ABOUT PUPPY MIND
In this picture book for children and adults, written by Andrew Nance, founder of Mindful Arts San Francisco, and illustrated by Jim Durk, who is adored by thousands of children for his many Clifford the Big Red Dog and Thomas the Steam Engine books, a young boy discovers his mind is like a puppy, always wandering away, into the past or the future. He sets about learning to train his puppy mind to heel to the present moment. Through remembering to breathe, the boy becomes a stronger and more caring master of his puppy mind, keeping it in the present, if only for a moment. Includes the following discussion guide for parents and teachers.
FOR AGES 3 to Adult.
Thank you for reading Puppy Mind. The story introduces the young reader to the concept of the past and future, and the minds interest in wandering there, then using our breath to get it to heel to the present moment. For young readers, the concept of past and future can be a new one. Below are a list of questions that can help a child understand what was the past, and what could be the future.
Prompts about past and future thoughts
This morning when you woke up, was that the past or future? Yesterday when you went to school, was that the past or the future? What about when you first learned to walk, was that the past or the future? Now what about tonight when you go to sleep, is that the future or the past? And what about tomorrow when you have lunch, is that the future or the past? What about when you are sixteen years old, is that the future or the past? (Possibly ask for more examples of either the past or the future.)
Prompts during the reading of the story:
On page 2 what are the three things the puppy is focusing on? A tree, a fire hydrant, and dirt/sand. On pages 3 and 4 of the story there are 6 images of doors. What do you see in those doors? How might the boy be feeling in each of those images? Happy, nervous, excited? What doors show past thoughts and what doors show future thoughts? What is a past thought for you? What about a future thought? Adults give examples of your own past and future thoughts. The boy's puppy mind dug up a memory from his past, what was it? Can you think of a memory from your past? The boy's puppy mind brought him pictures of his worries about the future. What images do you see in those three pictures? Do you have any worries about the future? What good things do you hope will happen in the future? Adults give examples in order to create a safe place for everyone to share. On the second to last page, ask if the dog is still focused on the fire hydrant, trees, and dirt/sand. What is he focused on now?
Prompts after reading the story:
In the story, where did the child’s Puppy Mind like to wander? What memory did the puppy mind dig up? What pictures did it bring from the future? Does anyone ever feel their mind wander or daydream? Where does your Puppy Mind take you without your permission? Do you think about food, or vacation, or watching TV or playing with friends? Is that the future or the past?
You gave me great examples of what the future is and what the past is— What is happening in the present, right now? Are we talking about this story? What else do you notice that is happening in this moment? What do you see? What do you hear? Are you cold or warm, tired or awake, hungry or just right? Sad or happy? Just notice it.
In the story, how did the child train their puppy mind to heel to the present, instead of wandering off to the future or the past? That’s right; the child used their breath to keep their mind from wandering away from the present. What was the best way to train the puppy mind, by being mean or kind to it? That's right, kind!
Prompts to teach children to kindly focus their minds and bodies
Shall we try together to use our breath to see if we can get our Puppy Minds to heel to the present? Great! First find a mindful posture, like you would sit if you were a super hero or king or a queen. Good! Your Back should be firm and your belly should be soft. This posture reminds our bodies and minds that we are doing what I call “Focus Time”. If it’s comfortable for you, gently let your eyes close, and see if you can keep them closed while we do "Focus Time" for about one minute.
Now let’s take a nice slow deep quiet breath together, and let out the air slowly through our mouths. Fill up your belly, like a balloon, with each in breath. Breathing into our nose, and out through our mouth.
Now I will softly ring the bell (Ring bell or download and use an app. like "Insight Timer" and pause). Just allow the sound to relax your mind and body. (Pause). If your body or your puppy mind starts to wander away, just kindly ask your mind and body to come back to noticing your breath. (Pause). If your hands or feet start to move, just notice that too and come back to the breath, if your eyes are open, just notice that and try to close them again, and then gently come back to your breath. Just keep breathing quietly for a few more moments. Silently say to yourself in your mind: “breathing in, breathing out”.
Very good job! Now without shifting too much, gently open your eyes.
That was your first try at training your puppy mind. How did that feel? (Get feedback)
The next time we will try to do “Focus Time” just a bit longer to train our puppy minds. You were so good at it and you will only get better with time. Practice makes progress.
Note: For more guided focusing techniques go back to the Mindful Arts in the Classroom page.
FOR MORE FUN PLAY- PUPPY MIND GAMES
This is how you play:
First gather one to four chairs, and put them in a row in front of the students, like a stage. If possible, face the chairs towards a wall clock so the students can follow the second hand.
Next choose ONE to FOUR mindful learners to sit in the chair(s). (You can select youth who are being mindful and one at a time, ask them to sit in one of the chairs.) "Find your mindful posture; that’s feet on the floor, palms in laps. Let’s choose that_________ ( a clock?) to focus on. Ok take a breath, gently shake your shoulders a bit, and let’s begin."
"Your only job is to sit nice and tall, with your feet on the ground and your hands on your lap. I am going to time you for one minute (or more) to see if you can stay SUPER still, like statues. You CAN blink and breathe, but you can’t move your head or any part of your body. If you do, I may ask you to go back to your spot on the floor. So NO itching OR twitching. If your mind starts to wander just come back to your breath. Shall we try?
Note: If a youth is having a hard time, be kind and side-coach them, encouraging them to watch or count their breath, notice their belly rising and falling, and to notice if and when their feet or hand moves, etc. Sending them back to their spot on the floor should be reserved ONLY for students who are being unkind or distracting to others. After a round, ask the students what strategies they used to help them focus. Why was it easy or hard? Then send them back to their seats. Bring up another group of 4 students, etc. Leave them wanting more, promising them we can play “Puppy Mind Games” again, as a reward for focused behavior and making good choices. Go for two minutes, eventually. Praise them for their effort, reminding them that “Practice makes Progress.”