4 Surprising Ways Teens Can Practice Mindfulness
Amy Lauren Smith is a sixth to eighth grade health teacher at the Shanghai American School in Shanghai, China, as well as a Choices teacher-adviser and the brilliant mind behind our Teacher’s Guide each month.
As I’m writing this, I’m on a high-speed train headed through the Chinese countyside. Seated next to me are two seventh graders who are involved in a particularly heated game of Uno. We’re returning to our international school in Shanghai after a “Week Without Walls” trip to Wuyishan, a beautiful mountainside town deep in the Fujian province. It’s best known for its culture of tea and pottery, so naturally I was worried about how my smartphone-dependent students would handle four full days there.
As it turns out, I didn’t need to be.
On our first day, during an extremely slow and quiet tea ceremony, I looked around anxiously at the kids. While one of the tea masters played an ancient Chinese instrument and the other demonstrated the many steps involved in the traditional ceremony, the kids were all fixated and completely tuned in. Not a small feat for these kids—especially since it was conducted entirely in Mandarin, a language many of them can’t quite fully understand.
Even with my limited grasp of the language, I found myself completely transfixed. After it was done, the tour guide explained to me that the ceremony was considered a Chinese form of meditation, and I could fully understand why.
With the hyper-connected lives of our students, mindfulness is rightfully a big buzzword in education. It’s become an integral part of our health program, with the kids doing guided meditation most days of the week. But this experience made me think about the other ways they can experience mindfulness and pay attention to those opportunities throughout the week.
Here are just four of the times I saw them connect with the present moment and fully disconnect from their phones. Perhaps you can adapt these techniques to fit your own school communities!
Before the kids learned how to seep and pour the tea, they had to get out into the field to pick it themselves. Working in teams to gather a kilo and a half of nothing but hand-selected leaves, they were physically and mentally switched on, and I didn’t see a single one of them reach for their phones. (Can't take your students to an actual farm? Gardening would likely have a similar effect!)
The next day, we went to a pottery workshop. For all of the kids, this was the first time they were able to use a pottery wheel and experience the joy of getting their hands dirty while concentrating on forming the perfect bowl. While not all of them were able to get it just right, each one of them enjoyed the opportunity to try.
Yesterday, as we were riding through the tea plantations on bicycles, one of the students in front of me shouted out that he felt so free with the wind in his face. Even though he rides a bike to school everyday, it’s much different when you’re out on the open road, rather than on the crowded streets of the big city.
Being Surrounded by Nature
Studies show that giving kids access to nature can help improve their mental health and well-being. And whether we were hiking through tea fields, skipping rocks, or floating down the river in a bamboo raft, these city kids were in awe of their surroundings and fully appreciative of where they were.
So many of the experiences we took for granted as kids—playing in the dirt, learning cultural traditions, making things with our hands—are rarely experienced by today’s overscheduled teens. If we want our students to practice mindfulness and connect with the present moment as much as they do their devices, we might have to go back to basics—and just give them a chance to be kids.