Reading, writing, math, science — all topics that are heavily covered in school and considered an important part of a student’s future success. But what if stress causes a student to shut down? What if anxiety prevents a bright student from showing their full potential?
Just as students learn how to read and write, students should also be learning how to recognize and handle their emotions. Emotional strength is integral to helping students face down adversity, and emotional intelligence will be what keeps them strong through the rest of their lives, through the good times and the bad.
Practicing mindfulness is how all of us build our emotional strength. If we put in place a routine of mindfulness for our students, we will only be better preparing them for the road ahead. This is why Stop, Breathe & Think, an emotional awareness app, has created extensive educator resources and made all of their premium activities free for life for teachers. This includes everything on the Stop, Breathe & Think app for kids (age 4-10) and the Stop, Breathe & Think All Ages app for ages 11 and up.
Additionally, their introductory packets specific to elementary school, middle school, and high school show teachers how to start incorporating mindfulness into the classroom. They acknowledge the fact that these activities may feel awkward at first, and suggest ways to handle the most common challenges. But most importantly, they make it clear how easy practicing mindfulness can be, even if it’s just for a few minutes a day.
We’ve gone through Stop, Breathe & Think’s educator resources to create a weekly mindfulness schedule, broken down by day and by student age. Activities referenced below can be found in Stop, Breathe & Think’s educator introductory packet and anything in bold refers to an activity that is available on the Stop, Breathe & Think apps.
Monday: Check-In & Mindful Breathing
There’s a reason why Monday is the most hated day of the week. Both students and teachers have to transition their mindset from casual to composed, from personal to professional, and this transition can be difficult for a number of reasons. Maybe the weekend was just too good, or maybe it was the exact opposite. Whatever you’re feeling on Monday morning, both students and teachers need to shift to a place where they can engage productively at school.
The best way to do this is to check-in with yourself and/or practice some mindful breathing:
- For younger students: The term “check-in” may not hold any inherent meaning for children. Help them understand by telling them they are going to be detectives, and that they’ll be investigating themselves. They’re goal is to identify how they are feeling in the moment. For students who aren’t sure of what emotion they are feeling, Stop, Breathe & Think has check-in worksheets and posters that display different emotions with a corresponding emoji. This allows students to learn about the range of feelings a person can have, while also giving them a way to express their emotions in the moment.
- For older students: Take your beginning-of-the-week check-in a bit further by embedding it within a session of mindful breathing. Stop, Breathe & Think’s 3 Minute Mindful Breathing is an easy and quick activity to help your students realize how they feel as they start their school week, and giving them space to share their feelings after the session also gives the teacher a valuable pulse on the classroom mindset. Refer to Stop, Breathe & Think’s High School Introductory Packet for specific discussion question ideas.
The outside world has enough negativity in it that it doesn’t need to also be in your school and classroom. One of the best ways to maintain a positive environment is to emphasize kindness with your students, something there needs to be more of everywhere but especially in schools.
- For younger students: Start with a discussion about what kindness is. A great way to describe kindness to children is to compare it to the warm feeling you get in your heart when you see a cute animal, like a puppy or kitten. Ask students when they’ve shown kindness and when kindness has been shown to them. Once the concept of kindness has been established, activities like Just Like Me and Kindness with Every Step encourage students to think kind thoughts about everyone they know, both people they like and people they don’t. Building this into a routine will help students expand their ability to think empathetically.
- For older students: Challenge students to go from thinking about kindness to performing kindness by creating a class set of Kindness Cards. Have each student write acts of kindness on separate index cards, and place all the cards in a box. Each week, have students choose two cards from the box. After completing the act of kindness, students should journal about their experience. As an optional incentive, teachers can offer prizes to students that complete their kindnesses at the end of the week.
Unsurprisingly, school brings up many feelings in our students. It’s great when the feelings are positive, but mindsets can fester when they’re negative. Setting aside time every week to meditate is a great way to address unproductive mindsets, and also provides a moment of quietness in an otherwise busy week.
- For younger students: Meditation may be confusing to children who are trying the activity for the first time. Stop, Breathe & Think has specific meditations for children that gently explain to them when it’s helpful to take a moment to just breathe — maybe it’s when their emotions feel stormy, or maybe it’s when they feel overwhelmed by all the noise and activity around them. For visual learners, Stop, Breathe & Think has animated versions of these guides. We recommend Bulldog Weathers the Storm and Bulldog Finds His Quiet Place.
- For older students: The Stop, Breathe & Think app has many different guided meditations organized by theme. For example, some help to give you focus, some calm your anxiety, and some are designed reduce stress. To have your students make the most of their meditation time, ask them how they are feeling that week and choose a guided meditation based on what most of them feel.
Thursday: Movement & Yoga
With just a couple days left in the school week, give your students an extra burst of energy to make it to the finish line. Getting students out of their seats and moving is not only good for them, but may also help refocus them when they start to drag.
- For younger students: Periodic stretches are a way to proactively combat restlessness, and the Stop, Breathe & Think elementary educator guide has instructions on how to lead several in detail. For example, the Sunflower Stretch has your students imagine they are a sunflower in a big sunny meadow, and gets them to stretch their arms to the sky. The Starfish Stretch is one where your students lay on the ground and stretch all of their limbs out while also taking big belly breaths.
- For older students: Stretches are a great brain break for older students as well, but consider taking it a step further with yoga. You may think yoga is an activity only done in a studio under the guidance of an experienced teacher. However, simple yoga positions and flows can be brought into the classroom, so easy to teach that even kids can learn them.
Friday: Time for Gratitude
Similar to kindness, practicing gratitude on a regular basis brings positivity into everyone’s lives. Head into the weekend on a positive note by taking time to be grateful for something good that happened during the course of the past week.
- For younger students: After discussing what gratitude is, Stop, Breathe & Think has several mindful games that focus on helping students think. For example, Thank the Farmer asks students to hold a raisin in their hand and think of all the different things that had to happen in order for the raisin to get to the student. Another easy way to express gratitude is to have have an appreciation circle, where students sit in a circle and have a chance to shout a classmate out for doing something good that week.
- For older students: Gratitude journals give students who aren’t comfortable expressing their gratitude out loud a place to record them. Encourage students to write down three things they are grateful for at least once a week using the follow prompts: What material thing are you grateful for? How are you grateful for yourself? How are you grateful for the people in your life? How are you grateful for certain experiences or situations? These specific questions force students to think positively about their lives and themselves, something they often forget or struggle to do.
The Weekend: Teacher Time
As important as it is for students to think mindfully, teachers should as well. All of the benefits that children get from meditating, practicing kindness, and breathing deeply apply to adults too. With the high burnout rate of teachers, self-care is one of the most important actions teachers can engage in during a hectic and stressful school year.
On Saturday, try unwinding from the week with destress yoga or a guided meditation to calm the mind. To prepare for the week ahead on Sunday, use Relax, Ground & Clear to re-center your mind. Stop, Breathe & Think has created a specific self-care guide for teachers to use on themselves. After all, students can only be their best if teachers are at their best as well.