What Is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness is being aware of what’s going on in the present moment. For kids, it helps focus attention, improve self-regulation (impulsivity and decision making,) build resiliency to stress and develop a positive mindset.
“With mindfulness, we can preserve our inner joy, so that we can better handle the challenges in our lives. We can create a foundation of freedom, space, and love within ourselves.” – Thich Nhat Hanh
I’ve been working on my own mindfulness for over a decade. It’s a practice, not a destination. Meaning, I’m not “there” yet. If “there” is even possible.
Teaching Mindfulness to Kids
First, the kids learn about their brains . . . how the sensory input starts at their amygdala, the fight, flight, or freeze response, and then, if all goes well, how the information travels to the prefrontal cortex where the rational brain makes a decision on that input. If the input gets stuck in the amygdala, the behavior is a reaction and not mindful, or thought out. However, if the input gets to the PFC (prefrontal cortex) then the behavior can be thoughtful, or mindful. Interesting, right?
But, it’s hard to remember so if your kids don’t get it, not to worry. Consider it an introduction and move on.
Then, the curriculum continues on with mindful awareness practices such as sharping each sense, learning to take different perspectives, and being mindful in the world around us.
The activities in each lesson not only always explain the brain science, but they provide ideas to engage, explore, and reflect on the learning goal.
If you’re using this in a school, there are even more connecting activities for social studies, math, language arts (journal writing and literature included,) and social-emotional learning.
The authors of this curriculum do an amazing job. (And I rarely say that about curriculum.) Choose the grade level that corresponds to your kids (K-2, 3-5, 6-8) and the content will be similar but designed for that specific age group.
The curriculum leads kids into the practice of mindfulness through the senses and thought-awareness.
One thing we do and will continue to do is LABEL EMOTIONS. Noticing what we are feeling is important to our emotional well-being. But, more than that, noticing with out judgements. See this Pooh Sticks activity for practice.
Another activity we’re doing this with our morning yoga practice since it’s very harmonious with body awareness.
Our yoga practice is one of us selecting about 8 cards from the Yoga Pretzel cards by Tara Guber and Leah Kalish to do together.One thing that I want to help my kids understand is to be mindful of their bodies. Cynthia Bjork asks kids to “sense into your bodies.” She prompts, “When you close your eyes what is that feeling like? What pops into your mind when you feel that?” She’s helped me understand that this mindfulness is called body awareness. When kids go into it, they might realize they’ve been clenching their gut, and they can consciously release it.
My kids are very resistant to the mindfulness meditations I’ve tried. They wiggle, won’t close their eyes, and groan. But, that’s okay. This is not meant to be forced upon them. Maybe it’s the time of day or maybe, I need to take Cynthia’s advice and bring God into the meditation.
She explains, “It is partially about thinking but there’s more to it than that. Our relationship with god, this alchemical relationship, something happens to us. We need to spend time with God. That’s why I love the book by Brother Lawrence, Practicing the Presence of God. His conversations, his way of being open to God. That is transformative. I think that the most important thing is developing a relationship with God through a meditative process.”
Cynthia continues to explain that there are many ways to meditate. One would be to focus on a word or verse. Another would be to focus on an image, like being wrapped up in the arms of God. Another is to empty your mind of thought. Yet another is to focus on a tangible object, like a smooth stone, or listen to a guided meditation. See what fits for your kids, and you. I’ve noticed is that my kids don’t like guided meditations — AT ALL.
Again, this is an introduction, a step in the journey. I do not expect my kids to be proficient but to give practice a whirl. And even with resistance, I accept where they are.
Mindfulness Books for Kids
I’ve had mixed reactions from my kids to these books. See what you think.
1. Planting Seeds: Practicing Mindfulness with Children by Thich Nhat Hahn, illustrated by Wietske Vriezen, edited by Chan Chau Nghiem
A teacher friend spent time at Thich Nhat Hahn’s Plum Village teaching mindfulness to the children of visitors. This book is based on the practices used at Plum Village and provides specific activities and dialogue to encourage mindfulness practice.
2. A Handful of Quiet: Happiness in Four Pebbles by Thich Nhat Hanh, illustrated by Wietske Vriezen
This seems so cool but we haven’t tried it yet — my kids are just not ready. However, I love the practice of using a pebble to focus. Each pebble represents something — a flower, a mountain, still water, and space.
The meditations for each pebble correspond with what they represent. So for the second pebble, it’s “Breathing in, I see myself as a MOUNTAIN. Breathing out I feel SOLID.”
3. Meditation is an Open Sky: Mindfulness for Kids by Whitney Stewart, illustrated by Sally Rippin
I wish my kids liked this book but we haven’t found a meditation they connect with as of yet. It is written speaking directly to the kids, not meant for a parent to read aloud to them. Each of the meditations have a purpose such as focus, security, wisdom, and relaxation.
4. Imaginations: Fun Relaxation Stories and Meditations for Kids by Carolyn Clarke
These guided meditations are lovely. It helps kids imagine and really focus their minds on what they’re imagining.
5. Peaceful Piggy Meditation by Kerry Lee Maclean
This book is FREE on Kindle! The book includes lovely activities and prompts for meditation — for kids and pigs. 🙂
6. Sitting Still Like a Frog: Mindfulness Exercises for Kids (and their parents) by Eline Snel
I’ve just listen to some of the content on the CD that accompanies this book and think it’s something I’ll buy and try with my kids. See for yourself here.
I invite you to join me in sharing the power of mindfulness with your family, too!
Then visit my post on positive affirmations for kids and ideas for tech-obsessed kids to develop emotional intelligence.
I’ll keep you posted on how things continue with our family mindfulness practice.