Let’s try an experiment: Gather your children. Turn off their tablets and television shows. Ask them to sit up tall, close their eyes, and follow their breath…in and out…
If your family is anything like mine, you don’t have to actually try this experiment to know how it would go. There would be whining. Maybe a few tears. You probably wouldn’t even get to the part about sitting up tall because…Chaos. Sounds peaceful, doesn’t it?
You might have heard that mindfulness practices offer benefits ranging from reduced stress and anxiety to increased compassion for others and more positive body image. (See 10 Scientifically Proven Benefits of Mindfulness and Meditation.)
But if you want to share those benefits with your little ones, you might have to be a little creative to keep it age appropriate and enjoyable for all involved.
Here’s the good news: Kids are much better than adults at being present, which is an act of mindfulness in itself. (I mean, just watch how hard it is to break their concentration when they’re playing and get them ready to go somewhere. If that’s not presence, I don’t know what is!)
For my little family, one of the things that works best–especially this time of year–is heading out the door and going for a mindful walk.
As adults, a mindful walk might mean quietly taking in the sights and sounds, feeling the sunshine on your skin, and paying attention as the air fills your lungs. But since kids might have a hard time focusing on those things, I like to give mine something different to focus on as we walk. It’s the adult equivalent of giving myself a mantra to focus on as I meditate.
It’s an easy and fun way for all of us to incorporate a little mindfulness into our day, enjoy some time together talking and laughing, and take a much-needed break from computers and homework.
5 ideas for how to take your kids on a mindful walk
Butterfly walk. I have two little girls and we all love butterflies, so this is a walk that we often do in the spring and fall when there are tons of butterflies out. Simply look for butterflies as you walk, count them, talk about the brilliant colors, stop and watch as they float from one flower to the next.
Rainbow walk. When the flowers are in full bloom, we sometimes head for a stroll through our neighborhood with the intention of finding a flower that’s every color in the rainbow. Of course, it doesn’t have to be flowers–you could use anything that’s colorful: The houses downtown would be fun, for example!
Kindness walk. I wish I could take credit for this idea, but it was completely my six-year old’s idea. One spring day a couple of years ago, we were walking through our neighborhood and she was stopping every few feet to pick dandelions and other weed-like flowers that are especially beautiful to children. As we walked past a neighbor’s house, a sweet grandma, she ran up to the woman and handed her a bouquet. And so we began taking kindness walks. We look for very small acts of kindness we can share with our neighbors. Once my daughter left Halloween candy in a neighbor girl’s mailbox. Another time she brought a stack of pictures she’d drawn and handed them out to neighbors who were tending their lawns as we walked. It turned out to be a great lesson in the joy that you feel by sharing with others in addition to an exercise in paying attention to the people who share our neighborhood amenities.
Wish walk. One of my favorite places for a mindfulness walk with my kids is Downtown Charleston. We take a small sack of coins and look for fountains as we walk through the picturesque streets. When we see a fountain, we stop, toss a coin in, and make a wish or two. I ask my little ones to listen to the sound of the running water and tell me how it makes them feel. We notice how the water looks like glitter when the sunshine hits the ripples. We talk about how we can make wishes for ourselves and for other people, too.
No-rules nature walk. Want to keep it simple? Just take your kids anywhere with nature and let them point out the amazing things they see. Follow their lead. You might be surprised by the little things they notice in their eye line that you’d look right over.
The key to a successful mindfulness walk with kids is to draw their attention to things they might not notice otherwise. There are a million different ways to do it. As long as you’re using your senses, looking for something you might not see otherwise, and enjoying the simplicity of being in your bodies, it counts!