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Mindfulness in the garden at Mission Viejo

Kids doing yoga in a circle on the grassGran Via education, a non-profit created by Chrissie and Bill Knous, and Breathe Parenting, a non-profit created by Suzanne Vitullo, partnered together to provide mindfulness techniques for students and their families at Mission Viejo on June 10. The event, “Mindfulness in the Garden,” included a sensory exercise for the kids to connect with nature, and a gratitude practice for guardians, followed by gardening all together as a community. 

Chrissie Knous and Suzanne Vitullo are both former educators who believe in the power of mindfulness in social-emotional learning for their students and greater community. Knous and Vitullo partnered together for this event to help students and guardians mother and daughter working the garden simultaneously. 

“We thought, what better way to practice mindfulness than in the garden connecting with both nature and the community,” said Knous. 

The morning began with students introducing themselves by leading the group in their favorite yoga pose in a circle on the grass. In unison, students connected with nature by pressing their palms into the ground through downward dog, child’s pose, upward dog and cat cow. This exercise was followed by a sensory Chrissie and student admiring at a plant activity where students found five pieces of nature in the garden that activated their senses of sight, smell, touch, taste, and sound. 

“When you think about our responsibility in society and wanting kids to have access and opportunity, we see a huge connection between having kids do screen-free activities in a community setting where they can build relationships and practices,” said Bill Knous. “We deeply believe it's not only good for their personhood, but it also allows them to access their education at higher rates.

Chrissie and Bill Knous worked with a cohort of students at Mission Viejo throughout the year Bill and student smiling in front of the garden including a three-day camp this fall and monthly workshops throughout the spring. 

“I’ve learned how to keep my temper cool and how you should always treat others the way you want to be treated and how to listen to your body,” said Veyda, a fifth grade student in the Gran Via program. “Bill and Chrissie always try their hardest to make sure they understand their kids and they always try to get our point of view to make sure they’re doing the right thing.”

The fall camp included trips to the mountains, a farm, and a sustainable restaurant. 

Cherokee Trail High school volunteer gardening with young boy“Even just over the course of the camp, we saw kids getting a little more confident, kids who felt social anxiety or more timid were trying new things. In our monthly meetings, they say they use the strategies we taught them and they do feel calmer when they practice their breathing and that they're sharing it with their peers too,” said Chrissie Knous. 

“It's been really cool to see the seven kids who went to the camp in October take on leadership roles to help their friends understand mindfulness,” said Principal Andre Pearson. “Also, I want to make sure my kids have access to role models and positive adults. Chrissy, Bill and Suzanne are super positive people. They’re great examples for the kids.”

Chrissie and Bill Knous wanted to continue building these important skills and relationships with Suzanne leading gratitude activity with six adults students throughout the summer and recognized the perfect opportunity to not only work with students, but to invite parents to work with Suzanne as well. 

While the kids immersed themselves in nature, the adults explored gratitude through affirmations and discussion led by Suzanne Vitullo. They identified ways they were grateful for their children and ways they can show themselves gratitude throughout the day. 

“To create a mindful community, you can't teach the parent without teaching the child, you can't teach the child without teaching the parent, and you can't teach the child without teaching the teachers,” said Suzanne Vitullo. “Taking care of one person starts to take care of the whole interconnected community."

Posted June 23rd, 2023.