step-by-step: how to teach your young kids to meditate
This is a script that I loosely followed while teaching the children in my town’s public elementary school to meditate. I thought it might be helpful for other parents who’d like to do it with their own children, with scouting troops, with church youth groups, with summer campers, with classrooms. My best advice in doing this is to be animated. Don’t be afraid to ad-lib or get silly. The kids will respond beautifully.
For children grades 2-5
Hi, my name is ________________. I’m here to teach you a way to be happy. Not haha happy. Not that-was-a-funny-movie happy. Or I-love-ice-cream happy. Not even I-just-got-a-new-puppy happy. I mean heart happy. We’re going to use a tool to help us learn how to do that. Can anyone imagine what our special happiness tool could be?
The thing I’m thinking of is very close by. It’s free, it’s super easy to find and it does not require assembly or a special carrying case. It’s as close as your breath…. In fact, it IS your breath.
Just by breathing we can help ourselves find happiness. And we can use special breathing tricks to help us. But to be good at anything, what do we need to do? Practice! Right. Just like soccer or piano or drawing. If you want to be good at something, you need to practice.
But before we start practicing our breath work, I want you to help me with a check list. You don’t need to raise your hand, just check a little box in your head if you’ve ever experienced the following things:
- Had a big fight with someone at home
- Forgot to turn in your homework
- Couldn’t sleep because you kept thinking about something
- Felt embarrassed in front of your friends
- Worried about something happening in the world
- Got the sillies and found yourself in trouble
- Was scared on a carnival ride
- Felt out of control with excitement before a big day
- Knew the answer but felt shy to raise your hand in class
- Got left out of a party or outing with friends
I’ve felt all of those things. And I bet you have, too. And if you haven’t yet, you will. No one is exempt from this. We all feel bad sometimes. We all mess things up. We all feel insecure. You, me, the most popular kid in school, the bully down the hall, the star on the basketball court. Everyone. And it’s okay to feel these things. These feelings are important parts of being a person. The bad stuff lets us know when something’s wrong so we can work to ease those feelings when they’re no longer useful. Once we acknowledge the bad stuff and send it packing, we can create more open space for the good stuff that reminds us how wonderful it feels to be alive. Each and every one of us deserves to know happiness and success, acceptance and love. And we can achieve these beneficial feelings when we activate our superpowers. We are all born with super strength. No one is exempt from that either. We’ll talk more on how to use your superpowers later but I don’t want you to forget you have them, so let’s pull on our super suits, tie on our super capes and adjust our flashy masks. Check to make sure our tool belts are on tight.
Okay, good. So when we can find a comfortable balance amongst all these feelings, we can feel peaceful. Composed.
What does composure mean? Let me try to help you understand. Listen to this.
(Play a bit of Mozart.)
Can you hear how everything is in harmony? All of the pieces of the orchestra are very different. Some are deep, some are light, some sound a little sad, some sound cheerful or even silly. But when they work together they create something balanced, productive and beautiful – something composed. In order to maintain this composure, the musicians need to practice. They need to dedicate time. They need to focus.
We are like that. In our lives, we juggle lots of different feelings. They’re all important. But when we can make all those diverse feelings work together and still feel balanced, we can maintain composure. When we can engage that composure throughout the day, our frequency begins to rise.
Frequency is a big word. It’s like the radio station our lives are tuned into. You can tune into frustration and negativity or you can tune into love and empowerment. Which one would you like to tune into?
Yes, me, too. So think of frequency like energy – and get those super suits ready. When it’s on the rise, we’re getting happier and happier. We can use our super powers to feel good and think clearly. And when our frequency rises, the people around us can feel it and believe it or not, our awesomely fast frequency helps others. Just by being fast. Superhero fast.
Understanding that we are all very much the same may help in relieving some of the confusion we feel when we’re angry or sad or anxious. And we can team up that understanding with meditation to cool our own jets and ease the stressful feelings we’re carrying around.
Who has heard the word meditation before?
Meditation is a quiet time to connect with our breath, to be still, to remember that right here, right now, we are alive and safe and okay. When we meditate, we remember to treat our bodies well, to use kind words with others and think before we speak, to think clear, useful thoughts. When our thoughts are good, our lives will be good.
For some people, this comes naturally. But most of us need to practice to achieve that state of peace and harmony, which we can find by taking a moment to TUNE IN.
Times to use meditation:
- While taking exams and quizzes (you know the answers but your jitters keep you from remembering clearly)
- Leading up to big celebrations, holidays, vacations or events (when you’re so excited that you’re having a hard time sitting still or thinking clearly)
- Before games, recitals, performances (visualization helps you prepare by creating a vision for your future)
- During arguments with friends or family members (taking time to breathe will calm you down so you can use your most compassionate voice)
- In uncomfortable social situations (mindfulness will bring you back to your personal truth and keep you out of trouble when trouble is tempting)
- To ease depression or sadness (bringing your thoughts to center will connect you to “what is” instead of “what was” or “what might be”)
There are many ways to meditate. But we always begin by breathing. So let’s sit straight in our seats, feet on the floor, spine long, chin tucked in, head reaching to the ceiling. Place your hands in your lap, palms up and close your eyes completely. Now think of yourself as breathing “on purpose”. Start with a deep inhale, filling your lungs as much as you can and releasing the breath, completely emptying your lungs. Try it two more times with me. Now breathe in and out through your nose naturally and notice the way your body feels from the inside. The chair supporting your weight, your hands relaxed on your legs, the air touching your skin, your soft belly rising and falling with every breath. If your thoughts get lost and you forget that you’re breathing, just gently bring yourself back to this place. Let’s breathe for one more minute and when the time is up, I’ll invite the bell as a signal to end this meditation.
(Wait one minute. Invite bell.)
A great tool to help us is this bell. You can think of the bell as a peaceful voice, inviting you to take a breath. You can accept this invitation each time you hear any bell. Keep your ears open for school bells, church bells, door bells – and use their sound as an opportunity to stop what you’re doing and breathe. Tell the people around you what you’re doing and invite them to stop and breathe, too. Use it as a reminder to think about your breath and about being connected to the earth and about being a perfectly imperfect human being. Listen to the way the bell resonates and stay still and quiet until you can no longer hear its sound.
The Pebble Meditation is visual type of meditation that we can use to relax. I learned it from a book called Planting Seeds, written by a Buddhist monk named Thich Nhat Hanh. He worked with Martin Luther King Jr. to bring peace to America and to his own country Vietnam during a tough time in our countries’ histories. And he’s continued to help us find peace since. He especially loves to help children like you. So here we go. Each of you can close your eyes. Imagine that there’s a black movie screen behind your forehead and you are a film director. You choose all of the pictures in the movie. Let me guide you the first time.
Imagine a flower. Any color. See its petals, its center, its softness, its beauty.
Imagine a mountain. The weather around it is stormy, but deep inside the center of the mountian, it’s solid and still and quiet.
Imagine a clear, still, placid lake. See the way the water reflects the sky above and the trees around like a mirror.
Imagine the sky. See the clouds and the sun. See a bird wheeling through the air, turning and twisting, happy and free.
Now, I’m going to share Thich Nhat Hanh’s Pebble Meditation. As I share this meditation, I want you to imagine yourself as really being the things I say.
Breathing in, I see myself as a flower.
Breathing out, I feel fresh.
Breathing in, I see myself as a mountain.
Breathing out, I feel solid.
Breathing in, I see myself as still water.
Breathing out, I reflect things as they are.
Breathing in, I see myself as space.
Breathing out, I feel free.
Flower, in, Fresh, out (3X)
Mountain, in, Solid, out (3X)
Still water, in, Reflecting, out (3X)
Space, in, Free, out (3X)
How do you feel? Do you have any questions? There are lots of ways to meditate and you can learn more about a mindfulness practice at the library or online.
In order to enjoy the benefits of meditation, we need to practice. Try to find a few minutes every day to sit and be quiet. Maybe for a minute or two after your alarm clock rings. Maybe when you get home from school. Maybe in bed at night when your mind is racing or before you start your homework. As you work on your practice, you will find that you’ll notice your breathing all day long. And that’s when you’ll know you’re getting really good at it.
Grades K-1 (Have kids sit on a line in a circle.)
Hi I’m ________________. I’m here to teach you a way to get happy. Not haha happy. I mean heart happy. But to be really good at something, what do we have to do? Practice! We’re going to practice something called meditation today. Does anyone know what this is?
(While you say the following sentence, use your fists to demonstrate the way these feelings look – ball up your hands and squeeze then hold them to your mouth as if you’re terrified, punch the air like you’re fighting, pump them in the air as if you’re excited, squeeze the seat bottom and bounce like you can’t sit still, pretend to hug something as if you can’t squeeze it tight enough. Give yourself over to the acting – the kids won’t judge and it’ll help them understand.)
Have you ever felt squeezey? We ball up our fists so tight like this. We feel Scared. Angry. Excited. Overwhelmed by love. (This puppy is so cuuuuutte!) Fidgety. Meditation helps us to control our minds so that when these challenging feelings pop up, we can let them go and make our hearts happy and peaceful. We can relax our bodies and our squeezey hands. It starts with breathing deeply. When I ring this bell, I’d like everyone to take three beautiful breaths. Then we’ll stand up and start moving our bodies mindfully. Stand in a circle and be sure not to touch anyone else’s body.
Invite the bell. Walking meditation…
Imagine walking through very deep snow, leaving deep footprints.
Imagine walking on thin ice, careful not to break it.
Walk like a business person.
like a big hairy beast.
like a robot.
like a burglar.
like a soldier.
like you are wearing a big crown.
like you are sad.
like you are happy.
like you are scared.
on a tight rope.
like a cat.
on hot coals.
like a toddler baby.
skipping across stones.
Now walk really slow. Notice how the heel of your foot touches the floor. Lift and move your other foot slowly. Can you feel how your body keeps its balance? Let your body relax in each step and put all of your weight on the floor. Breathe deeply. Now breathe in whenever you lift your foot and breathe out whenever you place it down. Walk this way for one minute.
When I invite the bell, I want you to stop walking and sit down where you are. Then close your eyes. Walking is a fun way to calm down, but we can also calm down by breathing deeply. And no one even has to know we’re doing it. Let’s try that now. We’re going to do some square breathing. As you breathe in count to 4. When you reach the top of the breath hold it there and count to 4. Then release the breath to the count of 4. Then wait at the bottom of the breath for the count of 4. I’ll snap my fingers 4 times while we breathe and help you keep track.
(Do 3 square breaths together.)
Now take 3 deep breaths. Feel the way your body connects to the floor underneath you. Relax your jaw, your hands, your belly. If your thoughts get lost and you forget that you’re breathing, just gently bring yourself back to this place. Reach your head high to the ceiling and draw your shoulders back. Let your body feel heavy and loose. We’re going to do one more meditation. It’s called The Pebble Meditation.
(Use same meditation written above.)
Invite the bell. Anytime you hear a bell ring, I want you to stop what you’re doing and take three breaths. Church bells, school bells, door bells, cow bells… any bells.
Try to do this at home. Teach your family and friends.
Have a peaceful day.
From mine to yours,