Monday, March 11, 2013

3 Activities to increase Mindful Awareness

I am trying to get back to updating this blog on a regular basis regarding my work with mindfulness and children. I wanted to write about a few activities that I have been doing that seem to be fun and well received by my kiddos.  I am currently working with 4th grade boys that struggle with attention and focus. Although they are not all diagnosed with ADHD, they have been recommended for my group as children who "struggle with attention and self-control." Recent studies have suggested that  mindful training not only helps children with ADHD increase attention skills, it also helps with developing executive functioning skills. Executive functioning skills are the skills necessary for us to control our behavior as well as  plan and self monitor our actions. Due to this growing area of research (which I recently contributed to and will write about on this blog) I have started to focus more on building mindful awareness with my students. One of the ways we do this is to focus on sensory exploration. Whether its exploring breath, pulse or the sense of touch; focusing on sensory input is one way to build the awareness needed to stay in the current moment. Here are three recent activities I have been doing with my students to build sensory awareness.

Tactile Awareness

Our hands are one of the most sensitive parts of the body. Our fingers have over 100 touch receptors in just their tips. All of this information is rushed to our brain and relays messages within a blink of an eye. However; we are often unaware of the sensations our fingers and hands send to our information processing system and having the sense of sight to go with this information we often take tactile sensation for granted. One way to increase tactile awareness is to play the "What is it?" game. In this game you gather a random assortment of small toys (race cars, action figures ect.), office supplies, coins and anything else that is lying around your office or room and throw then into a sack or tote bag that can not be seen through. Write the names of all the objects on note cards and shuffle the cards. Have a student pick a card and then try to find that item in the bag without looking. They must only use there sense of touch. I like to set a timer or have a song play (students choice :))  for 15 seconds while they search. Before I set the timer I have them describe what the item may feel like. Is it smooth? Rough? Round or Soft? If the student finds the item they get to keep the card. The first student to get to 3 cards wins the game. I got the idea for this game from this amazing educational activity called the the Touch Game, which appears to no longer be in production #sadface. The Speech/ Language therapist at my school had one that I borrowed and the students loved it. It even has a timer built into it. You can buy them on Ebay, but 80-100 dollars seems a lot for a game you can recreate with random objects laying around the office.

Awareness of Breath

Often times when I have students focus on their breath, they start to breath in a loud and labored manner, which is not only unsustainable it also causes a distraction to the group. I began to realize that children may need a fun way to practice sustaining and modifying their breath. The old fashion Floating Ball Game is a great way to facilitate breath awareness. These floating ball games can be purchased for a cheap price on Amazon. I bought one for each of my students. I start by demonstrating how to make the ball go up and down, as well as sustaining it at a certain height. I then show them how to get it to land back in the cradle. After the first demonstration the children are given a couple minutes to practice making the ball go up and down and getting the ball back into to the cradle. We talk about how one must modify their breath to make the ball go up or down as well as focus on the rate they breathe in order for the ball to get back into the cradle. After the students spend some time practicing and focusing on their breath, I then turn the game into a competition. Each person gets two tries to see how long they can keep the ball in the air and get it back into the cradle. The trial only counts if they get the ball back into the cradle. Who ever was able to keep the ball up longest gets a prize (by the way I kept my up for 15 seconds and its not as easy as it looks). After the game we do a 1 minute silent meditation. The students try to focus on their breathing in the same manner they did during the game so they can "practice their breath" for next time.

Pulse Awareness

Our pulse is a great barometer of how our body is feeling in the present moment. Just as a barometer tells us about the future weather patterns our pulse can also tell us how we are about to act or feel in any situation. When there are sudden changes in barometric pressure there may be a storm brewing. When we have sudden changes in our heart rate or pulse, dynamic and unpredictable emotions or behaviors may be coming. However; the great thing about a barometer is that by watching for changes in pressure (or pulse in this case) we are better able to prepare for the coming storm. Listening to the waring signs in our body can lead to improvements in our mental health. Teaching children to listen to their pulse is an easy way for them to gauge how they are feeling. I begin this activity with first teaching students how to find their pulse. There are three different easy ways to find your pulse. The first is by placing you index and middle finger just below your wrist.

If the children have trouble locating their pulse here then they can also try to locate it by placing two fingers just above and to the right of their adam's apple. Finally if this is not working they can lay their hand over their heart, which seemed to work for a couple of my students. Once they find their pulse, I have them count how many heart beats they feel while just sitting. We record each persons heart beat. Next we have 2 minutes of active time. I usually let them pick a song to listen to and we do jumping jacks, run in place and pretty much just run around crazy. For my students who know Yoga, we do 5 sun salutations in row. After two minutes is up we again find the pulse and count how many beats are in 10 seconds. After we record each student's number we then talk about the difference in number of beats as well as how it feels when your heart is beating so quickly. I have them share times when they became nervous or angry and their hearts started beating quickly. Finally we do 1 minute meditation where we focus solely on our breath. After the one minute has ended I ring a mindful bell and the students raise their hand when they can no longer hear the sound. The students then find their pulse again for 10 seconds and notice if focusing on their breath has made their pulse go up or down. We then discuss ways to use breath awareness when we may be faced with times that make our pulse go up.

The great thing about teaching mindfulness to children is the many different activities one can use to help facilitate awareness. Whether it is mindful walking, mindful eating or mindful breathing, teaching children to slow down and be mindful of their actions helps them to cultivate their ability to actively pay attention to the world around them. These three activities alone will not create perfect executive functioning skills or laser sharp attention skills in children. However, my goal  is to help children start to become aware of themselves and aware of their ability to control and regulate behavior. This will help them achieve what ever goals they have for themselves, whether it is passing a math test or getting through a parents' divorce. Hopefully the skills I teach them will turn into future techniques for self regulation. Or as Thich Nhat Hanh puts it, "planting seeds" of effective emotional tools for creating future peaceful, happy lives.


Thich Nhat Hanh (2011), Planting Seeds: Practicing Mindfulness with Children, Berkley: Parallax Press

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