Nowendoc Public School is tiny, befitting the size of the tiny village situated in the Northern Tablelands of NSW. It has only five students.
But being a tiny country school does not mean it is ‘backward’ in any way. In fact, it offers something to its students most larger public schools don’t have – a mindfulness and meditation program.
The school’s teaching principal, Kathy Bourke, says that wellbeing is a major focus for both students and teachers.
When meditation and mindfulness practitioner, teacher, researcher and teacher educator Sharn Rocco started living in the area every summer four years ago, she offered to volunteer her time and skills once a week, every week to teach the children techniques in mindfulness and meditation.
It has changed the children’s, and by extension the teachers’, lives for the better.
Kathy, and fellow teacher Tracey Worth, have noticed a positive difference in all of the children.
One little boy is one of those children who just cannot sit still and needs to be moving.
“He’s even ants in the pants when Sharn’s running the session,” Kathy says. “But he loves it, and it calms him - you can notice the difference.”
Another of the students battles with anxiety.
She really responds to Sharn’s mindfulness. It settles her, and she will say it helps her learn because then she doesn’t worry so much.Kathy Bourke
“She really responds to Sharn’s mindfulness. It settles her, and she will say it helps her learn because then she doesn’t worry so much,” Kathy says.
Sharn’s lessons only take 15 to 30 minutes. She sometimes connects it to what the children are learning in class, but always does coming back into the body and the breath.
“They love it! And Kathy’s really open to it,” Sharn says. “They’re pretty good at it.”
“I do very brief guided meditations. We sit in a circle, we usually have a few mindful breaths to start. Sometimes that involves a really quick coming back into the body and/or listening for sounds. This year we did a little bit around mindful speech.
“I always give them homework. I’m not a school homework fan, but I do things like ‘see if you can wake up and smile’ or ‘notice what sounds you can hear before you go to sleep’. It’s been so unsystematic because they’re so few of them, and we kind of know each other. I just do it very spontaneously and intuitively.
“It’s been really interesting. At the beginning there was lots of fidgets, especially with the young ones, and now they’re amazing how they just sit there and pay attention,” Sharn says.
In terms two and three, when Sharn is living at her home in Magnetic Island in Queensland, the school’s mindfulness practices do not stop. To help them maintain practice until Sharn returns in term four, the school uses the Smiling Mind educational app.
Smiling Mind is a free meditation app developed in Australia and used widely across the world. In addition to their general app, they have also created an app for primary school educators in line with the Australian curriculum.
However the children far prefer their lessons with Sharn, and luckily for them, she has no plans for stopping at this stage.
“It’s the funnest part of my week when I’m in Nowendoc!” she says.