Tidy up your Mind with some Thoughts Decluttering

In my latest TES article, I shared child-friendly strategies that could be just as effective for adults as for children.

Below is an excerpt from the article – with extras! – which breaks down one of my favourite CBT-based strategies for dealing with unhelpful thoughts. I’ve included screenshots so that you can see how easy it is to put this into practice as a teacher, parent or individual.


Ask yourself: “Am I hoarding thoughts?”

From What to Do When Your Brain Gets Stuck: A Kids’ Guide to Overcoming OCD by Dawn Huebner (2007).

Huebner’s book offers up an analogy that I’ve used countless times when teaching mindfulness to children: she invites children to think of all the dustbins that are positioned throughout their homes and to imagine what would happen if nothing was ever thrown out –  if empty crisp packets, yogurt cartons and toilet roll tubes were all valued and saved.

Of course, this paints an unpleasant image of a house in a state of chaos, in which every simple journey is hindered by the sheer amount of “stuff” we are clinging on to.

Huebner suggests that our brains are like our homes: when thoughts come in, we have to decide which ones are worth saving and which ones are fit for the bin.

When I introduce this in class, I ask children to write down six thoughts that have popped into their head that day and we often spend a couple of minutes in silence, allowing the thoughts to come in to our minds. Then, we go through them, deciding what we need and what we don’t, practising with my example as a class beforehand.

The picture above demonstrates just how simple yet effective an activity like this can be. We look over the thoughts in pairs and decide if they’re useful, reliable, helpful or necessary, moving them into the save or bin pile appropriately. Please note that in other examples, we might also use a third bucket, for thoughts we wish to ‘shelve’ for later i.e. I need to remember that I’m going to Grandma’s tonight and we’re having Fish ‘n’ Chips… but not in the middle of my literacy lesson.

I really don’t think that I can emphasize enough how powerful, meaningful and potentially life-changing having a conversation about thoughts can be.

Negative thoughts feed and grow in secrecy and isolation. Therefore, simply in having a conversation about the way we think – including those occasional negative, useless and really unpleasant thoughts – immediately takes some of the power away. Revealing too that thoughts are not all true or useful, and so needn’t always be acted upon or kept hold of, is an incredibly empowering piece of knowledge.

This is a great exercise for adults too. Don’t believe me? Try it! Take a few minutes now to write down your thoughts as a list, then go through and decide what’s worth keeping and what just isn’t.

If you have problems with negative brain-chatter, developing a habit like this could really change your outlook on life and the roles you play within it.

We can’t control the thoughts that come into our heads, but we can control what we keep hold of. Learn to notice your thoughts and discriminate between what’s useful and useless. Do this and you’ll become the master of your thoughts, rather than their servant.

2 CBT Techniques for getting out of a Stress-Cycle

Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) is a powerful form of therapy, in which patients learn to analyse their thoughts and behaviours, considering where they may be adding to their own negativity and unhappiness, rather than diffusing it.

CBT is often used to treat people with Anxiety, Depression and a range of other mental health problems; problems that are sadly rife amongst educators. To note one study from this year alone, researchers at Leeds Becket University found that 54% of teachers surveyed described themselves as having poor mental health, and 52% of those people had been referred to a GP because of it.

Let me just say here that the onus should always be on schools and employers overall, to look after the mental health and wellbeing of their staff.

The problem is… this just isn’t happening quickly enough. And in some cases, it isn’t happening at all. When this is the case, people begin to feel powerless, and hopeless; feeling that there is nothing that they can do in the face of all this stress and misery.

CBT Techniques such as the ones below aren’t a ‘cure-all’ for the countless problems faced by the modern teacher… but they can really help, if only because they allow you to regain some control over a bad situation.

**If you are struggling with stress or anxiety, the Samaritans offer help 24 hours a day, seven days a week**


The following tips are from my latest TES article:

1. Getting out of the negative cycle

In certain pressurised situations, when our buttons have been pushed one too many times, even the most calm and measured of professionals can feel that they have little control over their own thoughts, feelings or even actions.

Let’s say, for example, that you are the unwilling victim of an irate parent first thing this morning – and it’s completely OK to be bothered by that. But if you’re still “carrying” this misery, along with gut-churning stomach cramps into the late evening, then it’s likely you’re unconsciously adding fuel to the fire.

  • Are you continuously replaying the scene in vivid Technicolor? Try to change up the image by adding a pink wig and banana suit into the mix. Flip the negative emotion into something silly and laughable.

  • Do you loop around negative thoughts, based on how you should have handled things differently, even resorting to insults and name-calling? Consider what you’d say to a friend in this situation and instead, kindly tell it to your inner self.

  • Have you checked-in on your own verbal and body language? If you’re walking around with slumped shoulders and your eyes down, only looking up to tell anyone who’ll hear about this outrageous encounter, you’re actively turning a small albeit unpleasant moment into a day-long mood.

2. Check your facts

For me, one of the most powerful messages a patient gains through cognitive behaviour therapy is that your thoughts are not facts. Just because something pops into your head, doesn’t mean it’s reliable or true or even helpful. So we need to interrogate our thoughts.

Perhaps your mind is repeatedly telling you that you can’t cope with a looming situation – maybe a second encounter with the irate parent – and as such you’re a “pathetic waste of space”.

Not only is this a long way off from being constructive criticism, is it even accurate? Is there any hard evidence that you can’t cope, other than your thoughts and resulting sensations?

Maybe there’s even more evidence to the contrary, to show that you have coped with this and much worse.

With this in mind, it might be wise to come up with a more realistic, less emotive statement, such as: “It’s okay not to look forward to this – no one would. Whatever happens though, I’ll handle it as best as I can.”

3 ‘Quick-Wins’ to try with your Anxious Child (or Self) Today!

If there can be any positive side effects to the current mental health epidemic, it’s that the topic of wellbeing has finally moved up the agenda. With this, we’ve seen an explosion in campaigns, resources, books and guidance, all aimed at helping you to help yourself, or your child to become happier.

Brilliant? Yes. But overwhelming? Also yes. Especially when mental health problems like  anxiety add an element of desperation to your solution-seeking.

If you’re looking for quick, simple and effective ‘quick wins’, here’s three child and adult-friendly activities that you can put in place today: 

  1. Write down three things you’re grateful for each day: Developing a ‘Gratitude Attitude’ is a key step in overcoming the minds’ natural bias towards negativity. When you’re genuinely feeling thankful for all you have, it’s very difficult to feel negative emotions like bitterness, sadness, hatred, anxiety and so on.

    Writing down what you’re grateful for reinforces this positive focus. If you’re super keen, you can extend this, writing down three things you’re thankful for in the morning and three great things/moments you experienced before bed.

    If you’re trying this out with a child, be aware that they might find this tough at first and may need lots of prompts to consider things that they’re perhaps taking for granted. Like anything else, the more you practice, the easier it gets.

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  2. Develop a routine of Mindful Eating: Mindful eating is always a favourite, with both adults and kids. If you haven’t tried it before, here’s a Mindful Eating Script to start you off.

    Develop a routine of slow-motion eating at one meal or snack-time, working to your family routine. It doesn’t need to be something that lasts for a whole meal. In fact, it may only be something you try for the first bite or two of your evening meal. But the key is to explore your senses with curiosity. Get out of your head, or the TV, and smell, taste, touch, look and feel your food, in the present moment.

    That’s some delicious headspace right there!

  3. Create an Anchor: 

    An anchor is something that you or your child can use as a reminder to come back into the present moment and be mindful. It might be a chair you sit in daily, a picture hanging on the wall or even a sound that rings from your phone. Essentially, it doesn’t matter what it is, only that it’s something that you’ll encounter often enough for it to be meaningful.If you use a chair, for example, then whenever you sit on the chair… you should take a moment to explore how your body is feeling, from the tips of your toes to the top of your head; to notice your breathing patterns and where you feel them in your body; to consider any sensations and tension that lie in the body.

    There’s a lot of freedom here in terms of what you choose to be your anchor and how you use it. Just be aware that as with the other two activities, it’s about building up those neural connections through consistent practice.

Make mindfulness and gratitude part of your daily routine and you might just find that you automatically go into the present moment more often; fostering feelings of calm, comfortable, awareness and acceptance.

Five Ways to Stop Procrastinating

In the past, I thought of my procrastination habit as a rather annoying but slightly amusing personality quirk. But it’s really not. As much fun as it is to switch report-writing for rearranging furniture, the truth is that when you waste time consistently, you’re effectively lowering both the amount and quality of the free time that you have.

This week’s TES article gives you the tools needed to stop procrastinating once and for all. There’s nothing quite like the feeling of guilt-free relaxation after a day of mega productivity.


My name is Jo and I am a procrastinator (in recovery).

It is as an age-old problem, described as “hateful” by Roman statesman Cicero in 44BC.

For the modern-day procrastinator, with the myriad of distractions available to us at all times, it can be much harder to avoid procrastination, and much harder to beat it.

But speaking from the viewpoint of a casualty in recovery, it is doable. Here’s how:

1. Get real about the cost

While it may seem like a rather amusing personality quirk, procrastination is no laughing matter. Not only are you missing out on guilt-free leisure, which only comes after you’ve done the thing you’re dreading, you also risk shelving other important “life stuff” as you’re forced to sit typing long into the evening hours. When you feel the urge to pause the report-writing in favour of scrolling through Facebook, ask yourself if it’s worth missing that bubble bath, phone call or family dinner later.

2. Apply a policy of ‘Worst First’

When you’re hell-bent on avoiding a particular task or project, it’s easy to trick yourself into doing something else; often a “something” that’s less important, non-urgent and a whole lot more fun. Arrange your tasks into the Eisenhower Matrix of urgent-important tasks to ensure that you don’t find yourself haunted by pressing matters at the end of a seemingly productive day.

3. Break large tasks into small steps

Many of us struggle to even start tasks simply because they appear overwhelming, but they don’t have to be. By setting smaller, achievable goals, tasks appear much more approachable. Let’s say you’re stuck with a huge set of assessments to mark – why not mark three per night? Or maybe you’ve got a unit of work to write – just focus on getting the first lesson done, or even the first starter task, perhaps with a lovely cup of coffee as your reward. Negotiate with your inner dilly-dallier until it’s at least willing to start. With any luck, momentum will do the rest!

4. Set clear, short time limits

As Cyril Northcote Parkinson wrote in 1955, “Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.” Give yourself an hour or three to plan a lesson and either way, you’ll fill your time and get the same results. No deadline at all? Then it’s very likely you’ll fall into the abyss of teacher resources online, endlessly searching for the perfect one. Use whatever technology is nearby to set yourself regular time limits and brain-breaks to keep you recharged and efficient.

5. Set yourself up for success

Observe your habits over the next week, taking note of what your triggers are before beginning to make small adjustments. Maybe you always end up chatting to a colleague in the workroom – could you work elsewhere? Perhaps your attention is constantly being pulled away by the pinging of emails. Why not put your phone away, allowing yourself to read these emails at a later point in the day? As with any addict trying to quit a bad habit, determination and willpower will only get you so far. Get a solid plan in place to ensure you don’t slide back into your old ways.

Seven quick-win lifestyle hacks for daily happiness

Apparently, I just can’t shut up when it comes to wellbeing advice for teachers. Here’s the latest TES article, with some super easy and effective hacks for anyone forced into this ‘adulting’ lark.


That education has acknowledged a problem with mental health and wellbeing among teachers is undoubtedly a good thing, but not everything that has come out of it has been positive, or easy to interpret. For many teachers, the advice offered to keep yourself healthy is overwhelming, off-putting and conflicting.

This is a shame, as the truth is: there’s no need for a dramatic lifestyle overhaul. Small, subtle changes often yield big results and ones that you’re much more likely to maintain.

Here are some of the small lifestyle ‘hacks’ that have been making me happier over the last few years.

  1. If you’re working, keep your phone on but out of sight
    I keep it on vibrate so that I’ll hear work calls, but my brain is no longer being pulled in different directions by social media or untimely personal messages.

  2. Take some time to prepare food the night before
    Even with the best of intentions, chances are that if you leave food prep to the morning rush, you’ll end up with a packed lunch of hot-dog salad. Making extra portions of dinner, roasting a batch of veg or freezing batches of healthy soup are all simple ways to make this a super-quick evening job. (check out these healthy packed lunch ideas, too)

  3. Look for opportunities to be active in your day
    If you’re struggling to fit gym time into your busy schedule, don’t sweat it! Instead, set yourself a secret fitness mission to move as much as possible through your day. Take the stairs, walk the long way around, make the journey to the staff room at break. Download one of the many free pedometer apps if you’re keen to occasionally measure your progress or check out these exercise ideas you can do in the classroom.

  4. Have a water bottle nearby
    I’ve lost count of the number of days I intended to drink my 2.5 litres of water, only to finish a lesson-packed day crawling towards the nearest water cooler. I simply forget. Having a full bottle nearby has reminded me to hydrate more often, resulting in fewer headaches and more energy.

  5. Working at home? Stick to the same room
    Restrict work (and work-related items and reminders) to just one area of the house – preferably not the lounge or bedroom. Having a clearly defined workspace can help you to ‘switch off’ along with your laptop.

  6. Notice noticing your thoughts
    Before you listen to your thoughts, add a little distance between you and them by inserting the words “I notice” into your head. For example, “I notice that I’m thinking that I have X to do when I get into school; I notice that I’m feeling a little anxious about Y this afternoon.” The more I’ve practised this, the more I’ve found that I’m much less phased and more accepting of work-life stress.

  7. Explore what relaxation is to you
    Just because it’s called downtime, doesn’t mean you have to spend it lying down aided only by a family-sized bag of Doritos and a show about Hoarders. Get curious about what makes you tick. You might just find that playing sports, writing a blog or practising an instrument offers you exactly the headspace and relaxation that you were looking for.

3 Mindfulness Exercises to fit into the School or Work day

If, for whatever reason, you find that you’re interested in trying out this mindfulness lark… you may well enjoy this past article that I wrote for TES.

Included are three simple activities that are easily incorporated into your working day, whether you’re a teacher, a non-teacher or barely human (I spend at least two days a month in this latter state).


As teachers, we strive to go above and beyond to make our lessons enthralling and engaging for those we teach. We know that for pupils to develop skills and retain knowledge, they need to be “present” for more than answering their name on the register.

Yet, how present and engaged are we throughout the school day? When was the last night you heard and felt your fingers typing an email, or tuned into the sensations of your feet on the ground, as you stood in front of your class?

Research into the benefits of practising mindfulness is still in its infancy, but already looks promising. A 2007 study, conducted by Hölzel, Lazar et al, took FMRI brain scans of patients, before and after an eight-week programme of mindfulness training; the results displayed clear changes in the grey matter of brain regions involved in learning and memory processes, emotion regulation, information processing and perspective.

Still think it’s just a fad? You may be right, but why not try incorporating the following mindfulness activities into your daily routine before you make up your mind…

1. Mindful listening

This is something you can do anywhere, simply by exploring the sounds around you. While it’s natural to label the sounds at first – “that’s someone typing”, “that’s a passing car” – try to go further by considering the features of these sounds. Ask yourself: where is the sound coming from? Is it near or far? Is it smooth or sharp? Is it deep or shallow? Noticing everyday sounds with an attitude of curiosity can add an element of wonder and tranquillity to even the dullest of days.

2. Mindful eating

We all eat food, but how many of us pay attention to the taste of it? Awaken your senses by examining what you’re eating closely, noting the textures, colours and fine details, before drinking in the scents and bringing the food to your lips. Chew slowly, noting the tastes and textures of your food, and the ways in which this changes as you chew. Notice any sensations as you swallow, including any aftertaste that might be present.

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Whether it’s a bite of your breakfast or lunch, a breaktime snack or a single Malteser, learning to savour your food can add some much-needed pleasure to your day.

3. Mindful thoughts

We all have those days (or terms) when our minds jump chaotically from one thought to another – days when we’re endlessly busy, but achieve very little.

Clear out the mental fog by learning to notice thoughts from a distance, rather than being inside of them. You might like to imagine the thoughts are clouds passing through the sky, or different channels on a radio.

When your inner-monologue says “I’ve got X, Y and Z to do before 8am and I’m already stressed”, try changing this to “I notice that I’m thinking about what I have to do. I notice that I’m feeling a little overwhelmed.” It doesn’t sound like much, but separating yourself from these negative thoughts can really weaken their grip on your emotional and mental state.

3 Mindfulness Tips for a Restful Nights’ Sleep

Struggling to sleep? Waking up feeling anything but refreshed? Take a look at a recent article I wrote for TES, including mindfulness-based strategies for getting some shut eye. These techniques work for adults and children alike!


Thanks to a growing wealth of sleep-related research, we now know that good-quality sleep is essential to healthy brain and body function. And yet achieving a solid eight hours of sleep can seem near impossible when you have assessment objectives and mark schemes buzzing around your brain. Even when the miraculous happens and we make it to bed at a reasonable hour, how frustrating can it be to lie there, wrestling your own thoughts in the early hours.

Luckily, help is at hand…

How to fall asleep

Firstly, you can create a daily routine and lifestyle that promotes good quality sleep, long before your head hits the pillow. Leading sleep expert, Professor Matthew Walker, tells us that regularity is key – create a night-time routine and stick to it.

At the same time, when you do go to bed, ensure that your room is cool and dark. This includes having a “no-screen” policy for the last one to two hours before bed, no matter what emails may or may not be coming in.

Lastly, watch your caffeine intake over the day and swap the boozy night-cap for a camomile tea – while alcohol might appear to help you drift off, its sedative effects are extremely detrimental to both the patterns and quality of your sleep.

Now, let’s say for argument’s sake that you’ve already done all of this, but here you are at 3am, wide awake, fretting over the upcoming book scrutiny. If counting sheep just isn’t working for you, here are three mindfulness strategies that just might help instead:

1. Focus on your breath

Just begin to notice what your breathing is like; the feel of it going into your nostrils; the length; the temperature.

You can experiment with changing your breath, inhaling through your nose and exhaling through your mouth. Maybe try inhaling to the count of four, holding for one and exhaling for six. Can you feel the breath as it reaches your chest…your sides…your stomach? Can you feel your stomach rise as you inhale and lower as you exhale?

If thoughts come back in, which they most certainly will, acknowledge this without any judgement and return to exploring your breath.

2. The body scan

This one is great to do both when trying to fall asleep and then again if insomnia strikes. Simply bring your attention up from your toes to your head, exploring all the different places and parts in your body, noticing any sensations of tightness/discomfort and allowing them to relax. You might find that tensing the muscles one by one, or imagining that your body is very heavy and slowly sinking will help you relax.

I’ve had great feedback from adults, parents and children themselves who have used a mix of mindful breathing and body scans to get to sleep. Click the link below for a child-friendly 6 minute body scan from ‘GoZen’ to get you started with your children.

3. Explore difficult sensations

When you’re kept awake because of fears, anxieties and other difficult emotions, become curious about the sensations in your body. Ask yourself questions like: is the feeling smooth or sharp? Is it pulsing or aching? Is it flowing or throbbing? What colour/shape would I give this feeling?

As counter-intuitive as this may feel, exploring how negative emotions feel within the body can be an empowering alternative to listening to your inner-monologue of thoughts and worries.

‘Emotional Athletes’: Emotional Intelligence & Resilience in the Classroom

‘Emotional Athletes’ is the latest wellbeing-based Learning Experience, geared towards developing emotional intelligence and practical strategies for resilience in students.

Of course, I’m completely biased, because these days are like babies to me – but it’s an awesome day.

Information and activities throughout the day are routed in Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, Mindfulness, child-friendly Neuroscience, Growth Mindset and Positive Psychology. There’s even a bit of Yoga thrown in!

Here’s what we’ll cover:

We begin the day by considering what it means to be ’emotionally athletic’, considering how and why it might be useful to understand where our thoughts and feelings come from. Using Dr. Dan Seigel’s child-friendly ‘Hand Model’ of the brain, we learn about how different parts of the brain work together, as well as what happens scientifically when we ‘flip our lid’ and become overwhelmed with emotion.

Morning activities involve engaging clips, quizzes, speaking and listening tasks and role play. There’s a small amount of writing as children are asked to think back to their own positive and negative feelings, considering how these emotions presented themselves in their bodies and thoughts.

As a class, we look at the 5 Part Model (CBT) of thoughts, feelings, behaviour and reactions, in any given situation, as well as considering the things in life that we can and cannot control.

Children are taught to take control of what they can in emotional situations; their breath, relationship with their thoughts and their attention overall. Mindfulness-based activities and meditations, sprinkled through the day, give them a chance to put this into practice.

In the afternoon, we focus on building our emotional resilience. Children move from table to table, trying out a variety of tasks in groups, aimed at either maintaining daily happiness or bouncing back from negative thoughts or emotions.

At the end of this action-packed day, children create their own origami fortune tellers, labelled with their favourite techniques from the day. This becomes a self-supporting tool that they can use independently the next time negative thoughts and emotions creep in.

Like I said, it’s an awesome day!


Jo Steer is an experienced teacher in primary, secondary, SEND and life skills-based education. She is also trained in Mindfulness and Yoga for children, and CBT (APT level 2).

If you’d like her to deliver this particular package or something similar in your school, call 07719330358 or email jo@skillswithfrills.com to discuss ways forward.

Top 5 Benefits of Yoga for Children, from a newly qualified Yogakidz teacher!

News Flash: I’ve just received my certificate through the post meaning that I can now officially say that I’m a fully-qualified Yogakidz teacher. Yay!

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Now the hard work of training is complete, the fun (and learning) can begin! I’ll be incorporating yoga into options that I already offer, such as the Mind Masters day, as well as offering yoga and mindfulness workshops lasting on average 1.5 hours, delivered to a single class at a time.

Wondering what a typical children’s yoga and mindfulness session looks like? 

Lessons typically begin with a basic breathing exercise and a gentle warm up, followed by a quick routine of Sun Salutations to warm up the muscles further. Then comes the main part of the activity, which might take the form of alphabet/partner yoga; yoga games; and/or my favourite, a yoga story, whereby they follow along to a story practising poses at key points. Classes finish with a little more breathing and a mediation/relaxation activity, guaranteed to calm the mind and body into a state of rest and ‘wakefulness.’

I’m so excited about yoga and the plethora of benefits it can bring into children’s’ lives. As much as it’s just a fascinating subject for children to learn and enjoy, the crowning glory as far as I’m concerned is the way that it supports children’s physical, mental, emotional and even spiritual health.

Whether you’re a parent, educator or just an interested party, let me explain some of the numerous benefits of practising yoga to children: 

  1. Yoga can be a highly engaging activity for children of any and all ages, including those with special educational needs. As a form of active, hands-on learning, it can be particularly engaging for children who don’t seem particularly well-suited to learning within the traditional classroom environment. To many children, yoga represents a breath of fresh air in an overwhelmingly academic, writing-based curriculum.Thanks to activities such as stories, the yoga itself becomes a vehicle through which you can teach cross-curricular skills and knowledge. Yoga stories with links to Science, Nature or History, for example, offer children a fun game-like way of learning that often proves more memorable to children than lessons learned in class.
  2. Perhaps the most obvious benefits are in that it gets children up and moving. As we’re told that the UK is facing unprecedented numbers of severely obese children, the importance of this can’t be understated. Yoga lessons encourage children to move, stretch and strengthen their bodies in a safe way. And while certain postures can be challenging, the lesson is structured in a way that it doesn’t feel like exercise but more like fun and games! Children can see and feel for themselves how exercise and stretching have the potential to make you feel better, stronger and happier.
  3. As much as it supports physical health, yoga can be incredibly useful in the way it promotes overall emotional and mental health. As children focus on their breath and the movements, there is little other space in the mind for negative thoughts and emotions. In this way, yoga acts as an ‘active meditation’, which children often find a little easier than straight-forward meditation, where you’re asked to focus on one thing only. Of course, it doesn’t hurt to mix in breathing, mindfulness, meditation and relaxation activities, which complement the yoga itself and only add to the good feelings and relaxation.
  4. The life lessons, messages and techniques, which naturally flow into yoga lessons with children, can be a key part of developing a ‘growth mindset’ and emotional resilience. Maybe it’s in the way they’re taught to notice how other children can stretch further than they can, and be completely okay with that.  Perhaps it’s the way they might listen to their body, learning to hear the difference between pain and discomfort (which we feel when we’re challenging ourselves.) One child may simply notice that when they exhale, they can move far deeper into a stretch than they believed they could initially, shifting their mindset from “I can’t” to “I can’t yet.” Students can’t help but soak up the ethos that oozes out of yoga classes; the self-acceptance and awareness, lack of judgement and open-mindedness, love and gratitude, willingness to try and make mistakes. Who knows… this might just make all the difference in the kind of adult a child becomes.little-girl-yoga.jpg
  5. As well as soaking up the yogic philosophy, children learn practical techniques that they can repeat independently when they need them, off the mats. I’ve heard countless anecdotes now from children who rely on different breathing and mindfulness techniques in order to sleep, calm negative thoughts, inspire confidence or just because they like the way they feel when they do them. Even a child that attends just one lesson, can take away the idea of tuning into their breath, sensations or emotions, increasing inner-awareness along with inner-strength.

If you’re a teacher or school leader looking to arrange some yoga/mindfulness workshops for your students, contact us to discuss options!

** Look out for more yoga-themed blogs and projects coming soon! **

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Top 10 Family-Friendly Mindfulness Activities: Summer Memories Ahead!

As Summer holidays kick off throughout the UK, I’m aware that not everyone is as giddy as teachers for this time off. For many parents and grandparents, as delightful as it is to spend time with their youngsters, keeping them constantly entertained (without completely giving in to their Fortnite addiction) can be problematic to say the least.

Yet, Summer can be an incredible time for all concerned, with memories made that last a lifetime.

Create a Summer to remember with these easy and entertaining mindfulness-based activities:

  1. Mindful Cooking, Baking and Eating: Making something with your child has the potential to be mindful and enjoyable for you both. As well as paying attention to the recipe, you can look curiously at all the different ingredients you’re using, exploring their colours and textures; noticing how they change as you pour, sieve and mix. You’re caring for the recipe and growing into something else – hopefully something else that’s delicious. Whatever you make, follow up with Mindful Eating (click here for my Mindful Eating script). With any luck, whatever you eat will taste even better because you made it together, with love and attention.watermelon-summer-little-girl-eating-watermelon-food.jpg
  2. Blind Taste-Test: This is a great follow-on from Mindful Eating, which children usually delight at! One person wears a blindfold and has to use their senses in order to determine what a range of everyday foods are. They’re forced to smell and taste foods with their full attention. You can extend this further by asking them to describe smells; textures; tastes; sweetness or bitterness; how taste changes as they eat and so on. For the truly adventurous, include some foods that you know your child doesn’t like. It’s good practice in accepting discomfort and it often produces some surprising results i.e. maybe we don’t hate sprouts carrots as much as we thought!
  3. Mindful Colouring: You can’t swing a cat these days without hitting a Mindfulness Colouring book. Whilst I’m certainly not an advocate of swinging animals, I do think that there’s a lot to be said for good old fashioned ‘colouring-in’. The key here is to really tune into the experience. Encourage your child to feel the pencil as it presses into different parts of the fingers; to listen to the sounds of the pencil strokes on the page, noticing how the sounds change; to pay attention to what they’re actually colouring, attempting to stay in between the lines. Depending on the age of the child, you could set a timer and try a minute to silent colouring for one minute out of every five.
  4. Mindful Listening ‘Sound Map’: Ask your child to close their eyes and try some Mindful Listening, preferably outside. They’ll naturally want to label what the sounds are in their minds – and this is fine – but ask them to follow this up with further curiosity. Ask them to notice whether the sound is near or far; long or short; smooth or sharp; loud or quiet; flowing or jumpy. After a few minutes of this listening, ask them to draw symbols on their blank page which reflect the sounds that they heard. You’ll see my own example below, resulting from a few minutes of Mindful Listening at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park. The symbols don’t need to make sense of anyone but you, but it’s useful to ask your child to explain why they’ve chosen particular symbols to accompany certain sounds. You can also extend this by adding colour or texture, perhaps categorising sounds in some way e.g. nature sounds/man-made sounds.20180720_140118-1543816872377096586.jpg
  5. Yoga: Yoga is a great way of trying some ‘Active Mindfulness.’ Often, children find this easier than meditation, because they focus on two things (breath and postures) rather than just one. As well as being a great relaxation tool, Yoga will also help children to build strong minds and bodies. If you’re interested, get to a local class over Summer and try it out together. If you’d rather try it at home, Cosmic Kids Yoga is always a big hit with the younger children. For older children, maybe try adult Yoga, but keep it short and basic. Tara Stiles’ Yoga channel has lots of good 5-15 minute beginner’s routines, suitable for older children. Just bear in mind that children’s bodies and muscles aren’t as developed as adults’ bodies, so make sure they know to challenge themselves safely, without causing injury.kid yoga.jpeg
  6. Make and use a Relaxation Glitter Jar: These are a lovely sparkly way to introduce formal meditation to younger children, the idea being that children simply shake the jar and watch closely as the glitter settles. Here’s just one of many useful instructional videos to help you actually make one – please take note to ensure the lid is glued on to avoid disaster. If you’re willing to experiment, you might like to create a few trial jars, adding different amounts of glue to different bottles – extra glue makes the glitter float for longer. The key is to start with short times, perhaps one minute per day. This can also be used as a ‘Calm Down Jar’ for children who struggle to control emotions like anger and anxiety.
  7. Get Outside: Mindfulness and the outdoors go hand-in-hand, basically because it allows us to explore different environments and senses. Here’s a link to the National Trusts’ ’50 Things to do before you’re 11 and 3/4,’ a checklist of activities that encourage an organised approach to Summer outdoors fun. Check out the advice and guidance to ensure you explore safely.girl outside flowers.jpeg
  8. Creative Gratitude: Gratitude is a key aspect of Mindfulness. Why not get creative with it?! If you’re not burnt out from making Glitter Jars, you might like to make a ‘Gratitude Jar,’ decorating as you wish. Every day, put a note in this jar, expressing what you’re thankful for. By Christmas, you’ll have 150 things that you’re grateful to have in your life! If you’ve had enough of jars, you might like to roll and stick your notes together, forming an appreciation chain. Too much? Try a Gratitude calendar or a diary for a more subtle approach. Whilst a one-off project is lovely, if you create something that’s appealing, visible and requires daily input, children will be more likely to maintain a daily gratitude practice, with good vibes that last a lot longer than Summer.
  9. Take up a new hobby: Trying something new naturally requires extra attention. Whether it’s taking up a new instrument, learning to sew or attempting to master a headstand, encourage children to fully invest in the moments they spend in this pursuit. Ultimately, this is just about bringing curiosity into whatever you do.
    What does this sound, smell, taste, look and feel like? How do my body and breath feel as I do this? What thoughts pass by my mind’s sky as I learn this new skill?
  10. Guided Meditations: Listening to a Guided Meditation is a great way of getting that holiday experience, without leaving your house. The New Horizons channel on YouTube has some fantastic clips, including adventures through Ancient Egypt and mystical gardens, generally ranging from 15 to 30 minutes long. If you’re looking for shorter clips, GoZen has a great range of stories and meditation practices with different aims in mind. For technology-savvy older children, teens and young adults, the Insight app offers a huge range of free meditations.

 

Now… go make some memories! 🙂