Archive of ‘Play’ category

Mindfulness for Kids: Embracing the Power of Nature

Ahhh it’s FINALLY that time of year when it finally doesn’t feel like a million degrees outside or that you’re swimming in the humidity every time you walk out the door. This year especially, going outside feels particularly powerful and therapeutic (for most – I recognize that this might not be everyone’s experience of nature!).  As Hippocrates once said “Nature itself is the best physician.”  But how exactly does going outdoors help us?  Getting outside activates the parasympathetic nervous system, which helps us and our bodies to feel calm.  It also provides a great landscape to practice mindfulness (paying attention to the present moment on purpose) by providing a fun, ever changing sensory experience (i.e. bird song, leaves rustling, changing colors with the seasons).  It can help children develop and enhance focus/attentional skills and promote feelings of calmness and relaxation. 

Mindfulness Activities

With that, here are some suggested activities to do outdoors with kiddos. (Note: all activities were found and inspired by the book Mindfulness and Nature-Based Therapeutic Techniques for Children by Cheryl Fisher, PhD., NCC, LCPC, ACS)

Color Walk

Purpose: Helps children to focus attention and be present in the moment as they look and match color cards to natural items! 

Supplies: Squares of color (paint samples or you can create your own!)

  1. Choose a color from your deck of color “cards” and hold onto it as you walk.
  2. Set a timer for 10 minutes.  As you begin to walk, look all around and notice all the things that are similar in color to your card.
  3. As you notice something, share it out loud or quietly say it to yourself.
  4. When the timer is done, stop and select another color from the deck and repeat the steps! 
  5. You can follow up with your child at the end of the walk with questions such as: 
    1. “How was it to focus on your card?”
    2. “What surprised you about this?”
    3. “What did you notice?” 

You can adapt this activity to fit the needs of your child.  For example, ten minutes may seem challenging (which is understandable)! Start with setting the timer at 3-5 minutes and work on increasing the time.  It doesn’t matter how many cards you are able to complete-the goals is to develop attentional skills at a safe pace 🙂 

Tabletop Sand Garden

Purpose: To calm and focus the mind by creating a natural scene or environment in the sand box.

Supplies: Tupperware or plastic container with lid filled with sand, bag, natural items found in walk.

  1. Start by taking a walk in nature.  Instruct your child to collect natural items that stand out to them (preferably ones that are not picked but lying on the ground already).
  2. Once your child has collected items, open the sand container.  Place and arrange the natural items to create a scene or a design.  
  3. Follow up with questions such as: 
    1. “How was that for you?”
    2. “How did your mind/body feel while you were creating your scene?” 
    3. “What does this mean to you?”

4.  Once they have time to reflect, take the natural items and ask your child to replace the natural items in a place they choose outdoors. 

If I were a Tree…

Purpose: Art activity to help children express themselves through a natural symbol.

Supplies: Paper, coloring utensil (markers, crayons, pencils, etc.)

  1. Find a spot in nature
  2. Close your eyes and imagine you are a tree
  3. Consider the following questions and read out loud to your child: 
    1. What kind of tree would you be? 
    2. Are you a young tree or an old tree? 
    3. Do you have flowers or fruit?
    4. How do animals live around you?
    5. Do you have deep roots? 

4.  Draw your picture of the tree using paper and coloring materials 

5. Consider follow-up/reflection with prompt such as “Tell me about your creation.”  

Sound Mapping

Purpose: Enhance listening skills for attention and body/spatial awareness

Supplies: Large piece of paper, tape, cardboard, pencil

  1. Find a place outdoors that feels safe.  Put the piece of paper in front of you and secure it by either taping it to a wall (if there is one) or by taping it to cardboard.  
  2. Close your eyes and begin to listen to noises around you.  Take your pencil and “map” out the sounds you hear and draw symbolically what they sound like to you (for example: maybe you hear birds chirping in front of you and you place it on the top of the paper with symbols).
  3. Map all sounds around you with shapes, lines, symbols to create a “sound symphony.” 
  4. Once completed, open your eyes and title your piece.
  5. You can reflect with your child with suggested questions such as: 
    1. “What was that like?”
    2. “Were some sounds easier to recognize? Were some harder to recognize?” 
    3. “What surprised you about your map when you opened your eyes?” 

Each of these activities can be modified to fit the needs of each child/teen completing them.  Part of the process is to be with what unfolds, so if the activities don’t go exactly as planned, that is OK! Mindfulness is a practice that is ever-evolving. 

While I hope these provide a way to harness nature’s power,  my greater hope is that it gives you a fun bonding opportunity with your kiddos in the midst of a challenging time.  Parenting is HARD and I see and value you, parents.  Happy exploring, friends! 

Presley Pacholick, LCSW
Written By: Presley Pacholick, LCSW, RPT


Find Your Peace in a Calm Down Place

Toddlers have a funny way of outwardly showing how most of us feel inwardly, especially lately. I am sure most of you experience the toddler meltdown that can come simply from blocks falling over, to a sibling touching their favorite toy, to not liking how you cut up their sandwich. We all have a mental picture of what this moment looks like, right?

After many of these moments happening at my house, I decided to implement something I teach to other kids and families often. The idea of a calm down place. The idea is as simple as it sounds. It is a tool used in schools often, and it can easily be adapted to your specific home setting. 

Cultivating the Space

The first step is to gather things to put in the calm down place. Depending on your child’s age, I would suggest getting their input for the items. For my two year old he wanted cookies only in his calm down area, so I picked most of the items. However, he has since added a few of his own items (see below).

Pick A Location

The second step is to decide where and how this area will look and what will be most helpful for each specific child. You know your house and child best. Maybe one kid likes this area in the loud and busy main space of the house and another may want it in a quiet small closet. I would also encourage you here to get your kids input. For my house, a small plastic bin with a lid works best given our space constraints, baby crawling sister, and want for it to be easy to transport from room to room as needed. Think outside the box as to what would work best for your child and for your space. 

Practice

The last step is to take time to teach and practice using the calm down space. It is a new idea and with any new concept, children need time to learn and practice. It may not go well the first or 24th time you practice and try using it. I would encourage you to help find a few times when the calm down place could be used successfully. This may mean that you suggest using this area before a full blow melt down happens. Once a child has felt some success they are more likely to repeat what helped them feel better. Finally, after you and your child have calmed down, it can be helpful to check in and have them identify what they were feeling and what helped them successfully calm down. You can model by sharing your feelings and how you calmed down as well. Celebrate the successful calm down. The length of time it took is not important!

Examples

Here are a few ideas and pictures of how simple this idea can be to bring to life. Some items that are helpful to include are something sensory, like a squishy ball, hard smooth toys or stones, musical items, art items (if your child can be trusted to keep supplies on paper), or a soft blanket. Another item we love at our house is books. Books of any kind work; feelings books, picture books, or novels. I also like to include some form of feelings identifying tool. This could be feelings cards, a journal, or a feelings faces chart. Get creative and have fun building this special place with your kid. 

I have learned the more your kid can help in creating something the more they will use it.  

Also, don’t leave your older children or yourself out! Do this with your teen or by yourself. 

Couldn’t we all use a place and a reminder to recenter and find our peace?!?

Written by: Kirby Schroeder, LPC-S, LMFT-S

Interested in even more ways to find peace during this stressful time? Check out this blog.


Five Activities to do at Home with Children: Quarantine Edition

As I sit here writing this, I can’t help but to reflect on how much has changed in the past month.  The roles we play, our social connection and sense of community, our work, and so much more. 

Navigating through this time with kids can be hard; they have had massive shifts in their lives. Parents have had to expand their role to fill that of teacher, coach, guidance counselor, and many others.  Here are five activities that can be used at home (or in nature close to home) to help your children process big feelings in relation to this chaotic time and promote self-regulation skills. 

Emotions Charades 

This is a fun game to play with kiddos to promote mindfulness of the body.  Mindfulness is pulling ourselves into the present moment. When explaining to children use simple, succinct definitions such as “mindfulness is noticing what is happening right now.”  Mindfulness practices can help improve focus and concentration, as well as increase self-regulation skills.  

In emotions charades, either purchase cards with faces depicting different emotions (these are great: https://www.playtherapywithcarmen.com/collections/focus-on-feelings/products/flash-cards-with-words-focus-on-feelings© ) or create your own cards with your children using art supplies.  Create faces that show anger, frustration, sadness, happiness and any emotion you can identify together!  Shuffle the cards and place them face down. One player then selects a card. The player will not only use their face, but their entire body, to act out the emotion silently to other player, who is trying to guess what it is.  

This game helps create awareness of how the body reacts to different emotions.  You can even ask questions to further process the emotion. For example, if your child is acting out fear, you can ask them questions like “what helps you to feel safe? What does safety feel/look like to you?” 

Yoga/Animal Yoga

Yoga practices have been shown to help children with mind-body awareness, self-regulation, improved self-esteem and social-emotional learning (just to name a few!).  Cosmic Kids Yoga has an entire YouTube channel with tons of great videos geared towards children of all ages and interests (including Frozen, Pokemon and Harry Potter!).  You can access it here: https://www.youtube.com/user/CosmicKidsYoga

If videos aren’t your thing, here is a link to free animal yoga pose cards: https://wyqualitycounts.org/animal-yoga-for-kids/

Aromatherapy Playdoh

According to recent research, repetitive, rhythmic movement (think rocking, swinging or kneading playdoh) and sensory experiences calm the part of our brain that signals danger.  Creating aromatherapy playdoh together is a great way to integrate both movement and sensory input to promote feelings of relaxation.  

Recipe: https://www.healthline.com/health/diy-aromatherapy-playdough-for-stress – 7

You can also make multiple batches with different smells! 

  • Lavender can help to promote relaxation and sleep
  • Citrus scents energize
  • Pine can reduce stress
  • Peppermint can improve focus/concentration (be cautious with peppermint-since it is a stronger scent, I would reduce the amount needed by half)

Nature Mindfulness Activity

As mentioned before, mindfulness is anchoring ourselves to the present moment.   The Child Mind Institute shares that spending time in nature benefits children by building confidence, promoting creativity, and reducing stress.  This activity combines both nature and mindfulness to create a sensory experience that can promote regulation and tranquility. 

This nature mindfulness activity does not require any materials, just you, your child and thirty uninterrupted minutes outside in nature!  Walk through a park, yard, greenbelt or any other natural landscape and identify: 

  • Five things you can see
  • Four things you can hear
  • Three things you can feel
  • Two things you can smell
  • One thing you can taste (for safety considerations, I recommend only pointing out something you can eat or bring rosemary/mint or any other safe herb from home with you to reduce risk of eating something harmful!

If your child needs a visual, you can print out a scavenger hunt sheet with things for them to find in nature.  Here are some great resources: 

Safe Place Guided Imagery and Art Project

This is a confusing time for everyone, including children.  Having strong feelings of fear, sadness and anger are understandable and to be expected! This activity helps children to imagine a safe place they can visualize when they begin to feel scared.  

Start by reading or playing a safe place guided imagery script, like one of these: 

Following the guided imagery set out art supplies (whatever you have at home-markers, crayons, colored pencils, paint, paper).  Invite your child to create their safe place on paper. They can draw a literal picture of it or create an abstract piece utilizing color/shapes to express how safety feels to them.  Allow them to choose a meaningful place to keep their piece. If they do not wish to share their safe place, that is totally ok!  

Art is a useful tool to express other emotions as well.  It can provide words and language around emotion that is difficult to verbalize out loud.   Children can use color and shapes to show and externalize how big feelings including fear, anxiety, sadness and joy feel to them.  

Perhaps the most important tool to remember during this time is relationship.  Connection and attachment are healing in themselves. In order to fully be present with your child, we must also do things that nurture our soul as well.  I invite you to take a moment to yourself right now by placing one hand on your heart, the other on your stomach and feel your breath. Quietly extend compassion to yourself in this chaotic time.

You are seen, you are heard.  We are all doing the best we can.  

Presley Pacholick, LCSW
By: Presley Pacholick, LCSW

1 2 3