When I first started to have an interest in incorporating mindful practices into my classroom routine, I didn’t know where to start. I Googled and read books, but that only partially helped. They told me the techniques, but not really how to do them in the classroom. That’s when I started experimenting with my students. I tried everything. I began by trying all the techniques. Some worked, some didn’t, and a few had to be modified. Then, I experimented as to when to practice; either at the beginning of class, after activities, or at the end. Finally, I focused on the time it took to perform the activity. If it was too long, too involved or had too many additional items I immediately excluded it. I then focused on activities that could be completed in under 5 minutes.
That is how I came to use the following techniques. This is how I start every class. It’s wonderful! Some days I can’t believe how lucky I am that I get to do this four times a day.
The most basic way to begin incorporating mindful techniques into the classroom is by practicing Focused Breathing. This is a basic mindfulness practice you can incorporate easily and daily into the classroom?
I start every class with this 2-minute exercise. The process is started at the beginning of the school year and repetitive reinforcement allows the practice to thrive through the end of the year.
I have done this exercise with my classroom students in grades 9-12.
There are many mindful techniques, but I am going to share with you my classroom meditation practice. The deep breaths taken before and after the period of silence helps the students relax and release some stress from their day. This is beneficial to them, and their success throughout the school day. Being in high school is STRESSFUL!!!
I have a 5 step process to help teach Focused Breathing Exercises.
***Please take time to practice, yourself, before you start with your students. Take a few minutes each day to become silent and listen to your breath. This way you can explain to the students what they will experience. It’s not a quieting of the mind. Thoughts will come. It’s acknowledging the thought and distractions, but still being able to redirect and focus on the breath.
WARNING: Not every student will be a willing participant. Some students may feel uncomfortable or self-conscious doing the exercise. I instruct those students that they have to stand, and they can’t disturb other students who are participating. These students will usually just look around the room. Some will eventually start participating, while others will never do it the entire year. It’s OK. Just make sure they are respectful of others.
Step 1: Starting the Process
- Start by asking the students what they do to practice focusing.
- After some brainstorming, tell them you can teach them a technique that will help them.
Step 2: The Stance
I have students practice a standing meditation. Many people prefer sitting, but I find high school students are more likely to use that time to take a little nap. It’s hard to fall asleep standing up.
- Ask for a volunteer who can help you demonstrate at the front of the class.
- Ask all the students to stand up.
- Have students take their hands out of their pockets, stand tall, and place their feet hip distance apart.
- Remind students not to lock their knees! You don’t want anyone to pass out.
Step 3: The Breaths
- Have students place their hands on their stomachs.
- Tell them to take a deep breath in through their nose and focus on their stomach expanding. This should be done by the count of 5.
- Hold breath for 2 seconds.
- Exhale through the mouth. Encourage students to push all the air out of their body.
- Exhale longer than inhaling.
Step 4: The Silence
- Tell students to close their eyes or fix their eyes on a point in front of them on the floor.
DO NOT FORCE STUDENTS TO CLOSE THEIR EYES IF THEY DON”T WANT TO !!!
Not everyone is comfortable closing their eyes with other people around. The exercise will do just as well with a student staring at the floor in front of them.
- While eyes are closed or focused, instruct students to focus on their breaths.
- A technique they can use to remind them to focus is to silently say, “I breathe in… I breathe out…” on the inhale and exhale breaths.
- Their mind will wander, but when they catch their mind wandering, they should refocus and return to listening to their breath.
- Set a timer and practice for two minutes.
While breathing in and out remind students they should:
Bring awareness to the feeling of the whole inhale.
Note what it feels like when the lungs are full right before the exhale.
Bring awareness to the physical experience of the whole exhale.
Note what it feels like when the breath is empty before the inhale.
Step 5: Reflection
- To end the exercise guide the students in taking 3 deep breaths as they did in the beginning. Then say, “Wiggle your fingers and open your eyes.”
- Remind students that the more they practice listening to their breath in silence, the longer they will be able to do it. The first time they may have only been able to do it 2 or 3 times for 3 or 4 seconds each time. That’s OK. Each time they will get better and better.
Over the years I have observed that most students actively want to participate once they start seeing the benefits. Plus, this isn’t the only mindfulness technique that I practice in the classroom. This is the one that I practice consistently and most often.
Set Students Up to Be Leaders
After 6 weeks, I ask the class for volunteers to lead the class in meditation. There are usually 1 or 2 students who volunteer in every class. In the beginning, I ask the students to show me what I would do. I gently correct them if they make a mistake, and use positive encouragement when they do well. It is also helpful to reward them for assisting in leading the class. I give out small candies, stickers, or pencils.
It is now March. By the time the bell rings I always have a few students who are already standing in the front of the room, waiting to lead the meditation.
If you are interested in other ways to incorporate Mindful activities into the classroom, click the link to purchase my One-Minute Mindfulness Activity Cards. The cards include 28 other activities that I use in the classroom.
If you use the focusing activity in the classroom, please let me know in the comments.