There is a wonderful story about an owl that we can call on to help us when we feel anxious or afraid. A wise owl that can help us discern whether the, often overwhelming, feelings need to be acted on or whether fear is the problem. I decided to use this story as the basis for the theme for the holiday workshops – The Mindful Owl.
In the story there is also an elephant. He is a very emotional elephant and can get quite panicked at times. The mindful owl helps him to calm down. So, on day one of the workshops, we had the thread of owls as our theme and on day two we used elephants as our theme.
During the workshops we did many breath awareness exercises. Being a nocturnal creature, the mindful owl sleeps a lot so it needs to be woken up by our mindful breathing – deep breaths in through the nose and long, slow breaths out through the mouth. I used fun and simple ways for the children to connect to their breath. So, for example, I told the children to imagine they are smelling a bunch of flowers and then imagine that they are blowing out a candle – deep breaths in through the nose and long, slow breaths out through the mouth. We also passed two roses around the circle and enjoyed their fragrant smell. Using real flowers helps to solidify the experience for the children.
We discussed how special each animal is and what we can learn from them. Owls have powerful talons, their camouflaged colouring, their ability to turn their heads as much as 270 degrees. Some of the children mentioned how well owls can see and hear. Their sight and hearing are well refined. Elephants have long trunks that they use for many things including smell. They also have wonderfully large ears. We spoke a bit about the five senses and how using our senses is a way of interacting with the environment around us. We played the game “Guess the Animal” by it’s nose, ears, eyes, fingers or tongue! Each child had a turn to roll the dice and select a covered spot on the board. On uncovering the picture, they were asked to guess the animal. Great fun and lots of laughs! A lovely way to get children to be more aware of their senses which, when given attention, can help a child to self-regulate.
During the course of the mornings, we did some mindful movement. In one of the yoga routines we imagined ourselves going on an overnight camping trip to a forest. I led the children in a story of setting up a tent in the forest, getting a fire started and listening to the night sounds. All accompanied by corresponding yoga poses! We met a spider along the way that explained to us how she uses calm and patience to build her web. Calm and patience being two qualities that our wise owl also has. We then met a chameleon. He explained to us that he changes colours but wouldn’t it be wonderful if he could change himself into different creatures to see the world from their perspective. This is not something our mindful owl can do but being wise like our owl, requires the ability to see the world from someone else’s perspective so this was an important lesson from the chameleon.
We also practised mindful eating. We had snack time in silence – not an easy task for kids! – but it gave them an opportunity to really taste their food, chew properly and enjoy the flavours. While we ate, I said a beautiful mantra of thanks from Titch Nhat Hahn’s book, Planting Seeds. It goes like this:
- This food is the gift of the whole universe: the earth, the sky, the rain and the sun.
- We thank the people who have made this food, especially the farmers and the people at the market and the cooks.
- We want to chew the food slowly so that we can enjoy it.
- We want to eat in a way that nurtures our compassion, protects other species and the environment, and reverses global warming.
- This food gives us energy to practise being more loving and understanding.
- We eat this food in order to be healthy and happy, and to love each other as a family.
We also played some mindful, sensory games. In one of the games, we explore the sense of touch. I handed around a rainbow coloured bag filled with various items of different textures – a feather, a soft pom-pom, a key, a candle, a wooden car, a paper clip to name a few. Each child had a turn to feel inside the bag and describe how one of the items felt. They were then given an opportunity to guess the item. Lots of laughs and giggles!
In another sensory game, we explored our sense of smell. I passed around bottles with various smells in them. The children rated the smells from 1 (dislike) to 10 (like). It was so interesting to see how personal smell is. No smell was unanimously liked or disliked. The kids had great fun with this exercise. Smell triggers many memories. There were many associations mentioned during this exercise – sushi when the soya sauce was smelt, mentions of mom and dad when the coffee was smelt and mentions of baby brother when the talcum powder was smelt!
We did some beautiful artwork during the course of the workshops. In one mindful art activity, we painted our mindful owl. The paintings were done in stages so that each layer of paint could dry along the way. The results were fantastic. And the best part was how much fun the kids had painting their mindful owls.
In another art exercise, I got the children to draw their own mindfulness colouring-in pictures. Each child was given an outline of an elephant. We looked at how nature holds so many different, beautiful shapes. I showed them a shell with a spiral, bark with parallel lines, an acorn with many circles, a leaf with lines in different directions and more. I then asked the children to use these shapes to fill their elephant. Some of the children needed encouragement to fill the white spaces and join all the shapes together, but the final creations were wonderfully creative.
There were also some stories along the way. One was “The Color Monster” by Anna Llenas. An amazing pop-up book about a monster with mixed up emotions and colours. Another favourite book was “In the forest” by Sophie Strady, Anouck Boisrobert, Louis Rigaud. This is also a beautiful pop-up book but with a message about deforestation and its impact on the life of the forest. We also read “The Lemonade Hurricane” by Licia Morelli which is about a little boy who has loads of energy and how by practising mindfulness he is able to settle the hurricane inside of him.
So, despite the cold weather, we managed to stay warm and dry while the kids had loads of fun practising mindfulness and making new friends. I feel blessed and thankful for these two wonderful workshops. May you and your children continue to have fun practising mindfulness at home for the remainder of the holidays.
Classes in the new term start on Wed 25th July 2018.