Aside from its origins within several ancient traditions, mindfulness is a red-hot modern wellness trend. A quick Internet search reveals everything from coloring books to apps to YouTube channels geared toward connecting our minds and bodies. But don’t dismiss mindfulness just because it’s trendy right now. It has roots in traditions that are thousands of years old! There are many ways to practice mindfulness for kids and even more benefits to tuning in and paying attention.
What is Mindfulness?
Dictionary.com defines mindfulness as “the quality or state of being conscious or aware of something.” In modern psychological terms, mindfulness means focusing our attention on the present moment, letting our thoughts and feelings float by. In simple terms, mindfulness is the art of noticing what’s happening in right now. If you’re thinking this won’t be easy for a room full of kindergartners, read on for some tips and activities on cultivating a mindfulness practice for kids.
The Benefits of Mindfulness for Kids
The Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley gathered the results of several scientific studies and found multiple benefits of regular mindfulness practice. These include reduced behavioral problems in the classroom, better ability to pay attention, and reduced stress. As with other lifelong habits, like exercise and reading, adopting a mindfulness practice at a young age helps people grow into more resilient adults.
While countless studies exist, the science around mindfulness is still unclear, particularly when it comes to how mindfulness helps children. Don’t take that to mean that being mindful is useless, however. Instead, seek positive results in your classroom or home when choosing a mindfulness practice. Also, be flexible and willing to try different techniques and activities to suit your class or individual child. Below are some tips and activities to help you build some regular practices both at school and home.
How to Incorporate Mindfulness into the Classroom and Daily Life
- Practice the mindfulness that you preach. Teachers and parents benefit from a mindfulness practice, too. Modeling this to kids is a powerful teaching tool.
- Don’t over-explain it. Mindfulness practice is about paying attention and tuning in to our thoughts and feelings in the present moment. For kids, this can look like “quiet breathing time” or “listening time” designed as an intentional break. Describing thoughts like clouds passing in the sky that we simply allow to float along is a simple way to explain mindfulness to children.
- Make it a restful and restorative part of each day, like preschool or kindergarten nap time. Mindfulness practice time is ideal for transitions during the day, like before lunch or recess or at bookended at the beginning and end of the school day.
- Several nonprofit organizations like Wellness Works in Schools, MindUp, and Mindful Schools offer mindfulness curriculums and facilitation/teacher training to use in schools.
Some Mindfulness Kids Activities for at Home or in the Classroom
- Coloring & Drawing – Coloring books, free mandala coloring pages, and mandala drawing are all relatively new but wildly popular methods of cultivating mindfulness. We have recently released a new Mindfulness for Kids Mandala Drawing Book to take a deep dive into this wonderful, relaxing activity that is easier than it seems!
- Meditation – There are many forms of meditation, some centered around breathing, others focusing on chanting, and still others on listening to a particular sound. Be sure to adjust quiet meditation time for specific age groups. Smaller kids will become squirmy after a while, for example, so shoot for 1-3 minutes to start. Here are some ideas to break down meditation into simpler, more bite-sized practices for kids:
- Listen to the bell – Have students sit comfortably and close their eyes. Tell them that you are going to play a sound and ask them to carefully listen to that sound until they can no longer hear it. Have them raise their hands, eyes still closed, when they can no longer hear the sound. Use a singing bowl, a bell, or an audio recording on your smartphone to make the sound.
- Breathing – Set a timer with a gentle chiming sound at the end, and have students sit quietly, eyes closed, and focus on each breath in, and then out. You can prompt children periodically throughout this practice, reminding them to gently follow their breath until the chime sounds.
- Moving Meditations – These are great for kids who have difficulty sitting still for long periods and a nice way to add variety to a mindfulness curriculum. Have students pass a cup of water to each other without spilling a drop, or walk slowly around a table carrying a bell without ringing it. Encourage them to focus on calmly breathing in and out and on moving slowly and with purpose.
- Make a “Mindful” Jar – This is a great visual aid using some easily found materials that combine to make a go-to classroom sensory support. Use Mindful Jars as a group or with individual students who could use some peace and calm in their busy days.
- You’ll need: mason jars or plastic bottles, water, glitter glue, glitter, and food coloring.
- Fill the container about ¾ of the way full with warm water.
- Add some glitter glue to warm water and stir to combine.
- Add 2 or 3 drops of food coloring; don’t overdo it or it will be hard to see the glitter.
- Add some extra glitter.
- Top the container off with more water, leaving some room at the top, and close or seal it.
- When students need some time to re-center or find some inner calm, have them shake the mindful jar and focus on the glitter until it re-settles at the bottom.
Additional Mindfulness Resources
- Smartphone apps Headspace and Buddhify offer guided meditations designed specifically for children.
- Blissful Kids has a handy infographic that explains mindfulness and the brain to kids.
- The New York Times has a comprehensive online guide to mindfulness for kids of from infancy up to the teen years. It suggests practices, activities, and sample audio meditations.
- The OT Toolbox has a roundup of YouTube videos on mindfulness for kids. Includes a breath meditation, a 3-minute body scan, with a mix of ideas for younger and older kids.
- Here’s a great list of 10 ideas from Left Brain Buddha on how to teach mindfulness to kids.