Education Fund volunteer Andrew Jordan Nance has had a busy 18 months.
Within that time Andrew created a mindfulness curriculum for children, expanded his curriculum from two to four high-need elementary schools, recruited 20 San Franciscans to join him as volunteer mindfulness instructors and published a children’s book.
The concept for his new book, “Puppy Mind,” was born not long after Andrew started his volunteer work at Dr. Charles Drew and Flynn elementary schools in the city.
“I was going to the sites so often I ran out of curriculum,” Andrew said. “But I was really enjoying the work, so I started playing theater games [geared toward mindfulness] with the kids, and I started looking for children’s books on mindfulness. I really couldn’t find anything that was engaging.”
Andrew decided he would have to create it himself.
“I thought to myself, you know, I can write a children’s book on mindfulness,” Andrew said. “It just seemed really obvious and easy to do.”
The story, written by Andrew and illustrated by “Clifford the Big Red Dog” and “Thomas & Friends” illustrator Jim Durk, is based on an analogy Andrew created early on to help children and adults understand mindfulness. Children’s minds are not unlike wandering puppies, he argues, constantly switching attention from stimuli to stimuli. In the book, a child discovers that he can keep his “puppy mind” calm by paying attention to his breath and by breathing deeply.
Multiple studies show practicing mindfulness can be particularly useful for young people who are at-risk or who experience behavioral challenges.
“Many of our students have suffered trauma or are living in trauma, and learning mindfulness has helped them recognize their feelings and find appropriate ways to deal with those feelings,” said Stacey, a teacher who nominated Andrew for a Distinguished Service Award last year.
Andrew’s guided mediation encourages students to check in with their emotions and to focus on the present. “Mindfulness allows the individual to feel safe in an often busy or hectic, unsafe world, whether we’re traumatized or simply too busy,” Andrew said. “It’s a great tool in our tool kit to maintain or center ourselves.”
During the sessions with students, Andrew leads the children to practice two minutes of mindfulness before reading a story and then discussing the story’s themes. Then, Andrew gives them a challenge for the week, such as paying attention to what makes them smile.
“I want to help kids; that’s one of my life’s goals,” Andrew said. “I’ve been working with kids forever, but honestly I learn so much about my own mental state and my own practice of mindfulness [by volunteering]. That is a real gift for me.”
Buy your copy of “Puppy Mind” from Parallax Press.
Are you a teacher or educator and want to learn more about helping children with mindfulness practice? Check out this webinar led by Andrew, which takes place October 19.