This photo is from a book by Eckhart Tolle called “Guardians of Being: Spiritual Teachings From Our Dogs and Cats.” It would be a good introduction to mindfulness for children. (Photo: Staff)

Hamilton County School System literacy coach Jennifer Knowles followed the signs: a conversation about yoga, another about a mindfulness app, reconnecting with an old friend and a personal desire to more fully experience the present moment. 

It all led her to a new “secret passion” of teaching mindfulness at a couple of local public schools. 

In my last column, I showcased how McCallie School has implemented mindfulness into some high school classes. And I was eager to hear what Hamilton County teachers are doing. 

Knowles teaches mindfulness at two Hamilton County elementary schools.

The fact that she’s spreading her knowledge of the practice to young minds is exciting.

Not only does the practice teach invaluable coping strategies for dealing with stress, anxiety and the general human condition, which can include insecurity, fear and irrationality, it also strengthens the brain.  

For students, mindfulness can also help decrease hyperactivity and impulsivity, reduce test anxiety, help with behavioral outbursts, improve sleep quality, and boost both attention spans and emotional control. 

“The things that I’m seeing [in my students] … are stress reduction to increase focus, self-regulation with emotions and compassion,” Knowles said. 

Knowles, who took classes to learn a teaching curriculum from Mindful Schools, works with two second-grade classes at East Side Elementary and fourth-graders at Dupont Elementary. 

She generally starts by ringing a bell. The students know that signifies the beginning of the practice. Then, she leads them through mindful breathing or mindful sitting.

They practice sending kind thoughts to themselves, to their loved ones and to each other.

“They really connect with that,” she said, especially the fourth-graders. “That’s something they can identify with, and it’s easy for them to envision doing that.”

She also teaches them to create space between emotions and reactions. They learn to take a breath or walk away if they are angry. They also learn to send kind thoughts to the person they are upset with.

She aims to show them that it’s not wrong to feel negative emotions; what is wrong is reacting and making a bad decision because of the emotion. 

Knowles’ personal practice has taught her self-compassion and helped her reduce anxiety by being in the present moment. And she articulates well the change you can feel by implementing mindfulness into your life.

“I feel more alive and aware of what’s happening, and therefore, I’m able to appreciate it all,” she said. “The gratitude I feel versus [what I felt] before is much stronger.” 

I’ve had that same experience through mindfulness. The practice helped me awaken. Most of us don’t recognize that a part of us is dormant or numbed by society and aspects of living in a modern world. 

It’s only when you learn how to truly be present and quiet that a new reality is revealed. 

As I’ve said before, it isn’t always easy, and it isn’t a quick fix. It doesn’t mean that we won’t get frustrated or sucked into daily drama. 

Mindfulness is a tool; it’s an antidote to an irrational mind and an often-maddening world. 

Learning these skills at a young age is invaluable. 

“Adults cannot control children’s emotions,” Knowles said. “We can’t control how they deal with stress, but we can give them tools or strategies they can choose to use or not use. Our job is to model how it is helpful to us.” 

More of us should learn to connect with the present moment, to be compassionate even in times of turmoil and to practice kindness.

We need it now more than ever, and it’s imperative that the future generation reaches toward a higher level of awareness. 

Teaching mindfulness in public schools is a significant step toward that. 

The opinions expressed in this column belong solely to the author, not Nooga.com or its employees.