Mindfulness for Kids: Summer 2020

This week marks the thirteenth of what will be twenty weeks of teaching mindfulness online. Because 2020.

It’s been an exhausting but fascinating journey. Somehow, I’ve learnt enough in the way of video editing skills that I can watch back earlier clips with a mixture of embarrassment (at putting out such low quality content) and pride (at now being able to spot low quality when I see it… and knowing that I can do better.) 

I have zero YouTube plans post-project and no real idea of how this might/might not play out down the line, but I do feel like there’s potential here in terms of teaching and reaching kids. In some ways, I feel like these videos speak their language; like certain techniques and information might make more sense to children in the way they play out on screen as opposed to an adult describing this at the front of the class.

For now though, we’re on summer holiday time in the UK so from Monday 20th July, sessions will be shorter, snappier and geared towards practical activities wherever possible. There’ll be much less of me (the onesie is calling!) and I’m switching from B.E.A.S.T mode sessions to weekly themes as follows:

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I think that in any summer holidays, there’s room for some children’s mood to slide into boredom, worry, insecurity and general negativity. This year, the risk of this seems higher than ever. Therefore, some activities based on kindness, gratitude, mindfulness and confidence-building might be just what the doctor ordered. Click the link below to learn more:

It’s been such a turbulent year. So unsettling. I can’t even wish you a happy summer without hearing at least some sarcasm.

I guess instead I’ll wish you happy, peaceful, mindful moments this summer.

Because that’s all we have, really. The moment right in front of us now.

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! 🙂

 

 

 

 

Mindfulness Hack – Follow these steps for Instant Calm. Anywhere. Any time!

As it’s Mental Health Awareness Week, I thought I’d share some quick steps to clear the brain-fog and find some instant calm.

Just a refresher in what we mean when we talk about developing ‘Mindfulness Practice’: it’s about consciously paying attention to something; or as John Kabat-Zinn (the founder of Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) puts it, Mindfulness is:
“The awareness that comes from paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.”

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As simple as it sounds, it’s easy to be put off by over-complicated explanations or misconceptions that you have to do yoga, eat vegan and have an hour spare each day in order to get anything out of Mindfulness.

Of course, none of this is true! Like anything, peace of mind is a simple or hard as you choose to make it. And you certainly don’t need an hour. It’s perfectly possible to fit Mindfulness into your daily, busy routine.


Follow these basic steps, and you can start practising Mindfulness right now:

  • Set an intention (decide what you’ll bring your attention to). For example, this could be your breath, surrounding, sensations in your body, thoughts, an unpleasant feeling in your belly, the food you’re eating etc.
  • Notice everything you can about the thing you’re looking at/listening to/watching in your mind with ‘the beginners’ mind,’ as if you’ve never seen, heard, smelt anything like it before.
  • Congratulate yourself if you notice that you’re becoming distracted and ‘drifting off’
  • Acknowledge this without judgement and let it go.
  • Return to your intention, exploring it with a curious mind.

Your concentration muscles grow stronger by noticing when you’ve ‘drifted off’ and by repeatedly pulling attention back to your intention. So don’t beat yourself up when you inevitably lose focus. When I teach this to children, we talk about how this action is like a weight lifting rep for your brain; this is the stuff that really counts. Knowing this helps us to be a little kinder to ourselves than we might be, had we tried to control this.


You can use these steps anywhere – any time!

Facing a moment of overwhelming stress at work or home? Set an intention to focus on your breath for a few minutes. Currently being shouted at by a horrible boss? Why not really pay attention to the tone of their voice, the expression, the volume? Take the focus away from how this is making you feel and instead really pay attention to them. Out for a morning run and listening to your brain scream at you to quit? Send your attention to the physical sensation of your feet on the floor.

running-573762_1920.jpgJust play around and experiment with your attention. See what works and what doesn’t; how you feel before and after. Then do more of things that make you feel good! 

These steps are also incredibly effective for children, who need shorter spans of concentration (especially younger children and/or children who are completely new to this.) Just by asking them to pay attention to their food when they eat; encouraging them to use their senses and describe tastes and smells and textures afterwards, you can develop some really beneficial habits at the dinner table. And this is just for starters! 

In an increasingly busy and ‘stressful’ world, it’s good to know that we each carry with us the ability to be mindful.

At any point in time, we can choose. 

Choose to breathe. Choose to watch. Choose to listen.

Choose to be. 

 

 

 

Become a Zen Master with these Mega Mindfulness Resources!

Mindfulness can be defined as the act of consciously focusing on the present moment, while accepting one’s  feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations; with compassion, without judgement.

As stress levels rise, the number of mindfulness-related books, sites, magazines, apps, games, retreats increase daily. And whilst some of these items have a definite stink of ‘fad’ among them, there are also some really valuable resources available that will support you and your family/colleagues/staff/students on your quest for more zen.

Here’s 5 of the good ones:

  • ‘A Mindfulness Guide for the FRAZZLED,’ by Ruby Wax, available for under £7 on Amazon right now. Comedian Ruby Wax has been pretty open about her struggles with mental health, and now with an MCBT (Mindfulness-based Cognitive Behaviour Therapy) degree from Oxford under her belt, she’s written some pretty inspiring stuff. Ruby offers an honest and comedic perspective, along with a ton of practical tips and information. Included are a 6-week Mindfulness course, along with specific chapters aimed at parents. This book is a must when it comes to mindfulness. I’ve already got her one, ‘How to be Human: The Manual,’ lined up and ready to go!
  • ‘8 Minute Meditation: Quiet your mind. Change your life,’ by Victor Davich (Currently under £14 on Amazon.) This 8-week programme is full of practical information and guidance to help you make your practice consistent and effective. I first read this a few years ago when I was just venturing into mindfulness, and a big part of me believed that in order to really find my headspace, I’d probably need to devote an hour a day to sitting in lotus position, or perhaps spend three-months at an Ashram in India. Eat, Pray, Love your heart out. This book offered me an alternative and much more realistic schedule of 8-minutes daily practice (a lot harder than it sounds!) that I could comfortably slot into my busy life. If you prefer a less anecdotal approach, this book offers a well-structured, text-book style course, sure to bring that little more peace into your day.8 minute mindfulness.jpg
  • ‘Mindfulness On the Go’ card-set by Anna Black, currently under £13. These activity cards come in a beautiful box and won’t look out of place on any kitchen worktop or office desk. There are 54 beautifully designed cards, split into Practice and Activity cards. The Practice cards are mini-meditations that you can do when you’re out and about (you could easily fit the pack into your bag, or select one to keep in your purse/wallet.) The Activity cards, on the other hand, tend to focus on setting intentions for the day and increasing awareness of your daily habits. I love these cards because not only do they look pretty, but they encourage me to actually practise mindfulness and not just forget about it as soon as my ‘to do list’ starts to ramp up.
  • Mindful Kids’ 50 Activity-card set’ by Whitney Stewart and Mina Brau. I’ve mentioned this one before, and it’s just an absolute bargain at under £8. If you’re a parent of young children, struggling to fit in mindfulness around the kids, then why not include them in your practice? You’ll increase your own chances of success dramatically, while at the same time setting them up for a calmer, happier day. The cards are divided into 5 categories, summarised as confidence building; handling challenging emotions; sharpening awareness muscles; acceptance of yourself/the world; rest and relaxation. The activities are great fun for adults and children, most relying on imagination alone. If nothing else, you’re bound to create some precious family memories. Remember when mum tried to ‘be a tree’ and fell over?!

  • ‘In the Moment’ magazine isn’t cheap at £5.99 per monthly issue, but it’s a worthwhile luxury if you’re feeling inclined to spend. The act of sitting down in silence and reading any magazine or book is brilliant me time/mindfulness, but this magazine takes it to a whole other level. It’s crammed full of zen-inspiring articles and interviews, along with practical tips, activities and pull-out resources. It doesn’t hurt that it’s also produced on beautiful paper – I find myself repeatedly going into the present moment, feeling the touch of this beneath my palms. Reading this magazine in all together a lovely experience. You can save money by subscribing online, or pick it up monthly on most supermarket magazine stands.in the moment mag.jpg

Bonus Freebies:

Wanting to ‘up your attention,’ without the expense? Get yourself on YouTube! Just searching for mindfulness or meditation will bring up a ton of results, and though you will have to wade through lots of cheesy/annoying/awful clips, you might just find something that works for you. Here’s a link to some brilliant audio meditations from Professor Mark Williams. I’ve had a lot of success with these!

The same attitude can be applied to the app store. Read reviews before you download, and expect free apps to throw ‘in app purchases’ your way. I’m a big fan of the Head-space app, described as a ‘mindfulness coach in your pocket.’ This app gets bigger and better every year – unfortunately, so does the price! At present, the first course of 10 beginners sessions are still free and definitely worth a download. These babies lasted me over a year and some of the animation clips have really stuck with me.

Enjoy! xx

‘Ice Cool’ Creative Writing: Mindfulness-based Literacy

I was thinking recently about my first ever class as an NQT. All those years ago, I arrived in year 4 and met with my colleagues, ready to plan literacy for the term ahead. I’d actually qualified as a secondary history teacher and only spent a week volunteering in primary school at this point – I was full of enthusiasm but definitely felt like a fish out of water. I have to teach Music… and French?!

Thankfully, in my year 4 team were two lovely, experienced and creative teachers, who not only looked after me and guided me throughout that year. They gave me countless ideas to use across the curriculum, including the one that I’ll share now – Ice Balloons.

You will need: A balloon, a tap, room in a freezer, a bowl/dish and scissors. That’s it!

Method: Attach the balloon to the tap and fill with water. Tie into a knot and place the water balloon into the freezer. Bring out a day later, cutting the balloon away at the knot (run hot water over this to speed up.) The ice then sits in a dish (a pasta bowl is best to collect water but also show off the ice balloon) where it sits and acts as writing stimulus for your students.

It’s that simple and the kids just love it! 

We left our ice balloons out throughout the day in school. Once every hour, we would stop and examine them, looking out for changes in size, to see any new lines or cracks appearing. We spent a lot of time listening in silence, then describing the fizzing and crackling sounds we could hear. We used all of our senses, and we made notes. If only I’d known then what I now know, I’d have been patting myself on the back for incorporating #mindfulness into my literacy.

During the following week, we delved into the thesaurus, discovering wonderful new descriptive words that we might use to truly do our ice balloons justice. We uncovered similes, metaphors, personification, onomatopoeia (CRACK!) and our ice balloons were no longer frozen water, but ethereal, magical orbs, personal to each one of us. The end result – the Ice Balloon poetry – was simply stunning. Below, I’ve written my own version of our poem, following the same structure that the kids used. It isn’t a patch on theirs, but it will give you a solid structure if you’re wanting to try this with your children/class/group/pupil.

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My Ice Balloon

My Ice Balloon sizzles and crackles and hums with mystery.

It is strength, wisdom and power.

My Ice Balloon is a map, covered in paths, roads and rivers that lead to unseen places.

It is a magical, new world within a world.

My Ice Balloon is like a book, crammed with stories of good versus evil, heroes and villains.

It is a crystal ball, whispering secrets that only I can hear.

I will tread along the crystal paths and float on icy rivers.

I will open glass doors that have never been opened.

 

It’s tasks like this that restore your faith in humanity. Seriously people – just look at what you can do with a frozen lump of water.

Thinking of trying this? Already tried it? Think you can do better? Tell me below.

Supporting mental illness and anxiety in the classroom

I was browsing through BBC news a few days ago, when I came across the story of 16 year old George Hodgson. Despite suffering from extreme anxiety, OCD, panic attacks and even suicidal thoughts, like so many other children, George was placed on a waiting list to get the help needed, but was told that there was a 40-week wait for his treatment. He wasn’t contacted until two years later, just before the cut-off for adolescent care, as he was about to turn 18.

For many children and their families, George’s story is all too familiar.  Desperate and helpless children, parents, teaching/support staff and health care professionals, faced with a total lack of support when they need it most. 

And it’s getting worse. Childline released figures this month, showing that the number of children having therapy for anxiety has risen by 60% in two years. Alongside this, their figures show 13,746 sessions in 2016/17 for children suffering from anxiety, including more than 3,304 suffering panic attacks. 

Clearly, there is a great deal of work to be done. Only yesterday, the UK government announced a new vision for Mental Health research, which certainly promises steps in the right direction. Will it be enough though? With less than 6% of overall health funding going into mental health research, this will be no easy task. It won’t be quick either.

As teachers, we care deeply for our students. It can be heartbreaking to meet distraught parents who tell you what they’re going through day after day; who see their child’s anxieties worsening, watch them withdrawing as their self-esteem falls, worry constantly of what might happen next. While we’re not social workers or psychologists, we are on the front-line working with children suffering from a range of mental health issues. 

As our students are placed on a waiting line to get help and their parents turn to us for guidance, is there anything we can do?

I think there is. 

We can talk about mindset, thoughts, body language and actions. We can teach students about mental health. We can set daily activities whereby children look for positives in their lives, themselves and others. We can create an ethos of kindness, acceptance and honesty within our classroom. We can encourage daily mindfulness. We can ask students to weigh up actual evidence to prove or disprove negative thoughts. We can promote the benefits of eating wholesome food and exercising. We can give out useful resources that parents might not have access to. We can build solid relationships with families, becoming a united front. We can listen. We can try. 

Unsure you know how to help? Northumberland Tyne and Wear NHS is one of many brilliant sites that you can use to familiarise yourself with a young person’s condition and what they may be going through. They have self-help leaflets covering a range of issues. For primary age children, I’ve printed copies for children to use with support staff or myself in school, and another copy for parents so that they can better support at home. My go-to resource for secondary students suffering with anxiety, has been this amazing Moodjuice anxiety workbook which you can discreetly print, enclose in an envelope and slip to them in class for them to work through at home. Depending on what pastoral provision your school has, and how willing the particular student is to talk, you may be able to arrange a more direct intervention in school.

Essentially, what I’m saying is that if you’d like to help your students but don’t know enough about the topic yourself, you can find a wealth of useful information by googling terms like ‘NHS Anxiety.’ As someone who has myself experienced anxiety and undergone cognitive behaviour therapy, I can attest to the quality of booklets like the ones above. The same information, ideas and activities really helped me to change my thoughts, beliefs and actions, resulting in a much happier person. 

Again – we’re not trained health care professionals and I’m not naive enough to think that we can cure severe mental illness by asking students to write down positive thoughts. But for children who are perhaps beginning to show signs of mental illnesses such as anxiety and depression, whose only alternative is a waiting list, the interventions I’ve described above might just be the difference in a student worsening or getting better.

Luckily, for 18 year old George, his story had a happy ending despite the lack of support. Having made a full recovery, he now runs his own fashion brand which raises awareness of mental health issues. It’s a brilliant, inspirational story. It’s also rare.

As ‘Young Minds’ report as many as 1 in 6 young people experiencing anxiety at some point, this problem isn’t going anywhere. Alongside this, we live in an age of funding cuts – not only for schools, but also those same mental health services that the government have promised to ‘transform.’

Basically, we’re really up against it. All the more reason to put our creativity, resourcefulness and caring natures to good use.

 

 

 

 

 

Encourage kids to get outside this summer!

I came across this project a couple of years ago as a primary teacher and set it as a fun homework project for my year 5 class to complete over the summer holidays. It’s basically a checklist of 50 things ‘to do before you’re 11¾’ – very simple but also brilliant.

From my experience, this current generation of students ‘don’t get out much.’ The majority of them have very little knowledge of the outside world or first-hand experience of nature.

And that’s not to say that they’re not interested. When I’ve taken both primary and secondary kids out on trips and we’ve experienced ‘the great outdoors,’ they’ve loved it!

I’ve seen children – particularly boys – who struggle to behave within the rigid structure of the classroom, completely transform into enthusiastic, attentive learners and often leaders too.

This generation just have so many sources engaging distraction inside that they’re not really in the habit of going outside.

Children can sign up for an account and check off items as they go, allowing them to incorporate the biggest source of indoor entertainment, the internet, with their activities outside. Perfect! If they’re old school like me, they can just print out the checklist; nothing quite as satisfying as ticking off completed jobs on a list!

The National Trust have aimed this project at younger children who will most likely tackle this with more gusto than their mopey teenage counterparts. However, I can think of many sixteen year olds, eighteen year olds and even thirty year olds, who have never ‘held a scary beast,’ explored a cave’ or ‘found their way on a map with a compass.’

It’s never too late to start!

Explore the website here with your class, your children or just by yourself. Then… just explore!