Ways of practising mindful awareness with children

Ways of practising mindful awareness with children

The benefits of mindfulness for adults are well publicised and include reduced stress, improved immunity and better pain management. There is also now a growing body of evidence suggesting that mindfulness can also be beneficial for children, with studies showing that it can help them to regulate their emotions and improve their concentration and sleep.

A really important part of mindfulness is learning how to appreciate what is going on in the present moment. Often we are preoccupied with thinking about the past or the future. Mindfulness teaches us to calm our minds so that we can be fully present in each moment. When our minds and bodies are calm, we are able to be in touch with the many small miracles before us, such as the pleasure of feeling our feet on the earth, or a small hand in our own.

Children have a natural ability to live in the present moment. They are inquisitive and curious about the world around them and, as anyone who has watched a toddler jumping in puddles will know, they have an enviable ability to find joy in small wonders!

As parents, teachers and carers, we can nurture and support this way of being and provide opportunities in which joy and wonder arise naturally. We can encourage our children to engage with all of their senses to explore the world around them, and introduce them to simple mindfulness activities through play. The natural world is the perfect place to do this. Not only is it full of small delights waiting to be discovered, but research shows that being in nature can stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system and reduce cortisol levels, soothing our minds and bodies.

Here are six mindfulness activities that you can try outside with children. They will also help you to deepen your own mindfulness practice and bring it out of the yoga class or off the meditation mat and into everyday life. Mindfulness was always intended to be an evolving practice that is with us at all times and enhances every part of our daily lives.

Nature detectives

While you are out in the garden or the park, set your child on a scavenger hunt. You might ask:
  • What is the smallest/biggest leaf you can find?
  • How many different colours can you find on one leaf?
  • Can you find something beginning with each letter of your name?
  • Can you find something the same weight as this? [Hand them a stone or an object from your pocket.]
  • Can you find a branch shaped like a letter of the alphabet? This activity encourages children to look carefully at what is around them and to notice and appreciate things they hadn’t seen before.

Stone search

In the garden or at the beach, make a collection of different stones that are roughly the same size. Ask your child to close his eyes, or gently blindfold him. Offer him one of the stones to hold: can he feel all the contours of the stone and really get to know it? When he has done this, put his stone back with the others. Now allow your child to explore the collection of stones and see if he can identify his stone based on what he felt. This activity encourages children to use their sense of touch to explore the world. 

Five senses grounding activity

Together, take a pause to get in touch with each of your five senses. Take a slow, calm breath as you both tune into each sense, and then discuss what you find. What can you hear? What can you smell? What are the sensations of touch you are experiencing (maybe the ground beneath your feet, or something you are holding)? What can you taste right now? And what can you see? How many colours? How many shapes? What can you see that is moving or still?

This activity is a good way of bringing your attention to what is going on in the present moment. It can be calming and can provide a quick way of refocusing the mind away from worries or anxiety.

To extend this activity, you can try it in several different spots while you are out, and compare them. Maybe you could challenge your child to explore an area such as the park and find her favourite spot to do the five senses activity. Is there a place that really appeals to all of the senses? How does she feel when she is in this spot? Maybe look for your own – perhaps you can find a calming spot where you can see the light dancing through the leaves on a tree, hear the gentle swish of the wind and feel the rough bark of a tree. You can give each other a ‘tour’ of your different favourite spots, pointing out what makes each place special for you.

Mindful treasure hunt

To prepare for this activity, walk around the garden or park with a camera. Look carefully at what is around you and try to notice the colours, shapes and patterns that you come across. If you can, allow yourself to breathe gently, go slowly, and really enjoy this process. Perhaps you will find an interesting pattern of moss on concrete, or a unique swirl in the wood of a garden fence. Zoom in on the detail and take a picture. Now show your child the pictures and challenge him to see if he can locate the exact place where each image was taken.

This activity can help you both to see the environment with fresh eyes and appreciate details you might not normally notice. When you have done this, you could ask your child to set up a similar treasure hunt for you!

Mindful walking

At some point when you are out for a walk, tell your child that you are going to slow down your pace for ten steps and really enjoy walking. Encourage her to notice what she can feel in her feet – when does her balance shift from the heels of her feet to the balls of her feet? How do she use her toes when she is walking? What other muscles in her body does she use?

This can be a very gentle and calming activity. You can use it at any time to bring your attention down from your busy mind into your body and the ground beneath you. Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh encourages mindful walking as a form of meditation. He advises, “Walk as though you are kissing the ground with the soles of your feet.” You might like to share his instruction with your child and see how gently she can walk on the Earth.

What has changed?

Take two minutes to step outside each morning and look carefully at what you can see. Ask your child, “What has changed?” You might encourage him to find three things that are the same and three things that are different. The more you look, the more you will notice the magic all around you. As you get into the habit of looking and noticing, you will tune in to the changing seasons and feel connected to the rhythms of the natural world.

This activity helps you and your child to exercise ‘Beginner’s Mind’, one of the key skills taught through mindfulness. It involves seeing the world with fresh eyes rather than clouded by past experiences and expectation.

Small activities like these will help to sow the seeds for a very nourishing, lifelong mindfulness practice. There is perhaps no greater gift to pass on than the joy of being alive in this beautiful world. 


Fern Taylor is an author and a former primary school teacher. She enjoys finding creative ways to help others discover the benefits of mindfulness. Her first book, Here and Now: An Interactive Mindfulness Book, is published by HarperCollins. References available on request. 


Published in issue 55. Accurate at the time this issue went to print. 

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