From Zoo to Zen

June 01, 2016

As schools put more pressure on young students to read and write at earlier ages, children are acting out. In turn, parents are seeking a transition from zoo to zen. The preschool years are now cutting back on the playtime necessary to develop the sensory and motor skills needed prior to instructing skills like handwriting. In addition the increase in use of technology is changing culture and creating norms that are deterring adequate social skills needed for engaging human interaction and motor skills needed for fine motor and daily living tasks.

This is having psychosocial consequences on children leading to a generation of children that do not enjoy learning nor have adequate attention spans to absorb what they are learning. Children are fighting a battle to maintain a lifestyle of learning through play. Their brains can be compared to a zoo full of monkeys swinging from one idea to the next without the mindfulness skills needed to rest the mind.

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The Practice of Mindfulness

With each passing day, the practice of mindfulness is finding its way into daily conversation and advice columns. It seems like everyone from comics to corporate CEOs are finding ways to zone in on Zen practices. They help to clear the mind, escape technology addictions, and find new ways to connect with humans. The idea of mindfulness, the state of being aware of the present moment, may sound sophisticated, but research now suggests it should make its way into classroom curriculum.  In fact, actress Goldie Hawn is the founder of a mindfulness classroom curriculum called MindUPTM. Its proven benefits include increased optimism and self-concept, improved academic achievement, increased planning and organizational skills, and increased empathy and other pro-social skills.

Mindfulness Activities

Here are some simple mindfulness activities that I practice with children to foster these skills at an early age.

Body Awareness- Practice squeezing individual body parts upon request while lying on floor face up with eyes closed. Recall which body parts were squeezed at the end of the exercise.

Breathing Bundy- Practice breathing while lying down with a stuffed animal resting on the tummy. Watch the animal rise and fall with each inhale and exhale.

Blind Touch- Practice holding and feeling an unknown object with eye closed. Determine its qualities through the use of the sense of touch.

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I hope you find these tips helpful. If you child has difficulty focusing despite practicing mindfulness activities, consider consulting with an occupational therapist for additional strategies. To learn more about MindUPTM and its research findings, check out The Hawn Foundation.org.

Amy Baez, MOT, OTR/L

Amy Baez is a pediatric occupational therapist, award-winning handwriting author, and Founder of Playapy. For more information about Playapy services and products, visit www.playapy.com or email info@playapy.com.

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