I'm currently teaching mindfulness to children aged 6 to 8, and find that teaching mindfulness to young kids is so rewarding because they teach me as much as I teach them.
Have you ever wondered what a mindfulness class for kids in Kindergarten to Grade 3 would look like in action? What happens when we ask fidgety, energetic little ones to sit quietly and focus on their breathing? How do we cultivate mindfulness and emotional intelligence that will last far beyond the school year?
Although they are still in the process of developing skills of attention and listening, and beginning to learn interactive social skills and self-awareness, kids at this age are very good at play.
Top 3 activities for mindfulness and self-awareness
Kids are highly motivated by stories and games, and fun activities of all kinds. So we can take this understanding and use it in mindfulness classes that will help their brains develop new skills.
The key is to develop activities and games that allow every child to feel competent and included, and at the same time design the activities to offer practice in the skills of mindfulness as a sort of side-effect.
Here are a few basic activities for beginning to teach mindfulness to small children. They have been proven to increase children's attention and focus. As a huge bonus, daily short practice also leads them to use more mindful, attentive, and kind interactions with each other.
Activity 1: Body scan statues
This simple exercise can be done in one-on-one or small groups. Before starting, encourage them to think about how their body is feeling throughout the activity.
Have them lie down on their back on a carpet or mat, and close their eyes.
Tell them to squish their toes and feet, squeeze their hands into fists, and make their legs and arms hard "like a statue."
After a few seconds, tell them to release all their muscles and relax.
What it does: The Body Scan activity gets kids to be more aware of their bodies and teaches them how to use this "trick" to find a way to be present in the moment.
Activity 2: Heartbeats
Paying attention to one’s heartbeat is another simple exercise that has a role in many other mindfulness exercises and activities.
Tell your kids to jump up and down in place or do jumping jacks for one minute.
Have them sit down and put a hand over their heart.
Instruct them to close their eyes and pay attention only to their heartbeat and their breath.
What it does: This activity shows children how to notice their heartbeat, which also helps them practice focusing on the present moment.
Activity 3: Mindful breathing tricks
Mindful breathing is another important building block we can use in developing a healthy mindfulness practice in children.
First, do the Body Scan and Heartbeats activities.
Tell your kids to hold up one hand in a starfish position (fingers spread wide) while they gently trace up and down each finger with the other hand, focusing on regular breathing.
Have them pause and count their breaths. One breath in is "1," the next breath out is "2," and continue on for 10 or 15 breaths, depending on their attention spans and counting abilities.
Ask them to imagine a sailboat that rises and falls as they breathe. With each inhale and exhale, the boat moves gently on top of the water.
Have them envision their breath as a color and focus on the experience of their breath moving through their nostrils.
Ask them to pretend they used to be a fish, and imagine how it would feel to breathe through their lungs for the first time.
What this does: These imagination activities will help them focus on their breathing when facing emotions — especially anger, sadness, or fear — that are difficult for young kids to manage.
(Mindful Breathing activities adapted from Positive Psychology Program's mindfulness training for young children.)
Find mindfulness classes for young children in Vancouver
Teaching mindfulness to younger kids is very different from leading mindfulness classes that are designed for older kids and teens. Want to learn more, or find mindfulness classes in Vancouver? Contact me.