5 Ways to Incorporate Mindfulness in your School Counseling Program

Mindfulness has assumed great importance in schools and for all the right reasons. Now more than ever, children are stressed and anxious, as are parents and teachers. The global pandemic has significantly worsened this situation. With so much uncertainty comes the need to manage our thoughts and be present in the moment, to not focus on what was or what will be but to instead focus on what is. This is where the need to learn and practice mindfulness comes in.

Research has shown us that mindfulness has a positive impact not just on academic performance but also on social skills, emotional self-regulation, stress management, confidence building, and overall well being.

If you're scouting around for ideas to bring mindfulness into your class and group settings, here are 5 effective ways to do so:

1. Teach mindfulness as an explicit skill in your Tier 1 SEL lessons

If you're an elementary school counselor, you would know that mindfulness is not the easiest concept for students to grasp unless they are explicitly taught what it means and why it's important. One of the easiest ways to introduce your students to mindfulness is through read-alouds and videos that delve into the concept without making it sound too complex. Some of my favorite books to use are What Does it Mean to be Present?, Breathe Like a Bear, The Lemonade Hurricane, and I am Peace, among many others. GoNoodle has some excellent videos that help drive the concept.

mindfulness counseling

Modeling mindfulness and giving your students opportunities to practice this new skill is important. This could be practicing breathing exercises (such as deep breathing, belly breaths, or 5 finger breathing), yoga, visualization activities, or even going on a nature walk. Choose a routine that your students are most likely to enjoy and practice regularly. You could also mix up a few instead of sticking to just one kind of mindfulness activity.

2. Practice mindfulness after recess and between class activities

Like me, you must have noticed that classes after recess are the ones that don't usually go as well as planned simply because our students are still distracted, tired, or unsettled. Practicing a mindfulness activity when they return from the playground is an excellent way to get them to filter out distractions and regain focus before you start your lesson. This is a practice that would have to be facilitated by homeroom teachers/subject teachers who are in the classroom right after recess. This ball melt activity, for example, is a great exercise to increase focus and attention. Brain breaks in between a lesson could also be dedicated to doing a mindfulness activity.

3. Introduce a school-wide Wellness Calendar

If mindfulness is a skill you intend on teaching school-wide, you could consider setting up a fun and incentive based monthly Wellness Calendar. For example, Mindful Mondays could be dedicated to doing one mindfulness activity such as a body scan or a breathing exercise. Wellness Wednesdays could be set up for practicing a mindful movement activity such as cosmic yoga. Happy Thoughts Thursdays could be for mindful journaling for your upper elementary kids.

It might sound like a lot of work to come up with one activity a day for the whole month times ten! What you can do to lighten your load is start a Google Spreadsheet and have other staff members sign up to share one activity/video (either made by them or from the internet) that students (and teacher) could follow in keeping with the theme for that particular day of the week. As the year progresses and your students get familiarized with mindfulness as a concept and skill, you could invite students too to lead a live session or share an activity/video that the rest of the school could use to practice mindfulness on that particular day. (Great job for student ambassadors!) Ideally, you would want to send out your Wellness Calendar spreadsheet for teacher sign-ups at least 10 days prior to the new month. Incentives such as certificates could be awarded to students who show diligence in practicing mindfulness at the end of the month.

With students across grades being taught mindfulness regularly, visual reminders around the school campus are bound to work like a charm. You could put up posters like these Mindful Manatee Mantras and the Mindful Mandala Mantras on the focus/bulletin board in your office and also in the cafeteria or the hallway.

If you can manage to get teachers on board with the idea of creating calm/peace corners in each of their classrooms, that's another way to ensure you are also providing a physical space where students can practice mindfulness.

4. Include a mindfulness routine in your small group counseling sessions

It is likely you may need to start a mindfulness group at some point during the year. More often than not, referrals for this group come from homeroom teachers. However, your other small groups too could benefit from practicing mindfulness regularly. Either before or after your usual feelings check and group rules routines, you could incorporate a mindfulness routine too. Whether it's five minutes of yoga, or a tactile play dough activity with a self-regulation group, a rainbow walk, pinwheel breathing or a guided meditation with kids in your anxiety group, journaling or mandala coloring for a grief group, or positive affirmations with a study skills group, all students, irrespective of their counseling intervention needs can additionally benefit from practicing mindfulness.

5. Make mindfulness an opening and closing weekly routine in class

Young children prefer structure and routine, so if mindfulness based activities are part of your weekly opening and closing sessions throughout the year, there is a good chance mindfulness will come more easily to your students in other settings too.

Morning meetings/morning circles are the perfect time to incorporate mindfulness. To set the tone for the week, Monday mornings, for example, could be dedicated to setting intentions or goals, and the last period on Friday could be for doing a whole class gratitude activity. I like using my Mindfulness Morning Routine Boom Cards that are designed to help students start their day off on the right foot. They can be repeated daily, providing students the opportunity to reflect, grow, and develop an appreciation for their accomplishments. Mindfulness themed discussion cards could be used at the end of the week to get students talking about ways in which they have practiced or struggled with mindfulness through the week.

Since you cannot be in every classroom at the same time, you could have homeroom teachers lead these sessions. Teachers might need help with resources to use with their students - books, videos, templates, and craft activities (calming glitter jars are always a hit!). Consider providing them choice boards for students to pick the activity they would like to do. Alternatively, you could record and send out weekly mindfulness videos that can be used across different grades. Teachers would just have to play your video and ensure that students join in the mindfulness routine. I have found that starting and ending the week on a positive and calming note with guided imagery is impactful.

If you're looking for an effective, no prep, easy-to-execute resource to get you started with teaching mindfulness, check out these 10 Classroom Guided Meditation Scripts.

How do you incorporate mindfulness in the classroom and in small groups? What activities do your students enjoy? Let me know in the comments!  

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