As we learned in Part 1, "Mindfulness Classes for 6 to 8-Year-Olds: Tips for Getting Started," we can cultivate in our children present-moment awareness (mindfulness) by engaging their imaginations in mindful activities.
Play-based mindful activities create a positive association in our children's brains with the mindfulness skills they are learning. Mindfulness games and activities help to focus their attention on their body's senses of hearing, taste, and smell as a simple, natural extension of the Body Scan Statues exercise.
Mindful listening activities
For this activity, we can use a tone bar or a mindful app that makes a bell sound. A tone bar is a great tool for reducing stress and focusing attention and, compared to a singing bowl or traditional bells, it has no religious association.
Whichever sound you choose, here are some tips for working with young ones on mindful listening:
Before the bell sound, tell them they will focus on what they hear, and that they should try to listen until the sound fades away completely.
"When you can’t hear it any more, open your eyes.
"Ring the bell… (You might have to do this a few times before everyone settles down!)
After listening to the bell, talk with them about mindful listening, and connect the activity to their body- and self-awareness.
What this does: When we practice mindful listening, we strengthen the neural pathways in our brain -- specifically, the reticular activating system -- responsible for focused attention.
Explain to children that we do something physically every 8 to 9 seconds to re-engage our attention: blinking, shifting our weight, moving our tongue, and so on. When we practice mindful listening for 15 to 30 seconds (until we can’t hear the sound anymore), we are strengthening these neural pathways.
Mindful listening can also be done without using the bell sound.
First, do the Body Scan Statues exercise, then say:
"Now, just close your eyes, and listen."
"Name five different sounds you notice."
You can download a coloring sheet here to use with this activity.
Further engaging their imaginations, you can have your kids fill in the circles with pictures or words describing their sounds.
What this does: One of the powerful things we discover with mindful listening is that even "silence" isn't silent. Mindful listening can be used to help children come together and focus as a group. It helps them calm down after an energetic activity, or simply gather their thoughts at the end of the day.
Mindful eating game "The Last --- on Earth"
This activity can be done with many other fruits. This example uses oranges, one for each child.
Have them wash their hands, then choose a fruit from the box.
Give each child a paper towel or napkin.
Talk about the color, shape, and texture of the fruit.
Tell them something about the fruit: For example: "Oranges grow on trees in warm climates."
Close your eyes and imagine where your orange grew. "Can you feel the warm sun? Can you smell the blossoms? Can you see the fruit on the trees?"
"Open your eyes and smell the fruit."
"Peel the fruit slowly, taking time to enjoy the aroma, texture, and color."
Take time to smell the fruit again. "Does it smell stronger? Sweeter?"
Examine the fruit’s inner structure.
Tell them: "Place a piece in your mouth, close your eyes, and bite." Pay attention to how the flavour bursts into your mouth. Have them chew slowly and experience the texture.
Ask, "How is this different than drinking a glass of fruit juice?" As you chew, pretend this is the last ---- on earth. And it's all yours!"
(Activity adapted from the University of Wyoming Wellness.)
While they eat the last fruit on earth, tell them some interesting or fun facts about the fruit: its history, how it's grown, who grows it, what other products it can be used for.
What this does: Mindful eating allows children to experience food rather than just gulp or gobble it down. Awareness of shape and texture, smell and taste is an extension of their own body awareness. This activity also encourages attention and curiosity that can be extended to other foods and activities during the day.
Remind children that our belly can be our base, sort of like a "home base," a place we can always come back to, a place where we can feel safe and comfortable.
Start by asking them to breathe normally and place one hand on their belly and the other hand on their heart.
Ask them to take a big breath in and feel their belly and chest rise and fall.
Inhale and exhale (with their eyes closed or open).
Bumblebee breath: Inhale through the nose, exhale with lips together to make a humming sound.
Snake breath: Inhale through the nose; exhale using a hissing sound with teeth together. This is great for managing anger and anxiety.
Bear breath: Inhale through the nose to a count of 3 and exhale through the nose to a count of 5. When our exhalation is longer than our inhalation, we bring our fight/flight system back in balance with our rest/digest system.
What this does: Mindful breathing is one of the best ways to alleviate stress. If we practice mindful breathing on a regular basis, when we are not under stress, it becomes a practice that is accessible we can easily access in times of stress.
For other breathing activities -- like the bunny breath, the elephant breath, hot-air balloon, finger breathing, volcano breath, and star breathing -- contact me at the links below.
Watch kids explain what mindfulness is and why it's important.
Mindfulness Classes for Children in Vancouver
If you would like to know more about these activities and games, I'll be happy to share! At Mindful Changes, new classes and training courses are always being added to the schedule. Check out our mindfulness events around Vancouver and contact Shahin for more information.