Tag Archives: family activities

Mindfulness Activities for Kids

From Grandma is a Slowpoke, written by Janet Halfmann and illustrated by Michele Coxon.

What is mindfulness?

 

The practice of mindfulness is one that has gained mainstream popularity over the last decade. With rising rates of stress and anxiety across the US, many have turned to meditative and mindful exercises to find balance in their lives.

 

According to Psychology Today, mindfulness is defined as a state of active, intuitive attention to the present that involves observing thoughts, feelings, and sensations in an objective manner. Rather than avoiding pain or difficult emotions, mindfulness equips us with the tools to become aware of our feelings and work toward acceptance. The goal of the practice is to cultivate inner peace that can translate to external relationships with others and the world around us.

 

The benefits of practicing mindfulness with children

 

Mindful practices present abundant benefits for people of all ages, including improvements in focus, patience, emotion regulation, and decision making. For children still developing key social-emotional skills, mindfulness techniques can teach them early on how to process their thoughts, emotions, and actions and react in positive ways.

 

Scientifically speaking, a majority of the skills that mindfulness promotes are controlled by the prefrontal cortex section of the brain. Connections are created and formed in the prefrontal cortex at the fastest rates during early childhood. While the brain continues to develop throughout our lives, childhood is an especially crucial time for these skills and connections to form.

 

The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) has outlined five core skills crucial to SEL learning:

  • Self-awareness
  • Self-management or self-regulation
  • Responsible decision-making
  • Social awareness
  • Relationship skills

While CASEL has explicitly cited the benefits of mindfulness in relation to self-awareness and self-management, additional research suggests that all five CASEL skills may benefit from practicing mindfulness in these ways:

  • Improved ability to pay attention and remember information.
  • Improved ability to transition between different tasks.
  • Improved academic performance, classroom participation, and interpersonal interactions.
  • Increased focus, curiosity, self-control, coping abilities, empathy, and compassion.
  • Decreased levels of stress, depression, anxiety, and disruptive behavior.

How incorporating mindfulness may differ across age groups

 

It’s never too early to introduce mindfulness to children! The practice may also simultaneously ease the stress of parents and caregivers. In fact, it is highly suggested that caregivers who practice mindfulness themselves may be better suited to integrating it into their child’s life.

 

Infants learn primarily through observation; an infant will sense when a caregiver is present in the moment. Try to limit use of digital devices around a baby and learn to ask yourself where attention is directed when spending time with one. Since parents and infants often feed off of each other’s emotional reactions, it’s equally important to maintain mindful habits in stressful situations, such as crying tantrums or sleepless nights. One example is gentle and loving eye contact.

 

These sentiments are important when practicing mindfulness with toddlers as well, but this age also presents more opportunity to explore the vast reaches of mindful practice. Mindfulness can be incorporated into reading, making art, or outdoor time with a toddler. Intentional expressions of mindfulness can begin to be practiced at this age as well, such as breathing exercises and learning to express gratitude often.

 

Young children will retain the mindful skills they’ve learned as infants and toddlers and may begin to explore meditation, yoga, and independent mindful activities. Across age groups, there is an array of mindful activities that children can enjoy!

 

Mindfulness practices to try with your child!

  • Walk around a room slowly while holding your infant. With each step, think about the love you hold for them and silently repeat phrases of gratitude or well wishes to yourself and your baby with each step.
  • Sit with your child and ask them to relax the tension held in their muscles. Take it slow and name each part of the body from the top of your head to the tips of your toes until each muscle has been relaxed.
    • Practicing squeezing and releasing your hand is a good way to demonstrate tension for younger children.
  • Use coloring as a mindful activity and ask your child to color their feelings. Invite them to associate colors with their thoughts and feelings.
  • Blow bubbles and associate each drifting bubble as releasing negative emotions. Offer farewells to the bubbles by saying “goodbye tears” or “goodbye sadness.”
  • During snacks or mealtimes, ask your child to describe their food to you. This can include size, color, texture, and taste. Ask them to consider ways the food nurtures their body and keeps them healthy.
  • Fill a jar with water and glitter. When your child feels distressed they can shake the jar and watch the glitter slowly settle to the bottom of the jar as a grounding and calming exercise.
  • Create a mindfulness kit! It could include essential oils, stimulating sensory objects, a journal, art supplies, or a comfort toy.
  • On a walk with your child spend time collecting different natural items. Take turns describing your findings to each other, including what they look and feel like.
  • Take five deep breaths in the morning and/or at bedtime. Encourage slow, deep breaths drawn in through the nose and pushed out through the mouth. A child may find comfort by holding a stuffed animal or closing their eyes.

Practicing mindfulness with children equips them with the tools to be self-reliant and self-aware, preparing them to overcome challenges later in life. The earlier mindfulness is introduced in a child’s life, the more empowered and resilient they will be. A mindful lifestyle can be refined as they grow older.

Making Time for Outdoor Spring Activities

Playing outside makes children happy and healthy! (from the forthcoming Let’s Play Outside; photography by Daniel Nakamura).

Spring is fast approaching, and it’s time to think about getting kids outside! If you’re looking for new ways to encourage your child to play outside and keep their imagination active, here are some practical tips.

Why is it so important for kids to play outside?

Increased technology and higher rates of screen time have been linked to obesity, mental health disorders, insomnia, social disconnection, and lack of exercise. Now more than ever, it’s important for children to spend time outdoors. Harvard health experts cite the following medical (physically, mentally, and socially healthy) reasons for children to be active outside:

  1. Sunshine: Enriches children with vitamin D, contributes to bone development, boosts moods, and aids in healthy sleep.
  2. Executive Function: Executive function skills help children prioritize, plan, multitask, negotiate, imagine, and problem-solve. Children need to be outside to imagine, figure things out, make up games, and navigate unstructured, adult-led time.
  3. Exercise: Children should be active at least one hour each day. Sending them outdoors is the best way to give them room to move in.
  4. Appreciation of Nature: Children need to appreciate the mountains, the sky, the birds, the oceans, the worms. It’s essential to protect our planet.
  5. Taking Risks: Falling off a swing or tripping mid-run is part of understanding that failures occur and we can learn from them. It prepares us for life.
  6. Socialization: This can be tough during a pandemic, but forming a pod with other kids can help. Interacting outside of the classroom or sports team structure is crucial.

Safe, Outdoor Spring Activities for Kids

There are many creative ways to keep kids outside and off screens. Here are some of the most innovative and classic activities that can be done with household members or socially distanced with others.

  • Outdoor tea party: Have your kids dress up, make cucumber sandwiches, and have some lemonade or tea!
  • Go fishing: You can fish in almost any type of water. It teaches children patience, and their faces light up when they catch a fish.
  • Fly a kite!
  • Plant a tree: Purchase a tree seedling, dig a hole that’s twice as wide as the root ball, and pull dirt over it. Make sure to create a little dam around it so the tree can get more water!
  • Grill outside: Hamburgers, hot dogs, veggie skewers, and steaks all taste better outside!
  • Dig for worms: Kids love seeing what’s right under their feet. Dig for worms after the rain when the soil is damp.
  • Press flowers: Pick some flowers and let them dry for 7-10 days. Put them in journals or cards or use as art decorations!
  • Go green for St. Patrick’s Day: If you celebrate, make the theme of the day green. Dress in green, spend time in the green world, and eat green foods!
  • Make a fairy garden: Let your kids pick the spot, set up a little house, lights, glitter, beads, garlands, rocks, figurines, and anything else you want!
  • Dandelion crowns: Collect dandelions with long stems. Wrap one dandelion around the stem of another, and keep adding until it looks like a crown!
  • Make a rain gauge: Find a jar, mark measurements with a ruler, put the jar outside on a level place while it’s raining, and bring it back inside to measure how much it rained!
  • Blow bubbles: All you need is a wand and some bubbles (water and soap)!
  • Celebrate May Day: May 1 is right between the March equinox and the June solstice. Celebrate by making a maypole with colorful ribbons, make flower crowns, have a bonfire, go hiking, and read or write some poetry about spring.
  • Decorate a flower pot: Purchase a terracotta pot, and let your kids use paint, stickers, chalk, markers, etc. Add soil, a plant, let them keep it or gift it!
  • Start a nature collection: Collect rocks, feathers, shells, snakeskins, four-leaf clovers, turtle shells, eggshells, empty nests—anything goes!
  • Make wind chimes: Use anything: seashells, wood, glass, stones, silverware, or anything you think would look beautiful!
  • Make a magic wand: Using a stick and some colored ribbons, let your kid’s imagination run free!
  • Dance in the rain: Dress your child in rain gear, or go barefoot! Splashing in puddles is always fun.
  • Make DIY butterfly wings!
  • Go strawberry picking: Visit a local orchard. Apply plenty of sunscreen and wear boots for the muddy terrain. Fresh strawberries taste delicious!
  • Create a backyard golf course: You can use anything as makeshift holes: cereal boxes, buckets, whatever you think would look cool and might give kids a challenge!
  • Set up a hammock: Taking a nap outside or reading in a hammock is one of life’s simplest pleasures.

Make Handwashing a Fun and Familiar Experience

Good hygiene, especially clean hands, is important for our health and safety. Handwashing helps prevent the spread of icky germs and bacteria like the coronavirus.

 

The Centers for Disease Control recommends washing your hands for approximately 20 seconds. But it is difficult to get children to concentrate for that long. So how can you make handwashing fun for youngsters?

 

Pediatricians suggest washing your own hands with your little one to set an example. Another tip is to tether handwashing to other fun activities, like arts and crafts.

 

Music can also make handwashing fun! Here is a cute “wash up-up-up” song to sing with your child. If you sing along with the audio track (one beat/second), the scrubbing section in the middle lasts for the recommended 20 seconds.

 

Be well and stay safe!

 

Illustration © 2018 by Ying-Hwa Hu (from Clean Up, Up, Up!)


Wash Up, Up, Up!

 

Wash up, up, up!

Wash up, up, up!

This is how you wash your hands:

 

You Wet

Lather

Scrub

Rinse, and

Dry

 

You wet your hands, you can use cold water

You lather your hands with a squirt of soap

Then you scrub your hands lots of different ways

 

You scrub the palms, one, two, three

 

You scrub the backs, one, two, three

 

You scrub the sides, one, two, three

 

You scrub the fingers, one, two, three

 

You scrub the tips, one, two, three

 

Then you rinse the soap off and dry your hands

And you’ve washed up, up, up!

One more time:

 

Wash up, up, up!

Wash up, up, up!

This is how you wash your hands:

 

You Wet

Lather

Scrub

Rinse, and

Dry

 

Lyrics and music © 2020 by Malcolm Pittman

Benjamin Futterman: vocals, guitar, audio editing

Ela Ben-Ur: vocals, fiddle

Malcolm Pittman: vocals, banjo

Courtesy of Star Bright Books

(Hand-washing procedure taken from the Centers for Disease Control)

The Extraordinary Benefits of Bedtime Stories

Reading a bedtime story with your child is a great way to wind down after a long day. You can start reading together at any age—but the earlier you start, the better. However, reading at different stages will allow for different experiences. Babies between 4 and 6 months old will begin to show an interest in books through touch, and by their first year, they’ll be able to understand basic concepts such as colors and shapes. It’s a good idea to start reading board books with children ages 3 and younger. Children ages 4 and up can continue reading a variety of picture books.

Bedtime reading with children can be a magical experience. (images from Read to Me) 

 

Along with introducing your child to early literacy, regularly reading to them has numerous benefits that will help your child as they grow. Here are some of the most important ones!

 

Scheduling a time to read with your child will help establish a routine. Practicing healthy routines at an early stage will prove beneficial. It aids in the development of organization skills, so when children grow older they can practice time management. Separating time to read and relax is just as important as time spent working. Choose a time that works best for you and your child. You don’t have to read every night, but you should set a goal for how much you do want to read. Try not to frame reading as a chore—it should be something your child looks forward to doing with you.

 

Reading stories will broaden your child’s vocabulary. Bedtime stories can be used to practice speech and reading comprehension among all languages. This is an especially helpful tool for homes where more than one language is spoken. If your child comes across a word they don’t know, take time to look up and learn the word together. You may already be familiar with the word, but it is important that your child takes time to practice searching for words unknown to them. This habit will help them when they start reading on their own. You can write down the words you learn together in a notebook and look back at them after you finish each storybook. If your child is learning more than one language, you can write down the word’s translation alongside its definition.

 

Use bedtime stories as a learning tool. You can use storybooks to introduce your child to their own cultural background and ancestry. Or venture from the stories you read growing up and find new, fun retellings of classics. Don’t limit the stories you read—there are countless bedtime tales from around the world. Be sure to research storybooks by authors from diverse backgrounds. Reading stories from various backgrounds will help children learn about different cultures and the importance of diversity and inclusion. Ask your child what types of stories interest them and if there is a country or culture they are curious about. Take time to reflect on the stories you read.

 

 

Read different types of books! Storybooks come in many different forms. Board books are ideal for children in their very early stages of reading and listening, picture books are recommended for children ages 4 and up, and beginner-level chapter books can be read as early as age 5, depending on the content. Graphic novels are also a great choice when your child grows out of the early stages of reading. There are many kid-friendly graphic novels for different age groups. In addition, audiobooks are a practical option, especially after a long day of work and school. You can purchase books that include audio guides or look for the audiobook versions of your favorite storybooks. Play the audiobook and follow along together if you have a physical copy with you. If not, actively listen to the story with your child.

 

A lot of our books make great bedtime stories including Read to Me; Good Night, Little Sea Otter; and Woolly the Wide Awake Sheep.