Mindfulness at nursery child doing yoga

Mindfulness in nurseries & early years settings

Mindfulness in nurseries is a way of children bringing attention to the present moment, creating a calming effect; evidence shows it can help with anxiety and depression.

What role should a nursery play in teaching children about mindfulness? And what are the practicalities and how can you go about introducing it?

Why is teaching mindfulness in nurseries important?

Evidence shows that mindfulness can decrease stress, anxiety and feelings of depression.

In particular, mindfulness in schools has shown that frequently using mindfulness practices, can help people achieve lower stress levels and higher well-being scores. But teaching mindfulness in nurseries isn’t just about helping children manage their mental health.

The children at your nursery, you’ll have noticed, exist almost entirely in the present moment, so teaching them how to be more in control of it is a key life skill.

Benefits of teaching mindfulness to children in early years

Circus Day Nursery and Pre-school in Cheltenham practice mindfulness in their nursery and have seen a clear link between practicing mindfulness, and children understanding their feelings.

“The early years are so fundamental to developing emotions. It’s so important to be in the moment, but also for children to be able to identify what they are feeling and when they need to take time out. It’s also about learning how to be kind to themselves and others.”

Mindfulness can help children in early years to manage emotions

Now, as a nursery practitioner, we don’t need to tell you that young children can have VERY intense feelings. These can sometimes lead to outbursts of anger or frustration, or perhaps being withdrawn.

Helping your nursery children to break the cycle of emotion and learn techniques to calm themselves, is an essential life skill and mindfulness can help with this too.

Create a Travelling Trunk

Could your nursery have a mindfulness area with travelling trunks like Circus Day Nursery and Pre School? One of the parents at the nursery filled a trunk with items that had different textures and calming water-filled bottles containing glitter. The children can use these to bring awareness, focus to understanding their emotions.

Beach Babies Nursery near Cambridge uses simple mindfulness techniques to help the children with transitions.

Palm or starfish breathing are both simple techniques the children at Beach Babies Nursery learn, which help them focus on that moment, calm their breathing and relax. They can use this technique whether they’re just coming in from running around outside and settling down before eating, or after wake-up shake-up sessions in the morning.

“Mindfulness is the informal act of paying attention to the present; meditation is the formal practice of mindfulness, often by paying attention to your breathing.”

Create a dedicated time in your nursery day for mindfulness

Pear Tree Nursery in Haddington near Edinburgh has seen definite benefits after they recently introduced mindfulness and relaxation time combined with yoga every day after lunch.

Manager Heather Goode said: “We have been doing this for six weeks so far and the difference in the children is clear.

After the relaxation time, they start learning and playing for the afternoon and are focused and engaged. It has definitely benefitted us and we are keen to see how it continues to grow over the coming months.”

The benefits of mindfulness for nursery practitioners

The Old School House Nursery near Cambridge integrates mindful techniques into the day-to-day routines of the nursery as a way of supporting not only the children but staff and parents too. Every staff meeting at the nursery starts with a two-minute mindfulness exercise such as mindful listening, tasting or meditation.

Nursery manager Lisa Weston said: “In a busy job like working at a nursery, having the time to stop, pause and think is so important. Equipping our team with these skills has meant that they are better able to help children deal with their feelings and emotions, giving them the vital skills that they can take through life.”

Linda Baston-Pitt said: “It has definitely made a difference to the staff team, they are less reactive and more patient, and also less stressed. The knock-on benefit has been in strengthening relationships between staff, children and parents.”

Mel Mackin, of Mackin Childcare in East Kilbride and Anniesland, introduced mindfulness and meditation to her nurseries and noticed that afterwards children had better concentration, more calming behaviour and more eye to eye contact. Not only does it benefit children and practitioners at the nursery, but one staff member disclosed that after a few sessions, it had helped her personal anxiety too.

Are there early years curriculum links to mindfulness?

There are very clear links to personal, social and emotional development, including teaching children to understand techniques to help regulate their emotions, emotional language and, critically, empathy. If children know their emotional trigger points and can spot them, they can make the decision to remove themselves from the situation or seek help, rather than things spiralling out of control.

Anything that’s embedded will come more naturally. So children who are familiar with tools or techniques such as calming bottles or palm breathing will find it easy to use them at a time of acute emotion, helping them to take back control more quickly.

If children are already familiar with a technique they will find it easier to resort to it at a time of need.

Listening and attention are also important for children’s cognitive development. Regular mindfulness can help children improve these skills by including them in lots of ways throughout the day.

Nursery mindfulness activities

Toy breathing – good for younger children. Get them to lie on their backs and balance a toy on their tummy – a Duplo block works well. Talk the children through breathing slowly in and out, pointing out the toy goes up when they breathe in deeply, and down as they breathe out. Can they make the toy go even higher and even lower next time?

Eating mindfully – use a raisin or something else with an interesting texture. First get the children to hold the raisin, noticing how it feels. Then look carefully at it in their fingers/palm. Move on to smelling the raisin, breathing in deeply through the nose. Now put the raisin in your mouth and feel the texture before chewing it. Swallow the raisin and notice how it feels in your throat. Can you follow it all the way down into your stomach?

Whatever your view of mindfulness, can you afford to not spend two minutes trying it out with the children in your setting to see whether you notice a difference?

Based on the nurseries we’ve spoken to; you won’t be wasting your time.

This piece originally appeared in NDNA’s Nursery News membership magazine. 

Looking for more support on mindfulness in early years?

NDNA has a free ‘Supporting Well-being in the Early Years workforce’ online course. This course will help you to assess your own personal well-being with ideas for appropriate steps you can take to improve it, plus give owners and managers strategies to support the well-being of their staff.

  • courses
  • early years
  • mental health
  • mindfulness
  • nursery

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