Mindfulness seems to be the new buzzword for savvy parents and teachers. Everyone is creating “zen dens” and practicing “moments of mindfulness.” But what is mindfulness and how can you bring it to your children or students?
Mindfulness is the practice of attending to one's mind and body in the present moment in an observational and non judgmental, non reactive way. There is some evidence to show that regular mindfulness practice promotes healthy self regulation. At the very least it does no harm.
If you are interested in scholarly articles on mindfulness practice you can read Emeritus Professor Katharine Weare's report: Impact of Mindfulness on Children and Young People. As stated by Weare (p. 2):
"Mindfulness for young people is easy to carry out, fits into a wide range of contexts, is enjoyed by both students and teachers, and does no harm.
Well-conducted mindfulness interventions can improve the mental, emotional, social and physical health and wellbeing of young people who take part. It has been shown to reduce stress, anxiety, reactivity and bad behaviour, improve sleep and self-‐esteem, and bring about greater calmness, relaxation, the ability to manage behaviour and emotions, self-‐awareness and empathy.
Mindfulness can contribute directly to the development of cognitive and performance skills and executive function. It can help young people pay greater attention, be more focused, think in more innovative ways, use existing knowledge more effectively, improve working memory, and enhance planning, problem solving, and reasoning skills."
If you are interested in doing a fun and interactive activity in the classroom that fosters mindfulness, try creating these galaxy jars!
Photo by Preschool Inspirations
- A large jar (a water bottle or a “sensory jar” from a craft or teacher supply store, plastic is safest)
- Clear Glue with warm water (1:3) or Mineral oil
- Optional: Food coloring (if using glue and water)) or Candy coloring (if using mineral oil)
- Fill your jar with either 1/4 clear glue and 3/4 warm water or just mineral oil.
- Add coloring.
- Add some glitter.
- Seal the lid on your jar with a bead of hot glue around the rim then screw the cap on.
- Shake your jar to dissolve the glue and distribute the contents.
- Introduce the jars to your students, showing them the jar with its contents settled.
- Explain to them that settled jar represents a calm mind, ready to listen, learn, solve problems, and create projects.
- Ask the following questions: "Are our minds always calm? What are some things we feel that disturb our calm?"
- Next, shake the jar, disturbing its contents.
- Explain that the swirling glitter represents jumbled thoughts and emotions.
- Ask the question: "Are we ready to listen, learn, solve problems or create projects when our minds are swirling like this? Why or why not?"
- State that just as we watch the glitter settle in these jars, we can watch our minds settle too. As this happens, we can then talk through our problems, clear up our confusion, and make progress on projects.
- Have students break out into groups, each with their own pre-made galaxy jar. They will now each interact with the jar while paying special attention to their breathing, energy, and focus.
- Put a jar on each table or in the center of each small group.
- Play some music and have kids dance or do some other physical activity as they pass the jar around their group.
- When the last child has had a turn to shake the jar, have them place the jar in a central location and sit down.
- Once the jar has been placed in the middle of each group and each member has sat down, they must remain still and watch the glitter settle.
- State that as the glitter settles, they should notice that their breathing becomes more calm and relaxed.
- When the glitter has completely settled, have the students take four sets of box breaths: inhale for four seconds, hold for four seconds, then release for four seconds.
- Let students know that throughout the school year, they can use the galaxy jars to do this exercise when they become angry, anxious, confused or frustrated. These jars are not toys - they are tools that can help students become mindful, calm, centered, and focused.
“The most precious gift we can offer others is our presence. When mindfulness embraces those we love, they will bloom like flowers.” - Thich Nhat Hanh
For more information about fostering a calm classroom, check out Using Meditation to Replace Typical Punishments, Why Yoga is Important in a Child's Life, Improving Student Focus with Physical Activities, and Implementing "Brain Breaks" in the Classroom.
Dimitra Neonakis always had a love for science and nature, but came late in life to formal science education. With degrees in visual and performing arts and an environmental monitoring certificate, Dimitra brings her A game to STEAM education. Dimitra has designed and classroom-tested science activities for formal and informal k-12 and collegiate science education since 2005. She works both with at risk and neurodiverse populations as well as typical students. Students fondly refer to her as Ms. Dee and Ms. Frizzle and they all agree that science is fun!