As we all know, this day and age is fast! And it will get faster and faster. I want to arm my child, and your children, with the vital skill of staying present and grounded in this hectic world. I can’t guarantee my son’s mental health. But I can guarantee that if he learns to be mindful and present, that he will be more efficient, more peaceful and a better learner and worker in the future. I want my son to be able to think! To problem solve and think creatively. To be persistent and resilient. To tackle tasks without the constant self doubt and chit chat that happens in our minds. Can we get rid of that chit chat all together? Heck no!! But we can learn ways to notice it, let it go, and come back to the task at hand. That’s what mindfulness is. It’s focused attention and doing tasks with intention and purpose.
Now I am NO psychologist, counsellor or psychotherapist. But I am passionate about Mindfulness and what it has to offer. I have practiced Mindfulness for years now with great personal results. I have found the clearest and simplest way to practice Mindfulness, both for myself and the children in my life, is through our 5 senses. So here I will share the way I facilitate mindful exploring in my house and classroom. Remember, my focus is always LEARNING. To be mindful is to be attentive and think clearly, which is the exact recipe needed for quality learning. Yes, the emotional and mental health benefits are HUGE, and I advocate for that also. But my game is learning, and I will stick with that as my focus!
I’ll be sharing the questions you could pose to yourself and your children during these mindful experiences. All of which are designed to keep you focused and attentive to that moment. If you practice these alone, these questions may become an inner dialogue for you. Or you could record yourself asking these things and then listen to that recording during a 10 minute mindfulness practice? I use questions like these to guide my students’ mindfulness practice at school. You can try them with your little ones too!
So here goes! How to be mindful using your 5 senses:
Watch your surroundings. They are full of sensory information that we can use to practice Mindfulness! It’s definitely a free resource! You don’t need a phone or app for this one (or any of these practices).
- Look at the people moving around you. Can you stop and curiously look at their faces and bodies. What do you notice?
- Look at the buildings near by. What thoughts pop into your head? Do you wonder how they all come together? How beautiful they are? Or how ugly?
- Explore nature. Take a look at the trees, flowers, bushes and sky. Can you see each intricate detail on each plant? Each leaf? Each flower? What are their colours, shapes, textures? What does the sky look like today? Is it blue or grey? Bright or dull? Is the sun shining? Or is it covered in clouds? Notice the shapes of the clouds. Are they fluffy? Scattered? What do you think they feel like?
Take advantage of the surfaces around you. Anything you can touch and feel can provide you with a perfect Mindfulness practice and great sensory information.
- Can you touch the things around you? What do they feel like?
- Have you felt something like this before?
- Are they bumpy or smooth? Hard or soft? Cold or warm? Sharp?
- Is it nice?
- Can you feel your clothes on your skin? Or the breeze against your face? Is your hair blowing about or is the air still?
- Can you feel the chair or earth underneath you? Is what you’re sitting on hard or soft? Notice each feeling.
Have you ever stopped to think and consciously eat? Have you turned the TV off, put the phone away and sat in quiet to focus only on the sensations in your mouth?
- What does your food taste like?
- How can you curiously eat, with no judgement? Can you make this moment as new as can be? As if it has never happened before.
- Is your food soft, hard or granulated? Is it whole and firm or powdery and crumbling? Is it pleasant?
- Is it hot or cold? Sweet or salty?
- What can you notice as you consciously chew each bite? Can you chew slowly? Can you savour each mouthful and take in each moment consciously so as to not be distracted by other thoughts or feelings?
Isn’t it interesting how humans can go about their day, with all sorts of sounds around them, and we can filter out the information and the sounds we don’t need? That’s actually an important mechanism. Imagine every sound we heard made us think, feel or startle? It would be terribly traumatic and such a huge sensory overload. But what if, for a few moments every day, you used the sounds around you to focus your attention like an active meditation? What if you used the sounds to strengthen your listening and concentration skills?
- Try asking yourself and your little ones these questions: What can you hear? Is it loud? Is it soft? Is it near? Is it far? What does it make you feel? Are you startled? Is it urgent? Is it peaceful? Is it pleasant? Is it annoying?
- Can you focus on that sound? Can you turn that sound up and down within your own mind? Can you play with the speed and volume of that sound in your imagination?
Does smell trigger certain thoughts and feelings for you? Trigger certain memories or take you back to a place from the past? It does for me. I have perfumes that remind me of my trip to Europe and New York. My wedding day and my first day of work. Smell evokes such high emotion for me that it’s my favourite of the senses. To become present and connected to your environment through smell, sit in your experience and ask these questions of yourself and your little ones:
- Notice that smell. What does it make you feel? Curiously watch that smell. Which direction is it coming from? Does it make your tummy grumble? Is it food? Is it a flower? Is it perfume? Is it familiar or new? Does it remind you of anything or anyone? Can you visualize that smell and give it a size or shape? Is it round or square? Is it red, blue or green? Is it near or far? Can you make it stronger or more subtle within your own imagination?
I integrate all of these questions and curious wonderings throughout my personal Mindfulness practice, my students’ learning and my parenting style. I bring L’s attention to the details every day. Not only does it keep him present, it’s an AMAZING tool for developing his language. Curiously taking part in his surroundings makes it so easy to show him new words and experiences. Being open to what each experience has to offer means that L will learn something new (big or small) every single day. I believe in Mindfulness for mental health and wellbeing. Yes. But, as an educator, I believe in it even MORE for learning. Living mindfully isn’t a “hippy” concept. It’s not “new age” or religious. Simply put, it is focused and attentive THINKING. And I reckon, teaching our little ones how to think is the best gift we could give. Don’t you?
Side Note: This is precisely the reason why I try to provide L with lots of open ended sensory play experiences. They offer up up so many chances to mindfully play and exercise his senses and his mind. We talk and giggle, and share new words and language! He makes up the game. He makes up the play. He guides his own exploration curiously. Win!!
Try these with your family or students and let me know your thoughts!
Please also check out the work of Dr Russ Harris for more information on Mindfulness. His work and knowledge in the area is amazing!