Why do teaching staff and Early Years Practitioners need mindfulness?

I have worked as a teacher for over 38 years and I have really enjoyed watching young children develop into confident learners. Young children bring endless energy and love to the class and that is contagious, they are fun, giving, and creative. Working with children really is a pleasure.

Having said that working with young children can also be a challenge. Young children can have intense feelings. These can sometimes lead to outbursts of anger or frustration, or perhaps even being withdrawn. Mindfulness helps adults learn techniques to stay calm and be reflective despite external pressures.

Early Years settings and schools can be stressful places, there are many demands placed on staff and often it can feel like there simply isn’t enough time to achieve all that is expected. Therefore it is no wonder that staff may easily get overwhelmed and overloaded with so many things competing for their attention, mindfulness is needed to be able to

regulate attention, improve concentration, increase memory, and develop clearer overall mental clarity.

Mindfulness is a simple technique that emphasizes paying attention to the present moment in an accepting, non-judgemental way. This may seem like a fairly easy thing to do but research has shown that people often think negativity far more than positively. More than 60,000 thoughts a day (and the emotions they evoke) whirling through the mind, it is easy to understand how the mind can get cluttered.

The limbic system controls emotions and motivations from deep inside the brain. A key player of the limbic system is the amygdala. The amygdala is a clump of neurons deep in the center of the brain. The amygdala serves as an information filter regulated by our emotional state. It is like a security guard. When we are calm and peaceful, the filter

is wide open and information flows such as, paying attention, organizing, staying focused, understanding different points of view, regulating emotions, and keeping track of what one is doing. When we are in a positive emotional state, the amygdala sends incoming information on to the conscious, thinking, reasoning brain.

When we are in a negative emotional state (stressed or fearful for example) the amygdala prevents the input from passing along, effectively blocking higher-level thinking and reasoned judgment. The incoming stimuli and signals are left for the amygdala itself to process an automatic reflexive response of “flight, flight, or freeze.”The hippocampus is another limbic system structure. These twin crescent-shaped bodies reside in the central brain area, one behind each ear, in the temporal lobes. The hippocampus assists in managing our response to fear and threats and it is a storage of memory and learning.

Information from the limbic system is fed to the prefrontal cortex-the learning, reasoning, and thinking center of the brain. This highly evolved area of the brain controls our decision making, focuses our attention, and allows us to learn

to read, write, compute, analyze, predict, comprehend, and interpret. The prefrontal cortex makes up over 10% of the volume of the brain and thus is involved in many functions. Executive function is probably the one category that the prefrontal cortex is probably best known for. In general, executive functions focus on controlling short-sighted, reflective behaviors to take part in things like planning, decision-making,problem-solving, self-control, and acting with long-term goals in mind.

When we are happy, peaceful, and calm our brain is flush with dopamine. Feelings such as optimism, gratitude, hope, and an overall sense of well-being, as well as helping and loving ourselves and others.

What benefits can be arrived from practicing mindfulness?

Practicing mindfulness makes us a good example and a role model for our children.

Mindfulness can develop strategies to remain calm throughout the day.

Mindfulness helps us to be consistent.

Mindfulness develops our empathy and caring for our work colleagues and children.

Mindfulness develops our listening skills so adults can listen to their peers and children more intently. Mindfulness helps us be kinder to ourselves, hopefully, less judgemental and more encouraging. Mindfulness helps us to be in more control of our feelings.

Find a place to relax and be mindful in your workplace or at a regular

time throughout the day.

Notice and praise your efforts.

Be your own best friend.

Try this simple exercise

Mindful breathing for 1 minute

Lower your eyes and notice when you feel your breath. That might be the air going in and out of your nostrils or the rise and full of your chest or stomach. If you can’t feel anything, lace your hand on your stomach and notice how your hand gently rises and falls with your breath. If you like you can just lengthen the in-breath and the out-breath or just breathe naturally. Your body knows how to breathe.

Focus on your breath. When your mind wanders, as it will do, just bring your attention back to your breath. This can be done for longer than a minute. However, even for one minute, it will allow you to pause and be in the moment. Or you might just like to breathe out stress on the out-breath and breathe in peace on the in-breath.

Mindful time uses simple activities that are realistic and achievable,

so that you can strengthen your inner calm and be more relaxed and happy in your school or setting.

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