These days when we ask the question, "Should we prioritize academics or social-emotional learning in schools?", the answer is mostly yes to both. Academic skills are, of course, critical for students' long-term success. However, students may not learn how to process their emotions and connect with others in healthy ways if they are not exposed to intentional social-emotional learning (SEL). This is where mindfulness activities might help.
If you're not sure what mindfulness is, here's a simple rundown. Mindfulness entails being aware of and accepting our surroundings as well as our internal experiences. Mindful people tend to concentrate on the present rather than the past or the future, and they foster an interest in their thoughts, emotions, or bodily sensations.
Why Mindfulness is Important for Students?
Mindfulness has been linked to two basic social-emotional abilities by the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) - self-regulation and self-awareness. These abilities educate kids not just on how to detect their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, but also on how to respond positively to them.
According to brain imaging research
- Practicing mindfulness can change brain structure in a way that improves a student's stress response.
- It improves blood flow in the brain and thickens the cerebral cortex, which is responsible for perception and cognition.
- Mindfulness activities not only reduce stress but can also aid with anxiety and depression.
- It can be especially beneficial for children with learning impairments, particularly those suffering from attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
9 Simple Mindfulness Activities for Students
This activity is excellent for bringing our minds to the importance of our breath. We take short breaths when we are stressed. Deeper "belly breaths," on the other hand, focus our attention and soothe us. Ask your students to breathe deeply and slowly for five minutes, sitting or standing. Instruct them to count to three on the inhalation and three again on the exhalation. You could recommend that they place their hands on their stomachs to feel the air go in and out.
Ask your students to think of a calming color and another that expresses anger, irritation, or despair. Have them close their eyes and make them imagine that they are breathing in the calming color and allowing it to fill their entire bodies. Ask them to imagine the "negative" hue leaving their body and diffusing throughout the room as they exhale.
The Five Senses
This next activity is a terrific way to unwind after a stressful day or to reconnect with friends and family. Relax and consider the following:
- What are the five things I can see?
- What are the four things I can touch?
- What are the three things I can hear?
- What are the two things I can smell?
- What is the one thing I can taste?
Younger students can name just a single thing for each question.
You know that feeling when you suddenly realize your neck, shoulders, or back are tense? Now comes the body scan. Ask students to stop and check in with how they are physically feeling when sitting or lying down, without criticizing them or asking "why." Check-in questions are:
- "How's my breathing?" Is it shallow or deep?"
- "Where do I have pain or tension?"
- "How do I feel in my (back/shoulders/face muscles/feet/neck)?"
- They respond by relaxing that region of their body as they move through these cues.
After some exposure to mindfulness activities, older students may appreciate the opportunity to expand autonomy over the class's mindfulness activities. At the start of class, assign a bell to a student in this activity. During the class, students can ring the bell anytime when everyone wants a break (setting a limit on how many times they can ring the bell works well to guarantee you still meet your lesson's objectives!).
When the bell rings, the class engages in a brief focused exercise (breathing, stretching, check-in with their thoughts, etc). After that, the class resumes.
Note: If you don't think having students ring the bell will work for your class, you can always ring it yourself.
Express Gratitude Every Day
Humans are particularly good at remembering the unpleasant. Not so much when it comes to remembering the good. Being grateful helps us in maintaining this balance. There is no "correct" way to practice gratitude. However, you may want to set aside the last five minutes of class for students to write down what they are thankful for, share them briefly with a partner, or think about them silently.
Providing students with an object to focus on is a terrific method to encourage concentration during mindfulness activities for kids. Use pinwheels in addition to the mindful breathing technique above, making the pinwheel spin with every exhale.
Ask kids to bring a small stuffed animal or supply a class set of small, lightweight objects such as little bean bags or wooden blocks.
Students should lie on their backs with the toy or object on top of their belly buttons.
Take students through the guided breathing exercise described above in the mindfulness breathing activity, instructing them to keep an eye on the object as it glides up and down with their breath.
Coined by Laurie Gussman, Shark Fin is a fantastic tool that is quick and very effective. This activity will help your class in being calm and composed especially when their minds and bodies are fighting against them.
Ask your students to place their side of the hand on the forehead with palms facing sidewards. Now, ask them to close their eyes. Then make them slide down their hands slowly in front of the nose. While doing so, say “shhh”. Make sure that the students are staying still while doing this activity. This activity can be performed either way i.e. sitting or standing.
While it takes work, making time to implement mindfulness activities will help you and your students. Being slow and steady is the best way forward when learning a new skill.
Here is a video from Teachmint on how to take care of your mental health:
Suggested Read: Best Ways to Use Podcasts in the Classrooms