An interview of Annika Nygren and Krysten Fort-Catanese by Meg Hansen
Kindergarten teacher, Annika Nygren, loves science. Her eyes light up when she describes Kindergarteners as natural scientists, filled with curiosity and endless questions and theories.
Upon learning about Kindergarten’s recent science unit on the five senses, third grade teacher and Friends own mindfulness master Krysten Fort-Catanese asked Annika if she’d considered integrating mindfulness into the unit. Krysten trains our staff, students and parents (a new class is coming in February) in mindfulness practices and also integrates it into just about every subject. Among a number of resources, Krysten recommended “The Mindful Child” by Susan Kaiser Greenland to Annika to help turn one of our Kindergarten’s historical science units into a deeper connection to the five senses and mindful awareness.
To begin the unit, Annika asked her students “When we eat, our bodies are using much more than our sense of taste. Do we always focus and try to connect to all of our senses when we eat?” They didn’t have the answer just yet, but they were excited to find out. All they knew was that the project involved Craisins and that made them excited.
The unit involved practicing the five different senses and then mindfully experiencing those senses using a single Craisin (this practice is known more formally as “mindfulness of eating”):
A field trip to Celestial Seasonings teas helped the students put all their senses to work: smelling, seeing and feeling the loose tea, listening to the sounds of the machinery, and finally tasting the delicious tea. The students agreed. They hadn’t really been connecting with their senses when they were eating (or drinking). Before the 5-senses unit, a cup of tea was just a cup of tea. By taking the time to be present and really notice what their senses were telling them, they were able to connect with all five senses that made up their experience.
Annika had one last challenge for her students. Several times a week, Kindergarteners practice “Golden Moments”, a silent pause in the day when the energy in the classroom seems a little elevated. This practice centers the group, slows down the nervous system and gives them 45-60 seconds where they practice being still. During the 5-senses unit, the students focused on each of the senses during these silent Golden Moments. While silent, they noticed the sound of a locker closing in the hallway, a bird chirping outside the classroom window, the sound of the water fountain, a teacher’s voice. They learned that sounds are happening all the time, but we are able to tune them out to focus on what’s right in front of us. Mindfulness helps that focus.
At Friends, our shared definition of mindfulness with children is: paying attention with kindness and curiosity to ourselves, to other people, and to the world around us. We view mindfulness as an integral part of our everyday life and ultimately practice it as a “way of being.” Krysten has rolled out the full “Paws b” curriculum with several upper elementary classes and will be teaching the “full.b for Teens” to 8th graders in the new year. This curriculum focuses on mindfulness and neuroscience and the interplay between the prefrontal cortex, the amygdala, the hippocampus, and the insula. Children use this knowledge of brain science as they build up a toolkit of mindfulness practices that can help them throughout the day – taking the time to notice and be present, calming the nervous system, and getting the mind ready for learning. This sensing mode of inquiry helps to ground us, enhancing our ability to then engage with a calmer, clearer perspective of what’s happening within, to, and around us. Mindfulness practices provide opportunities for students and staff to calm, and ground their minds and bodies shifting out of “thinking mode” into a “sensing mode” of mind—establishing balance between “doing” and “being.”
So whether it’s a Craisin, a juicy apple, or a delicious piece of chocolate cake, we hope you’ll try this mindfulness experiment just as our Kindergarteners did, the next time you consider your favorite food.Read More
by Jenefer Donovan, Friends School Community Board Chair
The new school year is now well underway and off to a great start! From day one I have been overwhelmed by the multitude of ways in which I have witnessed all the elements of Friends School’s mission in action…I have felt the energy and excitement of a dynamic community reuniting and reaching out to support one another and welcome our new families; I have been amazed by the wealth of team-building, collaborative projects and hands-on academic activities taking place in classrooms and I have been touched by the kindness of children connecting and helping others transition. I have felt the renewed energy of our wonderful teachers and met enthusiastic teacher candidates. I have admired the creative process of an elementary all-school collaborative art project and overheard middle schoolers display their passion for learning in eagerly asking when their full schedule would start! I have noticed the time taken in every grade for students to reflect on and share about themselves and listen to their peers, and for teachers and students to all get to know each other again; and I have seen the 5th graders already stepping up as leaders showing compassion and empathy for the new Kindergarteners helping them to feel safe, welcome and at home at Friends School.
These are just a few examples of the elements of the Friends School mission being put into practice, and all of this was in just the first week!
Before Honor started at Friends School, she began looking at everything here through the lens of the school’s mission and vision. One of her priorities in her first year was to “align decision-making practices with the mission and vision of the school”. She worked to bring Friends School’s mission and vision into everyday decision-making, keeping them front and center, putting children and mission first and consistently using the mission and vision to guide her and her leadership team. She encouraged all teachers and staff to do the same. Honor has also brought the 3 core principles of the vision to the forefront: ‘challenging minds, nurturing spirits and honoring individuality’. These provide the framework for all that the school does and, as you know, they have been chosen as the theme for the school this year.
In early September, the Friends School Community Board met for the first time this school year. I would like to thank all of our dedicated trustees for their hard work and commitment to the school. Over the summer the board read First Do No Harm, Progressive Education in a Time of Existential Risk by Steve Nelson and was inspired by his demonstration of “how education can nurture engaged and motivated children who actively discover their world and grow up to be good citizens”. Friends School has been the leader among Boulder schools in social and emotional education for over 32 years and we were proud to appreciate, while reading this book, that Friends School excels on every aspect of Nelson’s ‘Educational Bill of Rights’:
- Recognize the broad consensus that early childhood education should be primarily dedicated to free, imaginative play;
- Provide arts programming, recognizing that the arts are critical to all learning and to understanding the human experience;
- Provide ample physical movement, both in physical education classes and in other ways, recognizing that exercise enhances learning for all children;
- Exhibit awareness that children develop at different rates and different ways; that strict age or grade level standards and expectations are meaningless and damaging;
- Acknowledge the large body of evidence that long hours of homework are unnecessary and detract from children’s (and families’) quality of life;
- Exhibit genuine respect for all children;
- Honor a wide range of personalities and temperaments;
- Encourage curiosity, risk-taking and creativity;
- Cultivate and sustain intrinsic motivation rather than relying on elaborate extrinsic systems of rewards and punishments;
- Understand that brain research supports active learning, engaging all the senses;
- Understand that all children are intelligent in multiple ways and that all these intelligences should be honored and developed;
- Listen to each child’s voice, give them real experience in democratic processes, and allow them to express their individuality;
- Know each child well, appreciate the unique mix of qualities each child brings, and never demean, discourage or humiliate any child.
This year, Friends School Community Board has the important responsibility of creating the next strategic framework/plan for the school. Each of our board meetings throughout the year will include a strategic thinking work session. As we move through the process we will first examine our mission and vision, our “North Star”, guiding us through the journey of creation and implementation of the framework/plan. We will then gather input and data from the entire Friends School Community – teachers, staff, students, parents, families, trustees, founders, alumni parents and alumni students, before synthesizing and processing the data and formulating a strategic, flexible, forward-thinking framework/plan for Friends School.
I am looking forward to working on this process with the Friends School Community Board and our Strategic Planning Committee, led by alumni parent and trustee Anne Hunter. I am also excited to hear from all of you. Over the next few months the Strategic Planning Committee will reach out to all of you with various opportunities for you to provide your input – these could be surveys, small group vision meetings, or larger ‘dream-catcher’ meetings. We hope that you will participate in whichever ways work for you. Friends School is one of Boulder’s best independent schools because it has a strong community that cares.
Thank you all for being part of what makes Friends School such a special place for all our children.
Jenefer Donovan, Friends School Community Board Chair
If you would like more information on the role of the Friends School Community Board or are interested in being part of one of the Community Board committees, please email me at email@example.com.Read More