Bringing Mindfulness Back to School

When the summer ends, mindfulness doesn’t have to go with it.

My Facebook feed has been a parade of back-to-school pictures for two weeks now. It won’t stop until after Labor Day, and I love it dearly. From the happy-go-lucky photos to the tween angst to the kindergarten pigtails to the senior “this is it” smiles, I love each and every image.

Of course, that doesn’t mean I actually enjoy the whole back-to-school rigmarole.

To call last year a stressful time for our two sons is an understatement. We dealt with guinea pig-style standardized testing, bullies in the form of children and administrators alike, social challenges, anxiety, boredom, disorganization, and other things that left me doing cartwheels at the end of the school year. We survived, as we do, but the whole of it felt taxing and not really in line with how we wanted to raise our sons.

This summer we’ve spent some time working on various things. We’ve read a billion books. We’ve refreshed math facts. We’ve spent an entire summer learning about space through our telescope, books, videos, and apps. We’ve also lazed about, traveled our exhausted butts off, roasted marshmallows, picked berries, played everything from baseball to croquet, and swam our days away.

Between the fun and the learning, we’ve also been talking a lot about being in charge of our emotions, of using our breath to calm down and be mindful of our actions and reactions. This has been helpful for our sons—summertime as a brother means being in close proximity to your sibling day in and day out. Mindfulness seems really important on those super long, hot summer days when no one wants to be close to anyone. We’ve been practicing, and I think we’ve all learned a thing or two about patience, self-control, and compassion.

But unfortunately, though we’ve made progress as a family over the summer, I’ve decided that the public school system was not made for mindfulness.

Between the over-testing, the 20-minute lunches, the memorization over actual learning, and a smorgasbord of other “just get it done” type things during the school day, there’s little time to take four deep breaths and reevaluate a situation. There’s little space for inward thought to allow feelings to actually be felt. Teachers simply don’t have the time to actively care for the emotional well-being of their students. They need to get things done—now.

While there’s talk of integrating mindfulness in our schools, we’re still a long way from seeing it activated across the board. Budget constraints alone mean we can’t train teachers, and until we stop teaching to the test, the time crunch will remain. I do believe that a large, seven-year study in London will tell us more about adolescents, mindfulness, and meditation. But in seven years, I’ll have a senior and a sophomore. I need to be proactive now.

Thankfully, I’m “blessed” with morning children. They’re often up and ready before the cobwebs clear out of my own head. So I’ve decided to take 10 to 15 minutes of our mornings to sit quietly, meditate, practice, and discuss what mindfulness will mean that day, to state our intentions aloud. Maybe it means taking four deep breaths before picking up a pencil to take a timed test. Maybe it will mean being kind to someone who isn’t practicing kindness. Maybe it will mean swallowing our fear and going to the teacher when the bully takes it too far. And maybe it will simply mean remembering we are loved and valued both in school and at home.

Whatever the case, I hope that some of the lessons I’ve taught my children about mindfulness will continue to help them as they begin yet another school year. I can also bet that the morning pause will help keep me on track for my day as well.

Photo by Guy Thorsby

Jenna Hatfield

Jenna Hatfield is an editor, writer, and storyteller. She also loves to capture little moments of daily life with her camera. She blogs at Stop, Drop & Blog and has also worked as a photographer, though currently she prefers photographing her two sons, her husband, their zany German Shepherd, and six bossy chickens. Beyond writing and photography, Jenna also enjoys running (currently training for her second full marathon), cooking, and reading all the books. You can follow Jenna on Twitter and Instagram.