In part 1, of “Simple Mindfulness Techniques for Children,” I discussed how to create a “Bubble of Joy” with children as a way to instill a sense of wellbeing. Creating a rainbow bubble is also a great way to begin a meditation practice, which is the focus of this post.
I had a friend once tell me that there’s only way to meditate, at least by its truest definition. Her words rang in the tune of elitism, and I was a bit taken aback. Thankfully, I think fewer people now ascribe to this notion than perhaps they once did. Instead, there is the growing realization that we are all unique, and a one-size-fits-all approach to meditation will never work. Especially when it comes to children.
When I am in a classroom with young children, I am acutely aware of how different each child is. Children, for the most part, are unabashed about showing you who they are, and their emotional bodies spark with their unique light. It is both a joy and a challenge to try to teach yoga to their unique blueprints. It is even more of a challenge to get them all to conform to one type of meditation practice.
Children thrive when they have a bit of structure to support them. If you give them too much freedom, chaos will inevitably ensue. Too many rules will cause rigidity and the dimming of their sparks. During my first visit to a classroom to teach mindfulness and meditation to a group of 22 children covering grades 1-4, I quickly learned that even if I wanted to, I was not going to find success in a one-size-fits-all system. Instead, I allowed my own inner-child to take over as I explored perhaps more options than necessary to engage children in the practice of mindful meditation. Here are some of the things I have learned along the way:
Concentrate on Quieting the Mind and Not Conforming the Body
If you wish to bring meditation into a classroom with the rule of sitting quietly for a certain amount of time, good for you. There are numerous benefits to the simple act of sitting in silence for a short amount of time. For young age groups, start small and add minutes gradually. I found 2 minutes of quiet time was a good target for the younger age groups. I also found that it was futile and unnecessary to expect them to close their eyes. A child can sit quietly with her eyes open and still reap the benefit of stillness. We never know what is going on inside a child’s mind, and expecting her to close her eyes may illicit emotional discomfort.
Likewise, although you may want to set a rule, such as no lying down (I did because of space, believe me at least one child will ask to lie down), try not to be a stickler for how each child should sit and hold his hands. Instead, focus on the act of meditation itself and honor unique approaches to it. Discourage talking and giggling, but fidgeting is to be expected, especially when children are first learning how to sit in stillness.
Give Them Something to Hold
This can be a tricky one, as once again, there is no one-size-fits-all. I have found that calming stones, such as rose quartz (try to choose similar looking stones to avoid the impulse to “trade”) makes for a beautiful meditation assistant for children. Make sure the children you are giving them to are old enough to avoid the impulse to put the stones in their mouths or to throw them. There will often be at least one child who will, no matter what the age…
Which means that a stone may not be the right fit for that child. Instead, he might find more success with a meditation mala, or string of beads. Instead of sticking to the traditional 108 beaded malas per the yoga tradition, you can make mini malas (this can be a fun activity to do with the children). For the classroom, I made mini malas using 18 and 27 beads as fractions of 108 to keep with the sacred symbolism of the mala. I also used a different color bead as the 9th bead in each sequence, as 9 holds the symbolism of completion and “birth.” If you are using a mantra or affirmation with the meditation, this allows for the feeling of a complete cycle each time a child reaches the count of 9 beads. I also added rainbow tassels at the end to bring in the symbolism of the chakras and the “Rainbow Bubble of Joy.”
The Power of Words
Children enjoy stories, and when I gave them each their meditation beads, I told them a bit about the history of mala beads. It became a fun and engaging mindfulness practice as they examined their beads and asked questions such as, “Why did you use a different color bead,” for the 9th bead, and I asked, “Why do you think I chose the colors I did for the tassels?” Linking the Rainbow Bubble exercise to the malas allowed them to see that mediation is a mindful activity that can be infused with meaning and intention.
While we discussed the history of malas, I brought up the power of words (which will be covered in more depth in a later post) and told them a tiny bit about mantras. Since the class was not focused on the yoga tradition, instead of giving the children a mantra to use with their beads, we discussed the power of positive affirmations. It’s important to remember not to discourage children from sharing, or tell them that their answer is incorrect. Whatever feels right to the child is usually perfect for him or her. As we discussed different “I am” affirmations, some of the younger children took the phrase literally by adding their names at the end. While an older child could not resist the impulse to correct, I used the opportunity to gently remind her that there are no wrong answers, and that our names are, in fact, powerful affirmations of who we are. If a child is having trouble coming up with an affirmation, try suggesting a phrase such as, “I Am Peaceful,” or “I Am Love.”
By chanting a simple affirmation, or a series of affirmations, while moving beads through his fingers, a child can focus his mind and still a restless body. Although you and your children can make meditation beads out of anything you’d like, using wooden or stone beads can enhance their effect. If you are reserving a set of beads for an individual child’s use, you might discuss the energy of their words and thoughts. When mantras or affirmations are used with mediation beads, their energy is infused into the beads.
Engaging the Other Senses
Meditation with children need not be a transcendental goal, in fact, it’s probably better to leave that ambition out of it. Rather, encouraging a child to engage their senses in a focused manner will help them live more mindfully. Although I tend to lean toward no additional ambient sound during meditation time with children, a soothing track of nature sounds or classical music can help restless bodies to settle down. Alternatively, having children focus their ears first on the sounds around them, then bringing their awareness into their bodies to hear the sound of their own breath and even heartbeat can bring a deeper awareness of their being. I like to use a chime to end the meditation time, three soft dings can gently ease their transition back to the classroom setting.
I also tend to avoid engaging the sense of smell with children. This can get into uncomfortable topics, and it can also be a distraction. In addition, some children are sensitive to scents, so even diffusing an essential oil might trigger an allergic or averse reaction for some children.
At the beginning of the post I mentioned that some children may prefer to leave their eyes open during a meditation practice. Allowing a child to study an object with focused attention, such as a crystal, meditation beads, or a feather, can be a wonderful way to practice meditation time. I often bring feathers I’ve found during my walks into the classroom and they are always a delight for the children. There are so many ways to explore the senses through a feather and they remind children of the wonder of the natural world. It is a good idea to be aware of what feathers are allowed to be collected by law in your state or country, as well as having children wash their hands after holding them.
If you are considering adding a “meditation” practice in your classroom or at home with your children, I hope you find some helpful tips in this post. If you are already using one, I’d love to hear about your experiences. After our meditation time is up, I find it to be a fun practice to allow for the sharing of children’s observations.