Updated: Feb 25, 2022
An interview with Julie Paquette, EMI’s Mindfulness Teacher Training Coordinator and graduate of our MTT300 Mindfulness Teacher training.
Julie began her mindfulness journey in college with yoga. In the beginning, she was only looking to work off her excess energy through exercises and happened to really click with yoga and movement practices. Julie elaborates that the teacher she found did more than guide students through yoga - she encompassed the whole practice by teaching breathing, awareness, and awareness with care. This was Julie’s first step into the world of mindfulness. This teacher brought a fresh perspective to the body, mind, and relationships. Julie found that the more she practiced, the more she wanted to learn.
Over time, these movement practices slowed down into sitting practices, entering the realm of meditation and sitting with yourself. This was further refined into mindfulness practice. While Julie experienced many ups and downs on her journey, from traveling to Nepal to setting aside the practices for a while, she realized that these systems of mindfulness and engaging with the world simply made sense to her and that she reached a point where needed them.
But mindfulness is more than a perspective to her. An asthmatic child growing up, Julie was accustomed to a regimen of medications and breathing machines. The movement and breathing techniques she learned made her feel like she was actually breathing for the first time in her life. It completely changed the way her mind functioned and viewed things. Julie experienced levels of freedom she never had before, and it was her first taste of peace in her body and mind.
“What if I had had this earlier than college? What if we could bring this freedom and perspective to others? To children?” Julie discovered this compassion and drive to introduce mindfulness to children of all ages, and so she worked her way to becoming a certified mindfulness teacher who offers lessons and practices to her hometown community. She explains that the schools and children are the foundations of a community, and to teach children is to teach a community, and so she was inspired to become involved with supporting the community she was born and raised in.
Start with the Teachers
The first step is building a positive relationship with the school teachers. How can we partner together? What did we, certified mindfulness teachers, come here to do? This is an opportunity to welcome and educate the teachers on mindfulness practices, because it is essential that the teachers get to know us and feel comfortable with our presence in their classrooms.
Julie’s team actually offers training programs for the teachers before the school year begins so that they may have a deeper and more encompassing experience and education of mindfulness. This allows the teachers who sign up to enter the school year from a place of understanding and personal practice.
Once the teachers feel comfortable and are familiarized with mindfulness practices, what will this look like for the students? Here are some tips on approaching and teaching mindfulness to younger children.
Tips & Techniques
Building a connection
Relationship is KEY. Build a connection with students so that they may feel comfortable with you while doing these vulnerable practices. Working with younger kids is wonderful because they often welcome you with this openness and curiosity, so building connections here can be easier since many are happy just to do a new practice.
Don’t just go in and teach kids the same way you teach adults. They will not respond the same as a lecture hall or retreat with adults! There are fun ways to teach these practices and still communicate the same messages. Kids love to play around, so remember not to take things too seriously!
Walk the Walk
The teacher has to be doing the practices themselves. Young children see through everything. If the students see that the teachers don’t believe in mindfulness, then why would they?
Keep an Open Mind
Be open to learning from even the youngest students! As adults, we are used to thinking we always know more and better than our younger counterparts, but this is a great opportunity to break down this attitude and ground your lessons. There is this idea that these practices will make teaching easier for teachers and make classroom more manageable, but that is not the purpose of mindfulness practices in schools. Mindfulness can positively impact a classroom, but it is completely different from the standard punitive framework.
Allow the Children to have Agency
Use invitational language and allow room for the kids to have agency. Julie strongly recommends a trauma-informed approach that allows the children to choose to partake in these mindfulness practices. And then we want the children to maintain that agency during practices. For example, a practice that encourages agency is one where the children are invited to find an anchor of attention, any one of their choosing; and so from the start they have the option to decide on what to focus.
Movement and Body-Based Practices
Use of body-based practices: movement, breathing, interoceptive awareness, body and sense awareness. The important thing here is to conduct these practices in a way that’s relatable for kids. You can sound more fluffy language and excited tones, but keep in mind that everyone learns in different ways - visual, tactile, auditory, etc. Engage all of the senses in a playful way!
Routine and Repetition
Repetition is important for building the routine and ability to check in and check out before, during, and after mindfulness exercises. This helps to build healthy habits, discipline, and grounding skills early on.
Facilitating and accepting feedback from the children are crucial to fulfilling the purpose of mindfulness practices. Julie recommends talking about the practice before beginning, doing the practice together, then hearing back from the kids or giving them journals or some other outlet for them to have room to experience and engage with the practices in whatever way they do.
It is also important to give them the WHYs behind mindfulness and practices, such as teaching them about the nervous system, the brain and body, and other functions of being human. Children are curious sponges - they love asking why and providing them with answers and relating it to their lives helps many of the concepts click. And remember, children love giving honest, unfiltered feedback, so don’t take anything personally! All feedback is an opportunity!
Julie Paquette, founder of and instructor at The Mindful Collaborative, is a Certified Mindfulness teacher and graduate of EMI's MTT300 course. She is a social entrepreneur with professional experience in wellness and business and a natural desire to lead, inspire, and serve communities. She brings a "holistic community approach" to teaching mindfulness to students with the intention of helping others understand mindfulness and leading them towards their own personal mindfulness practice. Julie guides students through sensory experiences, theoretical principles and discussions, and gentle movement through mindful yoga. Learn more