School News

Mindfulness and Movement at FSS

Jenn Falk, Yoga Instructor
What do you think it means to be mindful? What do you think yoga is? Can you pay attention to how you breathe for the count of 10 seconds? Which pose helps you feel calm?
These are some of the questions and themes I have spent time sharing with kids this year at FSS. As a cohort buddy and yoga specialist (as well as parent to 1st and 4th graders), scheduling has had me working mostly with the 3rd and 4th grade cohorts during in-person weeks. Many of these 8-10 year olds have already been exposed to yoga and mindfulness in various ways and can understand the basic concepts of awareness, attention, physical postures, and so on. My challenge has been to put it all into practice with them while navigating the various obstacles that each in-person week might bring. 

It has been almost a whole year since we have all had to change our daily routines due to the coronavirus. We have felt the effects from the stress of it all on our bodies and our brains. I think we have also seen in varying ways how all of this has affected the kids as well. The amazing teachers and staff here at FSS have worked so hard to address the social-emotional health of the kids, and to also provide consistent and safe ways for them to move their bodies through all of the changes. Thank goodness for the outdoor setups we have had available to us and for the collaborative efforts to keep the kids connected and moving. Though there are struggles, there is a tremendous amount to be grateful for in this school community moment. All of the work put in to keep the kids moving their bodies and getting outside while at school brings the reward of how the kids are the ones who end up teaching us and reflecting back to us what it means to be mindful. They remind us how to focus on the present moment and how that focus or lack thereof can influence our behaviors. I have been witness to this throughout this school year in such simple, yet beautiful ways.
Every cohort has a different feel to it and their own ways of operating as a group. They each have their own understandings and schedules, not to mention all the varying personalities of each child. So my role has been to spend time observing them, staying open to the routine of their cohort, and then presenting some tools accordingly. Weather has also played a large role in this. The start of the school year made it easy to lay out mats or towels in the big play yard under a tent, or up at Rafferty park, or over at Neville field at Fresh Pond. Eric's 4th grade cohort took part in the first yoga/mindfulness sessions of the school year. We had to get used to so much change (wearing masks, distancing, not knowing what to expect) that these early sessions together were mostly for taking time to see if we could shift through the initial feelings of it all by exploring ways to move the body and breath, and also find some fun. They were up for it and when I tried too hard, it was always apparent. 
When I transitioned cohorts, we continued to have varying factors that required curiosity, creativity and spontaneous mindfulness in action. The seasons were changing, so the 2nd cohort I worked with had many mindful Autumn walks over to the Fresh Pond areas, taking in the changing treescapes, colors, and weather patterns. This was also during the election, when the bound energy was palpable in everyone around. So the focus had to involve more playfulness and  collaborative problem-solving. We explored active yoga shapes testing out balance and going upside down to shift perspectives in the body. Those little moments of noticing what could bring more joy in the moment ended up being just right. 
Then came the Fall holidays, which meant broken up moments in the schedule, more pivoting with the weather and the pandemic, and yes, more anxiety. But each cohort always came ready to try and shift. Even after initial grumblings in regards to specific yoga poses, or in sticking it out in slightly wet weather, they always did try. Our kids typically just want the chance to move around and to be together in ways that are supportive. Any way I could tap into that with them felt like months of joy coming through rather than just minutes. 
The current 4th graders I am with remain open-minded to discover some of this in full on Winter weather! It means we have to stay truly willing to experiment with different ways of being connected to how we move our bodies while all bundled up in cold weather and snow. So now the practices with them have me asking, "How does the cold air feel on the face? Can we walk quietly to take in the snowflakes as they come down? Can you balance with one boot nestled into the snow and your arms up in the air? What do you notice?" We are even taking some of what they are currently learning in their science themes on structures to relate it to the structure of their bodies. 
It has all been a welcome challenge, and one large experiment in seeking out the joy in learning and in being present together. I know all of the teachers are experiencing this, and it is a reminder of what yoga has taught me time and time again. It is a practice steeped in paying attention. Yoga can involve various methods to make shapes and move the body in an effort to understand our human connection to impermanence, uncertainty, growth, and change. Yet we so often overthink it all and strive for perfection, or what society thinks yoga is. How often do we do that with most things and put so much pressure on ourselves as parents,  teachers, or as humans?! 
So when a whole cohort of 9 year olds can lay down for 3 full minutes of quiet rest, or when kids share emotions with me at lunch time, or when they push me to check in with why I feel so frustrated when a lesson might not be all brings me back to my own body and breath. I am grateful again, and I am here. Kids have the ability to bring us back to what matters, and to remember how beautiful and simple it can be to practice moving our bodies in new ways, in the moment, living one day at a time. I look forward to how the rest of the school year will continue to push us forward in this work together.
Fayerweather Street School | 765 Concord Avenue, Cambridge, MA 02138 | 617-876-4746
Fayerweather is a private PreK, kindergarten, elementary and middle school. We engage each child’s intellect.