Book review: Mindfulness in the early years
Book author: Erica Douglas-Osborn
What is mindfulness?
“Mindfulness is awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally” (Kabat-Zinn, 1990). In simple terms it refers to the ability to pay attention to what is happening, right now.
This is something that humans are not always very good at. Humans are quite good at overthinking, ruminating and worrying about the future. We have a natural negativity bias that leads us to notice potential threats and dangers in the environment and focus on those. This was a very useful skill to have when humans lived in caves and frequently encountered life threatening dangers (and indeed it is still useful for us to notice threats) however in today’s modern world too much focus on the potential threats around us can lead to missing what is happening in the here and now.
Mindfulness has been the talk of schools, healthcare settings and even the government for many years and it does have a growing evidence base for its effectiveness in helping people experience better wellbeing and lower rates of stress. With children, there is now a small number of evidence based and effective courses that can be delivered and an increase in research that appears to show that generally, mindfulness can be used to help children develop skills to combat stress.
As an Educational Psychologist and a mindfulness teacher, I feel very strongly that mindfulness can benefit children and adults if delivered effectively. Neurologically speaking, the earlier that children are introduced to a topic and the more practice that they have, the better they will be and mindfulness is no exception to this. Despite this, there is limited research and information about using mindfulness within the Early Years and with the exception of a few books aimed at parents and Goldie Hawn’s MindUp curriculum, the materials available for very young children are sparse. In fact other than the resources named I know of just one other course that has been designed specifically for this age group.
This book is designed to introduce Early Years practitioners to mindfulness and provide them with practical tasks that they can share with the children in their setting. It is an attractive resource with mindfulness practices and pictures that will appeal to young children. Perhaps one of the most appealing features for education staff is that the layout is simple to understand so they do not need to spend lots of time sifting through to find what they are searching for.
The book is divided into sections that explore different areas of mindfulness including:
- teaching about the breath
- mindful movement
- mindful eating
- and mindful walking.
There are additional activities such as guided imagery that can be used with young children and suggestions on how to use mindfulness across the curriculum. Each section begins with an introduction and ends with a summary that explains what the purpose of the section has been and what the aims for the children are. I loved this feature of the book as for staff who have never experienced mindfulness themselves, this helps them to understand why they are doing it and what benefits it may bring.
The scripts in the book are simple and clear; perfect for children under 5 and even for some children who are slightly older. There are teaching notes that the adult can refer to that helps them guide the practice as well as how to differentiate if needed. The book is a complete resource and includes recorded meditations (on a cd or through a web link) and picture cards that can be copied for use within the setting.
Breathing and guided imagery
The first section is all about introducing children to their breath. It can be difficult for young children to notice their breathing, which is an integral part of any mindfulness course that they may embark upon when they are older. The activities that are designed to help children recognise that they are breathing are simple, easy to follow and fun and are a perfect starting point. The subsequent sections go through different activities that are differentiated versions of mindfulness tasks for older children and adults.
Although guided imagery is not pure mindfulness, I do feel that this is appropriate for the age of the children that this book targets. When delivering mindfulness to children who are very young, a lot of work needs to be done to help them start to notice where their attention is and learn that they can have control over it. Guided imagery is a great way to tease out and develop this skill in young children, that will support their ability to engage in mindfulness tasks.
The “Putting it all together” section has some practical recommendations to help staff deliver the activities. I would advise that anyone choosing to use this resource read this section in full before delivering as the author talks from experience and feedback about the most helpful way to structure and teach the activities.
Finally, the recorded meditations at the end of the book are a welcome addition. There is a CD that I was not able to listen to as I do not have a CD player, however there is a web link where the tracks can be accessed. For staff who are less confident or experienced in reading the scripts, or for instances where staff want to observe or join in, these recordings are perfect.
Overall this is a handy and practical resource that would be useful for any Early Years setting or even for parents or carers if they were looking for some mindfulness tasks to try. I would also consider recommending it to some primary or infant schools where the simpler language will be of benefit. For beginners, it offers just the right amount of information to explain what mindfulness is and how to use it while for experienced mindfulness practitioners it gives some new ideas and scripts that can be used.
By introducing children to mindfulness at an early age these activities will start to feel more “normal” to them and if they encounter mindfulness at primary school, secondary school or as an adult the activities that they are taught through this book will have started off their learning. One of the positives about using this resource is that it will be easy to fit it into the busy Early Years day and it is flexible in its delivery.
In addition, many mindfulness programmes for children require the delivering adults to have extensive training and personal experience which limits the availability of these courses to settings. It remains best practice for adults who deliver mindfulness to have their own practise and I would advise that adults delivering these materials take some time to read a little about mindfulness and develop their own practice. I would also advocate for more education staff being trained in the use of mindfulness where possible. However, with this in mind, the last few years and the global pandemic have taught us that we need to be flexible in our approaches to supporting children and young people.
It is not always feasible and practical for staff to embark on long training programmes and so resources such as this book, enable settings to have wider access to mindfulness activities which mean that more children can benefit from this approach.
Mindfulness in the Early Years, from Waterstones