Teaching Mindfulness to Elementary Classes

After a few seminars on the subject at the end of last year, I couldn’t think of a better way to start my year than teaching my boys mindful breathing techniques. 

Teaching Mindfulness  

This week I have taught all my Kindergarten through 4th graders the importance of mindful breathing, a way to keep themselves calm and in the moment, especially during emotionally evoking situations . . . ie. recess. HELLO! They are 5-10 year olds!

Here was the basic lesson. At the end, I did a different mindful breathing activity for each grade level.

The first part of the lesson every one got and it was exactly the same. 

First, I introduced myself and explained that a counselor makes sure that you never have to deal with your problems or feelings alone . . . like a secret friend.

I let them know that sometimes I see boys who are happy, scared, upset, mad, or sad.

We all want to be happy, but it’s impossible to be happy all the time.

My job is to help your mind think of things differently.

Now into the mind part of the lesson . . . 

Your mind has two ways of thinking. Closed thinking and open thinking. Or we could say mindset instead of thinking if we wanted to.

What could the word mindset mean?

  • “When your mind is set on something.”
  • “How your mind thinks about things.”

Practice the sign for each mindset:

fist open

(closed on the left, open on the right with fingers wiggling)

Open minds love thinking about things. They want a challenge to solve. They want to talk to people.

A closed mind is when you think you can’t do something and you make yourself mad, sad, or upset.

See if you can guess my mindset:

  • “This math is too hard,”
  • “I can’t do this,”
  • “I’m not going to try,”
  • “I can’t make any friends,”
  • “No one here helps me.”
  • “This math is hard, but I’m going to keep trying,”
  • “I can do this,”
  • “I don’t have any friends….yet.”

Breathing and thinking about our bodies and minds help put us in an open mindset or help us have open thinking.

The breathing techniques are next . . . just look for your grade level below. 

Kindergarten Breathing Technique

We are going to practice this with some breathing buddies.

  1. First have the boys place their hand on their hearts and feel it beating. Ask them to see if they can count their heart beat.
  2. Now ask them to get up and jump around. Sit down and feel again. Try to count now.
  3. Explain that when we get excited, upset, or mad our heartbeat goes faster. When our heartbeat goes up, we need to calm it down.
  4. Hand out a stuffed animal to each child (or another small object).
  5. Have the children lie down on the floor and place the stuffed animals on their bellies.
  6. Tell them to breathe in silence for one minute and notice how their Breathing Buddy moves up and down, and to notice other sensations that they notice.
  7. Give time to share.

Explain that when they start getting upset, mad, or sad, they can take some time to breath with their breathing buddies and get back into an open mindset.

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1st Grade Breathing Technique

We are going to practice this with some breathing buddies.

  1. Hand out a stuffed animal to each child (or another small object).
  2. Have the children lie down on the floor and place the stuffed animals on their bellies.
  3. Tell them to breathe in silence for one minute and notice how their Breathing Buddy moves up and down, and any to notice other sensations that they notice.
  4. Tell them to imagine that the thoughts that come into their minds turn into bubbles and float away.
  5. Have them list a breathing buddy they could use at home and at school. 

Explain that when they start getting upset, mad, or sad, they can take some time to breath with their breathing buddies and get back into an open mindset.

2nd Grade Breathing Technique

We are going to practice this with a bell.

  1. Ring a bell and ask the kids to listen closely to the vibration of the ringing sound.
  2. Tell them to remain silent and raise their hands when they no longer hear the sound of the bell.
  3. Then tell them to remain silent for one minute and pay close attention to the other sounds they hear once the ringing has stopped.
  4. After, go around in a circle and ask the kids to tell you every sound they noticed during that minute.

Explain that when they start getting upset, mad, or sad, they can take some time to breath and listen to the world around them. Be detectives to the sounds around you.

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3rd Grade Breathing Technique

We are going to practice this with the heartbeat exercise.

  1. Have the kids jump up and down in place for one minute.
  2. Then have them sit back down and place their hands on their hearts.
  3. Tell them to close their eyes and feel their heartbeats, their breath, and see what else they notice about their bodies.
  4. Take turns sharing what they noticed.

Explain that when they start getting upset, mad, or sad, they can take some time to breath and listen/feel their heartbeat. Be detectives of your own body and how it feels as you calm down.

4th Grade Breathing Technique

We are going to practice this with an activity called squish and relax.

  1. Have the kids lay down on the ground.
  2. While the kids are lying down with their eyes closed, have them squish and squeeze every muscle in their bodies as tightly as they can.
  3. Tell them to squish their toes and feet, tighten the muscles in their legs all the way up to their hips, suck in their bellies, squeeze their hands into fists and raise their shoulders up to their heads.
  4. Have them hold themselves in their squished up positions for a few seconds, and then fully release and relax.

Explain that when they start getting upset, mad, or sad, they can take some time to breath and squish/release their muscles. Explain that this is a great way to “loosening up” the body and mind.

 

12 comments

    • Kal says:

      Carolyn, it was amazing. The second graders were so wound up after lunch and I had a hard time getting through the lesson. All of the sudden we did the bell activity and they were so calm and peaceful. Truly a miracle worker!

      • Michelle Tate says:

        Love this! Different way to do an introductory lesson and introduce a topic I am interested in teaching about throughout the year. I have a quick question, did you make each student a breathing buddy bag? I saw the paper brown bags and was wondering if you just stored the items in there and let them borrow for the lesson or made a bag for each student?

        • Kal says:

          Michelle, initially I was going to give them their own breathing buddy to keep in their cubbies in the classroom. Then I worried about them becoming a distraction. So, I designated certain animals (ones that could portray different feelings) to go in the breathing buddies bag for the students to choose which one they want when they need one. For home, I had them tell me an object at home they could use as a breathing buddy.

  1. Anne says:

    Thank you for sharing such a simple, yet powerful, way to introduce mindfulness. This will also fit very easily into our Leader in Me model of being proactive instead of reactive.

  2. Tanya says:

    I wrote a grant to study/purchase mindfulness for this coming school year as well. Do you mind sharing how you informed parents of your mindfulness education and activities? I am slightly concerned that some parents will connect mindfulness with religious practice. Thanks!

    • Kal says:

      Tanya, I have a website that I update monthly. On the site, I have every lesson I’m teaching, along with it’s objectives. When I teach mindful breathing to my students I teach them that it is a way for them to calm their minds down when they are feeling overly excited, sad, or upset. I am just cautious of the language I use. I hope that helps.

  3. Jennifer says:

    I would really like to teach mindfulness during my classroom counseling lessons; however, I’m wondering if and how you’ve dealt with very active and chatty 3rd/4th graders (with several also being disrespectful and attention seeking). This seems perfect for teaching them self-control but I’m worried I would be redirecting them every 30 seconds and the big picture concept would be lost on them as a result. Whenever I’ve seen videos of someone teaching mindfulness to young students it seems like they skip over the part where they work to get the kids to the point of actually being quiet and not giggling and being disruptive.

    • Kal says:

      Jennifer, I just reflect on what I’m noticing them doing. I work with all boys so of course there was some snicker, fake fart noises, etc while we were getting settled. I would say things like, “I notice it’s uncomfortable for you to sit quietly and allow yourself to tap into your brain. This is the purpose of mindfulness. I can see you really need to practice.” I also made sure my voice was extremely calm. I really tired not to sound annoyed, but instead calmly direct them back to their bodies, brains, and breathe. I hope this helps.

  4. Lynea Gillen, LPC, RYY says:

    You have to love the benefits of mindfulness at any age, but especially for young children. Hopefully one day soon we see every classroom in America adopt some of these techniques and witness an entire generation benefit from mindfulness. That would be something!

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