Making Mindfulness work for your Art Studio

If you’re like me, your students come to art class right after lunch, or rushing in from recess, or perhaps you’re the last class of the day before dismissal. It’s unrealistic to expect all learners to be able to instantly switch gears and be open, focused and ready to take risks and be creative.

In comes mindfulness like a gentle breeze. Since offering independent and group mindfulness choices, my students have been more easily accessing the lessons presented, smoothly rolling with unexpected mistakes, and reflecting with great insight about their work.

Here are some simple ways to infuse elements of mindfulness in your program without taking too much time away from your lessons:

1. Breathing exercises
Demonstrating controlled breathing is an incredibly quick way to calm and center a large group of students. I’ve found a couple of Gifs that are helpful in leading this exercise. You can, of course, simply count to five slowly for each inhale and exhale:

This Gif shows a gentle expanding and contracting that is helpful to illustrate the air filling and leaving the lungs.

Breathing Recalibration Station is a clock created by Michael Pederson that tells time in breaths rather than seconds.

2. Guided meditation
If you do a quick search, there are many sites like this one that share brief meditation scripts which address everything from anxiety, self-doubt, stress, and even taking a virtual vacation. If you have a sound system, you can play short guided relaxation scripts from, which also have accompanying soundscapes and visuals, like the one pictured above. My fourth graders absolutely love this one, and a few have shared that they like to use it before beginning their homework after school each day!

3. Relaxation or Sensory station
Create a cozy spot in which students who are overwhelmed might take a pause from their work. I use a two-minute sand timer to keep kids on task. In my “Zen Station” I have a Buddha Board for painting with water, silly putty, sensory toys for stretching cramped hands, and a squishy pillow to rest their heads. For those students who have too much energy for detailed work, I have the “Art Gym” where they can use small resistance bands, balls, and finger trainers to exercise their hands and get deep pressure feedback.

5. Expressive opportunities
Simply asking students to check in about how they are feeling, or addressing the body language as they enter your room can be powerful. If you notice a rambunctious group, you can tell them “I see you have a lot of energy, let’s all do 30 jumping jacks before starting class today” or invite students to pass a post-it note to you upon entering the room to tell you how they are feeling in a discreet way.

6. Movement
If you have the space, a Sun Salutation is a quick way to create a yoga tradition in your classroom that centers the group and focuses energy.

7. Music to influence Mood
Music can be integral in setting the tone in your space. Consider what that tone is carefully, and have a few playlists on hand if you need to calm your room, amp up energy, or cheer up a cranky classroom. I have my favorites saved in Spotify and Google Play music for easy access.

How do you create mindful moments for your students?

What Can a Creative Challenge Month do for your School?

You can rally your entire school community, put on an art show, AND instill the importance of critique and reflection in one-easy-to-host event!

A creative challenge month is a voluntary school-wide project you pitch to the community. It’s an incredibly easy way to produce an art show that honors the diversity and variety of creative endeavors.

I recently hosted my school’s eighth annual challenge exhibition this week, and I’ve learned a few tricks along the way to make it a snap.  Here’s your guide:

  • Challenge your students, families, faculty and staff to be creative, every day. Demonstrate options of how to make a record of their process for the whole month. These sessions can be for just five minutes - small ideas build into bigger ones when you work on them each day. You can propose this challenge digitally, or have a kickoff assembly to build excitement.

  • At the end of the month, set a date to celebrate and share what you’ve created at an exhibition.

  • To prepare ahead of time, ask participants to sign up and note if they’ll need space larger than a shoebox, or if they’ll need tech equipment, like headphones, to share their work (I like to set the deadline for sharing projects to a week before the exhibition). If you set up an online spreadsheet, like a Google doc, you can make it convenient for others to help record participants.

  • Having this information, you’ll be able to easily print out some certificates of participation.  If you use heavy-stock paper, the back of each certificate can also double as a comment sheet!

  • Pre-label the certificates with names of your participants, and set up the appropriate number of tables. Keep a few blank certificates for last minute attendees. Scatter pens on tables for comment writing.

  • When participants arrive, invite them to find their certificate and place their work for exhibition.

  • Play some music to set the mood. Watch magic happen as people mingle, reflect, and share!

In the past, my students have experimented with having a puppy with painted paws (non-toxic, of course!) play on a canvas, recording found-sound compositions, wire sculpture assemblages, computer coded games, a star-wars themed bobblehead series, elaborate music videos, just to name a few! While the basic premise for this event is simple, the results have been profound.

Parents who might not consider themselves creative often get wrapped up in the inspiration generated from their children.  Students who feel self-conscious about sharing start absolutely beaming after reading a page filled with thoughtful comments from their peers about their work. New habits are formed, making time for being creative outside the walls of the art studio. This event tends to grow every year, so get ready!

The Creative Challenge Month can become a lasting school tradition that fosters innovation, experimentation, and collaboration… and what’s better than that?