Sunday, May 7, 2017

Teaching Students Mindfulness

All children can benefit from mind-body activities like mindful breathing and visualization, but especially children who are dealing with something really significant like a recent move, a divorce or a death in the family. Mind-body exercises can help kids learn to calm their minds and regulate their emotions. Some of the many benefits of introducing mind-body exercises into your classroom include students learning better self-control, anxiety management, concentration and mental focus.

Breathing and Movement
Engaging children in breathing and movement activity helps them to become more aware of their bodies and the sensations within their bodies. It teaches them how to use their breath to focus their attention and calm themselves. The goal is for kids to learn techniques that they can later use when they need help regulating their emotions or behaviors. The more they practice, the easier it will be for them to call on these resources during uncomfortable or overwhelming situations.

A simple lesson to begin with is deep belly breathing. In this activity, students will stand up straight with their feet shoulder-width apart, their bodies relaxed and their eyes closed. You will read the instructions for them to follow as they observe the breath as it flows through their body.

Progressive muscle relaxation is another great activity for helping students becoming aware of their bodies as you guide them through tightening and then releasing their muscles from their heads to their toes.

Mindfulness exercises give kids the opportunity to be fully present in the moment. Being mindful and focused on a task can provide relief from revisiting past stress and trauma, like abuse or an absent family member, or from worrying about the future.

Try this simple listening activity. Have your students sit quietly at their desks with their eyes closed. Ask them to quiet their minds and listen very carefully to what is going on around them. Then set a timer for one minute. They may hear the tick of a clock or the hum of a computer, the sound of their own breath entering and leaving their body or birds chirping outside the classroom. Encourage them to try and keep thoughts from interrupting their listening. When time is up, ask students to notice what their bodies and minds feel like compared to before the activity.

A more active exercise you can try is leading your students on a color search. Make one copy of this printable for each student and have them search the classroom (or library, or hallway, or outdoor space, etc.) to find one item for each color listed on the sheet. The only catch? They must search independently and silently so that everyone can work mindfully.


Guided Imagery and Relaxation

Guided imagery is a great strategy to help kids learn to interrupt intrusive thoughts. Guided visualizations are usually directed by a script and can be recorded or read aloud. Read the script slowly in a quiet place, free from interruptions. You may want to have soft, relaxing music playing in the background while you read the script. Do whatever works best for your kids.

Try this simple relaxation exercise/guided visualization. Have your kids sit quietly and comfortably in their chairs. Tell them to close their eyes and listen to the rhythm of their breathing as they follow your directions, which will focus their attention on noticing and relaxing one part of their body at a time. Afterward, encourage them to remember what this relaxed state feels like whenever they feel tension or worry, like before a big test or when they have to visit a family member in the hospital.
Create or find scripts for other scenarios you might use for guided imagery—for example, going on a hot air balloon ride, taking a walk in the woods, or sitting beside a babbling brook.

Drawing and Coloring
Drawing and coloring can be a wonderful calming and focusing activity. Take a break from the chaos of a full day and put on soft music, dim the lights, and let your kids enjoy creating something beautiful. You may even want to join in! Being able to tap into the quiet concentration that creating art requires will build your students’ capacity for self-calming in upsetting situations, such as when they are in a fight with a friend or are worrying about not finishing an assignment.
You can give your students drawing prompts such as, “Draw a picture of yourself,” or “Draw a favorite pet or animal,” or “Draw your happy place.” Or give them copies of mandalas to color or interesting printables like this one.



Journaling can be a fun and relaxing activity for your students. Journaling has the added benefit of giving kids an opportunity to work out problems they are experiencing—loss, worries, disputes, dilemmas—as well as the chance to remember good experiences. Don’t set limits on the content or format of their writing, just encourage them to express themselves any way they choose: They can make lists, write simple poems or essays or letters they would like to send, or simply jot down words or phrases.

Sometimes kids have a hard time knowing where to begin. If this is the case, they may appreciate being given prompts like “Things that make me happy (or sad or angry) are…” or “One of the best stories I’ve ever heard or read is…” or “My favorite place in the world is…” Download this printable to help get students started with lists of 10 favorite things.



As teachers, we want to help our students when they’re scared or stressed, but sometimes it’s hard to know exactly what to do or how we can take on the big emotions in the short time we have with our students each day. Here are seven quick, easy activities from The National Institute for Trauma and Loss in Children, a program of Starr Global Learning Network that can help kids manage uncomfortable or overwhelming emotions.
  1. Worry Beads
Whether students are dealing with a falling out with friends at school or a difficult divorce at home, this activity helps kids cope with their worries. They’ll be able to name their worries and create a safe place to keep them.
How it works: Give each student a Worry Bead Printable. Ask them to label each bead with something that they worry about, then color in the beads that represent their biggest worries. When they finish, share with them, “Now, instead of carrying all of your worries around in your head, you can store them right here on paper.”
  1. “If My Friend Feels Hurt, I Would Help Him or Her By …”
Sometimes when kids are feeling overwhelmed, they may not know what to do to help themselves. By thinking about how they could help a friend, they can actually come up with a list of ideas to help themselves.
How it works: Brainstorm ideas with your students about how they might help a friend who is upset or overwhelmed. Then, give them time to make a list of things they could do or say to that friend. At the end of the session, help them understand that they can do and say the same things to themselves when they are feeling hurt—they can be their own best friend!
  1. My Mask
Sometimes when kids are scared, they just want to hide behind a mask so no one can see them. This activity gives your students an artistic outlet to deal with their fears.
How it works: Ask your students this question: “If you had a mask to hide behind from your fears, what would it look like?” Pass out a mask printable to each student and give them time to decorate it any way they choose. Then ask: “Since we can’t always hide, what are some other things we can do when we are really scared? What would make you feel a little bit less scared?” Give students time to respond to the questions in their journals.
  1. “List of Things That Tick Me Off”
When kids are going through tough times, whether they are dealing with big stuff like a sick family member or something small like frustration with a project, they can understandably respond with anger and irritability. This activity will help kids articulate things that tick them off so that they can come up with constructive ways to deal with their anger.
How it works: Pass out copies of the printable shown below. Ask students to think about things that really make them angry and write them on the lines provided. Have a conversation about the harmful effects of holding onto anger—not only for ourselves, but for relationships we have with others. Together, come up with a list of strategies for coping with anger.

  1. Mandala Coloring
Coloring is wonderful outlet for relaxing and refocusing. Tapping into this resource will give students a useful tool to quiet their minds when they feel anxious or stressed.
How it works: Use this printable or download other mandalas for free at Put on soft, soothing background music, dim the lights, get out the art supplies and give students time to let their bodies de-stress and their minds wander as they color.
  1. Happy-Memory Drawing
Revisiting a happy memory can help kids create a “happy place” in their minds where they can go when they feel down or discouraged.
How it works: Ask your students to think about a happy memory from their past. Invite them to close their eyes and picture the details—the colors and shapes, sounds, smells, and people that were part of this happy time. Then give them time to capture all of the details on the printable.
  1. My Future Rainbow
Sometimes it’s nice to take a break from the everyday and dream about the future. Thinking about the future keeps us moving forward, experiencing new things and growing!
How it works: Ask your students to think about their hopes, dreams and goals for the future, either short-term or long-term. Give them a copy of this rainbow printable to write a hope, dream or goal on each stripe of the rainbow and then color it in. Now they have a tangible reminder of all the happy things they have to look forward to in the future!