Teachers may often ask their students to “pay attention” but they may not teach them how to do so. The practice of mindfulness teaches students how to pay attention, and this way of paying attention enhances both academic and social-emotional learning.
Thich Nhat Hanh – Planting Seeds Practising Mindfulness with Children
The following is a selection of short activities that can be used to reinforce mindfulness principles. Any activity can be done mindfully, it is simply a matter of being present and focused. Try following these activities with a conversation about how it felt taking part and what individuals noticed. The activities would also work well as a stimulus for creative writing.
Children seem to be naturally drawn to bubbles and while standard bubbles are fun to watch and pop, touchable bubbles are truly brilliant for holding attention. You can buy small ‘party size’ bottles of touchable bubbles quite inexpensively and they seem to last well generating far more bubbles per blow than the standard variety. Group the children in 3s, 4s or even 5s with one child blowing and the others collecting the bubbles in beautiful rainbow towers on their fingers. There is great focus and tranquillity in both of these roles so while swapping around is a good idea for that sense of fairness, the activity does allow for full involvement of all parties anyway.
Using a large clear plastic bottle filled with water, invite one or two of the children to sprinkle some glitter into the bottle. Screw on the lid and shake up the bottle vigorously while explaining to the children how the snow globe is like our minds, full and busy with all different thoughts swirling about. Sometimes these thoughts are fun and exciting; sometimes they are upsetting and can make us feel sad or angry. Place the bottle down on a flat surface. When we take the time to stop and take a breath, our minds have a chance to calm down and become clearer, like the glitter in this bottle. Watch carefully as the water settles, maybe you can track just one tiny piece of glitter as it travels around the bottle before settling. If you lose track of your glitter, just follow a different piece or soften your gaze to watch all of the pieces gently drift around and settle slowly in the bottle. Notice your breath as you watch, breathe deeply and steadily, letting go of all of the busy thoughts in your head.
Finish by guiding the children with a deep slow breath in through the nose and a long, slow breath out through the mouth.
Take some time to just sit quietly. Invite the children to speak with a neighbour about how they are feeling and what they noticed during the meditation.
Giving your full attention to eating something is a very simple and powerful meditation for children. Mindfulness guru Jon Kabat Zinn says, “When we taste with attention, even the simplest foods provide a universe of sensory experience, awakening us to them.”
Place a sweet in your hand.
Examine the sweet as if you had never seen it before.
As you look at the sweet, think carefully about what you see: the shape, texture, colour, size. Is it hard or soft?
Bring the sweet to your nose and smell it.
How does the sweet feel? How small it is in your hand. Think about the weight of it, what could you liken it to? Swap it from one hand to the other to gain a greater sense of the weight.
Hold the sweet by your ear and roll it between your fingers. Notice the tiny noise it makes.
Now we are going to touch the sweet with our lips. Gently touch the sweet with your lower lip. Notice how it feels compared to when you used your fingers, how much smoother it feels.
Place the sweet in your mouth. Become aware of what your tongue is doing. Notice how your tongue can detect all of the texture detail, how different it feels on your tongue compared to your lip.
Just once, bite ever so lightly into the sweet. Notice how it feels, how it gently squashes between your teeth.
Move it around in your mouth to feel the difference in shape before biting down on it again.
Slowly continue chewing the sweet, thinking carefully about the taste. Think about how it compares to other sweets that you have eaten before.
As you complete chewing, swallow the sweet.
Sit quietly, breathing, aware of what you are sensing.
This principle can be applied to any foodstuff; raisins are particularly good in a classroom as they are quite mess free but chocolate is wonderful for slow eating and nibbling slowly creates some lovely little teeth marks to pay attention to.