Thursday, May 18, 2017

How to Host an Afternoon of Mindfulness Activities for Kids

I committed an insane act of generosity, because I was curious to find out what would happen.

Without thinking too much, I invited 7 of my daughter's friends - all Italian of course - to my house for a precious Saturday afternoon of 'mindfulness activities for kids', and at the same time, idiotically promised the mums of the boys that they could go next.

I speak very little Italian.

I live in a small apartment.

I've never done mindfulness for kids activities.

I also thought maybe the concept of mindfulness (consapevolezza, meaning 'awareness' in Italian) did not sound very attractive, so I threw in the angle of getting a free English lesson with it.

Just in case I didn't have enough to on my plate.

All 7 mums replied immediately - 'Yes! My daughter is coming!'.

Oops. Now I really have to do the work.

Last summer, I had the opportunity to attend Plum Village for a week-long retreat on mindfulness, and returned to Rome with Thich Nhat Hanh's Planting Seeds - Practicing Mindfulness with Children. Packed with activities for kids and teachers, I poured over the book, picking which ones I could try out and which would be suitable for seven-year-olds with very little English, to be done in 3 hours.

In parallel, there was a buzz among the children. Apparently they were all talking about the special day at Olive's house (did they even know what consapevolezza meant?), leading one of Olive's friends to create and distribute the handmade invitations to the classmates. 

In the week leading up to the big day, I spent all of my 'spare' time preparing and practicing the activities with my kids, carrying my big nervous soul through the week. 

On the big day, the kids and I prepared the room. We wanted to make it as spacious as possible so removed unnecessary furniture, and decorated it with simple artifacts to make it a creative, meditative and fun space. We had also bought the necessary materials and laid these out, ready for our first guests to arrive:

With my son Archer who helped to prep the room. Crazy face!
  1. Pack of coloured textas or colouring-in pens.
  2. Small jars with screw-top lids.
  3. A variety of different coloured glitter
  4. A stack of 10cm x 15cm blank cards, enough for 4 for each kid. Or, pack of A5 heavy stock blank cards would do. 
  5. Blue and black pens, grey pencils and erasers.
  6. Four pictures of a flower, mountain, reflecting water and open space.
  7. Cute pictures inspiring meditation for kids. Just do a Google search for 'mindfulness for kids' and there are stacks to choose from. Decorate these around the room.
  8. Cushions to mark out the seating arrangements.
  9. Bell - any type will do. I have a Tibetan singing bell. You can also use any high-pitched, ringing instrument
  10. 4 pebbles for each kid. (Perhaps they could bring their own).

So if you're also interesting in generously giving up huge amounts of your time and house space for an afternoon of cuteness and delight with little kids practicing mindfulness, here's a list of suggested activities that worked:

Hello and welcome!

Invite the kids to sit on one of the cushions. Talk quietly to invite a sense of peace and to create a special atmosphere. I found that when I whispered, the kids became quieter and listening intently. Talk about what activities you are going to do, and how you will learn about breathing, and listening to what's inside of yourself. 

If you're a bit silly and trying this in a foreign language and/or country like me, talk about the kinds of English words that will be taught along the way. You may have to block a serious amount of time for Google translate before the session to prep the foreign language bit.

Mindful breathing and listening to the bell. 

This activity brings awareness to the sound of the bell, and is used to help the kids find and focus on their breathing. The sound of the bell helps them come back to themselves, and is especially helpful if they are feeling stressed or overwhelmed throughout the day. The activity teaches them that their ability to find calm through their breathing is available to them at any time of the day. 

Listening to the bell also helps them to concentrate, using the sound to hone in on the one present thing happening. When we did this, I found it so cute with all of the very loud, earnest and deep breaths that were taken!

Learning to invite the bell. 

Inviting the bell is a practice that asks the bell-ringer to bring the gift of the sound to others. The sound of the bell is beautiful, and bringing this to others requires the bell-ringer to first be calm and take deep breathes, and then to help others find calm and deep breathing through the sound of the bell. 

The kids loved being bell-ringers, which also helped them to have a sense of responsibility for leading the group through several rounds of breathing.

Mind in a jar.

This activity teaches kids about how thoughts and feeling work in the mind. Each child is given a jar, and it is filled with water. Then you can introduce the concepts of thoughts and feelings, and ask them what different types of thoughts and feelings do they have? What is the colour of your thoughts and feelings? What happens to you, that make you have these thoughts and feelings? Bring the glitter out and pour into their jars a small amount of the colour that best represents their feelings - red for anger, purple for happiness, green for tiredness, yellow for energy, black for stress, etc. 

Ask them to shake up their jars and then discuss how our mind is like the mixed-up colours of glitter - thoughts and feelings, all mashed up together. But when we stop and breath and let calmness enter our bodies, look at what happens to the glitter when we stop shaking the jar. Eventually, it moves to the bottom, making way for clear water, which is clear seeing, and clear thinking. The final message is that when we meditate by focusing on our breathing, this is the best way to clear our busy mind.

Mindful eating lunch.

Contemplating the food on our plate, before we eat
Eating together is a wonderful way to remind the kids how interconnected we are with everything around us. To eat mindfully, is to appreciate how things grow, where they come from, and especially all of the people that worked to help get the food to our plates. 

This activity also raises awareness of what we put into our bodies, and how our bodies work, so that we can treat our bodies well by giving it healthy food. As everyone is eating, some sample questions could be, what colour is it? What shape is it? How does it smell? How long does it take to grow? What did the tree need to grow the food? Who was involved in making this food? How far did the food have to travel to get here?

Pebble meditation.

This is one of Thich Nhat Hanh's classic meditation activities for kids. The activity continues the practice of breathing and helps the kids to meditate using the pebbles as a focus point. Each pebble represents a flower, mountain, water and space. 

First, invite the kids to draw a picture of a flower on the cards, and write two words, 'flower' and 'fresh' anywhere on the card. You can also show them a picture of a flower from the Pebble Meditation Images. Then, taking the first pebble in their hands, they close their little eyes and repeat the words offered by you: 'As I breathe in, I see myself as a flower. As I breathe out, I feel fresh.' Then repeat the breathing in, and say 'flower', then take a nice breath out, and say 'fresh'. Repeat one more time and put the pebble to the side.

Each of the other pebbles are then used as a mountain, water and space. Invite the kids to make their second drawing - a mountain - and practice breathing and mediating with the second pebble: 'As I breathe in, I see myself as a mountain, as I breathe out, I am solid.' Repeat twice with 'mountain' on the in-breath, and 'solid' on the out-breath.

The little cuties preparing for the Pebble Meditation
Then move to the third drawing of water, pick up the pebble, and say the third mantra: 'As I breathe in, I see myself as water. As I breathe out, I am clear and still.' Then repeat twice saying 'water' on the in-breath, and 'clear and still' on the out-breath. 

Finally, the last pebble is used to meditate on space. Invite the kids to draw a wide open field or a blue sky or space, and help them breath with the mantra: 'As I breathe in, I see myself as space. As I breathe out, I feel free.' Repeat twice saying 'space' on the in-breath, and 'free' on the out-breath. The kids can take home their drawings of their pebble meditation cards and pebbles, and practice at home.

An afternoon of mindfulness for kids can go one of two ways, and thankfully the activities were met with curiosity, gorgeous faces and lots of laughter. I found that I had to rush through some of the activities though, because the time flew by quickly. Next time, I will do fewer activities so that we can slow down and enjoy them even more.

Have you tried any mindfulness activities for kids? What worked for you? What didn't? Please feel free to share your experience in the comments below.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Worry Doll Series 1: The Separation

But I don't understand. What do you mean that your heart is bleeding? 

Please. Don't walk away. I can fix this.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Steve Jobs on following your heart

Thanks to Brainpickings, I was recently encapsulated by Steve Jobs' Standford University Commencement Speech given in 2005 and am savouring the wisdom of his words. He talks about life and death, and connecting the dots:

"Of course it was impossible to connect the dots looking forward when I was in college. But it was very very clear looking backwards. You can't connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something - your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever - because believing that the dots will connect down the road will give you the confidence to follow your heart, even when it leads you off the well-worn path, and that will make all the difference."

Image result for connecting the dotsI find these words incredibly heartening. I feel like I'm on the edge, and have felt this way for a while now. Not on 'the edge' as in about to neck myself, but at the edge of something exciting and meaningful, and knowing that the dots will somehow connect spurs me on to continue searching, questioning, listening and sharing. There's a question in my mind on what that next step will reveal to me, but I continue on my journey with open eyes, mind and heart, knowing that it's all going to work out. I can't wait to see how the universe conspires for me today.

I have been doing a lot of research over the years on finding your purpose, and this gem just adds to a valuable and expanding toolkit on this ubiquitous topic. In the mix for my future is learning and development, yoga, leadership, mindfulness, parenting, collaboration, blogging, creative disruption, remix culture, combinatorial creativity, and a little bit of starting up a business on the side. Not sure how these dots connect, but I can't wait to find out.

Monday, March 6, 2017

A little Sunday piece from Rome

Courtyard of the art museum Chiostro del Bramante
I walk through black cobblestone laneways on a wintery Roman day, washed with the morning rain, passing fading frescos and marbled cherubs showing me the way. Twisted rainbow-coloured pasta in the tourist windows remind me I’m not new here anymore, having seen so many, yet I feel I’m walking down this street as if for the first time. Rome still draws the traveler even in this season, and it has drawn me out of my home and into a little corner of the Chiostro del Bramante, a centuries old building nesting next to the Santa Maria della Pace, housing a contemporary art museum, café, bookstore and a 40s inspired corner room, the Sabille di Raffaello decorated sparingly with soft high-backed chairs, dim lighting and new lovers. Here could be the place where ideas are born, relationships cemented, business deals done or none of that, just a Sunday passed with friends. This room has invited me in, and will not let me go until the writing is done. I hope they don’t mind if I’m here for hours. I have no internet here, just my laptop and my words, my belly full of café latte and a muffin al cioccolato.

A group walks in. Three women over 50, a young girl with glasses and long dark hair, and man keeping his distance. They walk as if life has been too heavy. One woman is obviously the commander, allocating which person must sit on which seat. She asks the group a slow and clear question in Italian, “Allora, cosa hai fatto ieri?” and although they nod their heads in unison at the woman’s words, the ensuing looks from the girl and women make it clear they do not realise it is a question. They stare, nod some more, and stare some more. The mute man is looking down, clearly enjoying this Sunday with the ladies. The commander still holds the floor, with her slow questions. “Errrr,” says the young girl. “Si.” Silence has the floor, as the speakers offer Lou Reed’s Perfect Day.

Il Sabille di Raffaello
The commander abruptly takes their order for lunch, and when she leaves, no one says anything, to anyone, at any point, for the entire 8 minutes. The girl cleans her glasses – twice. When the commander returns, they look to her as a rescuer, as if they prefer the other discomfort of having to nod to her many Italian questions, than the company of themselves.

I order a risotto con carciofo e guanciale. Delicious. I can see the sun peering through the clouds and it’s time I get back out there, having absorbed as much of this corner as I could. I leave the group across from me. At least they now have wine at the table.