I'm inspired by the warmer weather and longer days, which provide more opportunities for our family to get outside and explore. All too often though, I catch myself hurrying the girls along--perhaps because dinner needs to get started or we have a scheduled activity-- when they would like nothing more than to stop and pick flowers or inspect the woolly bear crossing the path. In my own personal effort to be more mindful, I do attempt to catch myself and indulge their curiosity when appropriate--which is NOT when they are purposefully stalling because it's bath and bedtime :)
Practicing mindfulness has been shown to improve attention, reduce stress, regulate emotions and help with sleep. My family has discovered that something as simple as a walk can serve as a great mindfulness tool. This tool can be used whether you are in your backyard, at a local park, or just walking around the neighborhood. Below you will find a list of many discussion topics, or thought-starters, for your walk. These certainly don't all need to be incorporated into one outing. Instead, try to find one or two suggestions from the list that feel right for you, your environment, and your child.
Mindful Walk Thought-Starters
- Head outside. Barefoot is best but shoes are fine, too. I've learned from experience that kids definitely have their own preferences when it comes to shoes or no shoes, so go with whatever works best that day.
- Start by FEELING the weather. Is it windy, sunny, cool, or damp?
- How does the weather effect your body? Does the cool wind give you goose bumps? Does the sun make you squint?
- FEEL the ground. Are you on pavement, dirt, grass, rock, or sand?
- Notice how it FEELS on your feet. Is it prickly, soft, cool, dry, damp, squishy, or hard?
- If you are not barefoot, HEAR how your shoes or sandals sound as you walk.
- Do you like how it FEELS to walk along the ground?
- Compare and contrast the sensations as you move from one type of surface to another.
- What do you SEE? Flowers, rocks, bugs, sticks, leaves...
- Take time to stop and explore the area and possibly collect some items around you.
- Ask questions. How does the flower LOOK, FEEL, or SMELL? How does a big rock sound if dropped versus a little rock?
- What do you HEAR? Birds chirping, lawn mowers, the roar of motorcycles, waves crashing, or a creek babbling? Is the sound far away or close?
- Continue walking, stopping to explore and noting what you SEE, HEAR, FEEL, and SMELL. Compare and contrast details of pine cones, flowers, trees, houses, cars. . . whatever is in your environment.
- Last but not least for the adults: Use this time not only to slow yourself down but also to notice the world through your child's eyes. Be mindful of their words and how certain discoveries make them feel. Take note of how that might be the same or different from your own feelings.
This exercise can be as simple as a 5-minute discussion about a flower or pine cone in the backyard, or as prolonged as a family walk around the neighborhood or local park. The idea is to just slow down, be in nature, and be mindful about the environment around you and how it makes you feel. To prevent yourself from rushing through the activity, let the kids explore and lead.
Again, the ideas above are only meant to get you started. Make this activity fit your family and your environment. Most of all, have fun with it.