My Forest Teacher Training continues to be a rewarding experience night after night. At the close of each class, I feel as though I have conducted a session of forest school myself, thanks to the open-hearted sharing of the group and of our guides. Last night’s topic spoke to creating “Mindfulness, Rhythms, & Rituals” – what I used to call scheduling.
When I created schedules for schools where I directed, it was a matter of weaving “specials” (Art, Music, Spanish, etc.) into each classroom’s daily routine in order to intricately weave a balanced masterpiece that was pleasing to parents and teachers. Inevitably, someone was not pleased. Maybe their much coveted Playground slot, at a time they felt disturbed the learning flow. Or perhaps, the day the Spanish teacher could come pushed Snack back by 15 minutes. Sometimes the teachers of the special subjects also had requests, like teaching all of the younger classes on Tuesdays, and older students on Thursdays. Making the “master schedule” was a task that often took a week’s worth of painstaking, working and reworking to my (and everyone else’s) ultimate frustration and disappointment.
Not even referred to as “schedule,” this method of planning your day was a breath of fresh air. Based on the Waldorf School philosophy of the inhale/exhale flow of energy. The general idea is that each of our daily routines has an intrinsic flow of energy – some moments giving or restoring energy like a deep inhale, and others a burst or release of energy as an exhale. Likewise, we considered the day to be a combination of moments where children might take a deep breath in to focus and concentrate to gain energy, followed by spurts of activity that allowed for energy release.
Surrounding all of this was the practice of mindfulness, paying attention to our bodies and the world around us. Without an intentional spirit of mindfulness, it becomes impossible to develop healthy rhythms. A friend and I were recently discussing moments when we realize a disjointed feeling, and then wondering how long we’ve been just pushing through those feelings ignoring them. I’ve spent most of my adult life “pushing through” or ignoring symptoms of burnout or stress with the idea that it was just normal. It isn’t. It leads to higher cortisol levels and narrows the space in the brain for the capacity to take in information. Don’t get me started on how it stifles creativity.
Mindfulness exercises, integrated into the learning day, train children to maintain intentional contact with their own bodies and environment. This sense of self-awareness is key to building social emotional intelligence. Accomplished through 5 minutes exercises in deep breathing, listening, focused meditation, or quiet contemplation, mindfulness is currently being integrated classrooms of all kinds to assist students who display undesired behaviors. However, these routines, applied to traditional classrooms have limited impact without the continued benefits of a daily schedule that is built around inhaling and exhaling.
But more and more evidence supports the claim the nature based learning, when paired with mindfulness practices, allows the child to develop physically, emotionally, socially and cognitively without the constraints that a typical classroom places on them. As well intentioned as I was developing those schedules, I don’t think the first question I really asked was “What do the students need at this point in their learning day?” Instead, my priorities had to be standards to be met or the schedules that I was building this schedule on.
Last night I learned to ask the following questions:
- What do the children need at this point in their learning day?
- Has something happened to change the typical energy of today, should I add an “inhale moment” to refocus us?
- Have the children been inhaling for so long they are close to bursting? How can we exhale and stay in a creative flow?
- What daily opening and closing routines would bring mindfulness and meaning into the lives of my students?
- Which quarterly, seasonal and annual rituals are the most mindful and meaningful to my students and their families?
I’m becoming a better educator than I’ve ever been through this Forest School Training. I’d like to offer special thanks to Bonnie Cretton from Woodsong Forest School for acting as a compassionate guide in showing me all the ways to craft a child’s learning day in ways that speak meaning into their lives and the subject matter they are learning.