At a time when school and home pressures mean it’s not uncommon to see signs of stress amongst students, mindfulness has taken an important role in helping young learners move forward positively. But what is mindfulness?
Essentially, mindfulness is a way of being present in each moment, noticing what you are experiencing—with compassion and without judgement. The benefits of mindfulness included increased concentration and engagement; greater decision-making skills; and an improvement in our attention span, focus, sleep, compassion, and self-esteem.
In the classroom, mindfulness helps develop a common language among teacher and students that can be used to work through moments of student stress or anxiety (“Let’s stop and take a breath,” “Was that a mindful decision?”). Interested in including mindful practices in your class? Read on.
Four points to consider before beginning
1. Include yourself in the practice
Incorporating mindful practices in your classroom will be far easier if you’re working on them in your own life. Complete newbies often find it helpful to associate mindful activities with a particular time of day; such as during the commute to work, while doing the dishes, eating, or walking to the local shops. For more, check out these other mindfulness for teachers tips.
2. Make it positive
In class, make an effort to cultivate activities that are special and different from the class’s usual routine. Don’t be afraid of ritual, such as dimming the lights or using a bell to signify the beginning and end of an activity. The idea is to create a positive feeling.
3. Remember: there is no failure
This goes for you and your students. Minds will wander: The idea is to try again.
4. Be clear about emotions
A very important part of mindfulness is identifying and naming our emotions. Make a conscious effort to cultivate vocabulary for different emotions, especially when teaching children.
The following activities are particularly suited to young learners, however, can be adapted to suit any age or level.
Mindful activities for learners
1. Mindful breathing
This activity is great for bringing the mind back to the importance of our breath. As it turns out when we’re stressed we take shallow breaths. On the other hand, deeper “belly breaths” focus our attention and calm us. Sitting or standing, ask your students to breathe deeply and slowly for around five minutes. Ask them to count to three on the inhale and three again on the exhale. You may like to suggest they put their hands on their stomachs to feel the air as it moves in and out.
2. Color breathing
Ask your students to think of a relaxing color and another color that represents anger, frustration, or sadness. Now, have your students close their eyes and imagine they are breathing in the relaxing color and letting it fill their entire bodies. On the exhale, ask them to picture the “negative” color leaving their body and dissipating throughout the room.
3. The five senses
This next activity is a great little exercise to do when experiencing a moment of stress, or as a way to reconnect. Relax and ask yourself:
- What are five things I can see?
- Four things I can touch?
- Three things I can hear?
- Two things I can smell?
- One thing I can taste?
Younger students may name a single thing for each category.
4. Body scan
You know the feeling when you suddenly realize your neck, shoulders, or back is full of tension, right? Enter the body scan. While sitting or lying down, ask students to stop and check-in with how they are physically feeling, without judging themselves or asking “why”. Check-in questions include:
- “How is my breath? Shallow or deep?”
- “Where do I feel sore or tense?”
- “How does my (back/shoulders/face muscles/feet/neck) feel?”
As they go through these cues, they respond by relaxing that part of their body.
5. Breaktime bell
After being exposed to the practice of mindfulness for some time, older students may enjoy the chance to increase autonomy over the class’s mindfulness practice. In this activity, assign a bell to a student at the start of class. During the lesson, they are able to ring the bell whenever they everyone needs a break (deciding on a limit of times they can ring the bell works to ensure you still achieve your lesson’s goals!).
When the bell is rung, the class carries out a short mindful activity (breathing, stretching, check-in with their thoughts, etc). Following this, the lesson resumes.
Note: If you don’t think giving the bell to students would work for your class you can always ring it yourself.
6. Daily gratitude
Humans are great at remembering the negative. Not so much, however, when it comes to recalling the positive. Being grateful helps us keep this balance in check. There’s no “right” way to practice gratitude, however, you may like to set aside the last five minutes of class for students to write down what they are thankful for, briefly share them with a partner, or silently think them to themselves.
While it does take practice, setting aside time to cultivate mindfulness will reap benefits for your students and for yourself as a teacher. As with any new skill (though perhaps particularly in this case!), slow and steady is the best way forward.