While the Bell Rings - Mindfulness for Children
Sarah Wood Vallely
A reader of Sensational Meditation for Children and new friend, George Chen, is teaching mindfulness meditation to children at an elementary school in New York City. George arrived his first day with a large standing bell made of glass (or singing bowl as some of us call them) and two smaller standing bells. Pointing to the glass bell, George asked his new students, “Can anyone guess what this is?”
After revealing that the round and smooth object was a “bell,” George asked his students which bell they thought would ring a lower pitch and which one a higher pitch. These types of questions engage his students, especially those in the lower elementary grades.
Then George readied himself to ring the large glass bell. However, first he instructed his students to listen closely since he would next ask them what the ring sounds like after the last vibrations of the bell were heard.
In subsequent classes, George asks his students to listen to the sounds in the room, in the hallway, and outside the building while the bell rings. “Did you hear the buzz of the florescent lights in the room?” George asks afterwards. “Did you hear the helicopter outside?” “How quiet do we have to be to hear these things?”
“Really quiet,” the students respond.
Over time, George’s students learn how to still their bodies and stay alert so that they can better notice the world around them. To help his students develop more mindfulness with their eyes, George instructs his students to choose one object to look at more deeply than usual while the bell rings.
“I saw a fly land on my knee,” one boy shared afterwards. “I could see the veins in the fly’s wings.”
California raisins also make their way into George’s classroom at School 21 in Yonkers. George gives each student a raisin to hold. Then he says, “Put the raisin up to your nose. What does it smell like? Now set the raisin on your tongue. What does the raisin feel like?” When all the students have noticed and communicated details about their raisins’ scent and texture, the students chew the fruit slowly and then talk about its taste.
Sometime later, while he rings the bell, George leads his students to become mindful of their breath as well as their emotions and feelings. After George defines emotions and gives examples, he tells his students to “go inside your own feelings and notice what you feel.” Occasionally, George brings his guitar. After performing, he asks his students how the song made them feel, as another example of practicing mindfulness.
In some instances, George’s students feel a deep moment of stillness. They describe this tranquility as similar to flying or being on a cloud. George does not discount comments such as “boring” in reference to this stillness, because he models non-judgment and knows his students are simply learning to observe. If “boring” is what his students noticed then these students have observed perfectly.
After a few months of instruction, George asks his students to consider another person, such as a parent, while the bell rings. “How do you think this person might be feeling today?” he coaches. This is an example of another level of mindfulness.
Timo Hughes, the school’s principal, wants his students to resolve conflicts through words instead of physical fighting. He believes that if the students become more mindful, they can see more clearly and make better choices. Yonkers School 21 is the first public school to implement a mindfulness program in New York State.
Is the program working? Although Hughes had to jump through many hoops to get the program going, the teachings have certainly been successful. A second grader reports, “Mr. George hits the bell and my fears go away. I think mindfulness can help me to get friends and be nice to them.”
A third grader says, “When I hear the bell, it makes me feel calm and focused.”
To avoid controversy, the school excludes any reference to meditation and solely uses the term mindfulness. Teachers are supportive of the program and incorporate mindfulness-speak in their classrooms. Hughes has overheard students making comments such as “Are you in the present moment?” One student jested, “That was mindlessful!”
“Students await George’s visits with a level of enthusiasm reserved for electronic gadgets,” boasts Hughes.
George Chen has studied Tao, Hindu, and Buddhist traditions as well as Mehra Baba’s discourses. In addition he has studied Southern Praying Mantis Kung Fu, Aikido, and Tai Chi. George has been trained through Mindful Schools of Oakland, California. George is also a professional guitarist and former director at Philips Electronics.Contact George Chen at: firstname.lastname@example.org Visit George's webiste: www.mindfulskills.com