Middle school students are in a unique developmental age. They’re caught right in the middle of childhood and adolescence, which comes with various challenges and milestones to get through. Mindfulness is an excellent tool to help students in this age group navigate all the new challenges they’re facing.
Recent studies, specifically studying the benefits of mindfulness for middle school students, have found that it’s an effective way to help this age group decrease stress and succeed academically.
There are ways to teach your middle school students the practice of mindfulness in a way that’s engaging and age-appropriate. Here are our top 5 favorite mindfulness activities for middle school students.
Top 6 Mindfulness Activities for Middle School Students
If you work with middle school students and are thinking about incorporating mindfulness into your curriculum, try these 5 activities.
Mindfulness with music
Middle school is a time when many kids start building their own unique identities. Often, a big part of these identities is the type of music they listen to. You can use this to your advantage by planning mindfulness activities around popular music.
For example, you can bring in some songs that you know your students listen to. Teach them how to listen mindfully. Start with a discussion: How do your students usually “listen” to music? Often, it’s while they’re doing something else — like talking to their friends or riding in the car.
Instead, invite your students to listen to these songs without multi-tasking. Explain to them that mindfulness is about being present in every moment. They can be mindful while they’re meditating, but they can just as easily practice while they’re listening to music.
While the song is playing, ask your students to notice how it impacts them. What thoughts, feelings, or images does it bring up for them? What are their favorite parts of the song? Does it have any effect on their bodies?
Another way to engage middle school students in mindfulness practice is by relating it to their own problems.
If you ask middle school students to write down the things that stress them out, every student will almost certainly have a big list to share. Middle school is hard — between academic pressure, hormonal changes, and interpersonal challenges, kids this age have a lot on their plates.
Use this as a chance to encourage students to use mindfulness in the way they approach these problems. Ask them what emotions these problems bring up for them. What is their impulsive, or first, reaction? For example, a student who is having problems with a peer may feel angry and want to lash out.
Instead, ask them to use mindfulness. Slow down, and stay in the moment. Stay present with the strong emotions. You can use a guided meditation or breathing exercise to help them through this. You can also consider incorporating artistic expression, like drawing or music.
After they have become aware of their feelings and their first impulses, ask them to think of other, more mindful solutions that are more effective.
Silent meditation may be too challenging for kids in middle school. Instead, if you’re going to incorporate sitting meditation in your mindfulness lessons, consider opting for a guided meditation.
Effective guided meditations to strengthen mindfulness help students stay in the present moment and connected with their bodies. For example, body scans or progressive muscle relaxation exercises are a great place to start.
If you’re going to use guided meditations of the visualization type — for example, imagining themselves to be on a quiet beach — make sure you teach this in an intentional way. Mindfulness is about staying with the present moment, not escaping it through visualization. Your students should be aware that this is a coping technique for when they feel stressed, and is different than mindful awareness.
Always end any visualizations with mindfulness — invite your students to return to the present moment, and become aware of things both inside and outside of themselves.
Mindful breathing is a core component of a well-rounded mindfulness practice. You can teach mindful breathing to your middle school students, but we recommend you do it in a way that makes it fun and engaging for them.
For example, you can lead your class in a breathing exercise using colors. Ask your students what color represents peace for them, and what color represents stress or anger. As they breathe in, ask them to imagine that the air is the color of peace, traveling through their lungs and bloodstream. As they breathe out, they breathe out the air that is the color of stress.
You can also use body movements to teach breathing exercises. For example, you can show your students how to trace their hands while breathing in and out — breathing in every time they trace up, and breathing out every time they trace down.
We often think of coloring as an activity for young children, but middle school students are old enough for more complex adult coloring books that require more of their focus. Adult coloring is an excellent tool to use when teaching mindfulness to your middle school students.
You can print out adult coloring pages from the internet or buy your own book. Before starting, make sure you set the stage so that coloring becomes an intentional mindfulness practice. For example, you can invite your students to pair their coloring strokes with their breath. You can also encourage them to stay completely focused on the movement of their hand; when other thoughts come up, they can notice them and let them go.
In this way, coloring can become an effective meditation practice.
Snack and lunchtime can also be turned into a mindfulness practice if you have some extra time.
If you have district resources to support you, consider bringing in a small snack for each of your students. Choose a healthy snack that your students will enjoy.
Mindful eating is about paying close attention to what we consume and savoring our food, rather than wolfing food down distractedly. Invite your students to use all of their senses to experience their snack. Before tasting it, ask them to smell it and feel the weight of it in their hands. Ask them to take a close look at it, and notice all of its different colors and textures.
Finally, invite them to eat the snack — one slow, mindful bite at a time. Consider doing this together in silence. Ask them to savor every bite. This is a great exercise to help kids slow down and pay attention.
More Tips for Teaching Mindfulness to Middle Schoolers
Teaching mindfulness to middle schoolers won’t look the same as teaching it to a room full of willing adults. One of the most important things to keep in mind is buy-in. Without student buy-in, mindfulness lessons may not be as effective as you hope.
At the same time, some giggling or groaning is to be expected from this age group — so don’t get discouraged.
For more tips on how to teach mindfulness to middle schoolers, read our blog.