Teaching Mindfulness in the Classroom With Early Learners

You may have heard the term “mindfulness,” but what does it actually mean? Mindfulness is the practice of purposefully paying attention to the present moment. 

With the holiday season upon us, it’s important to take a step back to practice mindfulness as we begin to set goals and resolutions for the new year. Plus, becoming more mindful can have a hugely positive influence in our children’s lives.

What are some of the daily benefits of mindfulness for students?

Teaching mindfulness in the classroom and thereby becoming more mindful allows us to:

  • Connect to emotions
  • Express feelings verbally
  • Develop self-regulation
  • Develop compassion
  • Improve concentration
  • Decrease stress or anxiety

And these are the types of “soft” skills we need to be instilling in our youngest students at the beginning of their educational journey.

Mindfulness in a classroom environment

Mindfulness is a skill that we teach to our students, but it can also be part of a bigger picture. For example, mindfulness was an integral part of how I set up my preschool classroom. Yale’s Center for Emotional Intelligence conducted a study about emotions and moods called the Preschool RULER: The Mood Meter in Early Childhood Classrooms. It’s a great additional tool!

We made a Mood Meter for our classroom community in the beginning of the year and it was a wonderful barometer to use before we even started our day. With the Mood Meter, I was better able to understand how everyone was feeling and could therefore decide which mindfulness activity would meet the students’ needs best that day.

Mindfulness and student interaction

Mindfulness is a skill and tool that students need to learn in order to access strategies to help them better understand their feelings. It also helps them when interacting with their peers in the classroom by leading to:

  • Socialization
  • Emotional well being
  • Self empowerment
  • Positive self esteem

What can mindfulness in schools look like?

So you understand the concept of mindfulness, but you’re wondering how to incorporate learning mindfulness in school when there are a bunch of rambunctious young students who aren't exactly easily centered around a meditation exercise.

Try starting by greeting your students with enthusiasm as they arrive in the morning and setting clear expectations. For example, “Good Morning. I am so happy to see everyone today! We are going to do some breathing exercises to help calm our mind and our bodies.”

Here’s a daily routine for practicing mindfulness in your classroom:

  1. Invite students to come to the rug for your morning meeting
  2. Dim the lights
  3. Ring chimes 3 times to signal starting
  4. Let students know they can keep their eyes open or closed
  5. Guide your students through three rounds of breath (Inhale through your nose, exhale through your mouth). Try one of these:
    - Belly breathing [Read more about mindfulness and belly breathing on PBS.]
    - Star Breathing with your fingers on one hand [Read more about using shapes to teach deep breathing.]
  6. Ask students to visualize a happy place, after you demonstrate an example.
  7. Remind students that they are able to use the Calm Center independently for self-monitoring and self-regulation (keep reading for more on setting up a Calm Center)
  8. Transition to centers.

Setting up a Calm Center in your classroom

The Calm Center was one of many learning centers in my classroom and was considered equally important to other centers, such as the manipulative center or the writing. The students knew how to use the Calm Center and were able to go there if they needed to regain a calm perspective and re-center themselves. Students benefited by being self-empowered to take the initiative to understand what they needed and be able to address their needs.

I set up my Calm Center using lots of relaxing blue and green colors. The refreshing scent of a lavender plant helped students to feel calm while they could choose to sit in a comfortable bean bag chair. And lastly, I included a basket of calming tools for early learners to choose from, such as:

  • Stress balls
  • Touch stone
  • Simple books about emotions
  • Puppets
  • Ocean in a bottle or a mind jar
  • Paper and crayons
  • Small, handmade paper books

Mindfulness and early literacy benefits

Journaling: In my classroom, every student had a mindfulness journal and a variety of materials to put in their journal. They could ask a teacher to be their scribe OR they could draw and use collage materials. We’d have time for journaling once a week that allowed students to use them once a week. The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) has some great research on the benefits of mindfulness to early literacy.

Emotional Word Wall: We posted a big chart at our circle and whenever a student talked about a word that reinforced mindfulness, we recorded it on the chart. Students were encouraged to draw something they felt reinforced the written word. Learn more here about how to use a word wall.

Recommended Books: I recommend adding Belly Breathe by Leslie Kimmelman and illustrated by Lindsay Dale-Scott to your classroom library. For more great suggestions, check out this list of picture books about mindfulness and meditation from Brightly.

Some other books from HMH that might interest you:

  • Here and Now: A stunning celebration of mindfulness and a meditation on slowing down and enjoying each moment. Explore identity and connection, inspire curiosity, and prompt engaging discussions about the here and now.
  • Hands to Heart: Breathe and Bend with Animal Friends: A yoga and mindfulness picture book that encourages young readers to breathe, slow down, and move into various gentle and playful poses as they ease into a practice of meditation.

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