Emerging research indicates that teaching mindful practices to children may support stress reduction, self-regulation, levels of well-being, and increase the capacity for compassion. Children may perform better academically and have improved social skills, like the ability to navigate and peacefully resolve conflicts. Mindfulness is also an effective tool to deal with anxiety and aggression. Since discovering the benefits of mindfulness, I have made the commitment to integrate simple mindfulness routines into my daily life as a teacher and as a mom.
In addition to GoNoodle’s short videos which we use throughout the day, here are 5 creative ways to introduce kids to the world of mindfulness.
1. Bell Listening Exercise
An easy way for children to practice mindfulness is to focus on paying attention to what they can hear. Tell your children that you will make the sound, and they should listen carefully until they can no longer hear the sound (which is usually 30 seconds to a minute). Instruct them to raise their hand when they no longer hear it. You can use anything that makes a resonating sound such as a singing bowl, a bell, a set of chimes or a phone app that has sounds on it. After, ask the kids to tell you every sound they noticed during that minute. This exercise really helps them connect to the present moment and the sensitivity of their perceptions, plus they find it fun to try to see who can hear all the other subtle sounds that surround them and usually go unnoticed. Also try GoNoodle’s From Mindless to Mindful to encourage mindful awareness.
2. Buddy Breathing
For most people it can be difficult to be still and pay attention to your breath. One way to have children focus on their breathing is to give each child a stuffed animal, (their “Breathing Buddy”) and have them lie down on their back with their Breathing Buddy on their belly. Tell them to breathe silently for one minute and notice how their Breathing Buddy moves up and down, and any other sensations that they notice. Have them take deep long breaths in and out and talk about how their Breathing Buddy stays stable on them. Have them take quick shallow breaths like the ones they take when they are scared, upset, or angry. Guide them to notice that their Breathing Buddy wobbles and becomes unstable. “Buddy Breathing” shows kids that breathing is something within their control. It’s the first step toward realizing that they don’t have to get carried away when they get stressed. They can use their slow, deep breaths to calm down. Try this exercise along with GoNoodle’s Rainbow Breath.
3. Take a Senses Walk
One of my class’s favorite activities is to take a senses walk. The rules are simple: walk with the class at a leisurely pace and open your senses. We stroll around the school grounds and try to notice things we haven’t before. We look for things that are different, which is a great time for observations about seasonal and weather changes. We’ll designate one minute of the walk where we are completely silent and simply pay attention to all the sounds we can hear — frogs, woodpeckers, a lawnmower. We don’t even call it “mindfulness,” but that’s what it is. As we finish up we talk about the things we notice, the smells, sounds, sights that we observed. We like to record our observations and then look over the differences and similarities from other senses walks we have taken. Also try GoNoodle’s Take Care of the Earth for a positive reflection all about the environment.
4. Squeeze and Release
When bedtime has arrived and your child is having trouble relaxing, a great exercise you can try before bed is “squeeze and relax.” This is a great activity for loosening up the body and mind, and will help your child feel present and in-tune with their physical body. While the kids are lying down with their eyes closed, have them tighten and contract every muscle in their bodies as tightly as they can. Tell them to squeeze their toes and feet, tighten the muscles in their legs all the way up to their hips, suck in their bellies, squeeze their hands into fists and raise their shoulders up to their heads. Have them hold themselves in their squished up positions for a few seconds, and then fully release and relax. As it becomes a practice that your children are familiar and comfortable with, it can become a tool that can be used at any time to help calm their minds and bodies when they become tense. Also try GoNoodle’s Rest Well before bed.
5. Daily Barometer
This is my take on a gratitude circle. Each day, at the end of the day, my class gathers in a circle and we take turns going around and telling one thing that we are grateful for that day, or if there was something that bothered us we can share that as well. Students have the opportunity to pass if they would like, and they also have the opportunity to simply share something that they are grateful for. The rules of the circle are that you may only speak when it is your turn, everyone has the right to a turn, and you may only share what you are grateful for and if you wish, something that bothered you. This is a good way for us to round out our day and, for the students that are sharing, it provides a sacred space where everyone can feel heard, supported, and loved. At home this can be done anytime the family is gathered together. It can take place during a communal meal, in the car, or even during a bedtime routine. As everyone becomes more comfortable with it, it can become a powerful tool that kids look forward to each day. After all, one thing all humans have in common is that they want to be heard. Watch GoNoodle’s Be Grateful to kick off the conversation.
Bringing mindfulness into my classroom and into my home has been a great way to give my students, kids, husband and myself tools we can use anytime… tools to calm down, slow down and feel better when we are troubled. As a teacher and parent I have noticed that using these techniques has helped my kids develop strong abilities to self-regulate. I can see that when they are faced with difficult and stressful situations, they are able to use some of the mindfulness tools to help them calm down and think before they react. If you’re just getting started with mindfulness, GoNoodle is an excellent guide with simple follow-along videos. Download the free app!
Allison R. is a Kindergarten teacher, mama to two boys ages 7 and 9, and mindfulness guru living in Tigard, Oregon.