Fun activities to encourage focus on the breath
Attention to the breath is a foundation of mindfulness meditation practice. Research has shown that mindfulness meditation reduces stress, increases the ability to self-calm, and decreases emotional reactivity, depression and anxiety. Many children (and adults!) have difficulty calming the mind and focusing on the breath, especially when they struggle with attention, concentration, and being still.
One of the ways to help children to prepare to engage in the practice of paying attention to the breath is to use fun activities to build breath and body awareness. The typical breath cycle has four parts: inhale, pause, exhale, pause. Here are some examples of activities that can help children to build awareness of and attention to the breath and its four parts:
1. Straw and puff ball game: The goal of this game is to inhale through the straw to pick up a colored puff ball and then exhale to put in into a matching colored containers or sections. This activity requires concentration, control and awareness of the force of inhale and exhale. It can be done individually or as a competitive game to see who can move all of the puff balls first. For this activity, we used colored magnets inside a muffin tin and 4 colors of puff balls.
2. Aromatherapy pinwheel: This activity combines aromatherapy with breathing for a self-calming and focusing exercise. For this, you will need an empty inhaler stick (these can be purchased from amazon.com), essential oils and a mini-pinwheel (these can be purchased at party or hobby stores). Support the child to choose an essential oil that smells calming or "happy", and add to the inhaler. Tape a mini-pinwheel to the inhaler cap. Have the child breathe in to smell the scent, and breathe out to blow the pinwheel. You can use counting and/or demonstration to help the child to breathe slowly and calmly.
3. Ping pong ball maze: This activity combines problem solving and planning with an exercise that uses awareness of the breath and body. Children use blocks, make paper tunnels, and straws linked by putty or playdoh to create a maze. The object of the game is to blow a ping pong ball through the maze with a straw. Pictured is a very fun teacher who wanted to join the challenge!
4. Puff ball roads tunnels: This activity is wonderful for younger children. It involves building simple "roads" with play doh to guide puff balls into a tunnel. We used cardboard tubes, but you can also use rolled paper. You can increase the difficulty by using larger puff balls and longer play doh "roads".
5. Ramp pong: This activity is a good exercise for demonstrating how body posture affects the quality of the breath. Children build a simple ramp and use small cups as targets. They try to blow a ping pong ball up the ramp with or without a straw and get it into one of the cups. This activity is challenging, fun and very difficult to do if not sitting or standing with good form and using belly breathing to generate enough force to move the ball.
6. Cup and puff ball challenge: This activity uses a plastic cup, puff ball and straw. The exercise encourages focus on the exhale, which tends to be the calming part of the breath cycle. To make this, poke a hole into the bottom of a plastic cup, and insert a bendable straw. Place a puff ball in the cup and ask the child to breathe through the straw to lift up the puff ball and make it spin.
7. The birdie breathing song: I wrote this song to help children begin to transition to engaging in sitting meditation on the breath. The song uses movement and a breathing exercise set to music to help children to begin to focus on the breath while sitting in a meditation posture. Right now, you can download the song and instructions for free under the birdie breathing song product item.
If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to post them below.
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-Dr. Monica Jackman, Little Lotus Therapy