Sunday, October 2, 2016

A new chapter in Yuma, AZ

Hello Friends!

For those confused by my blog address, I will one day purchase the "mindfulyumakids," domain to add to "mindfulphillykids," but for now we'll stick with what's in place...

I made it!  I'm 10 weeks in to my new life in the southwest of the US, and what a roller coaster its been so far.  I am the preschool teacher at a lovely little Catholic School, Immaculate Conception, in Yuma, AZ.  Yuma is in the southwest corner of the US, just minutes from the borders of California and Mexico.  It is a three hour ride to San Diego, and three hours to Phoenix.  The families and teachers at IC couldn't be more friendly and welcoming, and our classroom is HUGE!  The two assistant teachers I am blessed to work with are utterly amazing, embracing the same holistic approach to education that I hold dear to my heart.

This is my first experience teaching at a Catholic School and, prior to moving to Yuma, I had been focused on secular mindfulness practice.  I knew that the transition had seamless potential, but I just didn't know where to start.  I have spent the first two months of school re-integrating into classroom life and forming relationships with the children and staff at our school.  The more I learn about teaching the Catholic faith, the more I am able to also bring tools of mindfulness into the classroom in the form of Christian meditation.  This week I will reach out to parents of our class to share what I am finally beginning to see clearly.  I hope to work together with families to implement Christian meditation, also known as contemplative prayer or prayer of the heart, into our classroom and into family life at home.

This transition has not been easy for me. From east coast to west coast, from established friends and family to new friends and different family, from working with just a handful of children to a whole classroom of children (albeit a small one- only 12 children to start the year, whew!), from having daily interaction with my one-day-husband, to embracing a long-distance relationship- this transition has been a doozy!  It is has been hard, but it is a good kind of hard.  I feel myself learning and growing everyday, and I really can't ask for anything more.

Thank you to all who support me day in and day out, especially my dear Mom, who makes this experience possible with her ongoing love, support and sharing of a beautiful home and delicious meals!

Here's a new video I just watched about mindfulness in the classroom.  I'm hoping to be able to take this training soon:  Mindful Schools In-Class Instruction- https://youtu.be/MMK481p5wWM


Peace from me to you!  -Kim

Saturday, May 21, 2016

A call for clarity- early childhood education & mindfulness practice

Good morning friends,

As some of you might know, I am planning a relocation in the coming months. I'll be leaving my beloved neighborhood of West Philly and heading west to be with my sister and mom. My sis and her husband have lived in Yuma, AZ for ten years and have two beautiful children who I clearly do not see enough. My Mom packed up and sold her house in Jersey to be a closer Bubbie, my Dad and stepmom June have been making yearly extended PopPop & MomMom trips, and I now find myself needing to be an everyday Aunty as well. This means that my career trajectory will also change a bit as I move from the familiarity of PA to the yet unknown of Arizona.

I have, for quite some time, felt in my heart that I am meant to share my passion for early childhood education by creating, or at least helping to create,  a high quality early learning program.  Despite tremendous support from colleagues and families with whom I closely work, and a year of intense research and planning in the Philadelphia community, I have not yet taken the startup leap.

Since around the time of this blog's creation, as I continued to experience the powerfully transformative effects of mindfulness practice, I decided that my next professional step will be to throw myself fully into sharing its benefits with early childhood teachers and families with young children. I am working on a business plan for a community-based nonprofit where I will be able to offer services to the Yuma community within a space that could also be used for much more.  It is a plan I am excited to grow. But as autumn (my season of relocation) moves closer, I also realistically understand that I will need to continue bringing in an income as I develop my business. I therefore began to investigate the early learning community in Yuma and I feel both encouraged and disheartened at my early observations, both from the standpoint of an employee and as an enrolled child.

In Philadelphia I have always had employment options.  I am qualified to work in a classroom, but most recently I have chosen to work one-on-one with several families as a private caregiver and early childhood educator, a nanny.  The flexibility, autonomy, and immense impact I can make in becoming so close to families has just felt right for me.  There have always been plenty of families able and willing to pay for my level of attention and I have not ever had to worry about finding work.  There does not seem to be much of a nanny market in Yuma, and so I began looking at early learning programs for which I might work.  There are many childcare options for families with young children, but my initial research did not find a great many high-quality options.  Not only do the expected wait-lists abound at the limited programs available, but there are also qualifications to be met in order to enroll, whether income or employment-based.  In a world where families often need to supplement care of even very young children, the decisions about how to do so can seem trying at the least.  There is a great deal of research that informs us of just how important early experiences are to the growth and development of humans.  Not only is there the issue of outside care and education of the children, but also that of parent understanding and growth.  Where or how can the average family ensure an optimal daily experience (daily life experience = learning)  for their children?  I now find myself wondering, "Where will I find myself upon first moving to Yuma?  How can I make the most vital impact? Is my most logical first step to open a mindfulness studio, or would I be of more value working directly in early childhood education?" That heartfelt message just keeps coming back to me.  I did not start a school in Philly, but maybe Yuma is where I was meant to be...

And so as I sit on a bench in Clark Park today, shielded from the spring raindrops by the tree umbrella above, I seek clarity.  I still have so much to learn in the field of early childhood education and in the practice of mindfulness.  Sometimes I feel a bit overwhelmed at the books to be read, the conferences to attend, or the certifications to attain.  After some moments of silence this morning, I remind myself:  Practice.  Life is about practice, in all that we do.  Practice makes progress, and progress can only occur if we commit to the practice.  With a deep breath in... clarity, and with a slow exhale... peaceful practice.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

A defining year in mindfulness practice

Hello Wonderful People!

I am indeed alive and kicking, despite the lapse in blog posting.  I have always wanted to write a blog, but often hesitated because I worried that I wouldn't be able to keep up.  Well, I am glad I finally did it and here's to everyone else out there just doing their best along with me!

This year I was reminded of just how much can happen in 12 short months!  Last April when I created "Relaxation Story" for my LO, little did I know the journey I was beginning.  Since then I immersed myself in books, articles, and videos about the benefits of bringing mindfulness to children, and the most valuable lesson I learned was that it really comes back to my own practice.

Every practitioner says it, and I remember reading and re-reading the reminders to PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE.  Well in the beginning I thought I was practicing, I was doing my best, every day, to sit on my cushion and follow my breath.  I felt the effects of increased concentration, impulse control, calmness and better sleep.  Despite this, it wasn't until I relinquished my goal of "getting better at mindfulness so that I can teach," that everything fell into place.

Eventually I realized, through mindfulness practice, that my next steps professionally would fall into place if only I allowed the space necessary for personal growth.  My big decisions seemed much more accessible and a great deal less intimidating after this realization.  Although I have a list of important trainings and retreats that I am saving money to attend, when the opportunity arose to take a 6-week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction course to deepen my practice, I jumped at the opportunity.  It wasn't until after the first class that I realized I veered off course of my "mindfulness plan."  At that point there was nothing much I could do but to sit back and breathe.  It proved to be the best decision I ever could have made.

During those weeks of weekly meetings with like-minded people, I was able to look within myself and figure out how to bring mindfulness practice off the cushion and into my every-day life.  From sending loving kindness to my fellow SEPTA commuters, to noticing all of the bubbles and warm water I use to wash the daily dishes, mindfulness began to grow roots deeper into the soil of my life.  I continued reading and practicing yoga, qi-gong, and other mindful movement exercises as a way to deepen my understanding of myself.  As a result, when I interacted with the children, I shared what I was learning in an authentic way.  They received it with renewed interest and understanding.  We are all benefiting from the invaluable side effects of mindfulness together.

So much has changed since the last time I wrote here in July, and at the same time everything is exactly the same.  Being mindful really allows us to see what happens in every moment.  To notice the patterns by which we live, and to respond thoughtfully to life's surprises instead of reacting   instinctually, we live a richer life.  I feel so fortunate to have found what feels like a secret to living life, and am more excited than ever to share these strategies with all the children in my life.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Peace

Good morning, Community. To all the parents, caregivers, teachers, and lovers of children, I send out this message to you:

May you feel Peace inside of you today and always. May that Peace reach beyond your own body, into your family, and into your surrounding community.

I checked  out an illustrated children's book from the library back at the end of May. At the time, it really resonated with some things I was going through personally,  and I set it aside to copy quotes into my journal. The drawings are beautiful and the message was powerful,  but I did not realize just how powerful until I finally picked it up again today. After a month and half of continued mindfulness meditation practice and continued learning on the topic, I returned to the book with new eyes. It is so much more than a children's picture book, but rather a treatise on living for people of any age.

In "Peace," Wendy Anderson Halperin depicts the impact that human beings have on one another in an emotionally moving and artistically creative way. She uses over 80 quotes from a wide range of visionaries including Maya Angelou, William Faulkner, Desmond Tutu, Mother Theresa, Martin Luther King Jr., Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Confucius and many more. The notion that peace begins within and gradually grows to impact the world on a global level, is illustrated page by page with narrative that ascends and descends to ultimately portray the circular nature of interdependence.

I highly recommend you check it out. In the meantime, I will enjoy it as long as I can before someone else catches on to its magnificence and I need to return it to the library. When that happens, I'll definitely be acquiring my own copy. Thanks, Wendy Anderson Halperin.

*************

As an aside, when I opened up my email this morning, I learned that yesterday was Deepak Chopra's 2nd Annual Global Meditation for Compassion.  The idea of meditating for peace together with a community across the world feels powerful beyond words to me, and I'm a little sad that I missed it (although I had a wonderful day visiting with family, which I realize is an aspect of building peace in its own right). This may sound silly to those who haven't yet experienced what a few mindful minutes a day can do for one's own life. If that's the case, forget the global idea, but try it yourself... What's the gamble in carving out a few minutes each day to sit and do nothing, when the payout could be a more peaceful, enjoyable and dare I say more productive life? I hope you do...

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

A Still Quiet Place

I am really excited! I got the call from my neighborhood library last night that my inter-library loan arrived. Amy Saltzman, MD is a holistic physician who began using mindfulness with children when her three year old asked to meditate with her.  There are quite a few videos uploaded on YouTube, and several of them, including Finding Stillness and Still Quiet Place at Mind & Its Potential 2012, especially resonated with me. In the first video, Dr. Saltzman sits in a circle with elementary school students and after a group guided meditation they share out. I loved listening to the students sincere descriptions of how mindfulness affects their actions.  Not surprisingly, struggle with siblings is a common topic and the children report that mindfulness helps them change their actions. It was after watching these videos that I first got that feeling of, "Wow- I need to do this." What a privilege to be able to give more kids the opportunity to feel in control of their emotions.

The book is called, A Still Quiet Place: A Mindfulness Program for Teaching Children and Adolescents to Ease Stress and Difficult Emotions. Dr. Amy, as she is referred to in the videos, simplifies the definition of mindfulness: "paying attention to the present moment with kindness and curiosity."  The book contains an eight-week program for parents and professionals to teach mindfulness practice to young children through those in their teenage years. I've read that she includes many great ideas for adapting her activities for children in each developmental stage.

I'm anxious (I mean calm and peaceful!) to jump into reading and will report back soon. If you're intrigued, check out her guided meditation CDs available to listen to instantly with Prime in the Amazon Music App. On the CD, Still Quiet Place: Mindfulness for Young Children, track 13 is an adult intro that I highly recommend. She gives a great overview of mindfulness, it's benefits and practical application, and how to get started yourself.  Listen and share with someone else!


Sunday, June 21, 2015

Beginner's Mind & The Early Years

In meditation there is a common phrase: Beginner's Mind. All things are possible with Beginner's Mind. Optimism and Excitement encourage us to dance like no one is watching. Rules and Guidelines haven't yet boxed us in or tied us down. We are free and open to new experiences, and it feels great. Making an effort to maintain this point of view can be challenging as we accumulate knowledge and skills. I am happy to say that I have a Beginner's Mind in my approach to Mindfulness with Children, and I plan to do my best to maintain.*

Children in early childhood are in their Beginner's Mind years of life.  Everything is fresh and interesting. Limits really are invisible to these little people. Think about a child set free to play- until adults impart boundaries and limits, kids will climb higher than they ever have before- every time! Just as adults can drift out of Beginner's Mind as they slowly become experts on a topic, children gradually leave the Beginner's Mind years as they progress through school and learn the rules of society.  School-age children can and do benefit immensely from training in mindfulness, but those in their early years have the added benefit of automatic Beginner's Mind, not just for mindfulness meditation, but for Life.

Our youngest children are ready for mindfulness, but it seems to me that they don't often discover it on their own. The ideal way for a young learner to first experience mindfulness would be to observe someone she knows, practice in her presence over time. She could then spontaneously play "meditation" as she interprets it, ask questions and develop deeper understanding at her own pace.  If you already have a meditation practice, by all means invite your little one to sit with you.  He probably won't have your stamina, but then again neither did you when you first began.  As you mindfully wash the dishes, or eat an orange as part of practice,  include your child by speaking your thoughts out loud. Ask for his input- "What does your orange smell like? How does the peel feel on your skin? What do you see as you gaze at your treat? What do you notice as we pull the segments apart?" 

As parents, caregivers and educators, we can provide these invaluable mindfulness tools to our kids from the very start as they navigate the world. If you don't already have a practice there are an abundance of resources available for free online or at your local library.  Enrollment in a Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction workshop is a wonderful  option that will change the way you view life in just eight weeks.  These workshops generally have a fee attached, but participation will lay a priceless foundation for sharing skills with all the children in your life. 

The benefits of mindfulness include increased focus and concentration, impulse control, emotional regulation, management of stress and anxiety, and more.  With early exposure and mindfulness skill building, children are able to embark on each stage of life better equipped to deal with the inevitable challenges that will arise.  I can't sum up the larger societal benefit any more clearly than Dr. Dan Siegel, author of The Whole Brain Child, in this clip, Discussing the Science of Mindfulness:

"Mindfulness is really a lifelong skill that can change the individual's life for the better- [change] relationships that that child has in his or her life... and in that way, one relationship at a time, improve the world."

I am encouraged by the possibilities of bringing mindfulness to more children in their early years. There are workshops available in select cities and many teachers are taking it upon themselves to bring mindfulness practice into their classrooms. As an early childhood professional who sees great value here, I strive to learn as much as possible. I will bring what I learn to you, first here on this website, and eventually through more hands-on options. Please feel free to comment or email with questions. I have only touched on what mindfulness is, so peruse the links and resources in the sidebar and ask away. I'd love to help you get started or deepen your practice of mindfulness with young children.

*A great take on living with Beginner's Mind, by zen habits: How to Live Life to the Max with Beginner's Mind

Sunday, May 24, 2015

The Difference a Weekend Can Make

May 24, 2015

This weekend I have pretty much lived in my neighborhood park. The freshly cut grass,  the tall trees and the community of people surrounded by mild temperatures and a gentle breeze- a true oasis in the city! I feel as happy sitting here in the grass as I would sitting on a beach somewhere far away.  Maybe its purely the the effects of nature or perhaps the meditation and all the reading that make me feel so hopeful and content.  I've spent the last two days absorbed in a book lent to me by an amazing woman in my life. Its title is Voluntary Simplicity by author Duane Elgin. The book was first published in 1981, and was revised for the second time in 2010. Its themes are more relevant than ever and speak to me exactly where I am these days. The idea that we have the ability to choose to live a more simple,  less materialistic life... The possibility that it could just make some of us feel happier than a life filled with busyness & material possessions... especially since so many of the  quotes from people who answered a survey on living a simple life back in the 70s, seem like they could have been written today... if nothing else, this book makes me feel like I'm not alone in my right-now desire to live on the simple side- no car, low-stress 9-5, second hand clothes, real food, less chemicals.... its nice to feel part of a community.