What do you think of when you hear the word mindfulness? Me, I think of sitting somewhere in silence, either alone or collectively having a few quiet, peaceful moments to focus on my breath and the sounds around me, no distractions, totally relaxed, eyes shut in silence, peaceful silence.
Is this what mindfulness looks like for kids?
I can tell you it's not! Sometimes its loud, it's usually always wiggly and it can be totally fun, if you have the right attitude. Let me tell you a story of my first time leading a group of ten 5 year old children through mindfulness.
I wasn't sure what to expect when I first started teaching mindfulness to kids, I thought it would be a mini version of what my mindfulness practice looks like.
At least thats how I saw the kids acting I my online training videos. Those 10 year old students in the video were the best at sitting still, staying focused and listening with their eyes shut. I know they had been practicing for a while but still, they were kids and I was impressed! I couldn't wait to teach my first mindfulness class to kids, I was inspired. During my training I had learned the most important thing about teaching was how to hold the space for my students, (they call this the container) and I was really good at that, so how hard could it be, I was ready to find out!
Preparing for my first class I had the kids sit in a circle (containing them would create a container right)? I asked the children to be quiet and listen for the sound of the bell. Seated crisscross applesauce in our circle, I invited them to shut their eyes telling them if they did this they would be able to hear better. Modeling for them I shut my eyes and started to instruct. Breathe in... breathe out... as I was breathing in and out using my perfectly audible yoga breath with my eyes shut. It was quiet, I had the thought, this is working well. A few moments of silence went by before I couldn't resist the urge to open my eyes. I was sure no one would catch me looking especially since this group of 5 year olds (who have never practiced mindfulness before) were all sitting there peacefully with their eyes shut. I only opened one eye half way just incase someone was looking. What I saw was 6 sets of eyeballs looking at me like I was some kind of alien, 3 sets of eyeballs preparing for monkey business and one child rolling up in his yoga mat like a little burrito. I couldn't help it, I started laughing. How could I not, it was like watching a bunch of playful puppies about to create mischief in a very innocent way. What happened next was a surprise. My laughter had gained all 10 students attention. Maybe I was scaring them, maybe they were confused,I really didn't know but I liked that their attention was together. I realized everyone was in that moment practicing mindfulness and it didn't look anything like what I thought it would and I was ok with that.
After this experience, I started to adjust the way I practice mindfulness with kids. Sometimes we play games, sometimes we laugh, sometimes we talk, we always breathe, we always play and we always have fun.
My students are my teachers and I am here to I hold the space, to create a container for their mindfulness whatever that looks like day by day. I am so blessed to be able to work with kids in this way and everything I do in class is inspired by them, like the game in the photo. See below for how to play the game.
The Bouncy Ball Game:
Gather as many rubber bouncy balls and marbles as you can find around the house. Find a few shot glasses (small drinking glasses or small containers work too). Each player should have a container of their own. For this game it is important all the containers are the same size. Sit in a circle far enough apart to have space between the players. Each player should place a container in front of them. The facilitator places all the balls in the middle of the circle (be sure to spread them out a bit so they aren't to clustered together). Set a time for 2 minutes instruct the players to put as many balls as they can into their containers before the timer goes off! There are only 2 rules.
1). NO HANDS
2). NO TALKING
Yep they have to use their toes to put the balls in the containers but the bigger challenge is to do it in silence! Take a deep breath together and start the timer. The person who is most quiet gets to monitor the timer on the next round. If everyone was silent then the person who has collected the most balls can have a turn with the timer. Have fun and join along. Its harder then it looks!