A quick start guide—introducing your homeschool and/or kids to mindfulness.
Mindfulness and meditation should be short and sweet at the beginning. In this blog I’ll give tips for timing and preparation, then two techniques to have the kids ‘play’ at breathing, along with modifications for different bodies and asthma or other breathing difficulties.
Timing for a naturally calmer time of day will make the whole process easier. In the meditation world, the preferred time is first thing in the morning, but I haven’t seen this work with young kids in real life. My kid bounces out of bed ready to play, full of ten or eleven hours of recharging sleep. Waiting until later in the day, when some of that energy has been used, is a good idea. But for me personally, I love meditating before everyone else wakes up.
What times are naturally quieter times for your homeschool or child/ren? After lunch is usually a lower-energy time, or around 3:00 when that afternoon slump really kicks in. Just like medicine, it has to get taken to work, so it also needs to fit into your day. You know your homeschool and your kids, so do what you think is best. If after a few days it’s not working, try another time.
To prepare, find a quiet corner or spot in the house and having firm pillows or folded blankets to sit on. Having your hips higher than your knees and ankles makes it much more comfortable. Many yoga studios keep stacks of the Mexican serape blankets (you can find for 5.99 at gas stations). They’re cotton, they wash and dry easy, and they fold to make a nice square meditation or yoga cushion. Any blanket that folds without being slippery will work; you don’t. Letting them personalize can get you some buy-in as well; I bought my son some Thomas the Train fabric to put on top of his cushion.
The spot has a two-fold purpose—we want a physical space and seat to remind our bodies and minds: hey, remember this? It’s quiet time. And, we want to be comfortable, with our hips higher than our ankles. And I can hear some of you now, “there’s no quiet spot in the house!” I get it. Right now I use our guest room, but when we had family living with us, I used our master bedroom closet. Yep, the walk-in closet. I moved some shoes around and put up a nice nature picture. It was cozy and quiet.
So now you’re ready for the kids. One idea is introduce it as a breathing game, that could go along with an anatomy lesson about the lungs, diaphragm and heart. After the seated instructions you’ll see modification for lying down plus a stuffed animal / toy activity for kids to reinforce belly breathing. I find the sitting options better overall because lying down can mean napping!
Remember being a new parent, and watching that perfect little being breathing, their belly moving with the breath, so peaceful? As we grow emotions and stress change our breathing patterns and we learn to chest breathe. We want to belly breathe—it communicates ‘calm’ to the nervous system.
Before sitting down, do Earthquake Pose, or the Wiggles. We’re asking kids–active by nature–not to move for a while, so let’s let ‘em really move right now. Earthquake pose is to stand up tall and shake everything you can—arms, hands, shoulders, twist, jump up and down in little (or big) jumps. Shake it all out. Then, letting the earthquake go, invite them to sit down. Script: Bring your attention to your breathing, your breath. Can you take a few deep breaths? … give them 30 seconds or so… Place your right hand on your lower belly, below the belly button. (If kids are uncomfortable here, see the below notes.) Take a few breaths here. Do you notice the movement of your lower belly? It should expand or puff out with the inhale and relax or shrink with the exhale. (If they don’t ‘get’ this concept, go to the stuffed animal breathing below.) And now place your left hand on your heart, on your chest. Breathe here, feeling your breath move your lower belly a lot, and your chest a little. And that’s it. Done! Placing your hands on your knees…our breathing game is over.
This is incredibly powerful and grounding. Don’t brush this off as “Oh, we just did three minutes of this breathing stuff.” These few minutes can really bring someone back into their bodies, out of their heads, and let them reset a bit. Don’t underestimate the simplicity.
Right now, 3 minutes is enough. Don’t push it longer and chance a negative attitude around it…for weeks or months, a few minutes once or twice a day is fine.
Modifications: Lying down: For kids and adults who are larger bodies, sitting and putting their hands on their chest and belly may be uncomfortable. To modify, you can do all the same things, just have them lying down. You can put a pillow or rolled blanket under their knees if that helps. You can put a pillow under the head, but that is something I would only offer temporarily and then move away from it. Getting to a place where the chest is open, the back long when lying down is great for posture and helping correct a slouched back.
With breathing issues, whether seasonal allergies or asthma, it can be uncomfortable to lie down flat. You can have them recline onto lots of pillows or sit. One option is to let them sit with their backs against the wall, push the hips away from the wall and lean back on pillows (or a yoga bolster if you have one).
Stuffed Animal Breathing Game: This one is fun for kids, and for those of us who have forgotten how to belly breathe, it gives physical reinforcement to the mechanics of a deep breath. Let them choose a book, stuffed animal or small toy that can sit on their belly (i.e.not a matchbox car unless you press it into play-doh so it won’t roll.) Have them lie back and put the toy on their belly button and below (not toward their chest). Do the preparations and ‘Earthquake Pose’ but instead of guiding them to notice their breathing, guide the movements of the toy.
Script: Wiggling however you need to so you’re comfortable… now lie quietly and feel your Clifford/doll/book lifting up with your inhale, and dropping down with your exhale. You can pretend Clifford is in a boat, riding slow, calm waves…up as you breathe in…and down as you breathe out…up as you breathe in…and down as you breathe out… And now take your toy out of the waves, off the boat, Good job!
Again, a few minutes is plenty. We just want them to see the relationship between their body and their breathing, and to reinforce that the inhale expands the lower belly more than the chest. Many young kids get this quick—they’ve had less time than adults and teens to forget it.
Don’t worry, plenty more to come! The goal of this blog is to let you get your feet wet, and play with breathing meditation as part of your homeschool day, using things you already have on hand. Good luck! Let me know how it goes!