Have you ever felt so stressed that you needed to stop what you were doing and just start breathing in and out? I learned breathing techniques while studying music many years ago. The technique was simple, but required concentration and self-awareness. I had to inhale, bringing the stream of air into my lower abdomen, expanding the rib cage and engaging back muscles that would help me create support for singing (low breathing). I used this breathing technique to center myself before performing on stage, or when I felt the need to focus on an everyday event. However, it never occurred to me to teach this technique to my children, or the children I worked with at the library, until I started reading books on mindfulness.
I see mindfulness as a means to connect people with themselves and their surroundings, developing a closeness with nature and a compassionate heart. But we seem to have lost the human potential to empathize with others because families are becoming too self-focused, while fulfilling busy schedules. Author Kristen Race refers to caregivers who are more concerned with academic curriculum based preschools, instead of searching for developmentally appropriate preschools that emphasize emotional development and social skills.
Therefore, how do we do it as librarians? How do we engage in this intangible learning? Do you believe we should participate in this area that relates to children’s emotional and psychological well-being? Some libraries offer Yoga Storytime, an inviting concept that involves children’s bodies and minds. Our children’s programs are structured with a number of activities to build children’s resilience, empathy and their ability to relax.
For instance, every time I start our Get Ready for School Storytime, I ask children to look outside the window and tell me what they see. If you do not have a window you can set a theme –think about summer- and work with their imaginations. Children will tell me I see trees, clouds, leaves. Or, they can talk about the weather. The idea behind this exercise is to connect children with nature, so they can develop appreciation for the environment.
Relaxation activities are an exceptional ally for your library programs. One activity to boost relaxation requires bean bags or a prop children can place on their stomachs. Here, children lay down placing the bean bags on their stomachs. When you tell them to breath, their bodies will automatically connect with their low breathing and children will see how the bags go up and down when they inhale and exhale respectively. You can always ask them to think about their belly buttons when they are breathing, or have them close their eyes and just listen to their breathing. This is a great activity to start a storytime or to help children calm down after an energetic movement song. Another activity involves having children seated with their hands on their stomachs and inhaling to the count of three, holding their breath for three counts, and then exhaling to the count of three. Breathing techniques enhance children’s concentration and listening skills. Additionally, Collen Patterson’s 2016 picture book “1-2-3 a calmer me” is a good choice for storytime to talk about emotions and techniques we can use to settle down when we are upset.
The mirror activity enhances gratitude and mindfulness. Have children seated in a circle and ask them to share something they are thankful for at home. Your example might be, “I am thankful I had eggs for breakfast this morning,” or “I am thankful for mommy and daddy.” Each child will have a turn with the mirror. In the beach ball exercise and the rhyme, “Ring around the Rosy” children work with their listening skills while having plenty of fun. Ask children to make a circle and be ready to catch the ball when you look at them and throw it right back at you. Repeat this pattern making sure to look at the child before you throw the ball. Children have to be attentive to your eye signal. In “Ring around the Rosy,” children will make a circle and move while singing the nursery rhyme, but they will only fall down when you say, “…and, we all fall down.” Therefore, stop just before you say “…and, we all fall down” and praise good listening when children stay standing at this part of the nursery rhyme.
Resilience is one of the hardest qualities to build. The human capability to keep on going even after suffering many hardships is acquired by enduring many life experiences. I have structured some of my Storytime using books that help children imagine a difficult situation. Caron Levis’s 2016 picture book, “Ida Always” tells the story of two polar bears from the New York Central Park Zoo. When Ida dies, Gus finds a way to cope with his loss and grief. Similarly, the 2015 picture book “Your Alien” by Tammi Sauer, offers children a learning opportunity to empathize with others as the main character has to think about the needs of his alien friend, specially his need to go home.
Finally, I have worked with relaxation techniques and breathing and mindfulness exercises at the library for almost two years. And, every time children place their hands on their stomachs they connect with each other. Some children might take longer to grasp the concept and it might take some time to build the trust needed among caregivers, children and you to engage in mindfulness, but for children, who are consciously breathing in and out, it makes all the difference. So, when you go to bed tonight, place your hands in your stomach, inhale for three counts (focusing on your lower abdomen), hold your breath for three counts and then exhale for three counts. What happens with your body and mind?
 Race, Kristin. (2013). Mindful Parenting. (pp. 16). New York: St. Martin Griffin.
Today’s guest blogger is Kathia Ibacache. Kathia is a Youth Services Librarian at Simi Valley Public Library. She has worked as a music teacher and Early Music Performer and earned a MLIS from San José State University and a DMA from the University of Southern California. She loves to read realistic fiction and horror stories and has a special place in her heart for film music.
Please note that as a guest post, the views expressed here do not represent the official position of ALA or ALSC.
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