The First Chapter - Lower School
Welcome to The First Chapter by Silvia Davis, Head of Lower School, a blog featuring wonderful stories about our youngest students.
Mrs. Davis will be posting here regularly. Please be sure to scroll down to read more and check back frequently for updates.
Recent brain research shows that doing nothing can, in fact, provide us the space to be the most productive. In this age of technological overload, we often forget what being still is like. In my career, I have had a few opportunities to step away from the hustle and bustle of life to unplug, and have found the rewards to be invaluable.
Writer Anne Lamott took the opportunity of her 61st birthday to write down all she felt she has learned thus far in her time on Earth. The author of books such as Small Victories: Spotting Improbable Moments of Grace and Imperfect Birds, is known as “The People’s Author” and wrote on a Facebook post and a subsequent TED Talk about 14 truths, or things she has come to know in 61 years. The second truth, I often come back to myself, time and time again: “Almost everything will work again if you unplug it, including you.”
Quiet time, mindfulness and rest are our best analytical tools. Functional MRIs and constantly evolving research says this time and time again, yet for whatever reason, we always forget, and try to cram in as much as possible. Multitasking is shown to be ineffective, and “pushing through” almost never results in high-quality work. Yet, we still multitask and we still burn the midnight oil, in efforts to get more done.
A 2015 article in Psychology Today was titled, Give Your Mind a Rest: Practice Not-Thinking: Mindfully quieting your discursive thinking is restful, calming, and restorative. Discursive thinking is the type of thinking that is often described as our minds racing. We think about one thing, which leads to another thing, which leads to another thing. This is also why we begin to complete one task, and suddenly, we find ourselves working on something else. Ayya Khema, 1923-1997, a Buddhist teacher, said:
“If we didn’t give the body as rest at night, it wouldn’t function very long. The only time the mind can have a real rest is when it stops thinking and only experiences. Once verbalization stops for a moment, not only is there quiet but there is a feeling of contentment. That quiet, peaceful space is the mind’s home. It can go home and relax just as we do after a day’s work when we relax the body in an easy chair.”
This is hard for us to do as adults, for sure, yet I feel that if we teach and train children to do this “work” they will become as facile with it as they do other learned skills.
It is possible that the environment in which one spends their time is a contributing factor to their ability to have productive thought as well. I, myself, have had experiences where I have been able to not only unplug, but to do so in nature. Aside from the restorative benefits of nature itself, which countless studies confirm, one is certainly able to unplug when there is no plug, both metaphorically and literally.
For centuries, people have practiced meditation. As scientists observe those who do practice, they find that downtime actually strengthens the muscle of attention. A common misconception of meditation, or mindfulness as it is often now known, is that one is just sitting there zoning out. The complete opposite is true. When following a practice of guided meditation, the instructor walks the student through quieting the mind, quieting the body, and breathing exercises. Additionally, the practice guides its students through maintaining sustained focus on one’s thoughts, emotions and sensations in the present moment: a be here now, if you will. All of this takes a good amount of practice.
The Responsive Classroom Approach values the practice of Quiet Time. When we consider the energy and freneticism that comes in a school day for students and teachers alike, we forget to consider the length of time that students are required to “be on.” Recess is incredibly valuable for allowing students the time to blow off steam, but we fail to consider the time they need to just be. The practice of Quiet Time offers students the opportunity to transition from the lunchroom and playground in an intentional way to prepare their minds for an afternoon of learning. In just 10-15 minutes per day, students can take that physical, mental and emotional deep breath. This allows them to be more engaged in their academics in the second part of the day. In addition, this might also provide the space for their minds to actually think more clearly. In many of our classrooms in the Lower School, our teachers walk students through mindfulness activities, providing children with instruction in a hugely important skill for analytical thinking: not thinking.
In a sense, checking out allows us to be more checked in. I often think about the humor in the fact that whenever I have a problem with my cable box or internet, I call the company. The first thing they have me do is unplug it, count to 20 and plug it back in, to reset the system. It seems, Anne Lamott’s words ring true, if we want to work again, we need to unplug for a few minutes.
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