Using Meditation with Small Children       Spring 1999

On March 9, Madeline Ko-i Bastis visited a Long Island Kindergarten Class






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During my years as a chaplain I have taught meditation to many different kinds of people and I thought I had covered the gamut. However when a friend requested that I visit her sonís kindergarten class to introduce the children to meditation, my whole approach to teaching meditation and inspiring people to make it a part of their daily lives had to be reevaluated.
      Anyone who has been around small children knows that their energy is boundless and it is difficult for them to stay still. That, coupled with their short attention span, challenged me to find new ways to present meditation.
     When I asked what they thought meditation was, some knew that it was supposed to make you relaxed and calm. I agreed that this was so, but that meditation didnít mean getting sleepy; it meant being wide awake and alert. I asked how many had seen a deer in the woods (we have a surfeit of deer on Long Island). Again much hand-raising and chatter about the deer sightings.
     "Have you noticed how a deer stands perfectly still, like a statue, but as soon as it hears a noise its ears perk up and itís wide awake? Is the deer sleeping?"
     "No, no," the children responded.
     "Thatís what weíll be doing - weíll be perfectly quiet but still wide awake paying attention."
     We began with mindfulness of breathing. Each child was asked to take a couple of deep breaths and to notice where they felt the breath in their body most strongly - the air touching their nostrils, their chest rising and falling, their abdomen rising and falling. This produced much exaggerated breathing and a lot of hands were raised to tell me where they felt the breath the most. For many, it was the air coming in and out of the nose.
     "How many of you have kitty cats?"
     Many raised hands.
     "Have you noticed how your cat will sit very still for a long time watching a mouse hole and when the mouse comes out, it pounces?" Nodding and a story about a new cat.
     "Weíre going to watch our breath going in and out, just like the cat watches a mouse hole.
     I had adapted some of Thich Nhat Hanhís guided meditations from "The Blooming of a Lotus" to relax patients in the emergency room and also with emotionally disadvantaged adults. This was the meditation I decided to use.
     The children were already sitting on the floor, most indian style. I asked them to close their eyes if they wanted to and began.
     The period would only be four or five minutes long. I rang the tingshas (Tibetan bells) three times. Then I guided:

Breathing in I know I am breathing in
Breathing out I know I am breathing out.

When Iím silent I want you to watch your breath going in and out very carefully, just like the cat watches the mousehole. (silence for 5 breaths)

Breathing in my breath grows deep.
Breathing out my breath grows slow.
Slow. (silence for 5 breaths)

Breathing in I feel calm.
Breathing out I feel relaxed.
Relaxed. (silence for 5 breaths)

Breathing in Iím aware of the present moment.
Breathing out I know itís a perfect moment.
Present moment.
Perfect moment. (silence for 2 breaths)

When I ring the bells, I want you to sit and listen to the sound until you canít hear it anymore.

(Ring bells twice.)

When youíre ready you can open your eyes

     "How did that make you feel?"
     "I felt peaceful." "Relaxed."
     "Did anyone fall asleep?", I asked. A couple of kids nodded.
     "When you feel sleepy, just open your eyes."

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"Letís try some walking meditation. Everybody stand up and stretch and stand in a line. Imagine that youíve been in a spaceship and traveled far, far away. Youíve been away from the earth for a long, long time. Then your spaceship lands and you put your foot on the earth for the fist time. Imagine that each step you take is just as special as that first step. Move very carefully and slowly, paying attention to each step."
     The children followed me in a line and we wended our way around the small tables in the classroom like a centipede.
     The bells were a great hit with the kids and everyone had a chance to ring them.
     We did a second session and by this time the kids seemed to really get it. There was a different feeling in the room and I reminded them that whenever they felt scared, or nervous or angry to take a couple of deep breaths.
      The mother who had invited me to the class thought a brief meditation each day could be helpful - sort of a gentle time out, and she decided to buy some bells for the class. The next day she saw her son Kevin sitting in his room mimicking my meditation posture


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