People who observe a Montessori preschool classroom for the first time are often surprised to see calm, engaged and highly focused children, moving peacefully in their beautiful environment.
Maria Montessori never used the very modern and trendy term “mindfulness”, yet she understood, more than a hundred years ago, the importance of sustained focus and sensory-based learning experiences. These are certainly a base for mindfulness, which encourages a strong awareness of the present, of oneself and of one’s environment.
Sustained focus and sensory-based learning experiences are key in the Montessori classroom.
A perfect example of a Montessori activity that fosters mindfulness is walking on the line. When the child carefully places one foot in front of the other, exactly on the line, she pays attention to the feeling of placing her foot, shifting her weight from one foot to the other, balancing and being supported by the floor beneath her.
In fact, all Montessori activities encourage children to be fully engaged, to pay careful attention to the information they receive through their senses and their movements, the sensory and motor systems connecting the mind and the body.
Walking on the line with quiet focus.
Another essential aspect of the Montessori philosophy is the three-hour work cycle. During this timeframe of uninterrupted work, the child can choose her own work, can work at her own pace, and thus progress naturally, creating the conditions for “flow” in which mindful, deep concentration can occur.
The benefits of mindfulness are endless: reduced stress and anxiety; better sleep; relief in muscle tension; feelings of peace, calm, and harmony; increased concentration, focus, attention and self-control; increased patience, empathy, kindness and compassion; greater self-esteem, confidence and motivation; lower blood pressure and heart rate; less irritation and agitation… The results on children are stunning!
To further this sense of mindfulness, in our Garden Class, we practise meditation. With young children, meditation is largely about the breath. Controlled breathing calms the nervous system as it sends the brain a message of peace and safety, therefore slows the body’s stress response.
Three-hour work cycles in the Montessori classroom help children develop focus.
We begin our meditation by encouraging the children to sit quietly and observe their breath, feel the sensation of the air coming in and out through their nose, their hands on their stomach helping them to feel the rise and fall with each breath. We ask them to imagine the most beautiful flower, smell its scent fully, then exhale to make its petals move gently. This helps them focus and leads them to deep breathing.
As our students gain mastery in deep breathing, we add in guided meditations. These guided meditations can take many forms: We can ask them to imagine invisible coats placed on them while they are lying down, helping them to feel safe while relaxing their bodies; we can do the rainbow relaxation where the children imagine their names written across the sky in all the colours of the rainbow, each colour having a very special energy; we can ask them to imagine a white fluffy cloud, their bodies floating up and onto the soft cloud like the softest bed…
Meditation in the Garden Class.
At the end of these meditations, we guide their attention to any thoughts and feelings that may be present. Children’s descriptions of what is happening in their minds and bodies are always beautiful. A five-year-old girl said once, “I felt like a flower was blooming. People were floating around, flying around.” A boy who had fallen asleep said, “When I was sleeping, it was so cosy.” Another said, “It felt like the sea, I was feeling good in my body.”
These breathing and meditation exercises are very special moments in our class. Not only do they create space for awareness, focus and stillness, they help also our students to self regulate, to manage peacefully their behaviour and emotions. Most importantly, they create a flow of kindness and caring bond in our little community.
— Lidia Olivieri