In this week’s blog, part one of a series, Lea looks at creating a special place, be it in the family home or the classroom where calm is fostered as a practical example of bringing a slower, calmer practice to all our lives.Read More
Mindful living is becoming something we strive towards more and more in modern life, but how can we teach children mindfulness? Mindfulness is certainly not something just reserved for adults, the art of connecting with the present moment, taking our time to do things slowly and appreciating the little things is something we should be teaching children from a young age, an invaluable life skill for so many reasons. And where better to learn such a great skill for life than at school? Here we present five easy ideas to help teachers incorporate mindfulness exercises and activities into the classroom.
1. Quick Grounding Meditation
Introduce a daily ritual of taking two minutes at the start of the class’ day and again after lunch to help yourself and the kids in your class to ground, ready to learn!
What do we mean by grounding? Grounding means connecting to our own bodies, the earth and our connection to it, getting out of your head and into the body in the present moment. Signs of being ungrounded include hyperactivity, racing thoughts, inability to sit still, inability to concentrate, sound familiar in the classroom with your students?
Begin by sitting comfortably in a chair with your feet flat on the floor hip distance apart (shoes on or off). Make sure your nice and comfortable and then become still, like a tree. Take a slow deep breath in and out, and another breath in, and out, and one more in and out. Close down your eyes. Bring your attention to your body. Focus on the weight on your body as you sit on the chair. Now bring your attention to your feet and think about your feet as being very very heavy. Can you feel the heaviness of your feet? Feel the weight pulling downwards towards the floor. Now focus on the soles of your feet. Feel the contact of your feet with the floor and the earth beneath it. Continue to focus on the soles of the feet silently feeling the connection to the earth for the remaining time.
The aim of this exercise is to get the student to focus their attention, quiet down and settle their minds ready for a successful class full of learning.
2. Mindful Eating
Mindful eating involves paying attention to the food you are eating, how it feels in your body, being grateful for the nourishment you’re giving your body and noticing when you are full or still hungry. Any opportunity for kids to practice mindfulness is a good thing, to be able to practice paying attention to the present moment and take joy from simple activities can only be positive! But mindful eating has the added bonus of helping kids to develop a healthy relationship with food, to pay attention to their bodies and not just eat mindlessly, either too much or too little.
To encourage this in the classroom, you could practice this exercise with kids a couple of times in the classroom, or simply explain the exercise, then remind and encourage them to try it when they are out in the playground. Questions they can ask themselves:
What colour is your food?
What is the texture of your food? Is it soft or hard? Light or heavy? Sticky or dry?
What flavours can you taste in your food?
What are the ingredients in your food?
How does it feel in your body as you eat it? Can you feel it moving from your mouth to your stomach or not?
Think of a way to make it into a game and you’ll have an even better chance of getting this exercise adopted at mealtimes at school or at home.
3. Mindful Art
You could argue that a lot of the kind of art children create is mindful anyway, most children are great at using art to express themselves authentically, putting on paper their emotions or the situations playing on their minds, without even knowing it!
To incorporate mindful art-making into the classroom, we simply need to make time to create without an end goal in mind, creating for the sake of creating and focusing on the present moment and the paper in front of you, the act of putting pen, crayon, pencil or paint to paper, or even sculpting with clay.
Why not put on some relaxing music, give out some paper and ask the children in your class to draw how they are feeling right now. Or if you’d prefer to do something more structured, you could ask students to draw around a repetitive, calming, easy theme like bubbles, triangles, waves, leaves, squares, dots, any shape or likeness you think the kids in your class could recreate easily depending on their age. Making time and giving kids permission to engage in the calming, grounding act of art-making is a great way to practice mindfulness.
4. Easy Yoga
Getting kids into a gentle, calming, healthy practice like yoga from a young age can’t be a bad idea! And making time in the classroom, even just 20 minutes (or 10) whenever you can fit it into your class’ schedule, is enough. Yoga asanas, the physical postures of the broader yoga philosophy, allow us to connect with our bodies, calm our minds through regulated breathing and increase our flexibility and the health of our bodies overall. This is an exercise that appears in our children’s mindfulness book, Making Mindful Magic, available in our online store and on Amazon US and UK.
Some easy yoga poses that children can easily connect with and remember, owing to their gentleness and animal or familiar names and shapes include:
- Cat Pose
- Cow Pose
- Bridge Pose
- Cobra Pose
- Corpse Pose
- Downward Facing Dog
- Cow Face Pose
- Tree pose
More information on the poses, including pictures on the Yoga Journal! You don’t need yoga mats to do such simple poses, a patch of grass or carpet will do just fine for this easy level.
5. Nature Appreciation
This is a theme that also appears in our book, Making Mindful Magic, often; taking the time to appreciate nature. Stopping to notice all the beautiful creations in nature, from the trees to the waves, to the leaves, to the grass and the sky, to insects and birds, is an easy way to help children to connect with the grounding energy of nature, to appreciate the simple, free things in life. A way to incorporate this theme into the classroom could include a short nature walk somewhere on the school grounds to collect leaves, flowers, pebbles, blades of grass, and taking them back to the classroom, spending time appreciating the colours, shapes, names of each thing collected, perhaps turning them into a collage, gluing them on the page and writing or drawing around this theme.
We hope you’ve enjoyed our suggestions for easy mindfulness exercises for children to use in the classroom, and of course, these are all exercises not just reserved for teachers and educators but are ideas you could adapt for home, your therapy practice or studio as well.
As supporters and promoters of mindfulness for kids, at home and at school, and the role that passing on a mindful approach to life can have on children, we’re always on the lookout for others around the world that share our enthusiasm and beliefs.
We’ve collected up our some of our favourite organisations and initiatives we’ve come across on Instagram and the internet to inspire you and share examples of people creating change in their communities by teaching kids a more mindful way of living.
Here are five of our favourites:
1. Whole Beings Holistic education centre for kids
Burleigh, Gold Coast, Australia
Whole Beings was founded by two teachers who also happen to be sisters, who believe that the mind, body, and spirit of a child should be nurtured holistically to help them grow into all that they can be. Peace, compassion and gratitude, a connection to the natural world and the community are all part of their belief system they pass on to the children they teach.
A holistic non-standard approach to educating each individual learner for who they are is employed here with all their students. Whole Beings have offerings for young children to play, learn and create as well as after-school programs for school-aged children and teens to nurture each child's spiritual growth, guide them to use kindness, positive affirmations, and EFT as a mindfulness tool. Whole Beings’ revolutionary approach to education makes us excited for the future of education systems and all the possibilities we have available to us if we dare to think outside the box!
2. Wymbin Yoga Yoga, wellness and meditation classes for kids
We connect very strongly with Wymbin Yoga’s reason for being, based on ‘a deep belief that by starting with today's youth, we can start to change the world.’ We started Making Mindful Magic because of an awakening in our own lives of the powers of mindful living and everything that comes with it but realised that the place to start was with our children.
Wymbin is a children and youth yoga studio that focuses on providing families with wellness education, movement-based classes, and an inclusive community environment in Calgary, Alberta in Canada. They believe that through all these initiatives they can help kids flourish and grow!
Wymbin Yoga offers a variety of classes for kids including different variations & styles of yoga, dance, movement, meditation, and mindfulness including some very cool sounding parent and child classes families can do together.
3. Holistic Life Foundation
Implementing daily meditation and movement practices in schools and providing high-quality yoga and mindfulness education to individuals and communities.
The Holistic Life Foundation is a Baltimore-based non-profit organization committed to nurturing the wellness of children and adults in underserved communities. Through a holistic approach helping children to develop their inner lives through yoga, mindfulness, and self-care, they’ve served 14 different schools in the Baltimore area.
The Holistic Life Foundation come in and train the students over a short period of time to lead their own classmates in stretches, breathing exercises, centering exercises and meditation. Students continue to lead their classes through these exercises regularly once the foundation has done their job, meaning these practices are sustained over long periods of time leading to happy, healthy, stress-free, relaxed, and peaceful students.
We found this incredible organisation through a great article on CNN talking about how The Holistic Life Foundation helped a school replace detention with a Mindful Moment Room to help kids re-centre and think about what they’d done instead of being punished.
4. The Hutto Project Choir for children of displaced populations living in a refugee camp
In 2016, The Hutto Project came into an emergency refugee camp outside Berlin with the objective of creating a creative music and performance program for the asylum-seeking children living in the camp. For the duration of the project, which has now ended as the camp is no longer in operation, they provided space, time, and musical instruction — 90 minutes, three times a week — for children ages three to fourteen from Syria, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine, Moldova, and Vietnam. Together, they explored music theory and performance, created original choral music and movement pieces, and collaborated with artists of all disciplines and ages.
The objective of the initiative which we wholeheartedly applaud and agree with, was about providing consistency to these children, displaced from their homes, countries and everything they knew, fostering self-expression, and building bridges between the many cultures living in the small community.
They found that structure also had a big impact on the kids, whose days were otherwise free-form, chaotic, and random in the absence of a formal schooling program in the camp. We believe strongly in the power of music and creative expression as important parts of mindful living for kids, music can even act as meditation as we wrote about recently in our post on 5 Easy Ways to use Music as a Mindfulness and Meditation Tool for Kids.
5. Jamie’s Food Revolution Mindful eating, healthy food and food education for kids
UK, USA and Australia
Access to good, fresh, real food and the basic skills to cook it has the power to transform kids’ lives, and that’s what the Jamie Oliver Food Foundation is all about. Jamie’s Food Revolution aims to improve the health and happiness of future generations, through the food they eat. From their food education programmes to their national and international campaigns that influence policy on key issues, they aim to revolutionise the way people feed themselves and their families.
Two of Jamie’s projects we love are; the Kitchen Garden Project, empowering primary school teachers to integrate growing and cooking into the school day, and the Ministry of Foods practical and hands-on community-based cooking programme that teaches people of all ages how to cook. Food is the only fuel we give our bodies, and part of a mindful approach to life is being mindful of the food we eat and how we eat it, looking after our bodies, minds and spirits and giving us and our kids the best chance to thrive and grow.
Developing a routine of self-reflection is beneficial for adults and children alike. Making time for self-reflection and self-awareness activities for children at home and in the classroom helps kids to gain a better understanding of both the world around them and especially themselves.
I love this quote from Jennifer Porter, ‘Reflection gives the brain an opportunity to pause amidst the chaos, untangle and sort through observations and experiences, consider multiple possible interpretations, and create meaning.’ A lot goes unnoticed without time for reflection, many opportunities are lost to assimilate what happens into our thought process without it.
If we quieten our minds enough to allow self-reflection we can also grow in our understanding of ourselves and this helps us move towards self- acceptance and self-love which are so very important to our emotional health and well-being. Children’s need for this is as great as adults and what a gift to them and the society they will be functioning in as adults, to be making space for self-reflection from an early age. If children are encouraged to believe self-reflection is not only acceptable but necessary, then we are all winning.
Our five top ways to encourage children to self-reflect are these:
1. Be a good example as an adult. Do you project the image of the adult in their lives who is always busy, always having to do, rather than be? Are you the person who sits and reflects without any agenda? If you are then bravo! If you aren’t, then think about making time in your own life for self-reflection and tell your children that are you are having quiet reflection time.
2. Help them find the time in their own lives. Don’t schedule every second of their lives or be perturbed that they may be bored if they have free time – it is every child’s right to be bored and to fill it with time just to reflect and to be!
3 Make a Family Time for self-reflection – it can be part of a sit and do nothing time or it can come with a simple question – maybe thinking about how you feel now or how you felt during your day? Start small, like 2 minutes and build it up from there.
4 Make journal writing a part of their routine. Very young children can use non-written ways to write a journal, drawing about their feelings or dictating to a parent can be used if they are too young to write themselves. You don’t have to solve the problem, you can be merely the one who gives comfort and validation to a feeling. It can of course be about positive feelings, not just difficult ones. It may be a time when they can accept a situation or decide they can do something about it. What is important is they know its ok to self-reflect and ponder life. They will love the independent and powerful feeling it gives them!
5 Encourage gratitude Ask the question often, ‘What are you grateful for?” You can start by sharing what you are grateful for so they get the ideas. This notion of gratitude can often put in perspective those difficult situations as being perhaps not as huge as they may have thought when weighed against the positive things in their lives.
Self-reflection helps us realise some things are out of our control and need to be accepted as a part of our life’s journey. It gives us the space to recognise who we are and to, therefore, accept and love ourselves. It can steer us into thinking what it is about our life that makes us happiest, who are the people and experiences that give us the most joy and peace in our lives. If we are comfortable exploring who we really are then we can better use and trust our own guidance and intuition.
Free time for thinking allows us to access that part of ourselves that we can so often deny, that part that keeps our hidden feelings, our hurt feelings, the ones we are always trying to keep down there deep inside so we don’t have to face them. Letting ourselves have time so they can come up and surface and to feel comfortable enough to sit with them and deal with them is a healthy habit to develop especially in a child as it can be carried into adulthood where the hurts from our childhood can fester!
Self-reflection is for everyone! It’s a time for getting to know yourself better and to accept yourself. It’s not a time to explore the idea of being perfect, that leads nowhere positive but learning to accept and trust yourself is a gift best learned as early as possible!
If you’re reading this blog then I think we are in agreement that some more mindfulness in our lives is a good thing. I was privileged to see how that can happen in real life a few nights ago when my daughter, Louise and I joined a large crowd to attend an evening with Eckhart Tolle at the Brisbane Convention Centre.
There is no hype that surrounds this genuine man – he simply sits on a chair and talks! His only acknowledgment of technology is the presence of two large screens behind him on either side that allows his audience to interact more fully with him. But there is no sideshow of a moving background, only a true representation of a simple man sitting and sharing his thoughts.
There is no gesticulating, no walking up and down the stage or on a centre catwalk, no raised voice to make a particular point. It is a bland delivery for those used to the enhancement of modern technology but one that is truly engaging and shows a man living his own truth, showing the world how to be present and being entertaining at the same time.
This realisation led my daughter and I to ponder afterward how one can sit still for 2 hours and engage an audience simply by speaking – did he actually prepare for it, how does he remember it all if he does or does he simply let whatever wants to come up, come up? I loved Louise’s summary when she said, ‘For two hours he allows the presence to flow through him.’ I think that is the essence not only of his presentation but also to the heart of his message. It is possible to engage not only others but also yourself if you are really being in the moment. Then you are not relying on outside distractions and not paying attention to that debilitating voice in your head, insisting you need to prove yourself over and over when engaging with others.
He made many memorable points but there were a couple that I found especially relevant and easy to remember and use to encourage and practice, not only for ourselves but for our children and all our family members.
I loved this line, ‘In the doing remember to bring in the being’. We all have commitments and for some of us, there are many but we can still use those times to be present in the moment, to not be in our heads focusing on past events or ones yet to come but instead to be mindful of focusing our attention on what we are currently doing.
He’s very passionate about this one, ‘Time without social media is essential.’ It’s one that can take over our lives, one that is important to remember and for our children as well as ourselves. It is easy to distract ourselves from life by engaging in what we deem as incredibly important messages, posts, clips etc rather than to give ourselves the opportunity to ‘be’ and to do nothing at all!
His challenge was to be that person who can happily sit without technology supporting us. It used to happen before technology became so easily available ‘round the clock’, people used to sit and just be but now it is rare to see people without the mandatory phone in their hands if they are required to wait in a queue, for example.
He explained how his love of being in nature and the expansiveness it offers to our thinking can be coupled with the notion of ‘no technology’ to be more present in our lives. He encouraged us to use time in nature to begin the process of being with ourselves, rather than with our phones. He says it is the easiest way to be present – look at the sky, those few seconds of wonder can be the start of being in the present, do it more often and for longer and it will become part of your being. Then, over time, challenge yourself by moving into a busier location and apply the same principles – just sit and look around you, take in your surroundings, acknowledge the noise but don’t let it take you over. You will find over time that presence is possible wherever you are and no matter how challenging the surroundings.
I needed to look no further that Eckhart Tolle himself to believe what he says is true – he is a living personification of his principles and those of you who have read my past blogs will know that I am inspired by people who are brave enough to live their own truth and he is one of those people for sure.
He is not only a world-renowned speaker whose sessions are numerous on UTube but also a prolific writer. I’m going back to re-read a couple of my favourites, ‘The Power of Now’ and ‘A New Earth’ and I invite you to join me in exploring his wisdom but also his immense personal portrayal of living in the present.