Mindfulness in the Classroom with Zentangles

Today, I want to introduce you to a great way to develop mindfulness in the classroom: Zentangles! 

What is a Zentangle, you ask? Only my new favorite pastime!

In short, it is an artform that is created by combining different patterns and designs to create unique images. 

No two Zentangles are the same, but each is beautiful in its own way. I have known about Zentangles for a while now and have been itching to try it out for myself.

So, I finally ordered the most basic supplies on Amazon to get started. I used the Studio Series Art Tiles and a Sakura Micron Pen set in black ink. I got started with One Zentangle a Day, a book with step-by-step pattern instructions and lots of inspiration.

After completing my own Zentangles, I knew I had to incorporate them into the classroom! This work is perfect for elementary-aged students. It is not only fun, but it develops mindfulness. You may or may not know this about me, but I am always on the lookout for new ways to promote mindfulness in the classroom! 

Why? Because mindfulness is a practical life skill. It allows us to be aware of our surroundings; it allows us to enjoy the present moment; it allows us to acknowledge our feelings and emotions. Practicing mindfulness increases focus and reduces stress. In the classroom, mindfulness can help students concentrate on their work and enjoy their learning! If you haven't already, I encourage you to read more about mindfulness in the classroom. There is some promising research in the works!

As Zentangles are drawn in pen, there is no erasing. This should be a quiet and meditative work, because concentration and focus are encouraged when drawing the intricate and detailed designs. Zentangles also teach students that it's okay to make mistakes. Something beautiful can always come from mistakes made along the way! 

On top of that, Zentangles can combine the Elements of Art. Most notably, lines, but also color, space, perspective, and even form. This makes Zentangles the perfect follow-up work to your art lessons!

For an elementary Montessori prepared environment, this work could be placed on the art shelf or on the peace shelf, depending on how you intend it to be used. Your set-up would include a tray that holds a limited number of tiles, a few micron pens to choose from, and three or four simple step-by-step pattern examples. You could also include photos of Zentangles done by others for inspiration!

A lovely mix of student work and my own.

A lovely mix of student work and my own.

For further work with Zentangles, students might try incorporating colored pencils, watercolors, or even ultra-fine point, colored Sharpies into their artwork. As students learn new patterns and designs, they begin to feel more confident in including Zentangles into other artforms as well. I've seen a student draw a self-portrait with a background of Zentangles. I've had students make Zentangle magnets. I've even seen Zentangle bookmarks! The creativity and possibilities are truly boundless. 

If you are interested in making your own Zentangles or introducing them to your students, here are some other great resources to get you started:

Have you tried Zen Tangles with students in the classroom? Share your experiences and ideas in the comments!

Algorithms & Programs in the Elementary Classroom

In case you didn't already know, I love the Montessori approach to education. I love the beautiful materials, the hands-on work, and the mixed-age classrooms. Most of all, I love following the interests of the child.

 In fact, this year I've decided to step outside my comfort zone that is the typical Montessori curriculum in order to "follow the child." 

Several of my students have expressed a keen interest in learning to code. And admittedly, computer programming is not an area of expertise for me. However, I always want to do what I can to foster the interests and curiosities of my students. 

And so, earlier in the year I went to a code.org workshop to learn about their coding curriculum. I discovered that–in many ways–it works really well with the Montessori philosophy of education. You can read more of my thoughts on that here, but the gist of it is that the code.org curriculum includes quite a lot of hands-on activities that come before the more abstract computer work.

Thus far, we've done two hands-on, "unplugged" activities, both of which proved to be educational and engaging at the same time. My students are already asking for more coding lessons!

The first activity was called Graph Paper Programming. Much like a typical Montessori lesson, I started by introducing new vocabulary to the students:

  • algorithm- a list of steps you can follow to finish a task

  • program- an algorithm that has been coded into something that can be run by a machine

The students went on to create programs on graph paper grids that their friends could decipher by acting as the "machine." They started this process on small 4 x 4 graph paper grids.

At the end of the lesson, I challenged them to create their own design on a large piece of graph paper, write a code for it, and see if their friends could reproduce the design by following their code. They worked diligently on these designs & codes over the next week. Here are the results:

For the 2nd "unplugged" activity, Real Life Algorithms, I challenged them to write out algorithms (or a list of steps) for daily tasks such as making a PB&J sandwich, dusting the geography shelf in classroom, or planting a flower. The idea behind this activity is to understand that a program won't work properly–or at all–if the algorithm is not in logical order or if it missing a step in the process.

Then came the real fun. They cut out the pieces on this worksheet, put the steps in a logical order, and got to make & fly paper airplanes following the algorithms they pieced together.

These "unplugged" activities are great for exploring basic programming concepts. And now I am excited to try out our first coding lesson on the computer this week! Updates to follow!

If you'd like to try out one of the code.org courses in your classroom (or homeschool), their curriculum is available online here, and it's completely free!

I'd love to hear any feedback from others who have tried code.org OR any other coding curriculum. What works for your students? Let's share ideas!