At Ross School, mindfulness is more than just a Core Value; it’s part of a daily life skills program that helps children and young adults in Early Childhood through grade 12 experience their day with a clear, focused perspective. Specific exercises and activities are developed to create an environment where students can be relaxed and at their best at any given moment.
The school’s approach integrates Eastern and Western forms of sports, exercise, and contemplative practices to support students in the development and strengthening of mind, body, and spirit. Junellen Tiska, director of curriculum and professional development at Ross Lower School, says students ultimately learn how to “self-regulate” behavior and attitude to take control of how they experience life.
Mindfulness is especially important at the start of the school day as both teachers and children bring various issues and concerns with them to school. Many classes begin the day with yoga and breathing exercises, while others make a symbolic transition, such as changing into their slippers when they enter the learning environment at the Upper School, or as in second grade, picking up a painted rock inscribed with a word of personal meaning as they enter the classroom.
The exercises become a welcome routine for the students and help them transition throughout the day. With guidance from their teachers and Wellness instructors, students create a familiar and personal mental space to go to when they are feeling anxious or upset.
“We integrate Wellness throughout the Ross curriculum to foster skills, attitudes, and strategies that empower students to make intelligent life choices as they mature,” Junellen explained.
The physical environment at both the Upper and Lower Schools also plays a role in mindfulness at Ross. Classes often gather outdoors to connect to nature and awaken their senses. In most cases, students lead exercises, and extended members of the community are welcome to join in.
“As I approached the parking lot of the Lower School early one morning, I came across the beautiful sight of students practicing tai chi on the soccer field together. It was a wonderful start to the day,” recalled second grade teacher Shannon. In her classroom, she has designated a specific “peace place” that the children immediately connect to mindfulness, using the area to reorient themselves to their current environment after lunch or assemblies.
To introduce mindfulness to the students at an early age, instructors will often make connections to the students’ current studies. For example, Early Childhood classes learning about sea life may visualize a soft ocean current and map their breathing and physical movement to the relaxed pace. “Not every sneaker fits every child, and mindfulness and contemplative practices help them discover their identity in ways that work just right for them,” said Junellen. “Getting to know yourself and your unique connection to the world is a beautiful part of the experience.”
In the new school year, Ross teachers plan to expand opportunities to participate in mindfulness activities at both the Upper and Lower Schools so that students, family, and staff can extend their practice off campus.