"Did you see? I emptied my mind! I emptied it all right out! He held his hands up, fingers closed and at each side of his head at his temples. As he spoke he drew his hands down and away. Then he did the motion again and then a third time, with a smile a mile wide. He announced this after the final specks of sequins and glitter collected at the bottom of the wand we were using to mark the beginning and end of a silence session in our Leaves class (ages 3 and 4).
Maria Montessori outlined, quite carefully as she would, what she called the "silence game" in a 1930 letter. I don't presume to conduct the silence game as Montessori would or as a Montessori-trained teacher would, but when I imagine the benefits of silence and the purposeful and ritualistic pursuit of it, I check in with her ideas expressed in that 1930 letter. Go to the source.
That said, as we each depart and shape our own rituals and traditions as teachers, we look at this and call it a mindful exercise. It is something I usually reserve for our 4 and 5-year olds. Even then, there is a different routine and focus for that age group. With the Leaves, I want to create reservoirs of peace and tranquility in each of the children as so many of them struggle with strong and overwhelming emotions. Taking turns, transitions, sharing, are met with strong, all-consuming emotional reactions. In that, it probably is closer to Montessori's silence game than what we call 10 seconds of silence in the older group!
We started slowly. We started with two 1 minute-timers I found in a bag of board game pieces. I talked with them about how adults are always saying, "Just a minute" and "Can you wait a minute?" and we were going to see how long a minute was. We followed with a set of predictions, "Was it going to be a long or a short time?" And then we compared timers as one appeared to have much less sand in it than the other. Both timed out to exactly one-minute (amazement and awe!), and each day we listed some of the things we imagined would take "a minute", but mostly, we practiced being silent for that time.
Then after several class sessions, I switched to the glitter-sequin wand. I told them this was much longer, almost 3 minutes, maybe even 4 depending on how the glitter rolls along! Since this was B-I-G news, we marked it with a conversation about what we could try out doing while we waited for all of the sparkles to collect at the bottom. We practiced breathing and then settling, finding peace, and filling our thoughts with images of snow or ice or alternatively "emptying our minds."
The first time we used it, the classroom was mostly filled with children talking about how they weren't talking. Then last week, we had mind emptying AND several of the children closed their eyes and even extra closed their eyes by covering them with both hands in order to achieve their very best internal silence. This is something they naturally did, they become expert in creating their own rituals and traditions.
When he shared that his mind had been emptied, I knew we were well on our way to a new chapter for this little one. Experiencing, in a very full body, full mind way, the passing of time is so worthwhile for all humans, but has been especially true for these 3 and 4-year olds. This little one struggles so mightily with holding onto ideas and toys with all his fingers, toes, heart and soul, I know that this ability to find silence will be a game changer for him.
Over the next several weeks, we will add more breathing and visualization and we will remove the visual cues of the wand and timers. We will begin to rely only on that breathing and the steady tick tock our heart beat gives us for free. That beat we are carrying around so steady in our chests is the drum our little ones will rely on during trying times -- slow your roll, slow your breath, slow the beat, come back, let go, and live for a time in the silence. You can do it, because you have, you know exactly what to do!