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Mindfulness Activities to Reduce Stress and Improve Student Focus

Kids practicing yoga on desks

Imagine a classroom of calm and focused students. It can happen with these mindfulness activities.

Mindfulness activities can have a dramatic effect on your students' developmental growth and well-being: Research has shown that it can reduce stress, boost memory, and improve cognitive flexibility. If you haven't heard about mindfulness before, it isn't new; Buddhists have practiced it for thousands of years. In a nutshell, it's the ability to be conscious and fully aware in the present moment.

Think about how your students would benefit if you implemented this practice into your day-to-day routine. It can help to boost their memory and academic performance, as well as strengthen their concentration and attention span, reduce anxiety before testing, and enhance their social and emotional learning. By setting aside just a few minutes a day, you can help your students live happier and healthier lives.

Introducing Mindfulness

A simple way to introduce mindfulness activities to your students is by making them aware of their body sensations. A fun and easy activity is a taste test. Blindfold students and give them a variety of different foods to taste (both good and bad tasting). Encourage them to pay attention as they chew their food and to think about how the food tastes, smells, and feels in their mouth as they chew it. I tried this with fifth graders and they loved it. It really helped them gain a better understanding of how to be mindfully present.

 

I divided the students into small groups and had them take turns being the "taste tester." I assigned one person per group to be the recorder and write down what the tester was experiencing. My students loved watching their classmates taste the different foods (especially the bad-tasting foods because most students made a disgusted face!).

After the tasting was finished, we went over our notes and talked about what they had experienced when it was their turn. Students talked about how focusing on each taste and smell, and how they chewed and swallowed the food, helped them experience it more intensely because they were being mindful and living in the moment.

Pushing Your Students to Breathe

Breathing is another easy way to bring your attention to the present moment. Your breath is a powerful tool you can use to calm your nerves and reduce stress. To help your students relax, have them sit comfortably with their feet grounded on the floor, their hands in their lap, and their eyes gently closed. Instruct students to listen to their breathing as they inhale and exhale. Have them lengthen each breath as they breathe in and breathe out. If they find that their thoughts are drifting off, tell them to direct their attention back to their breath and count to 10 as they breathe (count one as they inhale, two as they exhale, and so on). Do this mindfulness breathing activity for a few minutes each day, and your students will quickly notice a difference in how they feel after.

Learning to Listen

Mindfulness activities involving your breath are a great way to quickly calm your nerves and regain your focus, but using your body can also be an effective technique. Think about the last time that you were feeling blue and went for a walk outside on a nice day. How quickly did it make you feel better? It's already well-known that exercise is a great way to relieve stress and reduce anxiety from our bodies. Taking your students outdoors can help them live in the moment by listening to the sounds of nature while actively using their bodies.

For this activity, take your students for a walk around the school. Challenge them to listen to each sound that they hear as they walk. For the students that may get distracted, you can have them take notes on each sound that they hear. Students can listen for birds chirping, small animals scampering, the sound of the wind, or even the sound of their feet on the pavement. They'll be surprised by how many sounds they can hear when their mind is only focused on one thing at a time. When you get back to the classroom, you can have the students discuss what they saw and heard on the walk.

 

Using mindfulness activities in your daily curriculum can improve your students' ability to be in the moment and stay calm. You're essentially giving them a tool to help them control their thoughts. While not all students will take to mindfulness right away, remember that it's something they can keep in their back pockets and use whenever they feel like they need it.