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Five Mindfulness Activities Teachers Can Put in Place in the Classroom

Teaching mindfulness to energetic children can be challenging, but it’s worth the effort. Studies show that the earlier young students learn to manage their thoughts, emotions, and actions, the better off they will be. Mindfulness benefits children in many ways including improving self-awareness and emotional regulation, which leads them to build stronger relationships and greater resilience. Teaching kids mindfulness can also improve their focus, leading to better academic performance.

At Empatico, we consider Mindfulness one of the nine key skills to developing a fully realized social, emotional and empathetic learner. Learn more about out 9-point Empathy Framework here.

Talking to Students About “Zones” to Describe Emotional States

One way to talk to children about mindfulness is to introduce the concept of “zones,” or the different emotional states we experience throughout the day. By identifying and understanding these zones, children can learn to recognize when they are in a less optimal state and take steps to reset and return to a more positive state.

Our mind and body work differently depending on which “zone” we are in. In our “okay zone”, we feel relaxed or happy, and make better decisions. When we move out of our “okay zone”, we might feel frustrated, sad, tired, or afraid. We all experience different zones throughout the day.

Ask your students:

  1.  Think about experiences that help you be in the “okay zone”.
  2.  How do you feel when you think about these experiences? What sensations do you notice happening inside your body?
  3.  Think about experiences that move you out of the “okay zone”.
  4.  How do you feel when you think about these experiences? What sensations do you notice happening inside your body?

How to Get Your Students to Reset

When we leave our “okay zone”, we may enter a “high zone” or “low zone”. In our “high zone”, we may feel angry or frustrated. In our “low zone”, we may not feel like doing anything, and just want to sleep. When we are in these zones, we can do things to help us return back to our “okay zone”, such as:

  • Drink water or juice 
  • Name colors in the room
  • Count backwards from 10
  • Listen to the sounds in the room
  • Push our hands against a wall
  • Go on a mindful walk

Try out these different strategies with your students, and ask them to notice the feelings and sensations that they cause. Which ones do they think can help when they are in their “high zone” or “low zone”, and want to return to their “okay zone”?

Mindfulness Activities for Kids

1.Teach your students about sensations

Just as when we notice if we are feeling too cold or too hot, we can also notice our sensations and emotions and how those make us feel. You can learn more about different types of sensations through the following:

  • Walk around your space, and find different objects and surfaces to touch. How do they feel? Are they soft, hard, or squishy? What do they smell like?
  • Rub your hands together with your palms facing each other. Slowly increase the speed. What do you notice? What is the temperature of your hands? Stop rubbing your hands – are they still warm? What else do you notice?
  • Collect different items to put in a bag or box. As you add them, describe them using sensory words. 
  • Think about your calming resources – how do they make you feel? What sensations do they cause inside your body?

What did you learn about different sensations? Which ones were pleasant? Which ones were unpleasant? Were there any sensations that were neutral (neither pleasant or unpleasant)? When we notice sensations or emotions that are unpleasant, we can take action!

2. Incorporate a grounding exercise

Grounding is when we pay attention to our body, and focus on what we hear, smell, see, and feel. When we do a grounding exercise, it can help us feel calmer on the inside and pay greater attention to our surroundings.

  1. Find a comfortable position where you are sitting, lying down, or standing.
  2. Notice different sensations in your body, like the feeling of your leg against a chair, your breathing and heart-rate, or how your muscles are tensed or relaxed. Observe the different sounds and smells around you, and what your eyes can see.
  3. If you become aware of uncomfortable sensations, try to bring your attention to one that feels neutral or more comfortable. What changes do you notice as you think about more neutral or comfortable sensations?

3. Use a guided imagery technique

Guided imagery is a mindfulness technique that uses the power of imagination to create mental images of peaceful, calming scenes to reduce stress and anxiety, improve focus and concentration, and promote relaxation in children. To teach guided imagery to kids, use simple language and age-appropriate imagery, start with brief exercises, use a soothing voice, encourage children to use their senses, practice regularly, and allow children to express their own imagery in a safe and supportive environment.

Grounding Like a Tree 

Here’s an activity that touches uses guided imagery to help your students ground.

Tell your students they can ground themselves like a tree through the following steps:

  1. Imagine you are a tree, and sit and stand like a tree in a position that feels comfortable.
  2. Imagine the trunk of your body is like the trunk of a tree, strong and solid. Don’t forget to breathe. 
  3. Pay attention to your feet, and imagine them as roots growing into the earth. Don’t forget to breathe. 
  4. Pay attention to your arms, and imagine them as the branches of a tree as you gently move them. Don’t forget to breathe.  
  5. Think about the feelings and sensations in your body as you imagine yourself as a tree. What do you see? What do you hear? What does it feel like? Were these feelings and sensations pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral? Try to pay attention to the pleasant or neutral ones, and notice what happens next.

Infusing mindfulness and empathy in the classroom is fun and easy!

Discover Empatico’s free library of nearly 100 activities that support social-emotional learning skills.

4. Take your students out on a mindful walk

When we are feeling anxious or nervous about something, it can be helpful to go on a “mindful walk”, and pay careful attention to the feelings and sensations in our body. Consider taking a fifteen minute break from the classroom to take your students out outside.

  1. Find a peaceful place where your students can walk slowly back and forth. Try to find a place with different surfaces, like grass, concrete, and dirt.
  2. Pick a surface, and walk slowly back and forth on it. As your students walk, ask them to notice how their breath is coming in and out of their body, how their feet and legs are moving, the sounds nearby or the sounds of their body moving, how the surface under their feet feels, or whatever their eyes are seeing.
  3. Next, pick a different surface to walk on. Ask your students: what feels different about this surface? Has your breath changed? Do your feet and legs move differently? Do you hear different sounds nearby or from your body?

Pay attention to the feelings and sensations in your body as you walk, and take actions that can help you feel calmer, like relaxing your muscles if they feel tight or taking deep breaths.

5. Introduce a gratitude journal in the classroom

Journaling about gratitude is a powerful way to support mindfulness. When we take the time to reflect on and write down the things we are grateful for, it shifts our focus from negative thoughts and worries to positive aspects of our lives. This practice helps to cultivate an attitude of appreciation, which can lead to greater feelings of contentment and satisfaction.

Journaling about gratitude can help your students focus on the present moment, as they take stock of the things they are thankful for in their lives right now. This focus on the present moment can be a powerful tool for promoting mindfulness, as it improves awareness of thoughts and emotions, and to respond to them in a more positive and mindful way.

Remember that integrating mindfulness into your daily lessons and routines should be done in a way that feels natural and comfortable for you and your students. Start with small steps and adapt your approach as needed.

Incorporating mindfulness activities for kids in the classroom can have a positive impact on students’ mental and emotional well-being, and ultimately help them navigate the challenges of everyday life with more ease.

We’ve made it really easy for you to infuse mindfulness activities into your daily routine. Check out Empatico’s extensive library of social-emotional activities, which includes numerous ones focused on developing the mindfulness muscle.

SEL activities to use in the classroom

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