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Reflections Magazine : Reflections Issue 58 Autumn 2015
14 At Gowrie Victoria Docklands we take children's rights seriously. We recognise the importance of our role in promoting positive attitudes and habits for good health (Meldrum & Peters, 2012), we support children to participate in their own learning and development and we acknowledge the significance of working alongside families to achieve the best possible outcomes for children (DEEWR, 2009). We advocate for a holistic approach to health and wellbeing, addressing physical, social and mental health (World Health Organisation cited in Meldrum & Peters, 2012). Just as educators traditionally provide a wide range of experiences and strategies to support children's physical health, we also endeavour to provide a range of strategies to support children's mental health. The introduction of a mindfulness program has emerged as a natural progression of our long-term work. This program has extended and complimented our earlier efforts to support children to gain a strong sense of identity and to promote empathy. The outcomes and feedback from families have revealed benefits that go beyond the service and both children and educators have experienced rewards. The mindfulness program aims to support children in building resilience and to develop their roles as critical thinkers and problem solvers. By nurturing children's spirituality we seek to develop their wellbeing and their capacity to learn. We endeavour to provide children with the skills to take time to focus on the present, explore their feelings and their relations with others. Through mindfulness, children gain the capacity to increase attention, balance and compassion (Kaiser Greenland, 2012). Mindfulness sessions allow children and adults the time to identify, label and validate feelings and emotions, create opportunities to develop a range of strategies to problem solve negative feelings, as well as time to celebrate happiness. Those of us working or living with young children know that not everything works all the time, that we need different strategies and ways of doing things so that children have a range of tools to select from - a 'toolbox' of techniques for their mental health and wellbeing. The more we as educators have discovered about mindfulness, the more we have felt confident that it can be successfully used with young children, while also contributing to our own mental health and resilience. The early years are a critical time for all areas of learning and development (Goldfield, 2010) and the significance of this period for life long learning has long been recognised by those working in the sector. Research and theory, particularly current brain research, supports the significance of this period for brain development as a time when the most neural pathways are formed and lifelong skills are developed (Craig & Dunn, 2010). It therefore seemed appropriate that our mindfulness work should evolve within the 2 to 4 year old rooms, where educators spend a great deal of time supporting children as they build relationships and deal with the challenges and delights of their increasing independence. Introducing mindfulness fitted in with our belief in the capabilities of young children and with the development of important life skills such as a strong sense of self and an understanding of others. In addition, such a program gathered added emphasis in light of statistics which reveal that an estimated 14% of 4 to 17 year olds have a mental health issue and that most teenage deaths are suicides (Goldfield, 2010; AIHW, 2012). The fact that one of our kinder rooms was already running a successful relaxation program confirmed our choice. In our planning we reasoned that having a specific time where mindfulness was incorporated into the day would ensure that children and educators had the opportunity for deep engagement or 'presence' (Rogers & Raiders-Roth, 2006). This time and space would allow children and educators opportunities to attend to feelings and communicate them effectively, to reduce stress and create a connected community. Sharing information with families about what we were trying to achieve has been an important aspect of the program, particularly when discussing mental health. Often there is a fear around this subject and the term has been misused and stigmatised. By involving families we have been able to highlight the positive nature of the program and emphasise that mental health must be nurtured just as physical health is. Our hope is that the skills which are becoming a natural and embedded part of the children's kindergarten day will become lifelong habits. We have found mindfulness to be a powerful tool and we have been careful not to introduce it as a form of crowd control or behaviour management. As with everything, we began with the children and their prior knowledge, thoughts, interests and feelings. Through gaining an understanding of the children's ideas we have been able to create a mindful program that is contextually relevant and therefore more meaningful. Circle time was an obvious choice for facilitating the program, as it has been a familiar space for children to spend time sharing their thoughts and feelings and being listened to. Over time we have become more spontaneous in using mindfulness, identifying appropriate times of the day for small group work and even taking it out and about on our excursions - including laying on the grass, looking at the clouds and incorporating mindful feeling, seeing and listening. Labeling what is occurring in the brain and the role of mindfulness to strengthen neural pathways has been something which has held great appeal to the group - just as they enjoy strengthening their arm muscles, they are enjoying strengthening their brains! We have raised
Reflections Issue 57 Summer 2014
Reflections Issue 59 Winter 2015