Over the past few weeks, I’ve had a number of people reach out to ask about an activity that I did last year with junior students in our Wellness Club. I’ve been answering questions and sharing ideas and I thought perhaps this might be of benefit to more people so for this post, I’m sharing some of the work that I did with my colleague, Cynthia Wan at Shaughnessy Public School.
Over the last number of years, I’ve personally realized the benefits of incorporating elements of wellness into my daily routine. When working with students, I always saw great value in helping them to develop their own “wellness toolkit”. Through activities and conversations, students were given the opportunity to understand and express how different situations or experiences made them feel. In being more self-aware, students were then able to determine strategies that worked best for them when they were experiencing times of stress. We all think it would be ideal to not have any stresses but in reality, stress will always be around and we sometimes need those challenges to help us grow. The difficulty becomes when we can’t manage the amount of stress that experience. While much of the activities and ideas below are things that I’ve incorporated in my classroom with all students, last year, Cynthia and I thought about trying to take it a little further with a small group of students who were willing to dig in with us and really spend some time thinking about their own wellbeing and worked to create their own physical tool kits filled with strategies and tools. Below, I’m outlining some of the tools that I’ve used in the hopes that it might help if you’re thinking of starting your own wellness club or thinking of trying some of these activities in your class with students.
Stop, Breathe & Think is an app that I’ve used with students centred around meditation. In the past, there was only one version but in the past couple of years, they also have an app specifically geared towards children. Students particularly enjoyed meditations connected to their breathing as well as the Body Scan. It offered them a chance to just pause and reset if needed. We also took the mindful walking meditation outdoors with speakers and students considered ways in which they might utilize mindful walking as they travelled from one pace to the next. There is a link to some of the resources that they have but I haven’t used any of them with students.
Sitting Still Like a Frog is another meditation tool that has a book with activities. Visualization was another tool that I used with students and the A Safe Place meditation was one that students quite enjoyed.
Zones of Regulation was also a resource that I used in my classroom. I found it super helpful for getting students to identify what they are feeling and consider their own triggers and strategies for what they might do to move back to the green zone. The language is great in not valuing one zone over the other but thinking about how we can get back to being optimal if and when we identify that what we are feeling is impacting what we are doing and our interactions with others.
The Mindup Curriculum is also a great resource that I have used in the past with my whole class. I like that it starts off with talking about the science behind what we might be feeling and our responses to stressful situations.
I found this great book list with some mindfulness books that I’ve used to talk about mindful eating and some of the other activities that I have done with students. Your Fantastic Elastic Brain is also a great resource.
Just Breathe is a great video for opening up the conversation about naming what we are feeling as being a powerful part of being able to determine steps to change the feeling if things are not where we would like them to be.
When building out toolkits, students used ideas from our discussions and activities from our sessions together to help build their own physical kits. We started off with ziploc bags and students decorated them with duct tape. This really was an idea from one of the students who had used it in the past to create her own pencil cases and she thought it would be a great – and inexpensive – way to personalize our own toolkits. Once the toolkits were designed, it was time to think about the items that they wanted to include.
Some of the items included:
Mindfulness colouring – We picked up a few from Dollarama. Some students also worked to create their own doodle books when given a blank scrapbook.
Inspirational quote books – We also found a few at Dollarama but some students were given their own scrapbooks as well to gather their own book of quotes that served to uplift them when needed an extra bit of encouragement.
Mindfulness Jars – A quick and easy visual for helping students to be able to understand that sometimes we have a lot swirling around in our minds and that by taking some time to be mindful of this fact, we can work towards calming some of those thoughts. Some students even like using them as a way to regain focus as they watch the sparkles settle. We used this recipe but there are so many more. I like the explanation on this one but didn’t like the idea of using glue.
Stress Balls & Slime – One student lead 2 sessions for our Wellness Club around using stress balls or slime as something tactile that sometimes help to manage stress. We did have conversations around making sure that it was something that was needed vs. something that we just enjoyed playing with in the classroom.
Wellness Journal - Students had their own journals – simple notebooks that they decorate the front of after we covered them with construction paper. We used these as a check-ins for themselves or prompts that they could use to write about how they were feeling.
Some of the prompts included:
- Today I feel… because…
- I’m grateful for…because…
- One thing that I can do today to make it fantastic is…
- Draw yourself as a superhero. What powers do you have? What powers might you like to work on further developing?
- 3 ways in which I can help make someone’s day great are…
- Write down three I am statements that define who you are. Take a few minutes to think about each one. Which quality feels the best? Why?
- When you’re feeling confident, what emotions do you experience?
- Who can you compliment today? Why? Find the time to make sure that the person hears what you have to say today.
- Write three things that make you happy. How can you spend more time on these things each day?
- The best day ever would be…
- One thing that I learned about myself this week is…
Other Mindfulness Activities
Nature walks – Quiet walks in a small group in the neighbourhood to just take some time to notice. Some students captured items along the ground that they wanted to include in their journals. Some focused on sounds that they heard when they took the time to stop and truly just be in the moment.
Music – Sometimes having the opportunity to select the type of music or having ambient noise was helpful for some students as they worked and also to change their mood.
Yoga/Mindful movements - Cynthia was great in leading us in Yoga or mindful movements. A few years back, a colleague had the Yoga 4 Classrooms resource which we sometimes used to get us moving and stretching when we needed it. I also had students lead the Circle of Joy, which is also a mindful movement activity that is easy to learn and just helps to refocus.
These are just some of the tools I found useful when helping students to create their own toolkits of wellness strategies. As I mentioned before, stress is all around us. I think that helping our students determine which strategies work best to help them manage the stresses is an important part of helping them to be successful.