Activity: Teaching Mindfulness

Teaching mindfulness to young children can be a difficult task. Mindfulness is an awareness of emotions, thoughts, and sensations that are happening at that very moment. Children seem to be very aware of those things naturally, but not necessarily accepting or non-judgmental - which is where practicing mindfulness comes in.

We have been studying properties of matter (solid, liquid, gas), mostly by making lots and lots of observations about how materials move and change. One of our observations was that solids that have many small parts tend to move similarly to liquids. A student brought split peas in for their example of a solid. The way that they felt in your hands, moved and changed shape as a whole, and the way they kept their shape when holding a single pea was quite interesting. 

Somewhat unintentionally (yes, I admit, it was a happy accident), I turned their interest into an exercise of self-control, flexibility, and understanding. We began talking about flexibility earlier this month; for young children flexibility simply means, "being ok when it is different," whatever "it" is. A plus about working with dried peas is that there is no immediately finished product. It moves, it changes, it falls - keeping it on a flat surface can be difficult, keeping them off the floor is even harder.

This was originally offered as a sensory activity, but gravity deemed it necessary to set a few ground rules. 

1) the peas have to stay on the tray
2) the peas have to stay on the tray
3) the peas have to stay on the tray

And I only had to remind them 6397462175 times before they really got it. Not that I expected them to "get it" on the first go (or before high school...). That isn't the point of mindfulness. It takes time and practice to develop an internal easiness. 

So, the big question: What did it look like while they were playing and how did I help shape the thought process?

For one, there was only one rule. That helped simplify any instruction and reduced my interfering with their awareness of what was going on. Secondly, I casually and sparingly narrated what was going on. The narrating is a parallel to the thoughts adults have when practicing mindfulness or meditation. Part of mindfulness is being aware of what you are thinking and feeling, then accepting that you feel that way, and moving on.  

"The peas fell off the tray. That made me mad, but it can be fixed."
    thought: I am irritated. I will try something different

"The peas are hard to control when they move so fast." 
    thought: I'm frustrated it isn't working the way I want.

"That was nice your friend gave you a turn."
    thought: That person was kind. That feels good.

"Your friend was in your space. You looked angry, but moved over so that they could play."
    thought: I resent this person for making me feel like I have to change. I still get to participate.

"The peas fall on the floor when you pick them up. Let's think of a way to keep them on the tray. Maybe using a flat hand will help."
    thought: This isn't working the way I expected it to. I will try a different way. 

I feel like this post could go much deeper than it has already, but I think that would make this activity larger than it was. At most, it was a practice in self-control alongside guidance in awareness of feelings and sensations. There is the piece of mindfulness that is non-judgmental, but I feel that these children are working on accepting how they feel and accepting the world around them. We are going to continue practicing being flexible and accepting of their emotions throughout our play, at least through the month of April. 

For older children, I recommend the Cosmic Kids series on mindfulness: Zen Den. There are several episodes available on YouTube, hitting on topics such as: reeling thoughts, want, calmness.

How do you help children develop mindfulness?