How do we slow down with young people?

“स्टूडेंट्स के साथ हम कैसे स्लो डाउन कर सकते हैं?” – इस ब्लॉग को हिंदी में पढ़ने के लिए यहाँ क्लिक करें

मुलानं सोबत शिक्षणाच्या गती ला विराम देण्याची गरज आहे – हा ब्लॉग मराठी मध्ये वाचण्यासाठी, येथे क्लिक करा

In our previous post (The Value of Pausing in Education), we tried to unpack the value and the need to ‘intentionally pause’ and slow down with children as we navigate through the fast-paced, uncertain times of a global pandemic. In this post, we wish to share our thoughts on a few strategies that might help us bring these concepts into our lived experience. These are practices that can be incorporated into our daily routines at home and in school. 

  1. Pondering with children

We have culturally viewed ‘day-dreaming’ as a problematic and futile trait; often chiding children for engaging in long minutes of nothingness as they stare out of windows or at the pages of a storybook. But these moments of nothingness are precious nuggets of time. When the mind is allowed to wander without an agenda, it explores ideas and concepts deep within its own crevices. It learns to enquire, question curiously and deliberate deeply. 

Creating space within our homes and classrooms to ponder freely might bring forth conversations that surprise us, adults. 

What are colors? How do they happen?

Where do my feelings and emotions come from?

What makes this world beautiful? 

What do I notice about myself, my family, and friends that are interesting?

What does it feel like to touch a leaf or the bark of a tree or the fur of a cat? 

The idea of pondering is just that; they are wonderings. They may not meet predetermined learning outcomes for children, but they could potentially do much more. Pondering about the world, personal experiences, facts, opinions, ideas, and just about anything could open up a child’s mind to introspection and self-awareness which is a much-needed skill in life. 

  1. Loitering/Storying with children

As adults, both educators and parents alike, we have all been witness to children’s love for ‘talk’. Whether with themselves as self-talk during play or with a host of questions and anecdotes they wish to share about their daily experiences. In the so-called ‘productive, learning race world both teachers and parents often cut short these enthusiastic expressions of children due to ‘lack of time’. Our invitation is to make this time. ‘Loitering’ in our world holds a negative connotation of being pointless. The invitation is to see the meaning and the joy in an agenda-free conversation with children. Entering into a child’s world through the stories they share, just listening and probing curiously with questions could allow children a much-needed space for slowing down and pausing in the middle of a hectic day. It allows for a moment of connection, a moment of reflection, and a moment of authentic expression for the child where they feel free to express and ascertain their own personhood. 

  1. Nature time with children

Creating dedicated time for children and us to be with the natural elements in some form or another can also help bring in a sense of calm. Ten minutes spent in a home balcony of plants or in the school’s backyard or short trips to nearby water bodies or a community sky-gazing experience to watch the clouds or the moon at night are all moments brimming with possibilities to ‘take a deep breath’ and be in the present. It allows for children to explore their natural curious natures with the natural elements; allowing for questions, learnings, imaginations and conversations to take shape and grow.

  1. Contemplative practices as part of learning

In his article, ‘Opening the Contemplative Mind in the Classroom’, Tobin Hart speaks about contemplation as the third way of knowing along with the rational and sensory way. (Hart, 2004) He further explains the value of both contemplative practice in education and as education, where the former helps children build adequate focus and depth for academic work and the latter helps them be more reflective and present in their daily lives. So schooling then does not stay limited to ‘learning to do’ but expands into ‘learning to be’. 

Some strategies he discusses include, ‘not doing’ – the practice of building quality of attention to a task vs. just getting it done; ‘where are you now?’ – a practice of checking-in mid-class or mid-activity to focus on the thoughts and emotions that arise. Another strategy is that of a ‘wisdom walk’ – a visualization exercise of guided imagery that can help children process thoughts or emotions through metaphors and derive new insights for their experiences. ‘Body focusing’ and ‘freewriting’ are a few more ways that allow children and adults alike, to become more present, attentive, and tuned in to their environment and learning, thus gaining more by in-fact slowing down. 

We believe that bringing in even just one of these but consistently into any learning environment, the classroom or home could allow children those few moments of respite from their tight and busy schedules to really deliberate upon their experience at that moment. To learn to pause, step back, and assess themselves and their situation at hand to make better choices of action. 

Strategies for adults/practitioners to slow down: 

As we listed a few approaches that could help us slow down with our students and children, we realize as adults we might need a few for ourselves too.. Because SEL work is after first, self-work. At Apni Shala, we have our monthly Mental health and SEL campaigns with our school teachers where we help them discover things that could be beneficial for their mental health. 

Here are a few practices that we can incorporate into our daily lives. 

  1. Being present. It’s not enough to just slow down. We need to actually be mindful of whatever we’re doing at the moment. That means when we find ourselves thinking about something we need to do, or ruminating on something that might happen in the future, gently bringing ourselves back to the present moment might be helpful. We focus on what’s going on right now. On our actions, our environment, on others around us. This takes practice but is essential.
  1. Disconnecting. This has now become a trending topic but is still a struggle for many of us. Being able to stay away from our mobile devices is essential to our process of ‘pausing’. Being connected all the time means we’re constantly stressed about information inflow. It’s hard to slow down when we’re always checking new messages or are glued to social media. Disconnecting hence also requires mindful action. Ex: Self-Time bingo.
  1. Taking breaks and focusing on a single task. It is hard to slow down when we are constantly multi-tasking. Instead, making a conscious choice to weed out tasks and make time for ourselves might be essential for our own sake. Prioritizing and making peace with letting go of things that are out of our purview of action can help to calm the mental chatter. Being conscious of the body-mind alignment and really listening to body signals of needing a stretch from sitting too long in front of a screen or needing a ten minute mindfulness practice to calm the nerves or even simply three deep breaths to step away from a stressful classroom or home space are ways that will help our children too because it helps us to manage ourselves and be fully present for them.

Reshaping our childrens’ lives begins by first pausing to reshape our own. 

Slowing down might most likely clear the haze of mindless productivity to allow the emergence of a more authentic, present, and focused moment of joyous learning. It could also help us break the cycle of living life in an autopilot mode or a survival mode and actually begin to thrive in all that we aspire towards. Pausing and slowing down, especially in this so-called ‘new normal’ might just help us save an entire generation of people from appropriating all their trauma and stress as being ‘normal’. It isn’t normal and we need to make time for the unlearning and relearning to happen.


About the authors: 

Krutika Khare, as Programme Lead with Apni Shala, facilitates Social Emotional Learning with students, educators, and parents in a variety of settings. She manages the Government School Partnerships and leads the design of SEL in the ecosystems with the programmes team. Krutika holds a Bachelors’ in Psychology and an Advanced Diploma in Counseling. 

Saesha Pillai, as the Khoj Curriculum Lead with Apni Shala, works to envision and create a learning space for children and adults that is built on the foundations of Social, Emotional, and Ethical Learning. Saesha holds an MA in Education from Azim Premji University and is a Dance Movement Therapy Practitioner from Kolkata Sanved and TISS, Mumbai. 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s