This. Life. Is. Busy. It is full, and hectic and distracted and bounces around all over the place. When I allow myself to get sucked into the ever shifting tide of phone notifications, long lists of work tasks, an over abundance of social obligations and anything else the world wants to throw at me I am anxious, grouchy, and disconnected.
Our children are no different. THEY live in this world of crazy too. They pick up on our hectic vibe, and the expectations on them even as young as preschool are becoming more and more intense.
We can let ourselves and our children get swept away in this maddening stress driven culture, OR we can choose to cultivate slow. To breathe deep, get intentional, and train ourselves and our littles to be mindful about curating our focus and attention.
Mindfulness doesn’t just happen. It is a skill we must practice and polish. Meditation and yoga are wonderful tools. But there is nothing that calms and soothes me nearly so much as being in nature. Most children are the same way. If we add some activities that require focus and attention we get even more bang for our nature time buck.
Color Matching: How many colors are there in nature? 3? 4? Look closer and you will see thousands of shades of green, brown, hot pink, bright orange, purple and blue. When we only whiz past everything outside, we don’t notice all this variety. Slow down and look more closely. Before playing this game, stop by your local home supply store and grab a handful of paint color cards. These come in single colors, or sometimes in a strip with different shades of the same color on each card. Both are useful in their own way. For younger children, just focus on having them find that particular color. A green plant to match the green card, some pink in a rock to match the pink card, orange lichen for the orange card. As they get older, up the challenge to have them match the exact shade of the color as closely as possible. Sure that pineneedle is green, but is it the exact shade of blueish green on the card? No? Keep looking! You will be amazed at the variety of colors you will find. Shades you didn’t think were possible to find in nature. Get wild with it! Don’t limit yourself to blue, green, and brown! Grab a royal purple, maroon, magenta. Its out there. Look big and small. Near and far. Not only does this cultivate mindfulness, but with younger children you are practicing their colors, for which you can give yourself a gold star on your mom chart. (Stars may be redeemed for glasses of pinot after a long day.)
Rock Stacking: Is this just one of those things that humans have naturally wanted to do since the beginning of time? I think yes. Get yourself and your kiddos to a dry river bed, or other location with plenty of different sizes and shapes of rocks and them let them go wild trying to stack and balance them in different ways. The irregular shape of rocks makes this more challenging than stacking building blocks, and over time your child will develop an inexplicable inner sense of physics that allows them to do improbable things like balancing large rocks on top of smaller ones. (Side note: you are teaching physics! More gold mom stars! More wine!) Before you leave though, make sure to have your children dismantle the stacks. Leaving rocks stacked is a controversial practice that is considered destructive to the natural feel of a place and in opposition to Leave No Trace outdoor ethics. Leaving rock stacks in National Parks or Monuments is illegal. If your children are having a hard time embracing the ephemeral nature of rock art, let them take pictures before they pull it apart.
Make a Sound Map: The basics of this activity is to sit somewhere and be absolutely still and silent, noticing the sounds around you and where the sound is coming from relative to your position. With the littlest children, just have them sit in your lap and listen together. After a minute or so of quiet, talk about the sounds you heard around you. With older children they can actually map out what they hear on paper. Have them make an X in the center of their paper. The X is them. Anytime they hear a sound, have them make a symbol on the paper in the place they hear it, to represent the sound. If the child is old enough to be working on map skills, have them find north and orient themselves to face that way. They can add a compass rose and key to their map too. As they get better at it and more skilled with age, continue to add levels of complexity to their maps. But remember to keep it light, fun, and relaxing. Pushing them to add complexity to the map before they are really ready adds stress and detracts from the relaxing aim of the game. That would cause an immediate loss of mom gold stars.
Watch the Clouds: Yes. Just the good old fashioned “lay on your back and relax” version of cloud watching. Snuggle into the grass, take a deep breath, get quiet and watch. Notice the roiling build, the sideways wandering. Let your mind make bunnies, dinosaurs, and pirate ships.
Each of these activities has a distinct mental focus. It is a common misconception that meditation and mindfulness practices need to involve a clearing or emptying of the mind. This is not true at all. I’m not sure even the most practiced and disciplined of monks can do that. Mindfulness practice is about cultivating slow, calming the wild bouncing in our heads, and being in charge of what our minds focus on.
Do you have a mindfulness practice that you enjoy? Do you share one with your children? I’d love to hear from you. Leave me comment and let me know!