The Size of the Problem

William F. Davidson Elementary School Mental Health & Well-being SD036 School Level Elementary Fraser Health Authority Public

After the 1st term, I met with my students and their parents to set new goals for the rest of the year. Many of my students, and their parents alike, expressed a desire to improve their listening or their ability to focus and ignore distractions, leaving me to figure out the best method to help them achieve these goals. I introduced the ‘Zones of Regulation’- a systematic, cognitive behaviour approach used to teach self-regulation. My class as a whole is extremely distracted and has a lot of difficulty focusing on the task at hand. I also noticed that our typical activity breaks intended to rejuvenate and get the students ready to focus again, often left them so full of energy that they could not focus at all. I looked to create an opportunity for my students to have access to professional yoga lessons as another way for them to practice mindfulness and improve their ability to focus and ignore distractions, while also teaching them that there is a mind-body connection and that having a healthy mind and a healthy body are equally as important.

As the project got underway, we reviewed our previous work on the Zones of Regulation and continued with a few extra lessons on Size of the Problem. This language really helped to diffuse smaller problems within the classroom as I could ask them “How big is this problem? How big should your reaction be?” I brought dominos into the class so we could practice “belly breathing” almost every day, although I found there was more success if we exercised this practice right after recess. We made privacy shields for each student to use at their desk if they wished, and learned the difference between an outside of the brain distractor and an inside the brain distractor. Thanks to the HSN Grant, we also received 4 hour long yoga lessons. The first yoga day was so noisy! The kids couldn’t stop talking! Everyone wanted to show their friends what they were doing and say “owwww” and just talk, talk, talk. We had to talk a lot about focusing on your own body and that this is not a group activity to be discussed with your classmates. The first day, they were falling over, 8 kids ended up just rolling around on their mats and not listening to the instructor at all. I was bouncing all over the place trying to manage their behaviour. It was kind of embarrassing. I hoped the yoga instructor would come back because I thought she might just say, “There is nothing I can do for your class!” But things got progressively better each week. By the last lesson, it was relatively quiet. We had 3 or 4 students who continued to talk through the yoga lessons no matter how many times they were reminded. Students were willing to try harder things and not just give up part way through. Only 1 student ended up rolling around on his mat instead of doing yoga. Generally, they really enjoyed our lessons: some student comments were:

“I am learning about distractors that can annoy you and you can’t focus on your work. We are doing are yoga because we are learning how to calm ourselves down and do the right thing”

“I’m learning how to be mindful. Mindful means to just think of one thing and not focus on something else.”

“When you are distracted, you are not doing what you are supposed to be doing and you will not learn.”

By the end, I know that the students were very fond of Monica, the yoga instructor. They wanted to make her gifts and cards to say thank you for the yoga lessons. People talk to us about yoga now because we have the mats outside our classroom. It is a source of pride for our class, and an instant connection with other people (adults mostly) who comment on the yoga mats. I will definitely say that this is something that my students would benefit from on a consistent level! It would make a big difference to their focus, their perseverance and their willingness to try. I initially thought that an hour of yoga would be way too long, but it wasn’t- it turned out to be amazing! The other teachers in the school are very excited that there is a class set of yoga mats- we are discussing the best place to store them and clean them so that all teachers can utilize them. We are very grateful to Healthy Schools BC for this amazing opportunity and we hope to expand on it next school year!