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Steve Haberlin's picture
Steve Haberlin is an assistant professor of education at Wesleyan College in Macon, Georgia, and author of Meditation in the College Classroom: A Pedagogical Tool to Help Students De-Stress, Focus,...
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Don’t Take this Serious! Mindfulness in the Classroom Should be Playful

Mindfulness in the k-12 classroom has been shown to improve school-related skills, such as executive functioning, social-emotional skills, working memory, sustained attention, and self-regulation (see Mindfulness in the Classroom).

Mindfulness is generally described as present-moment awareness and is a trait or quality that can be cultivated through various practices, such as sitting meditation, yoga, and breath work.

In recent years, school districts have implemented a variety of mindfulness-based programs to help students and teachers. In their classrooms, teachers have experimented with their own methods and activities to help children and teens regulate, center, and open their brains to learning.

However, how your introduce and facilitate mindfulness practices in the classroom might be as or more important than the actual methods. Rather that taking a serious, “you must do this” approach with students, the first suggestion is to invite students to the mindfulness practices, giving them choices or alternatives if they don’t want to participate. Remember, mindfulness activities might not be something parents want them to take part in or the student might just feel uncomfortable and could be better served by doing another quiet, reflective activity, such as sketching or journaling.

The other key factor in facilitating mindfulness-based practices in classrooms is to keep it light and playful. Not only does this make learning mindfulness more enjoyable for students, but there is a practical component to it. Awareness and relaxation are like two sides of a coin. Mindfulness practices require relaxing into an expanded state of awareness, for example, allowing the body to settle as you focus on the breath or you mindfully scan the body. Tension is the enemy of being mindful. Don’t believe me? Try this experiment. Close your eyes and try hard to pay attention to your thoughts and/or feelings in the body and what’s occurring around you, any sounds, for example. Work at it. Really try hard to notice things.

Now, relax, lay down if possible, take a few breaths, allow the shoulders to sink, open the hands, let the arms fall. Notice how the breath softens or deepens. Now, pay attention to your thoughts and inner feelings and what’s happening around you. Chances are your awareness has naturally expanded.

With this understanding, that playfulness and a relaxed attitude support mindfulness, I will share three, simple mindfulness-based activities you can try with students. You can use these during morning circles, during brain breaks, or transitions. Each activity takes only a few minutes.

Listen to the Bowl

To facilitate the first activity, you need a small, meditation bowl, which can be purchased online for about $20-30 (examples). Explain to students that mindfulness is learning to be relaxed in the present moment, letting go of our thinking about the past or worry about the future. Being here and now. Inform the class you are going to ring the Meditation Bowl and invite them to listen to the sound as it fades. When they think the listen has “disappeared,” they can make a movement, such as raise their hand, stand up, or give the peace sign. Repeat the ringing of the bowl, asking them to make a different movement. If time allows, students can share their experience of what it feels like to be fully present.

Mindfulness Freeze Tag

Have you ever played freeze tag as a kid? Everyone ran around until someone yelled “freeze,” and you had to stop in your tracks. With this mindfulness activity, tell students that whenever you ring the meditation bowl, they must stop whatever they are doing and remain still like a statute. During this time, tell them to bring their awareness to the breath, how it continues to flow even though they have stopped moving physically. They can also become aware of the thoughts that continue to move in their mind.

Mindfulness Spoon Activity

For this activity, you need a cup or bowl of water and enough plastic spoons for each student in the class. Ask the students to stand and form a circle (they can also perform this activity sitting down). Instruct one student to take a spoonful of water and mindfully transfer the water—trying to not spill any—to the student next to them. That student than passes the water to the next classmate and so forth until the water is carried around the circle. Afterwards, you can ask students what it felt like when they passed the water, having them consider where they awareness resided (past, present, or future).

These three mindfulness classroom activities keep things light, playful, and engaging. Design mindfulness approaches that allow students to naturally relax into present-centered awareness.

To Living Fully in the Present,


P.S. Check out my new book, Meditation in the College Classroom, which will be released on February 3.