Mindful Awareness Practices (MAPs) - Action for Healthy Kids
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Mindful Awareness Practices (MAPs)

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Mindful awareness practices (also referred to as MAPs) are “exercises that promote a state of heightened and receptive attention to moment-by-moment experiences” (MARC). This simply means focusing on being fully present in the given moment while working to identify and be aware of our own feelings, sensations, and emotions.

Through these practices, children (and adults) learn how to reflect on what is happening within the context of:

  • their own bodies (self-awareness)
  • in the environment that surrounds them (social awareness, relationship skills)
  • and inform how they react or interact with others or alone in various situations (self-management, responsible decision making).

The practice of mindfulness dates back thousands of years – either on its own or as a part of a larger tradition. Emerging research shows that the practice of mindfulness can help both children and adults manage and prevent prolonged stress, respond to anxiety, and respond to an array of emotions to make constructive choices about personal behavior and evaluate the benefits and consequences of various actions for personal, social, and collective well-being.

The best part about mindful awareness practices? It costs nothing and the tools we need to practice are right there with us. Mindfulness and social-emotional learning go hand in hand. By starting from within and leveraging our own unique skills, strengths, and experiences, we can begin to build upon those social-emotional learning skills and craft lifelong, healthy habits.

Implementation Best Practices

Whether at home or in the classroom, the practice of mindfulness will look different for everyone – but there are a few best practices you can lean on to help you along the way.

Create a culture of mindfulness. Don’t impose mindfulness onto others – let others embrace it on their own. Work towards long-lasting change through collaboration, a clear vision, and thoughtful leadership

  • Make it a commitment. There is power in community. Explore small actions you can take to integrate mindfulness into your day-to-day. Start small and set goals as a school, class, or family to go bigger. Create space to reflect and track on your progress, the impact it’s having, and where to go from there.
  • Begin with you. Foundational to creating a culture of mindfulness is starting with ourselves. Whether a school administrator, bus driver, educator, parent, or caregiver – we all serve as the most influential role models for our children and students. Creating space to openly talk about feelings and practice mindfulness for ourselves allows us to model healthy habits and create an inviting and welcoming environment where children feel empowered to do the same.
  • Think outside the box. From mindful movement to mindfulness while brushing our teeth – mindfulness practices can be an activity of their own or they can be integrated into things you already have on the schedule. Practice mindful eating during mealtimes or turn a walk from one classroom to the next into a mindful one by inviting children to tap into their five senses. Think outside the box and integrate mindfulness into all parts of the day.

Strengthen family-school partnerships. No one can do it alone, so leverage one another and work together to implement new initiatives, discover new ideas or create space to connect and practice together.

  • Share information. Communication is key and not everyone knows about or fully understands what the practice of mindfulness is. Learn from one another. Share information around what mindfulness is, why it’s important and how it supports social-emotional learning, and strategies you find helpful when teaching or practicing it at school or at home.
  • Seek input. We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again – you don’t have to do it alone! Not sure where to start or where to go next? Seek input. Parents and caregivers – talk with your child’s teacher about ways you can continue activities practiced in the classroom at home. Teachers and school staff – talk with parents and caregivers about what their children might respond best to. Look to others in the community and elevate student voice when brainstorming new initiatives or activities.
  • Create opportunities to engage.

Honor the individual experience. How we learn, feel and process emotions, and communicate is unique to us – including the ways in which we use these tools.

  • Encourage flexibility. The practice of mindfulness doesn’t have to follow a particular script or look a certain way. In fact – we can make it whatever we want! Be flexible with activities and encourage flexibility. Maybe an exercise ends up going in a different direction or lands for children (or yourself) with a different meaning. That’s okay. Go with it. Explore it. Give yourself space to explore thoughts, feeling,s and emotions however they show up.
  • Offer modifications and supporting resources. Mindfulness practices can be enhanced with manipulatives, sensory materials, and more. Offering alternatives and options provide autonomy in choosing what feels right for an individual. Invite children to move or stand if a seated practice is bothersome and/or share or demonstrate a few ways of doing an activity. Invite children to trace a shape in the palm of their hands or offer manipulatives like fidget toys and sensory bags to help support focus.
    • Note: Be mindful of sensory-related materials that are used in a group practice. While essential oils and sound machines can create a calming atmosphere, individual traumas of others that we may not be aware of may cause certain smells or sounds to be activating and/or retraumatizing.
      • If choosing to use essential oils, invite children to create a smell profile. Use strips of cardstock to let them test each of the oils you plan to use and note what they like or dislike.
      • If choosing to use sound machines, avoid using sounds that can be jolting (e.g., loud bells, alarms) and instead use natural sounds (e.g., rain, wind, snow, etc.).
  • Empower independence. We often practice mindfulness as stilling the mind and stilling the body. While by definition this is true, it’s important to consider the neurodiversity of children (and adults) and honor the individual experience. For some, stillness can be activating instead of calming – so even when practicing collectively, we still want to empower independent choice. Utilize modifications, change body position, or add sensory resources to support the practice of these exercises in a way that feels the best to the individual.

Ideas for Getting Started

Check out some of Action for Healthy Kids’ resources to help you get started!

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