School has been in session for a few months now, and students are busily working on their studies. Teachers have dug into the content of their curriculum for the year, and everyone has had time to adjust to the new routine. As a former teacher, curriculum was an integral part of my day; and working with students with special needs could be very challenging, especially when trying to pull from so many different pieces of curriculum. I did my best to look at each child’s unique needs, and best match their capabilities with the curriculum options I had available; however, I still found myself struggling with what I had. My students needed extra practice and a slower pace, which most curricula today do not allow. I also wanted to see my students learning to think and process information instead of learning static skills.
While pondering this issue about mindfulness and curricula, I found myself creating opportunities during the day for thinking and problem solving. I continued to use modified forms of curriculum with my students in order to meet their academic goals; but, I found that providing my students with opportunities to think and do problem solving made a tremendous impact in all aspects of their education and livelihood. Here are a few suggestions for adding moments of “mindfulness” to your day with students.
Allow your students to get the materials they need instead of doing it for them. For many teachers, it is easier to get the materials that we need before inviting our students to join us. However, asking our students to get the materials themselves gets them thinking ahead to what it is that you will be doing, and to prepare for the activity themselves. This allows for a great deal of thinking on the student’s part, which is very important. You are not only teaching them how to think but also how to plan, which is a necessary life skill that every child should have.
Include a “Surprise Bag” in your daily routines. I have used a “Surprise Bag” for many years now, and all of my students have enjoyed it. When undertaking this activity, you need to have a fabric bag that closes and that cannot be seen through. Each day, pick a student to help you put into the surprise bag something that no one else knows about. They can pick an item from the classroom, or take the bag home and put an item into it. Have the child stand up with you and share three clues about what is inside. You can also pass the bag around and let your students feel the item without looking into the bag. Once the clues have been shared or everyone has felt the bag, you can allow your other students to guess what is inside. This activity is a lot of fun for everyone, and fosters great cognitive thinking and problem solving skills.
Make mistakes intentionally in front of your students, and have them correct you. It is important for children to see adults in their lives making mistakes, and even more important to discover how adults handle mistakes. As you are teaching, feel free to make simple mistakes that you know your students will catch. When looking at the number 3, for example, you could refer to it as “the number 5” and then wait for a response. When your students correct you, it will be important for you to model how to handle the mistake. For example, you could respond by saying, “Thank you, John, for correcting me. I made a mistake, but that is okay. I am so glad I have a friend like you to help me.”
By providing my students with more opportunities to be mindful and do problem solving on their own, I saw a dramatic change in their academic skills as well as in their functional skills. It is very exciting to see children begin to think and problem solve on their own. The possibilities are endless!