TNCS Lower Elementary Students Make Sense of Mindfulness!

On Thursday, April 19th, a very special—and very familiar—visitor came to The New Century School to see TNCS 1st- and 2nd-graders. Johns Hopkins child psychologist Carisa Perry-Parrish joined Mrs. Krysta Jenks’ and Sra. Barbara Sanchez’s homerooms to talk about mindfulness.

Dr. Perry-Parrish has formerly given presentations to TNCS families, to TNCS faculty, and to Chinese teachers visiting TNCS, and she has even contributed as a guest blogger to Immersed, but workshopping with students was a first.

Lower Elementary Mindfulness Workshops

Mrs. Jenks explains that she invited Dr. Perry-Parrish in to talk in order “to begin integrating mindfulness practices in the school day. There is a growing body of research on the benefits of practicing mindfulness. It helps students regulate emotions, develop coping skills, and increases curiosity,” said Mrs. Jenks.

For this age group. Dr. Perry-Parrish needed a point of entry that would grab and hold their attention. That way in was through their senses—touch, smell, taste, seeing, and hearing: “I came today to do some activities about how we can notice different things around us and in ourselves,” she explained. Next, she introduced terms and asked the group to define them, beginning with “psychologist.” “Brain doctor” was the agreed-on definition. Next was “meditation”:

Dr. Perry-Parrish: Has anybody heard of meditation before? What is it?
Students: It’s something that you do in yoga. It’s a way to calm your mind.
Dr. Perry-Parrish: Why would we need to calm our mind?
Students: Stress, angry, crazy. Sometimes stupid.
Dr. Perry-Parrish: Does anybody get angry?  We have all different kinds of feelings and maybe we want like [a student] said to calm our minds down.

After setting the scene in this way, Dr. Perry-Parrish let students vote on in what order they would perform three activities: A tasting thing, a feeling thing with the hands, and a listening thing.

Not surprisingly, given that these activities were happening pre-lunch, both groups opted for the “tasting thing” first.

The Tasting Thing

After first verifying that no one had a dairy allergy, Dr. Perry-Parrish asked students to form a circle on the classroom rug and sit criss-cross with one hand open on one knee with eyes closed. While placing a single yogurt raisin in each child’s open palm, she explained what she was doing:

I want you to keep your eyes closed until I tell you to open them. I’m going to give you one little thing that we’re going to taste, but, before we do that, we’re going to use another sense, our hand sense. I don’t want you to use your eyes because I want you to be curious like a scientist. We’re going to practice using different parts of our senses and we’re going to start by just holding this thing. As I put it in your hand, I want you to start feeling it, and I want you thinking about what it feels like.

She then proceeded through a series of questions with various answers, a sampling of which are given here:

Dr. Perry-Parrish: Does this thing feel light or heavy?
Students: Light.
Dr. Perry-Parrish: Does it have a smell?
Students: Yes
Dr. Perry-Parrish: What does it smell like?
Students: A jelly bean..
Dr. Perry-Parrish: Does it feel smooth or rough?
Students: Rough.
Dr. Perry-Parrish: Does it feel like it fell off a tree or came from a store?
Students: A store.

“Now I want you to put this thing in your mouth and just hold it there for a couple of seconds—no biting,” she instructed.

Dr. Perry-Parrish: Does it taste sour or sweet?
Students: Sugary.
Dr. Perry-Parrish: Take one bite and tell me what it tastes like.
Students: A yogurt raisin.
Dr. Perry-Parrish: Who knew as soon as I put it in your hand?
Students: Me.
Dr. Perry-Parrish: How?
Students: I felt it before.

Finally, she brought home the mindfulness message in a way that they could really grasp: “Before you put it in your mouth were you feeling super excited to eat it right away? Do you ever have that feeling of I want to do something really fast but I have to slow down? It can be super hard to wait sometimes.”

The Feeling Thing with the Hands

The second activity involved placing an ice cube in each student’s hand and making all kinds of observations about it. Several children commented that they didn’t like it when the ice made their hand cold, and one had a very strong urge to eat it. This led to a very rich discussion about “sticking it out” (the hand eventually became numb, so the “pain” was no longer felt) as well as about self-restraint. “Does that happen sometimes when you have an uncomfortable feeling, and then we wait a little while until we get used to it?” asked Dr. Perry-Parrish.

In closing, she asked what surprised them about the ice experiment to get them to see that being mindful shows you things you might otherwise miss. They found that the ice melted at all different rates (why?). “Did you have any different emotions that you weren’t expecting?” “Hungry!”

The Listening Thing

The final activity involved the Fiona Apple song, Extraordinary Machine. “Everybody sit down and put on your listening ears. You guys do music class right? I bet you know all kinds of different instruments. So this is what I want you to do. Every time you hear a different instrument I want you to put a finger up. I want to see how many we count.”

At the end, the number of instruments discerned varied widely. Dr. Parry-Parrish explained: “I think we all heard different kinds of things. Were we all listening to the same song? Did we all hear different kinds of things? Why do you think we counted different kinds of things? People have different ear drums so they might hear different things.”

Dr. Perry-Parrish: What if I stopped listening for a minute and started thinking about how hungry for lunch I am? Do you think I could have missed some? Does that ever happen when we’re talking to people?
Students: Yeah.
Dr. Perry-Parrish: Does that ever happen to you guys when you’re listening to a lesson from your teacher?
Students: Yeah, a lot, like when my mom asks me to do something.
Dr. Perry-Parrish: What can we do when that happens so we’re paying attention? Sometimes it’s just noticing when we’re listening and when we are not.

She then played Extraordinary Machine again while students made their counts a second time, and they compared results. The number of instruments discerned rose dramatically. “Was there something different about how we were listening the first time compared to the second time?” she asked.

Paying Attention to What’s Happening Right Now

After the three activities with each class, Dr. Perry-Parrish brought it all home:

The thing that we did today has a special funny word called mindfulness. Have you ever heard of that word before? All it means is that we’re paying attention to what’s happening right now. Another mindful thing to do with your body is just notice what parts of your body move when you’re walking compared to when you’re going down the stairs. It’s a little bit different. Maybe the muscles feel a little different. Maybe you’re looking at things a little different. So, anytime you’re noticing something that’s happening right now, that’s a way to do mindfulness.

The underlying message is that children can use mindfulness to help cope with negative feelings. “Remember how we talked about all those different feelings that we have like happy, hungry, nervous?” she asked. “Something that can help us with those feelings is by asking ourselves what’s happening right now. There’s all kinds of things that we can notice, and that can help us feel less sad or not too excited.”

“The kids were really into using their senses to observe their experiences,” said Dr. Perry-Parrish of her visit to TNCS. “It was really fun helping them learn that they could have different observations during the same experience. Hopefully, teaching kids mindfulness gives them another tool to learn from their experiences,” she said.

Mrs. Jenks agreed. “We were fortunate to have Dr. Perry-Parrish lend her skill set in leading students through mindful awareness practices. I am hoping we can continue to use mindfulness at TNCS to help foster emotional growth in students.”

The other side of that coin is that mindfulness can also promote happiness. Developing self-regulation, awareness, and patience skills opens children up to the world around them—a feast for the senses, and the mind.

Want to try some mindfulness activities at home? Check out Mindfulness Activities for Children And Teens: 25 Fun Exercises For Kids from Positive Psychology.

Meet the Teacher: Barbara Sanchez Joins TNCS!

tncs-spanish-teacher-barbara-sanchezThe New Century School welcomed elementary teacher Barbara Sanchez for the 2017–2018 school year to lead a 1st- through 3rd-grade homeroom. She came to Baltimore in 2007 from Coamo, Puerto Rico when her husband accepted a position as a police officer here. She was at first sad to leave her beautiful home town and also because she thought she might have to give up teaching, but then other opportunities beckoned her. She embraced the idea of learning another language (English) as well as the benefits that the United States could offer her son with autism. She reports that he has grown a lot since being here.

In Puerto Rico, Sra. Sanchez earned dual bachelor degrees in special education and elementary education. She worked for 3 years there as a special education teacher in a group and also individually. When she arrived here, she began working in a school cafeteria, but being among students stoked her desire to teach once more. She decided to try getting a Spanish language teaching position in a city school and met TNCS’s own Professor Manuel during this time. After getting state certified to teach in Maryland in 2010, she started teaching at the Baltimore International Academy (BIA), where she was thrilled to be in the classroom again and taught there for several years. At Professor’s Manuel’s suggestion and with her husband’s support, she applied to TNCS.

IMG_2454Although she enjoyed BIA and still misses her former students and their parents, she says, “once I started here, I thought, ‘this is my place.’ I feel like this school is a part of me.” She feels she was destined to be a TNCS teacher and is constantly inserting Spanish instruction into daily school life, even on the playground. Her subjects, however, are Math and Global Studies. “I don’t teach Spanish class, but I use the Spanish to talk with the students,” she explained. “These kids are amazing. The kids here want to learn, they respect me, and they respect each other. This school is amazing and is perfect for me. I’m happy,” she said.

What she really wants parents to know is this: “Every child learns differently, but these children really want to learn, which is unlike what I experienced in a public school. If they students are learning, I’m happy,” she said most sincerely. “And that is our promise to this class, to every kid that we have in this class.”

Sra. Sanchez, TNCS is very glad to have you here!

Spanish Heritage Night 2017 at TNCS!

On Wednesday, October 18th, for the second year in a row, The New Century School hosted a rousing celebration of hispanic culture. The culmination of Hispanic Heritage month, which runs roughly from September 15th through October 15th, this vibrant event featured choral and dance performances from TNCS students in kindergarten through 7th grade, a special guest performance by Mexican folk dancers Bailes de Mi Tierra, and a smorgasbord of traditional hispanic food provided by TNCS families.

IMG_2457As with last year’s Spanish Heritage Night, TNCS’s Spanish department (with help from the TNCS community) developed a truly spectacular show. Sra. Barbara Sanchez, Sra. Fabiola Sanzana, and Professor Manuel Caceres put their hearts into making the evening something special. In a gesture of support, they dedicated the evening to the people of Mexico and Puerto Rico.

Professor Manuel, a natural at em-ceeing, as it turns out, started by thanking everyone for coming, acknowledging the level of commitment that TNCS families, staff, and administrators bring to the school:

Muchas gracias, bienvenidos—thank you for coming, good evening, parents! It’s a pleasure for the Spanish department of TNCS and an honor for us to greet you here today. Enjoy this presentation by your beautiful children that they rehearsed and perfected in just 5 weeks for Hispanic Heritage month. Thanks to the administrators and teachers that we have here, we were able to prepare this celebration.

He also thanked TNCS mom Eileen Wold for the beautiful paintings she made and contributed. They will be making an annual appearance along with all of the colorful decorations created by TNCS students.

Finally, he spoke about what the chance to celebrate Hispanic Heritage means to him: “This month is an opportunity to show our solidarity, respect, cooperation, and engagement. No matter what part of the world we are from, we are human beings that deserve love, respect, and education.” And the kids took it from there!

Get a sampling of the evening with this wonderful highlight reel made by TNCS mom Sharon Marsh. (Just below it, you can view each presentation individually, if desired.)

The student performances were followed by two dances by Bailes de Mi Tierra, a Baltimore area dance troupe established in 2008 that boasts Professor Manuel among its members. On this occasion, Director Jose Reyes and dance partner Amanda Pattison kicked up their heels to “the second national anthem of Mexico” as well as danced and taught the “Mexican Hat Dance.”

Although no one wanted this fun night to end, it was a school night, so everyone wished each other a buenas noches and departed smiling. And humming. And stomping. And reciting, “café con pan.”

Hasta el año que viene! Until next year!