Jon Kabat-Zinn, who has written a number of fantastic books on mindfulness for adults, defines mindfulness as, “paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally.” While this is a great definition for adults to ponder, use this same definition with children and you will likely be met with a sea of confused stares. The way we explain mindfulness to students must be much simpler and must be built on a foundation of making connections between the concept of mindfulness and the child’s own life.
Introducing students to the concept of mindfulness, or to what it means to be mindful, has become a lot easier with picture book authors embracing the topic. Using picture books to introduce mindfulness gives students a foundation from which to make connections to their own lives and serves as a starting point for rich classroom discussions and activities. While this blog post was going to include my favourite top 5 books on mindfulness, a recent purchase bumped it up to a top 6 list.
If I were to recommend any book on the topic of mindfulness, Mindful Monkey, Happy Panda is my favourite. In this story, Monkey can’t quite figure out why Panda is always so calm and relaxed. Panda and Monkey compare their day and while their activities are the same, they do them in a very different way. While Monkey is always doing one activity while thinking of another, Panda focuses on the activity he is doing in that moment. Panda explains to Monkey that his problem is that his “monkey mind” is jumping around too much. In contrast, Panda is mindful, which he explains means his “mind” is “full” of the moment. This is a fantastic launching point for an initial introduction to what it means to be mindful.
What Does it Mean to Be Present is another favourite. It also serves as an introduction to what it means to be mindful or to be in the present moment. Students learn that being present in the moment is about listening to yourself and others, focusing on the now, being grateful, and learning from mistakes. It is also about slowing down to focus on the beauty that surrounds us each and every day. While Amazon says this book is coming soon, for now it appears it has to be purchased through the publisher “Little Pickle Press,” who also puts out one of my favourite books on the brain, Your Fantastic Elastic Brain. They also sell the wonderful poster pictured at the beginning of this post.
For younger children, Take the Time: Mindfulness for Kids is a great book to introduce the concept of mindfulness in a simple way. In this beautifully illustrated story, we follow a small child as they navigate mindfully through the world, noticing the things they feel and experience along the way.
Someday is the story of a little girl who finds herself pulled between the present moment and her dreams for the future. Throughout the book, she goes back and forth between imagining what life will be like when she is bigger, while trying to be content with where she is at in the moment. This book is beautifully illustrated and is rich with sensorial imagery. Someday reminds us that while dreaming big is wonderful, sometimes just enjoying the present moment can be equally as sweet.
The Listening Walk is a great introduction to mindful listening or how a simple walk can turn into a lesson in mindfulness. As the little girl in the story focuses on her walk, she is able to hear, see, smell, and experience things she otherwise would not. At the end of the story, the main character invites us all to take a listening walk. This story serves as a great starting point for a lesson on mindful listening, or for a listening walk of your own.
My newest book, Silence, is a beautifully illustrated and gently written book on the power of silence. This book encourages children to stop, listen, and reflect on the experiences around them. Using the qualities of mindfulness, readers are asked to pay attention to the things normally drowned out in our busy, noisy world. This story lends to great discussions about the things we experience when we become still enough to notice.
Any of these books serves as a great starting point to begin a class discussion on mindfulness and they make an excellent addition to any school or class library. Hands-on lessons to follow shortly.