What's in Your Mindful Toolbox? A Singing Bowl

We listened to the sound of the singing bowl on the first day of school.

Actually, we listened to the sound of the bowl every day during the first week. The children were drawn to the bowl or the bell, as we sometimes called it. They enjoyed the weight, the color, and the texture and frequently commented on its temperature. They were particularly fascinated by the sound it made and how that sound reverberated in their minds, hearts and bodies. Dedicating this time to attend to the sound of the bell began a yearlong dialogue about hearing, deep listening, feeling, and memory.

Looking tired, feeling nervous and sitting in the meeting area on our first day of school, our morning meeting gets underway. A few minutes pass and children's attention drifts in and out until it is time to ring the bell. One can then notice children shifting in their seats to sit up tall with relaxed shoulders, placing their hands in the their laps or resting them on their legs. The children's bodies are as still as they can be; for some that really means not moving. For others the stillness is interpreted in their own way; possibly moving their bodies, swaying to internal or external stimuli or gently jiggling a leg or two.

With one hand on their belly, and with the instruction "... when you can't hear the bell anymore, raise your belly hand," I hit the bell with a wooden gong. Some children who are now fourth graders in the class, their second year with me, close their eyes and others look down to give their friends privacy. Of course, some look around, eyes darting from friend to friend until they catch my mine and then, they try and maintain a gaze to the floor or not.

To ensure safety, I keep my eyes open. I work to focus my attention on my breath as the vibrations of the bell in my flat palm reverberates up my arm. I scan the kids and alternately watch the thin, red second hand on the clock, tick off second by second. My mind wanders off, longing for summer days gone by as 20, 25 seconds pass. Feeling my own belly rise and fall, a few hands start to raise in the air, pairs of eyes start to look around at friends to see what, and if, they still hear the bell. Ten more seconds pass and kids start to stir. It's a good amount of time to sit still and feel quiet on the first day.

Using a low voice so as to not jolt us all from the soft quiet space we inhabit I say, "Put your hand on the part of the body where you still hear or heard the bell." A moment passes as kids look to themselves and place their hands. We all look around at each other to see where others heard the bell.

"Where did you hear the bell?" I ask.

"I hear it in my ears," says a child with other kids making the hand sign that they agree. Other children specify they heard it in their brain, mind or head. Some children are not sure where they heard it, but they know that they do. Others move their hands slowing in front of their body, indicating that the sound was heard and continues to be heard, but they are still unsure about where. A few say that now, after at least a few minutes of discussion has passed, they are not sure if they still hear the sound. They wonder out loud if the sound is a memory in their mind or in another part of their body. Another child agrees that it is a memory that is in her head. A student shares that he feels the sound as he places his hand over his heart.

This sound awareness practice reminds me of why I love spending time with children in the classroom. As they earnestly turn their attention to listen to the sound of the bell, they hear it and feel it, and want to engage in the exploration. Rich descriptive language emerges as children try to identify and label the sensations in their minds, bodies and hearts. Nuanced conversation continues about hearing, feeling and memory. There is a sweet connection in the shared experience; it is palpable.

Ringing the bell two more times give the children an opportunity to check in with their bodies, noticing if they feel the bell resonate in the same place, or in a different place than the first time it sounded. Twenty minutes pass, and the children are focused and relaxed. Most have participated in the conversation either with words or hand gestures.

On this first day of school the bell becomes a cherished classroom object. Many children want to know when they will be able to hit it. We all agreed that making a list of bell ringers would be important to do during morning meeting tomorrow.

Listening to the sound of the bell inspired a few children to use the object and the experience as inspiration. During a writing unit, entitled An Object Study, which was closely tied to our social studies topic of Immigration, children examined how objects we cherish hold stories. Enjoy three bell inspired poems.

The Singing Bowl

So perfectly smooth,
So perfectly round,
A bowl that can sing
It makes a lovely sound,
Singing and singing until it has to stop.
I listen to its song and wonder
who else has had the joy of its song.

Singing Bowl #1

Its ring makes me wonder
how long it will last.
Silent, eyes closed,
Hands on knees,
listening, waiting
waiting, waiting, waiting,
Hands go up
breathe deeply,
still silent
feeling fresh
eyes still closed

Singing Bowl #2

still feeling fresh
relaxed breathing
no sound
everything is still
hands on knees
eyelids resting
fresh air
breathe deeply
sitting up straight
feel calm
all minds clear.
Singing Bowl.