SPaRK – The Blue Bench: Encouraging mindfulness
Abby Jansen is a teacher librarian at Harbord Public School. In this Shared Practice and Resource Kit (SPaRK), Abby links the reading of a captivating picture book to mindfulness practices for Stage 3 students.
‘The Blue Bench’, written and illustrated by Albert Asensio, inspires students to discover how a simple object like a blue park bench can offer so much joy and happiness. A blue bench is the focal point in the lives of those who are able to pause from their busy lives and take a seat in the park. This narrative sends a powerful message to readers to simply open their eyes, look around and take in their surroundings through all their senses, and to enjoy present time awareness.
It seems children today are far busier than past generations. Possibly, this is due to the vast range of extra-curricular activities on offer, a packed school curriculum, and the integration of technological advancements, bringing with it a world of devices and apps. It can be argued that these ‘busy’ activities are necessary for allowing children to discover their talents and interests, and become manipulators of technology, thus setting them up for a world in which they will study, work and live. However, it also raises the question of whether children of today are too busy? Perhaps there is also a place for teaching, encouraging and allowing children to stop, listen and observe the world around them and identify many simple pleasures we often take for granted.
The growth in mindfulness understanding and practice has expanded rapidly in recent years, due to the positive effects it has on mental and physical wellbeing (Weare, 2012). Studies indicate that individuals who practice mindful techniques are emotionally more positive, have stronger friendships, less anxiety and experience greater wellbeing in everyday life (Weare, 2012). It is also argued that mindfulness enhances mental concentration and attentiveness, ignites critical thinking skills, develops emotional maturity, and enables skill development and the retention of information (Laland, 2015).
‘The Blue Bench’ is a resource that centres on paying attention to the present moment and being mindfully aware of one’s actions and surroundings. As habits form early in life, the integration of mindful practice can assist students to live a life well connected to their surroundings, allowing them to form a strong sense of belonging and self-awareness as well as encouraging present moment awareness.
Suggestions for using this resource
Before reading this text with stage 3 students, I asked if they had heard of the term ‘mindfulness’ before, and if so, what it means to them. Some were able to elaborate and give an example of a mindfulness technique they practise, or are aware of, such as meditation. After determining a shared understanding of mindfulness, we discussed the difference between the terms ‘mindful’ and ‘mind full’. Writing the words on the board next to each other helped students to clarify the difference in meaning between them. Students were able to recognise that ‘mind full’ refers to thinking about a lot of things at once and having a ‘busy’ mindset. In contrast students identified ‘mindful’ as being careful about and understanding what you are doing as well as recognising the impact on self and others.
With these ideas in mind we approached a study of ‘The Blue Bench’. Initially, after looking at the book’s classification, as fiction, and reading the blurb on the back, predictions about the story were gathered from students. Following a reading of the book together, we discussed how the notion of mindfulness was represented in the text and its importance. Students were able to grasp the message of being able to feel present in a particular place at a point in time and to open one’s senses to objects and people nearby. They understood how this practice can bring joy to our lives. Students also commented on how relationships can grow and blossom over time and that these experiences play an important part in who we are.
‘The Blue Bench’ is a text that has relevance to cross curriculum learning and teaching. As the following activities indicate, links can be made to outcomes in both the English K-10 syllabus and the PDHPE K-10 syllabus. It is also pertinent to the cross-curriculum priority of Personal and social capability corresponding to these KLAs.
Senses walk and poem
Students can be taken on a ‘senses walk’ in their school outdoor environment. They should be asked to notice all the beautiful and simple things in the natural world around them. Encourage students to not only notice the season, but to use all their senses to discover their surroundings. For instance: to look at the ground they walk on, to observe the clouds above, to focus on how tree limbs stretch or intertwine, to notice the different scents of the nature surrounding them and to take in the various sounds they hear. It may be a good idea to do a seated or lying meditation with some deep abdominal breathing in an outdoor area before commencing the walk. This will assist students to become relaxed and achieve a more mindful state.
Students could be provided with a graphic organiser that has segments pertaining to each of the senses: touch, hearing, smell, taste, and sight. While on their walk, students could record specific sensory experiences. Teachers may choose to give more explicit directions by providing students with sentence starters, such as: ‘As I walk through the bush I can hear ______ which makes me imagine or reminds me of ______.’
After the senses walk, students could be asked to write a poem using their recorded responses. They should be encouraged to use adjectives, similes and metaphors to show the kind of sensory input they experienced on the walk.
Upon completion of a draft copy, students should have their poem reviewed by a peer. Peer reviewers can be asked to tick sections where they see descriptive writing. Using the feedback, students may rework their poem ‘for publishing’, so they can be shared with a larger audience.
Stage 3 – English
- EN3-2A composes, edits and presents well-structured and coherent texts.
- EN3-6B uses knowledge of sentence structure, grammar, punctuation and vocabulary to respond to and compose clear and cohesive texts in different media and technologies.
Stage 3 – PDHPE
- PD3-7 proposes and implements actions and protective strategies that promote health, safety, wellbeing and physically active spaces.
Reflection on our relationships
In ‘The Blue Bench’ there is a strong message about how positive relationships can play an important part in our lives. Seasonal changes throughout the book suggest that relationships can also grow and change over time. Have students think about and reflect on a relationship with a friend at school. Ask them to consider if their activities with their friend, during recess and lunchtime breaks, change with the different seasons throughout the year. Students could illustrate their friendship in four quadrants, depicting the seasons of the year, and show how the relationship changes or develops over time. A poem that uses similes and metaphors or a brief descriptive narrative capturing the essence of their illustrations can be an optional extension task.
Stage 3 – English
- EN3-2A composes, edits and presents well-structured and coherent texts.
Stage 3 – PDHPE
- PD3-2 evaluates the impact of empathy, inclusion and respect on themselves and others.
Megan Daley’s mindfulness activity outlined in her book ‘Raising Readers’ (2019) was well received by students in years 3-6 at my school. As Daly notes, the school library is an important space that allows all students to develop a sense of belonging. There is often a section of the library individuals will be drawn to, where they feel familiar with and connected to the texts in that section, such as the graphic novel section or the dinosaur non-fiction section.
To develop the mindfulness activity suggested by Daley, I asked students to close their eyes and picture where they go when entering the library. Next they were asked to consider which section they feel connects with them and their interests, whether it be a shelf of a certain series or a non-fiction category. Once they are at this section in their imagination, they are to picture themselves selecting a book to borrow. Then they envision where they take this book to read, that is where do they feel most relaxed and calm when reading this book? After opening their eyes, students are provided with a piece of paper to illustrate this reading place.
Some students drew themselves reading in a library space at school, others at home in places such as in the garden on the grass in the sun, or in their bed with their dog sleeping next to them. Students then wrote about this place on the back of the paper, describing what the place looks like and how it makes them feel. The sheet of paper was then folded and used as a bookmark, allowing students to open the paper when they needed to be reminded of their calm and tranquil place. Although this activity was done last year, I still find students using these bookmarks this year. It appears to have been a very successful activity.
Teachers will be aware of several texts that encourage mindfulness and can adapt the activities outlined above to other source texts and different learning and teaching stages.
Additional narrative texts that have a message of mindfulness and present moment awareness:
- Harrison, P. & Wilson, K. (2020) Extraordinary! NSW: New Frontier.
- Kendell, S. (2010) The bushwalk. Vic: Windy Hollow Books.
- Muir, Aunty Fay & Lawson, S. & Kennedy, L. (2000) Respect. WA: Magabala Books.
- Perkins, G. (2017) A walk in the bush. AU: Affirm Press.
- Thurston, J. (2017) Kindness: The little thing that matters most. UK: Harper Thorsons.
- Wheatley, N. & Searle, K. (2006) Going bush. NSW: Allen & Unwin.
References and further reading
Asensio, A. (2019) The blue bench. Victoria: Berbay Publishing.
Daley, M. (2019). Raising readers. Queensland: University of Queensland Press.
Laland, M. (2015). Mindfulness and student success. Journal of Adult Education, 44(1).
NSW Education Standards Authority (NESA) for and on behalf of the Crown in right of the State of New South Wales. (2012). English K-10 syllabus.
NSW Education Standards Authority (NESA) for and on behalf of the Crown in right of the State of New South Wales. Learning across the curriculum.
NSW Education Standards Authority (NESA) for and on behalf of the Crown in right of the State of New South Wales. (2018). PDHPE K-10 syllabus.
Weare, K. (2012). Evidence for the impact of mindfulness on children and young people. The Mindfulness in Schools Project.
How to cite this article – Jansen, A. (2020). 'SPaRK – The Blue Bench: Encouraging mindfulness'. Scan, 39(6).