Inside: Going back to school can be tough! Try these five outdoor mindfulness activities for preschoolers to help your child wind down and refocus.
Ever since my daughters started preschool we’ve had the same after-school routine. It’s simple, it’s effective and it helps my kids decompress when they need it the most. For our family, it’s by far the most likely activity to get the afternoon off to a good start. So, what’s the secret? We go outside, rain or shine.
Research shows that spending time in nature can boost our health and well-being in many tangible ways, for example by reducing stress and anxiety, lowering blood pressure and strengthening the immune system. For kids too, the benefits of playing outside are well documented.
Related: There’s No Such Thing as Bad Weather
The Importance of Nature
One theory holds that nature can restore our attention and heal mental fatigue, a state that is caused by doing a task that requires a great deal of concentration, or “directed attention”, for a long period of time. Playing an intense video game, solving complicated math problems and navigating through busy traffic are all examples of tasks that require high levels of directed attention, and consequently tend to drain us of energy.
Mental fatigue is one of the reasons why it’s so important for kids to have recess and other opportunities to take “brain breaks” at school. Even with frequent breaks, kids are often tired and grumpy after spending a half or full day learning academic facts, usually inside. This is understandable, and one of the reasons why our daily outdoor routine is sacred.
Our routine has evolved over time as my girls have aged (they’re now in first and fourth grade, respectively). I treasure these moments more than ever, partly because they act as a counterweight to the increasing pressures of school and the distraction of electronics, and partly because they give us a genuine way to connect as a family.
Below I’m sharing five of my favorite ways to restore attention and connect with the kids outdoors after school. Although I call them mindfulness activities for preschoolers, I know for a fact that they also appeal to kindergartners and many children in the lower elementary school grades. They require no advance planning or extra equipment, just a willingness to immerse yourself and your children in nature. Best of all, they can be done almost anywhere and only require 15-30 minutes of your time.
5 Outdoor Mindfulness Activities for Preschoolers
Observe the clouds
How: Lie down on a blanket on the ground and look up at the clouds in the sky. What shapes do you see? Do you and your child see the same things? How do the shapes evolve as they move with the wind?
Why: Hones your child’s observational skills and encourages imaginative thinking.
Hug a tree
How: Seek out a wooded area and select a mid-size tree to embrace. Lean your head against the trunk and try to become one with the tree. Is it moving with the wind? Is it making any sounds? What does it smell like? Repeat with a few different trees.
Why: The bark provides sensory input, and creating a feeling of “oneness” with the tree helps strengthen your child’s nature connection.
Make a nature mandala
How: Collect natural materials, for example rocks, sticks, leaves, tree nuts, pine needles, shells and flowers. Decide where to make your mandala and choose a centerpiece that you place in the middle of the work area. Use the other objects to create at least five rings around the centerpiece, a little bit like tree rings, and try to create recurring patterns.
Why: Making nature mandalas is calming and relaxing. It’s also great for nurturing your child’s creativity.
Go for a listening walk
How: Go for a walk in a nearby nature area or just around the neighborhood. Stay silent for 5-15 minutes, depending on your child’s age and attention span, and listen carefully to all the sounds around you. After the time is up, discuss what you heard and where the sounds may come from.
Variation: For a more meditative experience, do the listening exercise while lying down on the ground with closed eyes.
Why: Listening walks can help put your child in a calm but alert state, which is ideal for sensory integration.
Be an animal yogi
How: Pick some of your favorite animals and act them out in the form of yoga poses. Try to hold each pose for 20-30 seconds and repeat a few times, then try each other’s poses. Check out this simple animal yoga activity to see an example, or try these 5 zoo animal yoga poses for inspiration.
Why: Yoga helps refine balance and coordination, and boosts our ability to focus. It also strengthens your child’s mind-body connection.
Do you have any favorite mindfulness activities for preschoolers to do outside?