Updated: Jul 20, 2020
With the ever-growing uncertainty in the world today, the ability to be fully present in each moment becomes even more crucial. By learning to to be fully present in our bodies and connected to the senses we become more grounded and able to lead lives guided by our own intuitive wisdom necessary.
The Science Behind Mindfulness Practices in Early Childhood
Some of the most well-documented benefits of mindfulness include increases in positive moods, overall health, focus and attention, self-esteem, self-regulation and decreases in stress and depression.
By creating connections in the prefrontal cortex, mindfulness changes the structure of the brain which leads to a patterning that allows us to experience the above benefits. Because the prefrontal cortex development is most rapid during childhood, children’s brains are especially equipped to reap the benefits of a mindfulness practice. The practice of mindfulness as well as its benefits are imprinted in the child’s brain and carried through to adulthood.
Mindfulness and Homeschooling
Homeschooling provides the opportunity to emphasize mindfulness and mental health over competitive academic performance. By making mindfulness a substantial part of your at-home education program, you can teach skills that expand far beyond academic content.
It's time we move past performance-based standardized education which dominates western society’s public education systems and teach children that their self-actualization matters more than adult-imposed performative measures.
In this article, you will find some suggestions on ways mindfulness can become a foundational part of your homeschooling program and family life.
How to meditate with kids?
1. Create child-friendly meditation spaces
The setting is crucial to building a mediation practice, especially for children. With your child, identify a place in your home which can be designated a meditation space. It does not have to be a large space but it should be big enough for your entire family to fit comfortably. Young children often prefer to lay in meditation so consider that when choosing your space.
Design the space with your child and ask their input on which items to include in the space. Include an altar in your space in which you can rotate in and out special items.
When gathering materials for your space consider the following:
Comfort Items: blankets, cushions/pillows/yoga mats, stuffed animals
Sensory Items: essential oils/diffuser, eye mask, chimes or bells, Thinking Putty or similar type of sensory dough, candles
Altar Items: photographs of family members, natural items such as shells, rocks, and more found by your child, live plants
Having a consistent mediation space can enhance connections made by the brain during the mindfulness practice. By incorporating your child’s input into the design of this space, they feel a sense of ownership and control over the mindfulness practice they are developing.
2. Meditation length should reflect developmental capacities for attention
When inviting your child into concentration activities of any kind, take into consideration their age and developmental readiness. As a preschool teacher, I introduced mindfulness activities with students as young as three years old but modified the length of the activity to match their capacity. At three years old most of my students could engage in a mindfulness/meditation activity for about 15-30 seconds. By 4-5 years old (and a year of consistent mindfulness rituals) they could engage in meditation for about 2 minutes. By 6-7 years old, they could engage in these activities for about 5 minutes.
When introducing your child to meditation start with short stints of time to allow them to ease into the process and experience success. As they gain more experience with the practice, slowly increase the length of time in the activities. Remember that developing a mindfulness practice is not a linear process (for children or adults!). In times of stress or excitement, a decrease in attention is common and should be accommodated accordingly. For example, my group of 5-year-old “experienced” mediators may be able to meditate for two minutes under normal circumstances but on the day of our holiday party there was much excitement in the air and we decreased our mediation length to one minute.
3. Engage the Senses
Young children are able to engage deeply in mindfulness through sensorial experiences. Inside of sitting in a quiet meditation in which they are invited to focus on the more subtle aspects of the body (breathing for example), invite them to focus their attention on an external stimulus.
The young child, being a concrete thinker has more capacity for this form of meditation. Below are examples of ways to engage each sense in a mindfulness activity.
Flame watching: Assist your child in lighting a candle which can be placed at or just below eye level near your child as they sit comfortably. Prompt your child to look at the flame, tell them to concentrate on the movement of the flame, the way the flame gets bigger and smaller, and the subtle color changes of the flame. Set a timer for 30 seconds-5 minutes depending on your child’s age and meditation experience.
Fading Sound: For this activity you will need a mediation chime or gong. Invite your child to sit or lay comfortably. Ask them to close their eyes and listen as you strike the gong. Invite them to concentrate on the sound, paying attention to how it fades. Invite them to raise a hand when they no longer hear the sound. Strike the chime hard so the sound lasts for several seconds. Repeat this activity a few times and watch as your child listens increasingly closely to the subtleties of the fading sound.
Essential Oil Thunderclaps: For this activity you will need an essential oil. When buying essential oils to use with children be conscious of the oil quality and the individual effect each oil has. Lavender and sandalwood are common child-safe oils that have calming effects. Place a drop of oil on your child’s hand and invite them to “bring their hands together in a great big thunderclap.” Invite them to rub their hands together as vigorously as they can to generate heat. After rubbing their hands together for a few seconds invite them to place their hands over their upper chest or heart and take deep breaths while concentrating on the smell of the oil.
Lotion Massages: Invite you child to sit or lay comfortably. With a bit of lotion massage their ears for a few seconds. You may massage in silence or you may want to gently speak to them (call their attention to their ears, describe the work their ears do, invite them to send love to their ears). Move on from their ears and massage their forehead, then their hands, and finally their feet. Your child may want to repeat this activity on you to reciprocate the love.
Mindfulness in the Mouth: Give your child a single raisin. First invite them to explore the raisin with their other sense (touch/sight). Then invite them to put the raisin in their mouth but not to chew. Have them hold the raisin in their mouth and explore it with their tongue. Have them take a single bite into the raisin. Call their attention to how the taste changes in their mouth. Now invite them to chew the raisin completely, as slowly as they possibly can. Next invite them to swallow while concentrating on the sensation of the raisin sliding down their throat. As children gain experience with their activity their ability to complete each step will increase.
4. Emphasize Mindfulness in the Natural World
Mindfulness practices in a natural environment are essential in developing a spiritual connection with the natural world. The following are powerful prompts that can support your child’s connection to nature:
The Earth is Your Mother: Invite your child to sit, lay, or stand barefoot on the ground. Call their attention to the earth below them. Invite them to feel how they are being supported by the ground beneath them. Remind them how much they are loved by their mother earth and that when they feel alone or afraid, they can return to her love by simply putting their feet on the ground. Set a timer for a 30 second-2-minute meditation.
Listen to the Wind: Invite your child to sit or lay on the ground. Tell them that the wind has reached all corners of the world and knows all the secrets of the universe. Tell them that when they listen with their heart, the wind will share with them all the love the universe has to offer. Set a timer for a 30 second-2-minute meditation and afterward invite them to tell you what they learned from the wind.
5. Embedding mindfulness into your daily routine
Creating opportunities in which mindfulness is ritualized into your daily routine is one of the easiest ways to build a mindfulness practice. Here are some examples of ways to incorporate mindfulness in your existing routines:
Bedtime: When you tuck your child in at night, call their attention to how safe and cozy their bodies feel in their bed.
Bathtime: When you are bathing them, invite them to feel how the warm water gently washes away all that does not serve them.
Academic Work: Teach your child to massage their own hands with a bit of lotion before and after difficult academic tasks especially when they are first learning to write. Remind them to thank their body and brain