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4 Ways to Start Class With Breathing and Mindfulness

If you try this activity with your students, we’d love to see what you do. Share your journey via the #Inspired2Learn hashtag on your preferred social platform.

Discipline: These activities can be applied in any class or subject area though they do not have direct ties to content. With some creative thinking, you can make those connections – the activities involving senses work well with science and descriptive writing, and those with breathing can also be tied to science and even math in their sequencing and counting properties. 

Age level: All

Time: 35 minutes 

Materials: None. 

Studies show that incorporating mindfulness into the learning experience for children has a positive impact not only on their mental health but also on their academic performance. Starting class with a few minutes of stillness, breathing, and quiet reflection can set a powerful tone for the day.

Box breathing (also known as four-square breathing)

Have students sit comfortably and follow these directions as they focus on their breath: 

  • Take a deep breath in. 
  • Exhale to a count of four.
  • Hold your lungs empty for a four-count.
  • Inhale at the same pace to a count of 4.
  • Hold air in your lungs for a count of four. 
  • Exhale, and begin again.

When you guide students in this, pay attention to their body language. With younger children keep the 4 counts shorter/a little faster since their lungs are small. Remind everyone to do what feels right in their body as your 4-count will ultimately feel different from anyone else’s. 

 

Metta Practice 

Metta meditation is a Buddhist practice but in your classroom, you can do this mindfulness activity independent of any spiritual belief as at its core this is about noticing how our thoughts of kindness toward others can have a positive effect on our own minds. This practice is also often called loving-kindness meditation. Guide your students through the following prompts, inviting them to focus on their breath and let these words fill their minds. 

  • Sit in a comfortable seated position
  • Bring your attention to your breath. 
  • Think of someone who brings you joy, and makes you feel filled with happiness. This could be a person you know well, someone you admire but who you don’t know personally, an animal, or just a living being who makes you feel good. Feel that feeling throughout your body as you breathe. 
  • Send these thoughts to yourself, in your mind repeat these phrases: 
    • May I be happy
    • May I be well
    • May I be safe. 
    • May I be peaceful. 
  • Now think of that living being who fills you with joy and send these thoughts to them. In your mind repeat: 
    • May they be happy
    • May they be well
    • May they be safe. 
    • May they be peaceful. 
  • Now think of someone who you may have a struggle with at the moment, someone who you might have a hard time getting along with, and send these thoughts to them. In your mind repeat: 
    • May they be happy.
    • May they be well.
    • May they be safe. 
    • May they be peaceful. 
  • Now think of the community you live and work in, the people in your school, in your neighborhood, in your family. In your mind repeat: 
    • May all be happy.
    • May all be well.
    • May all be safe. 
    • May all be peaceful.
  • Take a last deep breath in and out and feel yourself filled with that loving kindness. May you take that with you into your day. 

 

4 Elements Grounding 

This activity can be particularly helpful when you notice that students are coming into class agitated. If there has been a news event that you know might be troubling them, or even some interpersonal clashes with the class or on the playground – this opportunity to pause and re-center can be very effective at taking down the temperature in the room. Through verbal prompts you lead students on a mental journey through reflections and physical sensations related to the properties of earth, air, water, and fire. There are various scripts for 4 Elements Grounding on the internet but this one has language that seems most applicable to school-age children, it may require some tweaking for younger students. 

 

Sensory Walk

This activity is easiest in an outdoor space where students can walk free of desks but they remain in earshot of you as you share the prompts. You can do this in a classroom as well, they just need to be more mindful of the space and each other as they move about. As you read the prompts below aloud, pause after each cue for 30-60 seconds depending on how much time you can allocate to this exercise. 

  • Begin walking arond the space. Be mindful of your body and others as well as objects in the space. 
  • Notice how your body feels. Become aware of your posture and the way you’re carrying yourself.
  • Tune into any sights that come into your awareness. You’re simply acknowledging what you see.
  • Notice the sounds that drift in. What can you hear? What can you hear beyond the obvious sounds? 
  • Now turn your attention to any smells. Notice how the mind habitually wants to create a story out of each smell and how it might remind you of somewhere, something, or someone.
  • Notice any physical sensations, from how the weather makes you feel to how it feels as the soles of your feet touch the ground. Simply notice, acknowledge, and let go.
  • Focus on the rhythm of your walking. Use that rhythm — the soles of the feet touching the ground — as your base of awareness, a place you can mentally come back to when the mind wanders off.

Standards Addressed by these Activities

Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning Competencies

Self-Awareness: The abilities to understand one’s own emotions, thoughts, and values and how they influence behavior across contexts. This includes capacities to recognize one’s strengths and limitations with a well-grounded sense of confidence and purpose.

Self-management: The abilities to manage one’s emotions, thoughts, and behaviors effectively in different situations and to achieve goals and aspirations. This includes the capacities to delay gratification, manage stress, and feel motivation and agency to accomplish personal and collective goals.

Social awareness: The abilities to understand the perspectives of and empathize with others, including those from diverse backgrounds, cultures, and contexts. This includes the capacities to feel compassion for others, understand broader historical and social norms for behavior in different settings, and recognize family, school, and community resources and supports.

Responsible decision-making: The abilities to make caring and constructive choices about personal behavior and social interactions across diverse situations. This includes the capacities to consider ethical standards and safety concerns, and to evaluate the benefits and consequences of various actions for personal, social, and collective well-being.

Relationship skills: The abilities to establish and maintain healthy and supportive relationships and to effectively navigate settings with diverse individuals and groups. This includes the capacities to communicate clearly, listen actively, cooperate, work collaboratively to problem solve and negotiate conflict constructively, navigate settings with differing social and cultural demands and opportunities, provide leadership, and seek or offer help when needed.