Zen Teaching and Teaching Zen: 2 Mindfulness Exercises for Students

mindfulness exercises studentsDid you ever stop to consider that living a hectic lifestyle—one in which we squeeze every last drop of marrow out of our day—has become something of an American cultural virtue. Think about it: When our friends and acquaintances say, “You’re amazing…I really don’t know how you do it. I would be so exhausted,” we smile as they applaud our industriousness—despite the fact that we secretly want to scream!

This sort of hanging-by-a-thread existence not only impacts our lives, but the lives of our students as well. The more stressed out we are, the more likely it is that our students will absorb that stress themselves. That’s why we’d like to talk a bit about mindfulness in the classroom. A few weeks ago, we offered a few mindfulness exercises for teachers—now it’s time to offer 2 simple mindfulness exercises for students.

Zen Teaching and Teaching Zen: 2 Mindfulness Exercises for Students

Despite the fact that mindfulness exercises have roots in Eastern religion, we’re not asking you or your students to get into the lotus position and say “OHM…” Nope, mindfulness asks very little of you. It doesn’t cost anything, you don’t have to adopt or give up a belief system and you don’t have to be a guru to do it. All you and your students need to have is a willingness to stop and take notice of where you are, what you are doing and how you are responding to it.

Mindfulness Exercise #1: Know Your Orange*

  • At the front of the classroom or in the center of a circle, place a bowl of clementine oranges on a desk. Ask your students if they can tell the oranges apart.
  • Now pick up the bowl and walk by each student and allow the student to select a clementine.
  • Once everyone has an orange, write these questions on the board: Look closely at your orange; how many colors does it have? What shape is it? Where did it come from? How many hands have touched this orange before you selected it? What does it feel like when you squeeze it? What does it smell like? Are there any distinct aromas? How does it look when you hold it at arm’s length? How about when it is a couple of inches from your eye?
  • Have your students write down their answers—tell them not to worry about spelling/punctuation/complete sentences.
  • Now pick up the empty bowl, walk around the room and have each student drop his or her orange into the bowl.
  • Now put it back on the table and have your students come up one at a time to find their orange.
  • Have your students share how they found their orange.
  • Eat and enjoy the fruits of your labor! J

Mindfulness Exercise #2: What the Nose Knows*

  • Gather objects with strong odors. The sky is the limit with this, but if you’re stuck, you might try cinnamon sticks, cloves, grass clippings, pine combs, an old book, a dryer sheet, etc. You’ll need one object for every student.
  • Distribute the items as the students sit quietly.
  • Ask your students to hold the object in their hand, breathe out, lift the object to their nose and breathe in deeply. Have them do this several times.
  • Write the following questions on the board as they do this: What person or place does this smell make you think of? What feelings emerge when you smell the object? What does the scent do to your nose? Your tongue? Your stomach? When was the last time you smelled this scent? How would you describe the scent using at least 5 adjectives?
  • Have your students take time to write down their answers.
  • Now have your students share their experience with the object. If you want to take the project a step further, you could also have them draw or paint their reflections.

These two mindfulness exercises are only the tip of the iceberg—and what’s great about them is that they help couple the act of mindfulness with expository and descriptive writing. Not only that, they also help them students engage in collaborative conversations, swap ideas and learn from a diverse group of people!

*For more on mindfulness, we recommend Christopher Willard’s book, Child’s Mind: Mindfulness Practices to Help Our Children Be More Fo...


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