Of Mud Kitchens and Mindfulness

by Jenn Elkin

At the start of every school year, most of us (adults and children alike) enter the school building with some combination of excitement and trepidation, wonder and worry, and eagerness for the new school year to begin mixed with a bittersweet longing for the waning summer days. We all feel these things, and we show it in very different ways. Some of us smile, happy to be back, others cry, missing our families, while still, others stare blankly, awash in the many sensations that come with all the sights and sounds that abound in a school community. As the days go by, and people and routines start to feel familiar, we begin to relax into understanding that this place is where we’ll be for a while. Eventually, we hope everyone new feels that this is their place, these are their friends, and the adults around them are here to support, love, laugh with and care for them.

Nowhere does this happen faster than on the recess field. As students go flying out of the building, releasing stored-up energy, many yell friends’ names or head toward the soccer field, play structure or swings. Others dart right toward the sand box to dig and build, while some make a bee-line for woods play. This year we have added a mud-kitchen-1“mud kitchen” to the Lower School woods area, and when introduced this week it was an absolute treat to see so many students actively engaged mixing, making, and stirring a variety of potions and tasty treats. (I even got a chance to “sample” some of them!) Thanks to faculty donations and a few choice Target purchases, we have equipped the kitchen with pots, pans, spatulas, rolling pins, a griddle, and other useful utensils. Allowing young children to engage in creative play through copying what they’ve seen at home by way of family routines in the kitchen and at meals is one of the most basic developmental stages children go through. And, providing older and younger students chances to play together and intermingle their imaginative approaches and ideas ensures chances for leadership, relationship building, and just plain fun.

Inside the school building at this time of year, much of our days are spent instructing students across subject areas and in the social/emotional realm. Teachers provide direct instruction through our Responsive Classroom and Open Circle curricula, and students have plenty of time to practice and grow as learners, friends, independent and creative thinkers, and global citizens. In addition to these curricula, we introduced regular yoga practice into each Lower School classroom last year. Eventually, every new student will know how to mud-kitchen-2stand in “mountain pose,” practice “balloon breaths,” and begin to develop awareness of how they feel and what strategies they can use to manage their emotions at different times. As a natural outgrowth of this work, many Lower School teachers recently chose to take a basic course in mindfulness taught online through Mindful Schools.

Sharing this work with students over time will both support the strong foundation built through Responsive Classroom, Open Circle and Yoga4Classrooms as well as provide students more options for developing self-regulation, the underlying skill for increasing social/emotional growth.

Whether it’s outside in the mud kitchen or inside practicing mindfulness, children and adults are working together to build strong minds, bodies, and relationships to make our community stronger every day. We are excited to kick off the year with so much positive energy, eager for what each new day brings!

The Pike School is an independent, coed, day school for Pre-K through ninth grade in Andover, Massachusetts. Visit pikeschool.org to learn more about Pike – and visit our blog for more thought leadership.

2 Comments

on “Of Mud Kitchens and Mindfulness
2 Comments on “Of Mud Kitchens and Mindfulness
  1. This is a great piece, Jen. Thank you for illustrating how play is an essential part of building relationships, communication and community. Can’t wait to see the mud kitchen in action!

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