During this worrying time of COVID-19 with isolation and distance learning, some children are feeling scared and may even experience some anxiety. Being in Melbourne, with a very strict lockdown, kids have been learning from home for many months. This has caused a lot of worry and confusion for one fifth grader I know. He is overwhelmed by uncertainty, a new routine, not being able to see his friends, and adapting to online learning. I know this boy is not alone as I hear about kids struggling almost every day.
At a time like this, parents and teachers are no doubt looking for anything that can help to maintain their child's emotional and mental wellbeing.
Many already use mindfulness and meditation in the classroom to help stressed or anxious students by giving them tools for coping with big feelings and challenging situations. These relaxation techniques are often introduced to curb anxiety and angry outbursts by helping kids self-regulate. While children are learning from home, mindfulness and meditation can be helpful for creating calm, peaceful learning environments and improve focus and concentration.
Benefits of meditation and mindfulness for kids
If you're teaching kids at home, you can use meditation and mindfulness as sanity breaks between lessons and to help kids get back on track if they're starting to fidget. Even if it's just going outside and blowing bubbles for a while, these brain breaks will do them and you the world of good!
Meditation for Kids
Meditation has been shown to be highly beneficial for people in all walks of life. Studies report the positive effects on wellbeing, focus and compassion for others for both adults and children.
Meditation has traditionally been associated with adults, but more and more children are reaping the rewards when schools adopt the daily practice. Teaching kids to slow down and participate in a peaceful activity like this is overwhelmingly positive but shouldn't be limited to the classroom.
Though it may seem daunting to get started, resolve to give yourself and your kids the time required to settle into a new and sometimes quite magical routine. If you don't feel you are successful the first, second or third time, don't give up - remember, Rome wasn't built in a day!
What is Meditation?
Meditation is basically sitting in a quiet space and turning inward to calm the mind. It's like gentle exercise for the brain that helps to enhance focus and reduce fear, anxiety, and stress. If used consistently, it can rewire the brain in positive ways.
Teaching Kids to Meditate
Meditation comes in many forms and the results can be different for everyone. There's no rule book for what to expect or how you must do it. Some feel they need real structure while others are more successful if they allow themselves to go with the flow and not force their practice to develop at a particular rate. Teaching kids to meditate may require some patience but the results can be so positive you'll wonder why you haven't done it sooner.
Explain to children that meditation is centred around their breath so meditation is something they can do anywhere. They will need to find a quiet and comfortable place to sit where they will not be disturbed and close their eyes, then it's just a matter of paying attention to their breath. It can be hard to keep their mind focused on their breath at first but if it wanders, they just need to be aware that it has and return their focus to their breathing.
Ask kids to find their comfortable space, settle in and close their eyes. Start to breathe and feel the breath entering and exiting the body. If the mind strays refocus on the breath.
To help kids, talk them through the first few meditations or play a video like the one below from Meditation Channel.
Once you've done a few simple breathing meditations with your kids you might like to branch out to some other guided meditations like this delectable one or the video below.
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ACTIVITY 1 - Mindful Chocolate Meditation
If you worry about your kids groaning about meditation, then this might be the answer! As the name suggests, this one involves chocolate and is a big hit with little kids and big ones too! Use as a treat when students have worked well or to encourage a little extra effort.
You will need a piece of chocolate for each child and to read through the instructions as you go.
Give each child a piece of chocolate and ask them to answer the questions you ask in their mind only (no talking).
- 1Start by taking a few big breaths, right down into your belly.
- 2Examine your chocolate noticing the colour, texture, size, and smell.
Is there a feeling of impatience, of just wanting to eat it as quickly as possible?
- 3Can you identify any of the emotions you’re feeling or is your mouth watering at the thought of eating the chocolate? Do you feel excited or guilty perhaps about eating it?
Explain that once it goes into their mouth, they are NOT to eat it right away. Instead, they are to allow it to sit on their tongue and melt.
- 4Close your eyes and pop the chocolate onto your tongue. Can you identify individual flavours in the chocolate?
- 5Notice how it feels as it starts to melt on your tongue and flows onto your teeth.
- 6Move the chocolate to another position in your mouth with your tongue. Notice if it tastes different in that position or melts more quickly.
- 7Notice the amount of saliva in your mouth and your urge to swallow.
- 8When the chocolate is fully melted, allow it to slowly slip down your throat focusing on the feelings it creates.
- 9Notice the aftertaste of the chocolate.
- 10Open your eyes.
You might like to have a short discussion about what students experienced and if they appreciated the chocolate more when they gave eating it more attention.
Talk about being more mindful in the future when they eat something and really being present while they eat it to enjoy it more.
Mindfulness for Kids
People are sometimes confused about mindfulness and its relevance with children. Mindfulness exercises have been successfully used in educational settings to help anxious kids feel better by soothing and calming, reducing stress, and creating a sense of peace. Once children have recentered themselves, it can improve their ability to focus their attention and sustain motivation to learn.
What is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness is basically slowing the body and mind to ‘tune in’ and bring awareness and attention to the present moment. It helps us to observe our thoughts and feelings without the busyness and allows us to become more self-aware.
Teaching Kids to be Mindful
Whether you're teaching online or a parent at home, you're already equipped to get started. Mindfulness can be done wherever you are without the need for any special equipment and the bonus of teaching it is that you're also benefiting from this healthy and relaxing activity.
Meditation is also a form of mindfulness. You'll often see the words together - mindfulness meditation - as the two go hand in hand.
There are many ways to introduce mindfulness but let's start with something easy that kids can do either inside or outside.
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ACTIVITY 2 - Mindful Observation
Sensory activities can help children learn to stop, listen, see, and feel what they’re doing and where they are at any given moment. This one concentrates on their sense of sight but you can adapt it to other senses as well. Mindful observation can be used at any time to help focus awareness and create a sense of peace. It can be done inside, outside, in familiar or unfamiliar environments.
Have children sit comfortably. Ask them to take a few deep breaths to centre themselves while you explain that they are going to focus on their sense of sight. Let them know that they are going to be asked to notice details about 3-5 things in the space they're in. They will record them in their head (stay silent, do not call out). A good strategy to help them remember what they notice is counting each item on their fingers. It will help focus on and recall individual things by holding their thoughts physically on their hands.
If you're working with younger children, ask them to notice and report on one thing at a time.
Remind children that they are to look closely at one item at a time. If they become distracted they simply become aware that their attention has wandered and return it to the item. They are to notice; its colour, size, shape, is it heavy, light, hard, soft, rough, etc.
Give them 2 minutes to silently observe items in their environment.
If working with other children, form a circle to share findings. When everyone has shared, ask if anyone was surprised by what they saw. Were there things they've never noticed before about any of the items they looked at.
Introduce this process as a strategy for focussing on other senses – hearing, touch, smell. Depending on students’ development and practise, they may be able to begin to acknowledge multiple observations and record them in more formal ways.
When consistently practised, mindful observation can become embedded into a child’s awareness of their environment and develop their ability to focus their attention on details.
Free Mindfulness and Meditation Apps
If you want to take mindfulness and meditation a little further there are some wonderful apps you can use to help calm your world.
Do you have some easy mindfulness or meditation activities that your kids love? Please share them with us here and we'll include them in this post.