Bija is a holistic early childhood program with a focus on mindfulness, the arts, social justice work, food, and farming. Its founder and director, Lauren Maples, has over 15 years experience teaching children ages 0 - 12 and has trained over 300 New York City teachers to incorporate yoga and mindfulness into the classroom. In addition to her two locations in Brooklyn, Lauren is currently building a school and urban farm in Newburgh, NY. We asked her to share some tips and examples for incorporating mindfulness into early childhood programs.
What are some tips for Natural Start members interested in bringing mindfulness to their programming?
I think it’s very important for educators to teach what they know and what resonates with them. Mindfulness is all about being present and engaged. This can manifest itself in many different ways. If you do not meditate or practice yoga, these should not be the tools to use with your children. Instead, think of what is meaningful and calming for you. It might be playing classical music during transitions, leading children on nature walks, introducing knitting, or sharing some of your favorite recipes. Modeling is key: if you are calm and focused then that energy will be captured by the children in your classroom.
Can you give some examples of how you incorporate mindfulness with your Bija kids?
At Bija, we incorporate mindfulness in many ways. It starts with our morning routine and rituals. Each child begins the day by changing from outside to inside shoes, washing their hands and taking a few minutes to visit our plants and animals. This simple act of slowing down helps them to become present. Throughout the day we use breathing as a tool - particularly during transition times and stressful moments. We have a weekly yoga class and spend a lot of time outside in nature. I find this to be particularly important since our schools are in urban neighborhoods. We look for nature and find it in unexpected places. Finally, our snacks and mealtimes are ritualized with a chant of thanks and a moment to appreciate our food and the plants and animals that provided it for us.
What kinds of changes have you noticed in your children and maybe even the parents?
Mindfulness is a tool to help you become a more capable and peaceful self. I think this impacts people in different ways. For some kids, becoming mindful helps them to express themselves verbally instead of using their hands. Others recognize when they need to take a break from an overwhelming or stressful situation. Practicing mindfulness helps us to appreciate the beautiful parts of the world and our day - tuning into the things that make us happy! I love seeing our kids connecting to the cycles of nature, helping each other, and developing a true sense of empathy towards living things. Ultimately, mindfulness is a very personal experience.
For parents, I think it can be really powerful to see their children start to gain this type of awareness. Like much of what happens at Bija, our students often inspire their parents to grow themselves.
How have parents responded to the program?
I’m thankful that we have a very strong parent community. This comes from our philosophy and values. We have parents who seek us out because of our intentionality in everything from the way we source food (from local farms) to the types of materials we have in our classroom (high quality, simple, and open ended). But ultimately, I think it is the day-to-day experience of Bija that’s meaningful. I’ve had parents say that they are astonished by what their children like to eat and I’ve had parents say they love that their children choose to practice yoga in the mornings. One mother recently shared that she’s incredibly grateful that her daughter has begun to develop a strong desire to feed people in the community and she knows that this awareness and empathy comes in part from the type of education we provide. To me, this is mindfulness, this is presence. This is why we do it.
Can you recommend any resources to educators interested in exploring mindfulness in their classrooms?
When children learn mindfulness, they can access this state of being when life becomes stressful and overwhelming. It's an often-overlooked skill that can keep children balanced and successful for a lifetime. Read More