness simply as “the act of actively noticing things.”–
The mindfulness practices we teach at RHCD are, in part, designed to cultivate this awareness and the accompanying observation skills. The practice of “actively noticing” greatly enhances attention, imagination, creativity, and the skills that support our cognitive and emotional resilience. It helps students to “think outside.” The book Wired to Create by Scott Barry Kaufman provides a great overview of the scientific evidence in support of mindfulness and an “openness to experience”.
Whether as educators or parents, we know young children are naturally this way–open-minded, curious, enthusiastic, and full of imagination and possibility. Everything is new and novel. Listen as our Lower School students are enthralled by leaves, stones, and sticks which may ultimately become a community of fairy houses; when noticing the billowing clouds overhead that may soon be transformed into a pair of fluffy bunnies dancing in the wind; or simply mesmerized as they tap the repetitive beats of a newly learned rhythm. You’re bound to hear the spontaneous expression of their pure experience in that moment. It will no doubt warm your heart and make you smile!
Unfortunately, over time, many of us lose this ability or simply forget it exists. As busy adults, we are often oblivious to the beauty right in front of us. We don’t notice. We miss a lot. We don’t take time to just “be” and experience. Henri Matisse said, “There are always flowers, for those that want to see them.” One of the silver linings of the pandemic has been the opportunity to see and appreciate the world immediately around us with new eyes and with gratitude. Eyes like a child.
How can you nurture your child’s innate mindfulness and natural ability to “actively notice things?” Here are some tips from Dr. Laurie Santos who teaches Yale University’s most popular course, The Science of Well-Being. Dr. Santos offers techniques for us to notice and actively savor the world around us:
- “Share the experience with another person,
- think about how lucky you are to enjoy such an amazing moment,
- keep a souvenir or photo of that activity, and
- make sure you stay in the present moment the entire time.”
Then, take it one step further to re-ignite that same natural ability within you. Actively notice your own experience in the moment…just like a child.
If you’re interested in learning more about the role of mindfulness in self-care, join our 2021 Mindfulness Conference, presented by Rocky Hill Country Day School and Center for Resilience.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Lower School Division Head, Rocky Hill Country Day
Patty Pontarelli holds a Bachelor degree in Early Childhood and Elementary Education, and a Masters in Psychology. She also completed Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), an eight-week evidenced-based program that offers intensive mindfulness training, as well as Center for Resilience workshops. Patty’s experience spans 30+ years as an educator and administrator, the past 21 years at Rocky Hill Country Day School where she was instrumental in rolling-out the school-wide mindfulness initiative in partnership with Center for Resilience.