Teaching mindfulness in the classroom can lead to amazing long term benefits for your young students. Teaching them how to recognise, think about, and reflect on their behaviours can give them life-long skills. But mindfulness can be difficult for adults. How do you teach it to young ones?
Children can find it difficult to control their emotions. If you’ve spent any time around them, you will have seen challenging behaviours. These behaviours might be caused because they can’t express themselves or don’t understand their feelings. Mindfulness can help you and them to develop strategies for controlling emotions.
Including mindfulness in your lessons takes some practice. Not only do you need to understand it, but your children also need to be trained. They need the correct training so they know what they are doing. This isn’t going to be a one lesson topic. Mindfulness is best used when fully integrated into a weekly plan.
What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness relies on the individual becoming aware of themselves. This is mostly related to their emotions and how they handle them. It’s a difficult skill when we think about it. Learning to understand our emotions and being able to work with them is something a lot of adults can’t do.
Mindfulness takes a lot of its practices from Buddhism. It isn’t a religious activity but is very closely linked to Buddhist meditation. A Buddhist uses meditation to achieve a state of enlightenment. Your students will use meditation to achieve a state of mindfulness. Reflecting on experiences, feelings, and thoughts is common to both these practices.
Although mindfulness has a lot of application in helping students control emotions, it’s not just for that. Mindfulness for young children can help them feel less stressed, less worried, and happier in and of themselves. Everyone can benefit from learning to meditate.
Where did mindfulness come from?
For the actual founder of mindfulness, we need to thank Dr Jon Kabat-Zinn. He took the positive effects of Buddhist meditation and made it accessible for non-Buddhists. He created the Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction system to help people deal with stress. By recognising what triggers our stress, we can change how we react.
Kabat-Zinn took four principles from Buddhism to base this therapy on:
- Understanding the body
- Understanding the sensations or feelings
- Understanding the mind
- Understanding the mental contents
Before we can begin to teach young children to be mindful, we need to teach them to control themselves. They must control their bodies, their feelings, their mind, and eventually their “mental contents”.
Saying it is the easy part. How can we teach young children to reflect on themselves? It’s an uphill task, but that’s why we need to implement it as often as possible.
What is the goal of mindfulness?
Kabat-Zinn’s aims were the same as the Buddha. When we control ourselves and can reflect on the world, life becomes less stressful. We don’t get as angry about things. It’s possible to control sadness and stress. We find happiness and relaxation where we might have gotten upset.
Impermanence is important in Buddhism. It is important to understand that negative events and feelings won’t last forever. Everything changes and life is in constant flow. We can feel stressed when we don’t realise this. Fearing that bad things are always going to be bad can lead to stress, sadness, and panic attacks.
Learning to use mindfulness meditation and basic yoga can get rid of fear. We understand that not all things are going to be bad forever. Life is constantly changing and there are some things we can’t control. But we can control how we react to situations.
Using meditation, you can help your students focus on how they react to things that are out of their control. They can learn to be kinder, more considerate, and generally calmer by focusing on themselves. Teaching kids mindfulness is teaching kids to “let go”.
How successful is mindfulness?
Mindfulness is becoming more and more popular in non-clinical circles. The more studies that are carried out, the more positive results we see for mindfulness.
Incorporating mindfulness with young children is becoming more and more popular as an approach to improving mental health.A study from 2014found that long-term mindfulness sessions lead to better performance in school and resilience to stress. The psychologists studied children from 6 to 18 years old and found an improvement at all ages.
Using mindfulness practice with children in Early Childhood Education can help them think smarter, not harder. Reducing stress in classrooms helps children tackle difficult challenges. They are less stressed when out of their comfort zone and more likely to repeat tasks. Using mindfulness like this links strongly with a Growth Mindset.
When we can encourage our students to stop worrying about stressful challenges, they can focus on reaching their goals. A student who is struggling with writing stops worrying about never being able to write. They learn that they can't write well now, but can improve it by following steps a, b, and c.
How do I implement mindfulness in my class?
That’s a huge question. There are many ways to begin practicing mindfulness to young children. You can use apps, short activities in classes, or build entire days around mindful activities. The most important part of implementing mindfulness is consistent practice.
More importantly, implementing mindfulness needs you to create a classroom that is appropriate for it. Kabat-Zinn said that mindfulness can only happen in a warm, friendly, and open space. Creating the correct environment for mindfulness is the first step for making mindful individuals of your students.
When you have a learning environment built on mutual respect, caring, and support, you can start to introduce mindfulness practices. This is easier said than done, sometimes. This process will differ from class to class, but creating the correct environment is an absolute must when introducing mindfulness for young people.
How can I get the most out of mindfulness?
Mindfulness works best when children can use it often. Giving them opportunities to be mindful, calm, and focused on emotions is key. Just like physical activity helps them become better sportspeople, mental activity helps them become better meditators.
Including mindfulness for young children in your long-term planning
Mindfulness can’t be a one session thing. Students in early childhood will not understand how to be mindful until after a few sessions. You need to train them in the process. The way you do this is up to you, but it will need to be differentiated for each class.
When you sit down to do the dreaded long-term plan for your school year, think about how much time you can devote to mindfulness. It can be difficult to find much time, but half an hour a week can be enough to encourage reflection. After enough practice, students may even start being mindful on their own!
It’s also important to know that mindfulness doesn’t need to be its session. You can include it as a starter or a plenary. Using it as a start in the first lesson of the day can help students get ready for a day of learning. Using it as the final plenary of the day will lead to excellent reflection on what they’ve learned that day.
The most important point is that mindfulness needs time. Children don’t learn to write after having only one lesson. They need a lot of practice and a lot of support. The same goes for mindfulness, so you need to give them time. Time on their own, time with you, and time as a class altogether.
Set Time Aside Each Week
If you’re unsure where to start, set aside half an hour each week. This gives you plenty of time to try out one new activity weekly and see what works. You’ll get things wrong. There will be wasted sessions. Sometimes, your kids won’t make the improvements you want. That’s fine - you just need to focus on finding a way to introduce mindfulness.
By creating time each week (or day, if you feel ambitious) where children can be mindful, we encourage self-reflection. Just like any skill, self-reflection needs practice. Using the same or similar mindfulness activities each time will make your students into mindfulness experts.
Let’s say they do task 1. After task 1, you ask them to reflect on how they felt using one of our Mindfulness Activities (see below). If this reflection was successful and you felt the class got something out of it, you can try it with tasks 2, 3, 4, etc.
Building up a regular time for mindfulness helps young children to understand what they are doing. They get better at thinking about their thoughts. They’ll also improve how they react to things in the future if you guide them the correct way. Setting up your classroom to encourage long-term, desirable traits in your young people will lead to happier and more self-aware children.
Using Mindfulness As Part Of A Behaviour Meeting Process
Behaviour meetings can be difficult. Especially when parents have to come in. But the most important aspect of them is to find challenging behaviours and develop plans to create positive behaviours. Using mindfulness can help children identify, understand, and rationalise behaviours that concern others.
You will need examples of past behaviours. These can be challenging or positive, but they need to be recent enough that the child will remember them clearly. Using a selection of emotion picture cards, ask the child to identify how they felt.
When we identify an emotion, we can start to build bridges between events. How did you feel here? How did you react? How did that reaction make you feel? How do you feel now about that reaction?
By using mindfulness and focusing on the emotions surrounding our emotions, behaviour meetings become less stressful. We open up a dialogue between the children, the parents, and the school staff. When everyone understands the way the child felt (including the child), it can be easier to make plans for encouraging more positive behaviours.
Example Mindfulness Activities For Children
Wanting to include mindfulness in your class is all well and good. If you don’t implement easy activities for young children, it can end up being a waste of time. Using simple language activities to teach complex topics to children can make mindfulness a key part of your teaching, not just your lessons.
Mindfulness activities can sometimes be resource-heavy. I don’t like resource-heavy teaching as it can lead to wasted time and effort if it doesn’t go well. Here are some resource-light ideas to introduce mindfulness. If they go well, you can move on to more elaborate activity plans.
Use Mindfulness To Create Thought Diaries
Children can find it difficult to create connections. Maybe it’s connections between emotions and events. Some children have a very weak understanding of cause and effect, so you need to give them a structure to work it out. A great way to do this is by using a feelings diary.
A feelings diary is simply writing down how we feel and when. This can be an excellent plenary at the end of any session. Ask students to write down how they feel and what made them feel that way. If they felt proud of their work, what made them feel proud? If they felt angry or upset about something, what caused those feelings?
Being able to recognise to name emotions is key. When children can name the way they feel, they can begin to think about how they can control their feelings. Using emotion picture cards can help very young children or children with autism to join in too.
When they know which emotion they’re going to write about, they can create links. What made you feel that way? How did you react? Was that appropriate? This can be especially useful in behaviour meetings and long-term plans for behaviour. Helping the child to realise how they react and how that might be inappropriate is an excellent use of mindfulness.
Name That Emotion
A great activity for early childhood classroom is much like the Feelings Diary, Name That Emotion is a game where children recognise how they feel. This game should be played with caution, however. If you want to ask students about challenging emotions like fear or loneliness, some children can become extremely upset. Know your class before asking them to reflect on challenging emotions.
Write an emotion on the board. We’ll use happiness as an example. Most children should understand happiness as a concept, but dictionary definitions are good as well for kids who struggle to put abstract ideas into words.
Using the emotion, ask the children to relate it to their own experiences. When was the last time you felt happy? What was it that made you happy? How long did the happiness last? Is happiness like any other emotion?
These questions can be asked during “closed eyes time”. If they are closing their eyes, they can focus entirely on the memory. This works a lot like Buddhist meditation - you don’t want them to be distracted. They need to focus on their feelings and thoughts.
Give time between each question to let them think up answers. If some children in your class struggle with remembering, you could ask them to write down ideas or draw pictures, to sum up their feelings.
This is a really simple game which can be done at the start or end of any lesson. All you need are a few questions and an emotion. Let your children guide it and allow them time to discuss their feelings and memories either as a class or in small groups.
Mindfulness For Fictional Characters
If you are studying a book in class, you can ask students to think about what character x would do in a mindfulness session. This can be the same activity as Name That Emotion, but you need some material beforehand to refer to. Wait, isn’t mindfulness meant to be about how we feel?
You’re right, but young children can find it difficult to express their emotions. By making the talk about how someone else feels, they can practice empathy. Children aren’t very good at proper empathy until around the age of 7.
Piaget, a leading development psychologist, said that children can engage with make-believe from around 2. They can make immature judgements about the world and try to express their feelings and thoughts through others. They might say a teddy is scared or a doll is happy. Generally, they are projecting their feelings.
By allowing them to project their feelings onto others, you give them a safe space. They aren’t talking about themselves. This can be difficult or upsetting for some children. You ask them (without really asking) to relate their own experiences to another.
Use A Mindfulness App
Apps are everywhere. Mindfulness apps are becoming more and more available. You can use them in your class to introduce new ideas and help your students focus on a new activity for each session.
Calmis the leading app on the market right now. There are paid and free versions that you can use to teach your class the importance of meditating, calmness, and self-control. They even have some mini-courses designed specifically for children.
Smiling Mindwas specifically designed for young people in Australia. Taking your young class through the Bubble Journey, you can teach them activities for school and home. This wonderful app can give you everything you need to make the very most of your class time together in an engaging way that helps your learners.
There are many more examples out there. Finding the right one for you and your class might mean looking for one which offers the most achievements or has a leader board. You might want to go on a mindful journey or simply chill out and listen to calming music. Try out a few and find your way to encourage mindfulness for your young children.
Use Your Teacher’s Pet Creature As A Stimulus
A stimulus is something that starts a conversation or a thought process. It can be anything, in truth. What do the birds make you think? How does red make you feel? What would you want to ask the sun?
Using Your Teacher’s Pet Creature, why not ask your students to ask how it makes them feel? They can stroke it, hug it, or simply sit next to it. You can focus this on behaviour management or classroom support. Do they need more help from Your Teacher’s Pet Creature?
The reason Your Teacher’s Pet Creature is great for this is that it is a part of your class. It’s not a random object. It’s a friend and helper to your children that they know. They can focus on new ways to think, just by focusing on the object. Learning new ways to think about everyday objects may help your students be more mindful than any other activity.
Learning to help children focus on sense experience is a fantastic way to start mindfulness activities for young children. When they focus on how their body interacts with the Teacher’s Pet Creature (thinking about how the fur feels, for example), they can begin to focus on that feeling. Then you can apply it to anything.
Mindfulness is a brilliant tool for your classroom. Learning to use it as a tool for good may be a difficult journey for you, let alone your students. Finding different strategies for implementing mindfulness in your class can help you develop their academic abilities as well as their ability to deal with stress.
Learning how to practice mindfulness will help your children in the long run. Long-term studies show that it has a positive effect on children. You can help them appreciate their successes and consider their challenging behaviours. Use meditation to help them think about how they feel.
As for actually doing it, that’s up to you. We’ve given a few easy to use mindfulness activities to get you started. Try out as many things as you can to help them focus and stay calm. When you find something that works, you will see your children make great leaps forward as people ready to tackle the world.