Jan 5, 2018

New Program Will Give Students ‘Mindful’ Start to Day

Logo for Mindful Music Moments

If you’re describing a typical day in an elementary school classroom, “calm” and “serene” would not be the first adjectives that come to mind.

A new music and mindfulness program at Pickerington Elementary could change that, at least as children and staff start each day.

Starting after winter break, “Mindful Music Moments” will create a nurturing environment that promotes personal stress reduction through world-class music, listening, and reflection. The program – which is already in place in nearly 60 schools in Cincinnati and Cleveland – is coming to Pickerington Elementary, in part through support of the Columbus Symphony Orchestra, CAPA, and Opera Columbus.

Pickerington Elementary is the first school in central Ohio to implement the two-year-old program.

“This is a daily mindfulness and music program that creates a more calm, focused, and balanced start to the school day,” explains Stacy Sims, founder of Mindful Music Moments. “Mindful Music Moments is about making a concerted effort to notice the world around us and within us. We notice our breathing. We notice our pulse. We focus on specific elements within the music. As a result, we’re able to find stillness for our minds.”

The program – part music appreciation, part stress-reduction techniques – starts at the beginning of each school week with a new composition, which has been carefully selected by Sims and her local music partner organizations. In Columbus, those partners are CAPA, CSO, and Opera Columbus. Each day that week, the school takes about four minutes at the start of the day when students and staff are prompted to put their feet on the floor and their hands on their lap, to sit up nice and tall, to close their eyes, and breathe while listening to the music and associated prompts that guide the mindfulness process.

Some days, students and teachers might be asked to think about how a Beethoven piano concerto makes them feel. Other days, the prompt might be as simple as thinking about slowing their breathing to create a sense of relaxation while “Flight of the Bumblebee” plays in the background.

The goal is to produce mental serenity in a world of constant external stimuli.

The music selection changes each week, but the focus on mindfulness is consistent. Sims said this is an incredibly important, and often overlooked, factor in children’s lives.

“Contemporary neuroscience shows that we live with epidemic levels of stress,” she said. Many children never get a chance to disengage from the constant stimuli creating that stress. As a result, the brain is constantly trying to cope with its natural fight-or-flight responses. That makes it difficult to employ other parts of the brain that deal with things like emotions, empathy, long-term planning, and decision-making.

Finding inner calmness amidst that constant stimuli helps students access those healthy brain processes. As a result, Sims said, they are better prepared to focus on their schoolwork, issues requiring discipline are reduced, and overall health is improved.

Of course, adults also gain the same kinds of benefits from this approach to stress reduction.

Pickerington Elementary School Counselor Lisa Lowe first learned of the program when she heard Sims speak at a recent conference. She thought Mindful Music Moments would be a great addition to the school.

“Mindfulness is something that has always been out there, and it’s something many school counselors try to use in various ways,” Lowe said. “It’s a concept that has been getting more recognition, and has benefits for both students and educators.”

She said when she first heard Sims speak on Mindful Music Moments, she thought it sounded like a great program to bring to Pickerington.

“This program does not take a lot of time, just two to four minutes a day,” Lowe said. “But for something so simple, it can be pretty powerful.”

Sims has worked with CAPA, CSO, and Opera Columbus to develop a list of great classical music that aligns with the goals of Mindful Music Moments. Many of the selections also reflect the kinds of music those arts organizations perform and incorporate into their own youth music education programs.

“The Columbus Symphony, CAPA, and Opera Columbus are very excited to help spearhead the development and implementation of this exciting program in central Ohio,” stated Jeani Stahler, director of education for the Columbus Symphony and CAPA. “We believe that enabling students and their teachers to begin the school day with focused music-listening and a quiet look inward will set the stage for success – and we are proud to be a part of it.”

Pickerington Elementary School Principal Melissa Moriarty said she is excited about launching Mindful Music Moments in her school.

“We feel this is going to be a great way to get these kids started on the right foot each and every school day so they can relax, be calm, and take stress off their minds,” Moriarty said. “We’re hoping that teaching students how to slow down and clear some of the stress from their minds with help our students focus more on their studies. There also should be an effect on overall student behavior.”