Mindfulness at center of children’s program

By Sam Beard, @SamBeard_DE

Living in the present, as opposed to the past or future, may be hard for some. At a new camp, children can learn the skills they need to fully seize and appreciate the moment. 

SIU is hosting—for the first time—a Mindfulness Camp for Kids. The camp, which is for kids aged 5-12, had its first session Saturday and will continue to meet every week until May 9.

The camp’s goal is to teach children about mindfulness and why it is important. Camp leader Rachel Enoch said mindfulness is being aware of oneself and one’s surroundings in the present and accepting life as it happened.

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Instead of worrying about the future or wallowing in the past, honing in on the present moment can lead to a life of greater productivity and psychological well being, said Enoch, a doctoral student in the Rehabilitation Institute from Manhattan, Kan.

“Mindfulness started as a Buddhist tradition in the East,” Enoch said. “Just more recently—in the last couple hundred years—[it] has come to the West.”

In mindfulness, acceptance is looking at something without judgement and letting things happen as they happened, she said.

“Rather than saying, ‘I’m aware of the situation but I wish it would have happened like this,’ it’s really just letting it be,” Enoch said. “It’s more like just seeing it for what it is, what the outcome was and kind of moving forward from that point.”

The camp is facilitated by the university’s office of Continuing Education and Outreach, whose mission is to provide alternative educational opportunities to people in the region, according to its website.

The camp aims to help children think better, stay more focused in school, and reduce anxiety and social fears by increasing their overall awareness through teaching mindfulness techniques, according to a camp brochure.

Eight kids in Carbondale’s immediate area attended the first camp and a ninth is expected to join this weekend. 

Enoch said each session begins with listening and thinking techniques, after which the campers do yoga and take mindfulness walks.

“I’m not sitting there lecturing ‘this is mindfulness, you need to get these concepts.’ It’s nothing like that,” Enoch said. “It’s definitely more interactive, play-based where we are just kind of talking about it.”

When the kids go on their mindfulness walks around campus they emulate an animal—such as an elephant or a fox—in an effort to make the activity more kid-friendly but also because it causes the kids to concentrate on what they are doing.

Becoming more mindful is a skill to build on and is not something that comes easy, she said. It starts with trying to be aware of oneself and the surrounding area.

Enoch said people are often on autopilot. An example she used was students who were in class all day but do not know what happened because they were just going through the motions.

She said there are simple things college students can do to begin focusing on and improving mindfulness, such as being engaged in a conversation.

Kathy Smith, a coordinator of Continuing Education and Outreach, said we are in a digital age where information is commonly consumed in 30-second slots.

“It’s hard enough getting college students to really focus on stuff, because they’re used to these short, quick bursts that they find on the Internet,” Smith said. “Asking them to focus for longer than that is almost impossible sometimes.”

The Millennial generation, and those to follow, will see an integration of technology into how we are raised, Enoch said.

“I don’t think technology is necessarily a problem,” she said. “But if you are on it for 12 hours and you haven’t looked up, maybe that becomes something you need to be aware of.”

Enoch said finding a balance between the two could be helpful, and there are even apps that help one be more mindful such as Sitting Still and the Mindfulness App—which coach breathing and mediation techniques.  

“If we can incorporate mindfulness with the technology, we can maybe have a nice marriage of the two,” Enoch said.

There will be a second go-round of Mindfulness Camp for Kids the first week of June, only next time it will be a week-long day camp, meeting every day from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Registration begins in a few weeks, Enoch said.

Parents and guardians can enroll their kids on the Continuing Education and Outreach website or by calling its office. 

Sam Beard can be reached at [email protected]

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