The Mindful Library: A First Grade Experience

Pass the Manse Library when first graders are inside and you will likely see their shoes lined up in a row outside the picture book room. Inside, six and seven year olds are practicing mindfulness with their librarian, Angela Baccala. “Teaching meditation began as a pilot program with first graders five or six years ago. We were introducing a Black-Eyed Susan book called Zen Shorts by Jon J. Muth. Since zen is such an abstract concept for young children to grasp, we decided to share a few meditation techniques with the students. We immediately noticed its calming effects and Mary Jane Milner, the Lower School Head at the time, encouraged continuation of the pilot.”

In time, the pilot expanded its focus to peace education. Collaborating with members of the Life Skills Department, Manse librarians identified books on accepting differences, being oneself, and getting along with others. These books play a significant role in the Manse Library curriculum and in discrete life skills lessons, as well. Like all good literature, they prompt valuable discussion and help children understand issues more clearly.

A tubular vibratone chime signals the beginning of library classes. The children move purposefully to its wavering tones, paying attention to their breath, and making small “centering” movements. “The children may have come to library directly from recess or from across campus. When they hear the chime, they recognize that it is time to be still and quiet,” said Ms. Baccala.

Meditation is explicitly taught to first graders, beginning with Ms. Baccala reading a book by Kerry Lee MacLean titled Peaceful Piggy Meditation. The text states, “Sometimes the world can be such a busy, noisy place. Sometimes it feels like you always have to hurry…and you feel you can’t slow down, even when you are sitting down.” After discussing the book, the children perform the “Mind-in-a-Jar” experiment in which they first fill a jar with clear water. They add sand, swirling and shaking the jar to represent a mind in a hurry in which each grain is a thought be it happy, sad, exciting, or angry. Once they set the jar on the table, the “thoughts” gradually settle to the bottom leaving the water clear and light. This concrete representation of a calm and peaceful mind helps the young students understand the concept of meditation.

Ms. Baccala continues to share mindfulness and meditation activities with first graders throughout the school year. They participate in guided meditation practices to help them become aware of their breathing. “We are usually too busy to notice our breath. We can only notice it if we are still,” states Ms. Baccala. “Most of the children tell me they find these techniques helpful and relaxing. By mid-year, they are able to choose their own meditation techniques to use at the start of library class.”

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