Draw the Sound: A Contemplation-Meditation Activity for Kids (and Adults)

2013-05-15 16.09.24The mission of this website is to offer resources that help kids (and adults) pause and contemplate.  As Richard Foster says, “The desperate need today is not for a greater number of intelligent people, or gifted people, but for deep people.” As a teacher at a juvenile correctional facility, I’ve started creating activities to engage my students in a new way–a calmer, more contemplative way. There’s a real need to teach our children to pause, reflect, and see things beyond the lens of our 24/7 consumer, digital culture. This was one of the first activities I created. It’s easy, fun, relaxing, and the kids really liked it.

The activity is called Draw the Sound. Of course, kids love music. It speaks to them in deep ways. But I wanted to create an experience where they could think about music in a new way, in shapes and colors. Taking a cue from the Disney movie Fantasia (I actually showed them a clip) and the artist Jackson Pollock, I gave all my students colored pencils and a simple graphic organizer with three different shaped boxes. I then played a selection of songs and gave them the simple direction to listen to the music with their eyes closed for a few minutes, slowly allowing the music to generate images and colors in their head. Then I had them randomly pick a box on their paper and draw the sound.

It was actually quite challenging for them at first because it required them to connect and use different parts of their brains in new ways. Of course, I did it with them, and many of the kids took their cue from me. I began scribbling and tapping, switching colors as my mood called for it.  I generated random patterns and circles. Quickly the kids caught on. Some made random shapes and colors, others drew real pictures that reflected the music.

We went through three full songs in silence, pencils whirling, and most kids were fully engaged in the moment. Of course, the hidden agenda for me was to have them all achieve a few moments of pure mindfulness, a gap when their spinning, manic, ADHD brains slowed down, stopped dwelling on the past and future, and entered into the pure present.  Anxiety is especially high in my classroom, since most kids are waiting for trial or sentencing, so I was surprised how engaged they became. The girl classroom especially loved the activity and we ended up coloring to music for a full hour, but even the older, angry, moody, rough-and-tumble boys got into it.

A few remarkable things happened. First, when we finished, they were much calmer and focused (and able to do math).

Second, to make the activity more of a game, I instructed them to color in the boxes in a random order, so their neighbors (and I) did not know which drawing went with which song. Then we shared our drawings and each had to guess who drew what pattern or picture for what song. Several of us had quite similar drawings for certain songs, even though we have very different backgrounds, tastes, and experiences.

Another remarkable thing was that some of the kids were able to broaden a bit in their musical taste. They were able to feel emotions in songs they typically would “hate,” like my boring jazz music.

After the activity, I had them answer a series of reflection questions.

In our fast-paced, surface-driven world, it is so important to teach our children ways to pause and reflect. You can download a pdf of the activity for free here. Give it a try and let me know how it works.

If you subscribe to my blog, I’ll give you a free mini e-book of eight other contemplation activities. They’re all still in test mode, so some work better than others. I’d love feedback.

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