The first weeks of school are busy; so busy that I couldn’t even get to this welcome back post. (Welcome back from Tall Trees Grow Deep!) The start of school is exciting, but unfortunately, schools are often kinetic environments filled with noise, interruptions, and a barrage of information for both kids and adults. We are not doing our kids any favors by teaching them that life is about constant busyness and chaos. Kids also need time to process, slow down, lay around, relax, chill, unwind and unplug (without a screen!). It’s our job to scatter throughout our kids’ days some mindful moments of contemplation and relaxation. I’ve challenged myself to start off every class this year with two quiet, mindful minutes with my students; and my wife and I are trying to integrate similar moments into our children’s lives at home. Even small doses of mindfulness can build self-control, increase attention and focus, aide in relaxation, and help with mood regulation. And it’s not just for the kids! We need it, too. So whether you’re a teacher or a parent, here are some simple ideas to get you going.
1. Ring a chime and have your students concentrate on the sound, raising their hand when it disappears. Do this daily, followed by five deep breaths led by a student, and you’ve got a simple routine.
2. Set a timer and have students simply count how many breaths they take in two minutes. As a bonus, track their counts over the week. See if they can slow down their breathing by a few beats each day.
3. Give each student a small chocolate or yummy fruit and have them silently eat it for a full two minutes, noticing everything, the flavors, textures, and smells.
4. As a family alternative, start dinner with two minutes of quiet, mindful eating so that you have a chance to really notice the tastes and smells of the food (and also so you can calm down enough to have a conversation).
5. Have students hold an ice cube and notice the sensation as it melts.
7. Have students recall a time when they were very happy and content. Have them sit with that memory for two minutes, noticing how it feels in their body.
8. Similarly (with older kids you know well), have students recall a time when they were angry and have them sit with this feeling for two minutes, noticing how it affects their body. I do this with my boys in detention as a way for them to practice being with their anger. This helps them learn to notice their anger before it blows up, and teaches them to move from “reacting” to “responding.”
9. Use our Draw the Sound Contemplation Activity to get students to draw pictures and patterns that visualize different songs you play. This is a fun way to get students to look at sound differently, while pausing the monkey mind of incessant thinking.
10. Try out some of the great scripts and soothing audio guides at Anxiety BC Youth, a great site for helping teens work with anxiety. I’ve noticed that even my most talkative and hyper students will sit and relax during some of these simple guided meditations.
11. Or use a few of our mindfulness/meditation starter audios for kids and adults.
12. Have your students reflect on how they feed the best and worst of their personalities using The Two Wolves Contemplation Activity.
13. Games like checkers and chess are mindful games. They develop focus, calm, and concentration. They give the brain a break from thinking about the past and the future. Alternatively, making a domino run across a table or around the floor is a great way to get younger kids to develop focus and mindful concentration. I was amazed at how still and concentrated my spirited eight-year-old son got while we worked out a domino pattern across the cabin floor.
14. Two minutes of quietly noticing one sense very closely, be it sight, sound, smell, or taste, is always an quick way to get mindful.
15. For longer mindfulness and relaxation audio guides, check out some of these great tracks courtesy of Dartmouth College.
Frankly, the web is full of great resources and ideas that are just a click away. But it all can be overwhelming. Simple is sometimes better. Simply practicing with your students and children (notice you’re practicing with them, not teaching to them) to sit quietly and notice how you are breathing, for as little as two or three minutes, is all that is really necessary to begin. Sure they’ll balk and giggle and complain and roll their eyes, and sometimes you’ll be the only one who gets anything out of it. That’s okay. You’ll be a better teacher or parent because of it. For sure they’ll notice that.
More resources and ideas at Tall Trees Grow Deep. And please tell me your great suggestions.