To be aware, focused, and kind. Re-reading this statement, I am reminded of my first year of teaching. That’s all I really wanted for my kindergarteners – I knew a million strategies for teaching reading, but what I really wanted to know was how to build a peaceful, attentive community in my classroom. As a parent, these three qualities are also ones that I hope to nurture in my child. Coming from these two perspectives – that of a teacher educator and parent – I encountered Eline Snel’s simple and lively book, Sitting Still Like a Frog: Mindfulness Exercises for Kids (and their Parents) which offers insights and activities on how to cultivate awareness, focus, and kindness within children.
Please note: this is a two part book review. In this post, I’ll share my own impressions of the text. Then, I’ll do a little experimenting – I’ll do a few exercises with my child, and perhaps with some students that I work with. In the follow-up post, I’ll share what happened when the ideas were put into action.
“Sitting Still Like a Frog” is a relatively quick read. It’s a small book and CD, with simple, step-by-step chapters that provide a mix of explanations, anecdotes, and activities to try. Each chapter centers around a theme that ties to mindfulness – for example, becoming aware of thoughts, being present. letting go, and noticing the breath/body. There is a personal element to it; many of the stories that the author shares are of her parenting dilemmas and experiences. The book is meant to be read by a parent, but the CD is provided for the parent and child to practice exercises together.
As someone familiar with mindfulness practices, the ideas and practices that Snel offered was clear and relatively simple. If I had never heard of mindfulness, I imagine some aspects of the writing might be a little over my head or confusing. For example, Snel writes that parents need to learn “acceptance” of their children, but that “acceptance” does not mean “putting up with everything,” yet she does not go much further to explain this idea. I would encourage readers that are new to the idea of mindfulness to familiarize themselves with an additional text or two ( Mindfulness: An Eight-Week Plan for Finding Peace in a Frantic World and The Miracle of Mindfulness: An Introduction to the Practice of Meditation are two good ones to start with).
My favorite aspects of the book were the stories that the author shared of her work with entire classes. She was able to paint a picture of how mindfulness practices, done over time, even for a few minutes a day or week, really had an impact on the students’ stress levels, self-confidence, and focus. Further, the stories indirectly offered great ideas for practices to try in the classroom.
The “I Am From Mars” classroom activity was quirky and memorable. In this activity, the Snel came into an elementary-aged classroom and told the students that she was from Mars, and that she was going to give them something from the planet for them to examine. However, they had to do it with their eyes closed. She handed out some raisins and asked the students to describe the texture, sound, feel, size and taste of them. This was an activity to build awareness. Student noted afterwards that they never really noticed all the attributes of a raisin before because they had not taken the time to be attentive. This sounded like the basis for a great discussion and future practice. It also reminded me of a friend and mentor Rhoda Kanevsky, an (now retired) elementary school teacher, who would spend time in science class asking students describe their close observations of objects over and over again until they could identify details that you would have never even seen at first glance (like, who would have known one silkworm has tiny black dots by its feet? And I wonder what they are for?…). She did this on a regular basis, and the students were obviously more curious, attentive and observant in many areas besides science as a result of this practice.
I also appreciated the personal parenting stories shared by the author. As I read, I thought, “Yes, I’ve been there.” I wished for more stories that I could connect with and see potential ways to be more mindful as a parent. This was especially true for me around the issue of screen time. There were hints around being “firm but flexible” in setting limits with screen time, no significant talk about it. I think this topic deserves more discussion. In what was can we change participation in digital/multi-media from being the zombification of kids to a more active (and mindful) co-construction of ideas, artifacts, and communities? But perhaps that’s a topic for another blog post…
The mindfulness practices in the accompanying CD were described briefly, but there was no script provided for them, so I can’t tell you much about the activities at this point. I am looking forward to trying them out with my child in the next few weeks. Until then, stay tuned….