When I decided to add mindfulness to my classroom, I knew that it was not going to be something that all kids would immediately buy into. My students are 11 and 12 years old. Getting them to buy into bringing a pencil each day is a chore. I knew that no matter how well I explained to the students how their brains worked and why this was beneficial, I was going to have to be creative in my approach to really get them in to it.
One of the activities that I shared with the students was one where my objective was to get them to focus on something other than their breathing. Prior to this lesson, we had done a number of breathing meditations that many had written to me to tell me how it they had been using them before big games, concerts or just to fall asleep. Others had written to me to tell me that they just could not focus on their breathing and turn off their minds. I could see it in the way that they could not sit still or how they could keep their eyes focused low or shut. They were the students that were trying to get others to giggle or talk while we did our activities. I wanted to reach them as well and thought that this activity was the way to do it!
For this activity, I gave each student a Starburst (note..I did not for a second take into consideration how many students have braces in middle school. I chose Starbursts because I knew it was something that was somewhat allergy friendly. You may choose to use hard candy or at least have it as an option for those with braces.). I asked the students to observe the candy in its wrapper. They held the candy in their hand and felt the wax of the paper. I then had them carefully unwrap the candy fold by fold. They were to think about how it was packaged and how they would have to fold each side to get it to be this way. Then, I asked the students to smell the candy and think about if it reminded them of anything. From there, I told the students that they were to put the candy in their mouth and focus on the taste. They were not to bite the candy, but instead just hold it in the mouth. They were to focus on how their mouth was changing and how the taste changed over time. During this time, they were simply to focus on the taste of the candy and nothing else. Students were to just sit with the candy as long as they could without chewing it. After a few minutes, the students were allowed to chew the candy and focus on how it felt and how the taste changed. I asked them to chew as long as they could and not to take only a few bites and swallow.
Now, in the real world, most of us do not take this long to eat a piece of candy. However, what if we did? I then talk to the students about the experience. We talk about how we really made the eating of the Starburst an event. We took the time to really enjoy the candy and savor the experience. We talk about how during that time of focusing on what we are eating, we are also no worrying about the past or the future. We are in the present which is exactly what we are aiming for with mindfulness.
This activity is one that any child could do during a time of anxiety. I talk to the students about using this type of mindful activity when they are stressed in a situation. They can do it with any type of candy or gum. For some kids, this works better in a stressful situation than a breathing activity. Obviously, using candy frequently lends itself to some health issues, but it is a great way to get kids to practice the skill of being mindful. This exercise also is a great lead in to teaching kids about mindful eating (the act of taking your time to savor your food and to concentrate on putting healthy foods into your body). I do talk to the students about how beneficial listening to your body when you eat and being mindful or when you are hungry and when you are full can be. Also, we talk about how much more enjoyable it is to be mindful while eating our favorite food so that we actually remember the experience of eating it rather than mindlessly eating something and not even remember tasting it (like how I have no problem eating an entire bag of M&M’s without even thinking about it!)
What I love about this activity is that so many students told me ways that they thought that they could use this activity. For some, they said that every time they ate a Starburst or had a piece of gum, it was going to be a reminder to be mindful. Ultimately, that is what I want. I want them to find ways to make mindfulness a habit, but until that is possible, I want them to find little ways to infuse mindfulness into their days.