Are you one of the mindful people? I am. Well, I try to be. I love the ideas of presence and breathing and noticing and all those mindful things. I know the best relaxation techniques; I use them personally and with my students. I take time to notice those around me and the sensations within me. Breathe. Be present.
But what about the rest of the day? If we can take 10 minutes to be mindful on purpose that is good. How, though, can we keep mindfulness going as a way of life?
To begin with let’s stop being busy. Some folks wear busyness as a badge of honor. They don’t have time and can’t make time. They fill their schedules and their children’s schedules with so much to do that there is no time to be bored. I loved being bored as a kid- that’s when I was at my most creative, much to the chagrin of my parents. We dug holes and drilled holes and played Evel Kenievel. “Go outside and play” was never a punishment but a liberation: discover, wonder, create, and sometimes get in trouble. How often do you go out and play, whatever that means for you now, with no plan nor agenda?
Then, let’s be aware of our screens. How many screens do you have that keep you busy? Computer? Tablet? Phone? Kindle? Which Joneses do you feel a need to keep up with? The news? A TV show? Facebook? Instagram? Twitter? How much time does that leave for friends and family face-to-face? In my case, not enough. So, I am mindful of my screen time and am trying to reduce it. It is hard, though, when the emails come at all hours and a friend is posting photos on Instagram of his new house in a new country. With email at work I try not to send email from home or on weekends. I cannot be present nor help others be present when I interrupt them with things that can wait. Perhaps we can agree to fewer emails after hours and more face-to-face during hours.
Finally, let’s focus. We know that multi-tasking is a myth yet we still try to do too much (if you are always busy you might be trying to do too much). A Jack of all trades is a master of none. Businesses speak of core competencies: what are the main products and services of your business? If you try to do too many things you may do none well. The core competency of schools is education. Is your school doing too many other activities? How many of them can be done by parents and members of the community so that teachers can focus on the education of the students? Bringing in the wider community brings people together and actually builds community because it does take a village.
Let’s be mindful of how we live life: We only get one chance at today. Name your priorities and live them knowing it is okay to say no. Build community and make time. Me? I’m gonna go out and play and breathe and notice.
One of my 4th graders asked me for ideas on how to start a story. We had a great conversation and looked at some wonderful examples. Here is what we ended up with:
Ways to Start a Story
Once upon a time there was…
Dialogue (people talking)
“Mom! Help me! I can’t…” I shouted to my mom as I fell out of the tree.
“But you promised to take me to the movies today! You promised! You promised! You promised!” I started crying.
Action (something is happening)
My brother slammed the door just as the rain started. This time he did not get caught in the rain. This time he did not get struck by the lightning.
I watched from behind the bookshelf as the thief snuck into the living room and opened the top drawer of the desk. He did not know I was there.
4a. Description (what does the setting look like? sound like?)
The spring flowers bloomed and the honeybees buzzed along the banks of the river. The sleepy town woke up to the sounds of the roaring river flowing down from the dark mountains. Something floated in the water, trapped by an old tree branch.
4b. Description (what does the character(s) look like?)
Jaime was only 4 feet, 2 inches tall but he was the best goalie the team had ever had. He could jump higher than kids who were 5 feet tall. But he never bragged about it. He did not have to.
Recently, I was reminded of the power of theater in education. Thinking about students who are new to English… but not completely new… I have been looking at improvisational theater exercises to get students talking. This is not a strategy to teach new vocabulary but to build fluency, spontaneity and confidence while speaking.
Imagine having two students create a skit where someone is lost and the other has to help the first person find his or her way. Imagine adding a third person who says that the first person is wrong. What would you say? What would you do? Can they ask for an additional person to assist?
Make it a little bit harder and open ended: Imagine students creating a skit based off of three nouns- pencil, stove, rake. Throw in a verb and shake things up a bit.
There are a million scenes that you can have students improvise based on anything that students need to practice. Try it; see what happens!
The short answer is: speak to your children in the language you know best. Oral language is the precursor to all literacy skills:
What you can think, you can say;
what you say you can write;
what you can write you can read.
When parents ask me what language they should use with their children I consistently tell them to use the language they know best. Most of the time the parents are non-English speakers wondering if they should speak with their children using the little English they know. “No,” I tell them.
When children are offered rich language in extended discourse they develop amazing vocabularies and complex sentences. If their caregivers offer them limited vocabulary and limited discourse that is what the children will develop. Because literacy skills transfer, the extended discourse will transfer once the children have the necessary vocabulary in the new language… but they can’t transfer what they do not know.
Speak to your children often and listen to their answers.
Have them tell you stories and ask follow-up questions.
Ask open ended questions (questions that require more than yes or no).
Ask them to explain more or tell you what that means.
Give them new vocabulary as you ask them questions and respond to their stories:
Child: I used that thing to cut cheese.
Adult: Oh, you used the cheese slicer.
Child: Yes, I used the cheese slicer and I cut a lot of cheese.
When you read with your children ask them questions such as:
What do you think will happen next?
Would you have done that?
How would you solve the problem?
Tell me the story
Talk, talk, talk!
There is much research about the importance of oral language. Give your child the gift of language through conversation and story telling.