Space + Quiet+ Connection = The Peaceful Recess Project
This is an opportunity for teachers who recognize the need to create welcoming, conscious, peaceful spaces in schools to be part of a grassroots initiative throughout the 2017/18 school year and beyond.
What would happen if a group of heart-centred teachers made a commitment to create peaceful spaces for children at recess?
The vision behind the Peaceful Recess Project is simple: Many children and adults need moments of restoration in their day to reset their nervous systems, to connect back with themselves, and to have a break from stimulation. If they receive this opportunity to “reset,” they are able to make better decisions, to focus, and to access their creativity. There are 3 simple components to this vision…
A Peaceful Recess space is consciously created to foster relaxation and a sense of belonging. Teachers who open up their classrooms understand that calm is contagious and that a sense of belonging can be felt even without spoken words. Everyone has chosen to be there and they act in a respectful, caring way towards themselves and the people that are sharing the space.
The children and adults settle into the space without speaking and choose a quiet activity that is relaxing to them (e.g. colouring, reading, meditating, writing etc.). The lights are low, the music is soft, and there is as little stimulation as possible.
Children are welcomed by a calm adult with a smile and eye contact so that they feel seen. This is critical. Some children go through the whole day without being really seen. The teacher holds in his/her heart that gentle, consistent moments of connection are a simple balm for anxiety and feelings of isolation.
I am thrilled to let you know that many of the teachers and schools who attended the summer and fall PD, have The Peaceful Recess Project up and running at their schools! Public Elementary and High Schools as well as Private Elementary and High Schools in Toronto–and even outside the GTA–are experimenting with this idea and having some great results.
Based on survey responses, the attendance averages between 10-25 students and teachers report that the children really appreciate the quiet option. Some schools host during a recess break and others host during the lunch hour. Teachers say that they see many “repeat customers!”
The children are enjoying activities such as reading, drawing, yoga, puzzles, ongoing art projects, playdough, or curling up in a blanket and just closing their eyes. At some schools, teachers and student teachers also drop by for a little peace and quiet!
I am incredibly grateful for the work I have the opportunity to do with children and teachers. The Peaceful Recess Project is my way of giving back. There will be no charge for the PD session. I only ask that teachers who become involved embrace this idea with their whole heart, that they bring their own gifts and the most grounded version of themselves into the conscious spaces they create, and that they help to spread the word to children and colleagues.
Each teacher who commits to being part of this initiative will:
- attend a two hour PD session to set the stage, to meet like-minded colleagues, and to deepen their understanding of what it means to create a conscious space for children
- open up their classroom for at least one recess each week throughout the school year
- model non-verbal communication to welcome each child who arrives
- participate in a relaxing, quiet activity alongside the children
- complete an online survey 3 times during the school year
From a wonderful story ~ At my Kids’ Yoga Teacher Training last winter, one of the participants shared an incredible story about a quiet space that had been created at the Amsterdam airport. Beautiful, simple, and free from stimulation, there were no signs asking people not to talk but even the children were quiet and relaxed. This story has stayed with me because I’ve also noticed that when I create a space mindfully, children respond in miraculous ways!
From Observation ~ As a classroom teacher my heart always went out to the children I would see on the playground who were looking for a quiet place to read or draw or just be alone. I was often struck by the structure of the school day and the inherent social requirements that are a part of it. From the moment children arrive on the playground in the morning they are surrounded by people, sounds, stimulation. Many children thrive in this setting but many others do not. For some, recess is their favourite part of the school day and they recharge by running around, playing games, competing, and interacting. For others, it is, at best, a chance to be outside with some close friends and, at worst, something to be survived.
The skills children learn during recess interactions are invaluable and I am in no way arguing for less recess, I am simply wondering: What would happen for some of these sensitive souls if they could count on a break from their “break?” What would happen if once or twice a week they could enjoy an alternative from this very extroverted model of how to recharge?
From Research ~ My first source of inspiration was the research Susan Cain presented in her book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking. We are beginning to acknowledge that the pace of life, constant deadlines, visual and auditory over-stimulation are taxing on many nervous systems (whether people realize it or not). For sensitive people, carving out time for quiet reflection is absolutely essential to their health and well-being. In her book, Cain explains that consciously creating restorative niches in our day helps to counter the overstimulation: “Restorative niche is a term for a place you go when you want to return to your true self. It can be a physical place…or a temporal one.” Whether a child has a sensitive nervous system or a heartier one, we are doing them a disservice if they aren’t exposed to the idea that a chance to recharge, to reflect, and to be in a calm environment is as essential to a balanced life as being social and productive.
My classroom observations aligned with Cain’s view that an extrovert ideal further complicates finding balance in modern society. She defines the extrovert ideal as, “the omni-present belief that the ideal self is gregarious, alpha, and comfortable in the spotlight. The archetypal extrovert prefers action to contemplation, risk-taking to heed-taking, certainty to doubt…We like to think that we value individuality, but all too often we admire one type of individual—the kind that is comfortable putting himself out there…But we make a grave mistake to embrace the Extrovert Ideal so unthinkingly. Some of our greatest ideas, art, and inventions…came from quiet and cerebral people who knew how to tune into their inner worlds and the treasures to be found there.”
My hope is that the The Peaceful Recess Project provides space and time to go searching for internal treasures.
Cain’s work inspired the quiet component of this project. Gordon Neufeld (a Canadian psychologist) inspired the connection component. His decades of experience working with children and families has allowed him to craft a model that sheds light on the roots of anxiety. There is no end to what Neufeld can teach us about this topic and I encourage you to look into his work. In a nutshell, he argues that a sense of disconnection is at the root of anxiety. When I turned my mind to making connection a deliberate focus in my work with children, I was astounded that such a simple (but profound) shift had such a powerful impact.
From Experience ~ A few years ago, I took part in a silent retreat and I was struck by how even in silence a sense of connection was formed between the participants. I called it “kind silence” because we naturally became more conscious of our way of moving about and sharing space. For example, we couldn’t say “sorry” if we bumped someone in our rush for the door and so, without words, the pace seemed to naturally slow. Without the obligation to “make conversation,” we could tune in to how we were feeling and hold an awareness of the people around us in an entirely different way.
As a classroom teacher I took this learning and tried to create “restorative niches” in the school day for my students. There was still a lot of interacting, group work, and conversation but there was also silence, quiet activities, and the option to work independently if someone felt they could focus better or think more creatively on their own.
I also remember the delight some children would express if I said they were welcome to work, read, or create quietly during recess. I only wish I had offered this opportunity up more often…
If you are interested in taking part in this initiative, I would be thrilled to hear from you. Once I get a sense of how many teachers are intrigued for the 2018/19 school year, I will be in touch with details about your choices of PD sessions.