10 Mindfulness Exercises for Stronger School Focus
Meditation and yoga promote focus and collaborative learning — particularly for students with ADHD. Learn how to introduce mindfulness exercises to your students or your child here.
Can Meditation Help with ADHD?
“Extensive research has proven that mindfulness training integrates the brain and strengthens the important executive functions that support emotional and social intelligence, as well as academic success,” says Daniel J. Siegal, neurobiologist and author of The Mindful Brain.
What Are the Benefits of Meditation for Students?
Classmates who practice mindful meditation together every day are more likely to trust and support one another. In addition, students who meditate often experience the following benefits:
- Increase attention span
- Harness energy in healthy ways
- Tap into creativity
- Improve self-regulation, confidence, problem solving, focus, compassion and empathy
- Learn to pause, slow down, and be calm in times of stress
“Meditation is very, very, very peaceful, relaxing, and it makes me feel calm when I do meditation,” said one student. “If I am sad, angry or disappointed meditation makes me feel better. That’s why I love meditation!”
Indeed, teachers and parents report that students are ready to process new information and actively learn following meditation and yoga sessions, particularly physically active ones.
“Without mindfulness, my daughter cannot absorb what is being taught and she doesn’t have the interest in learning,” said one parent. “She is clouded with anxiety, but with daily meditation and some yoga she is able to clear her mind of these distractions and move into a state of reception and intrigue. Meditation was the most talked about learning tool during her second-grade year. She taught us how to do it and would practice it on her own as well. To this day, she uses meditation to calm herself when she is frustrated with her sister or me. These sorts of skills are imperative life skills that help her to feel confident, centered, and ready to take on the world.”
How Can I Teach Mindfulness to a Child?
Integrate mindful meditation into your curriculum using these 10 exercises:
1. Set the stage for mindfulness by watching, “Teaching the ABCs of Attention, Balance, and Compassion by Susan Kaiser Greenland” together as a class. Assign books about mindfulness, like Imaginations by Carolyn Clarke, as well.
2. Put meditation and yoga on the daily schedule. Practice yoga poses in the morning, and meditation at the end of the day. Start with the “Take 5” method where students take five slow breaths inhaling through the nose, then exhaling through the mouth. From there, build up to longer activities.
3. Take a “noticing walk” around the school or playground. Tell students to silently tap into all of their senses. Stop to look at pebbles, or listen to the sound of leaves blowing in the breeze. Then, at the end of the walk, ask each student to share one observation. Talk about how you walk by these things every day, and rarely pause to take them in. On a rainy day, dim the lights and ask students to breathe in time to color-changing LED lights. Play soothing music and use a diffuser with lavender, orange, cinnamon, or lemon scent to create a peaceful atmosphere. Help students practice mindful listening by cataloging how many different noises they can notice in one minute.
4. Team up with the art teacher on a project to craft a glitter jar where students choose three colors of glitter – one each to represent thoughts, feelings, and behavior. Fill a container with water and a few pinches of each glitter, seal the jar, and ask students: What shakes up your emotions in positive and negative ways? Is it winning a sports game? Fighting with a sibling? Ask the kids to swirl the jar with each thought. Then tell them to be still, practice the “take 5” method, and set down the jar. As the glitter slowly settles to the bottom, so too will their thoughts and feelings come under control.
5. Buy a yoga card deck, like Yoga Pretzels. Let students take turns picking a pose and practicing it as a class. Challenge them to learn the Sanskrit name of each pose. Try changing from pose to pose in slow motion. After your students have mastered all of the poses in a deck, ask them to invent a new pose, and give it a name. As a bonus, let your students use chimes, a singing bowl, or a gong to signal the end of meditation.
6. Practice mindful eating during snack or lunch time. Give a few raisins to each student, telling them to pretend they are aliens who have just landed on earth. Ask them to look at each wrinkle and fold, to touch the fruit and notice its plumpness. Give the raisin a squeeze to see if it makes a sound. Smell it. Then ask your students to place one raisin in their mouths, and notice how it feels when they chew and swallow. Ask the children to answer three questions: Was anything surprising? What did you notice about the raisin that you never did before? Did any thoughts not related to raisins pop into your head? For homework, students can demonstrate this activity to their families.
7. Use a “peace rock” for meditation. Hand out smooth rocks you gathered over the summer, or take students on a walk to find a special rock on the playground. Instruct them to hold the rocks in their hands and stare at them while completing a breathing exercise. Then, use the rocks to build cairns in small groups. This exercise builds patience as each rock is carefully balanced atop another, and teaches frustration tolerance when the rocks fall down in a heap.
8.Create a gratitude circle. Ask your students to sit together and send peaceful thoughts to a person or a pet they really love. Then, stop and ask each child to send peaceful thoughts to himself or herself. Next, ask them to take turns sharing a reflection of thanksgiving or a kindness about another student. Write down their words and create a gratitude jar filled with the notes. Pull them out throughout the year.
9. Play the marble roll game. Give each student an empty paper towel or toilet paper roll, and have the class stand in a line. Give the student at the head of the line a marble, and instruct your students to pass it down the line using only the rolls — not their hands. If the marble falls to the ground, the activity starts over.
10. Ask students to write their own guided meditation scripts once the class is familiar with meditation practice. Start by asking students to imagine a special place they love. Ask them to describe it in great detail using each of their five senses. Include breathing techniques throughout the meditation, and then close with some form of relaxation. Share the first draft with classmates, then get suggestions (and compliments), revise, test it out, and create a final piece. Students can then go “on tour” and give guided meditations to other classes. You can even use Vocaroo to record the meditation to share with family and friends. Listen to a sample guided meditation here.